Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cooktown 1/31/2013

We have seen and learned a great deal on this trip along with making many observations. The first being that no matter how long your stay in a location there will always be things you just can’t see. Unplanned events occur, sometimes for good and sometimes not and there are things over which you have no control. Today we were reminded that the circumstances around which things happen could directly affect your impressions. Coming off visits to Whitsunday and Cairns and a visit to the Great Barrier Reef, Cooktown might have been an interesting place to stop, but as only the second stop on our ill-fated third segment, we arrived feeling that this was a port that could have been skipped if we had held back to see one of the previous two.

The ship’s newsletter described this stop, as a tranquil, historic location on the Cape York Peninsula. Inhabited by only nomadic Aboriginals for thousands of years prior to becoming a township, it was named in honor of Captain James Cook. In 1770 the famous English explorer and cartographer beached the HMB Endeavour on the banks of what he later called the Endeavour River, to undertake repairs after running aground on one of the many reefs that fringe this coastline.  In 1873 the government of Queensland decreed that the site of Cook’s landing would become a Far Northern seaport and the start of the trek to newly discovered gold fields near the Palmer River. Today, Cooktown is a small community that prides itself on having no traffic lights. It is a place to learn about the Aboriginal culture or Captain Cook and explore the rugged beauty of a pristine environment.
Our tour description read that we were to see “two of Cooktown’s most iconic sites: a mysterious heap of granite boulders known as Black Mountain and the Lion’s Den Pub, a fixture in the bush for more than 135 years”.  The Black Mountain is an enormous labyrinthine jumble of granite that originally formed beneath the earth’s surface 240 million years ago. Erosion gradually exposed the rocks, rounding their corners, creating dramatic, natural phenomena, with the rocks precariously stacked upon each other, seemingly defying gravity. While the granite appears to be black, the color is actually the result of oxidation and lichens clinging to its surface. The granite is pinkish-gray inside. The ancient Aborigines called this “the place of sphere” and held it sacred.

We were told that the trip to the mountain range would involve an hour of walking on uneven surfaces. The mountains were most unusual but our tour was in fact a ten-minute stop along the road to take pictures with the mountain in the distance. 

The stop at the pub give us a chance to have a local beer and view the quirky decorations, including a Minnesota Vikings hat hanging near the bar, but both stops were disappointing. Perhaps we should have gone on the tour led by the Aboriginal elder or the one that went to the botanical gardens that featured plants unique to this area. Perhaps this stop just couldn’t compare to what we had just missed.

The best parts of the day were unexpected. At the Pub we saw the popularly referred to ‘Cannon Ball Tree’. Not only is the fruit as large, round and heavy as its namesake, but when ripe and falling to the ground, it often does so with loud and explosive noises. The fruit, bark and beautiful flowers of this unusual tree have by long tradition been used for medicinal purposes.

The second surprise was the thunderstorms that began to develop as 
our ship left port and Mother Nature put on an amazing show.

Continuing to cruise the Coast of Australia 1/30/2013

Two days are necessary to get to Cooktown. It has been a quiet day that has given me time to show some additional photos of the animals we saw at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane.
Mother koala and baby
nap time
Jon feeding wallabies
Lisa feeding kangaroo

This kangaroo thinks he's a coach on a baseball team

kookaburra sits.......

How about a snack?
Mother holding baby

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cruise the coast of Australia 1/29/2013

What a difference a day can make. We are still at sea, but today we could be in the Caribbean. The skies are clear, the sun is shining, the temperature is warm and a slight rocking motion this morning turned into calm seas. Storms are behind us and we continue our journey.

Mother nature provided sights to begin and end our day. This morning we were told that the brown substance floating in the water was an algae, the same as one mentioned in the journals of Captain Cook. It is a substance that absorbs carbon monoxide and is thus a useful substance in the seas. 

Tonight we had the most amazing sunset. On the horizon the sun appeared to be an orange pancake, and when it set the sky lit up as if on fire. Storms, algae, amazing sunsets…we are continually reminded of the power and the beauty of nature.

Onboard there is great disappointment among the passengers that both stops that would have allowed us to see the Great Barrier Reef were canceled. There is speculation as how this could have been avoided if we had stayed longer in Moreton Bay or if we had canceled the next stop of Cooktown. It seems everyone has an opinion, but on a ship, the captain has the responsibility for the passenger’s safety and comfort and it is only his opinion that matters.

The pool deck was busier today than any other day we have been onboard. This was one of the nicest days we have had in a while and people were happy to be able to leave their cabins and enclosed areas to be outside.
Today we played bingo. It has certainly changed since the last time we were on a ship. All of the numbers used to be placed into a drum that was spun, before one number at a time fell out and was announced. Now everything is done electronically. There is a large screen on which all the bingo numbers are displayed. In the lower left corner is a picture of the number just called and on the bottom right hand corner is a picture of how a winning card would look for the particular game being played. The caller pushes a button on a laptop computer. The number is called as it appears on the screen and lights up in its proper place among all of the numbers. When a bingo is called, the dealer enters the number of the card into the computer and a picture of the card appears on the screen so that everyone is able to see if the card has been marked properly for the bingo. 

During the game, no one asks if a certain number has been called, for they have only to check the screen. No numbers ever fall out of a drum anymore. No one has to explain how an “X” or a “4 corners” card would look because they can find the displayed picture and no one has to call out the numbers on their card to make sure that they do indeed have a bingo.

The world is quickly changing, but we never thought that this would include the world of bingo.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Leaving Moreton Bay (Brisbane) 12/28/2013

We woke to fog and an announcement that the Port of Brisbane was still closed and the city had experienced flooding and damage from the storm. How ironic that we were there two days ago with our guide explaining how the city is prone to flooding and had experienced a major flood in 2011.

Even though the port was closed, we had been given clearance to leave. We would wait for the noon update of the forecast and head to sea at 1 pm.

At 11am another announcement was made that a medical emergency had occurred onboard and a helicopter would soon be arriving to take one of the passengers to shore. We were asked to stay off all open decks and would be advised when this operation was complete. Soon after, we heard the helicopter hovering overhead. It circled the ship, landed on the pool deck and left within a matter of minutes.

Yet another announcement was made that the operation had been completed and we would be on our way momentarily. The captain was making arrangements for the pilot boat and would update us at noon. We should expect the seas to be rough, but the worst of the weather had passed. From our window we could now see land in the distance and the sun starting to break through the clouds.

At noon the captain announced that we would begin to make our way out of the bay and when we entered the ocean it would be rough. Conditions would improve as the day progressed. He cautioned us to hold the handrails when we walked and avoid the open decks. He was sorry to announce, but because of sea conditions and the fact that we would have headwinds, stops in Whitsunday and Cairns were cancelled. This meant that we would have no chance to see the Great Barrier Reef. We were quite disappointed as we expected the Reef to be one of the highlights of the trip, but knew that no one could control Mother Nature.

We headed downstairs for lunch in the dining room on the fourth floor. Sitting by the window, as we exited the bay, the waves were indeed high. We felt as if we were on the river-rafting trip, going through the rapids. We would see a wave growing larger as it made its way towards us. We would ride the wave to its crest and then plunge downward as it passed us. One wave in particular was extremely large and as we plunged downward water covered the entire window. Glasses went flying as the ship rocked from side to side. It was estimated that the wave was at the least 8 - 10 feet tall.

Conditions got worse, not better as we approached late afternoon. We continued to sway from side to side, ride the waves and when we plunged downward we heard a sound similar to a gunshot. We were now told that the waters would remain this way until midnight.

Fortunately Jon and I had taken precautions to prevent seasickness early in the day and were not affected. We napped, ate dinner and went to bed, hoping that the seas and the day would be calmer tomorrow.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Still in Brisbane 1/27/2013

As the captain explained last night, the ship left its berth at 6 am this morning but we anchored in Moreton Bay. Mid-morning he announced that weather conditions were as expected. The storm was a remnant of Cyclone Oswald combined with a low-pressure system that was located northwest of Brisbane and moving very slowly toward New South Wales. The Port of Brisbane had been closed as the seas were experiencing high winds and rough waters. We would remain anchored in the bay until conditions improved. The captain was hoping the storm would begin to move quickly so we could proceed. There would be a further update at noon.

Tours for the upcoming stops had to be adjusted since we would be arriving later than scheduled in the next port of Whitsunday and one of the two days in Cairns was being canceled. Today’s schedule was changed to one of a sea day. Jon went to his bridge lesson and I worked on bringing my blog up to date. I never anticipated that it would be so time consuming or how difficult it would be to upload pictures via the ship’s internet connection, but I am determined to have it finished before the end of the trip.

At noon the information was basically the same. The worst of the storm was still to cross our path and we could expect conditions to worsen. At 4 pm we were told that the waves in the sea were reaching 18 to 20 feet and the wind was blowing at 92 miles per hour.  No one complained about remaining in our current position. At 5 pm the captain informed us that no ships were allowed to travel in or out of the Port of Brisbane until at least 8 am tomorrow morning.

We remained protected in the bay. Even here the waves were large and we watched as they rolled into whitecaps. The rain was heavy. We could hear the whoosh and occasionally the whistle of the wind. We watched, which I had never seen before,  the spray of water as it was picked up and blown by the wind.

The ship is amazingly steady in all of this, something for which we are all grateful. 

Brisbane 1/26/2013

The seas were indeed rough last night, but the worst was after we had gone to bed. The pilot boat had a difficult time getting to us, but we were able to enter the Port of Brisbane. As we entered, we could see the spot between two ships where the captain would have to “parallel park”.  We stood on our balcony and watched as our ship was lined up alongside the empty space and was pushed in by the pilot boat. We also saw thousands of small green circles on the water and learned that they were jellyfish. When we saw one of the ship’s officers taking pictures we knew that this was something unusual.

Happy Australia Day! 
This national holiday commemorates the founding of Australia and occurs annually on the 26th of January.  It is a day of celebrations, concerts and fireworks. Unfortunately when we arrived in Brisbane it was raining and all outdoor activities had been canceled. The rain did not dampen our spirits as we grabbed our ponchos and headed out for a tour of the city and a visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Brisbane is the capital city of the Australian state of Queensland and is the country’s third largest city. The original settlement began as a penal colony and during World War II served as the South West Pacific Headquarters for General Douglas MacArthur. It was only after the war that the city gained its prominence as an important urban center. The city was the site of the 1988 World Expo, 2001 Goodwill Games and unfortunately, the site of devastating floods, as the city sits on a flood plain.

Known as the “River City”, it is situated alongside the banks of the Brisbane River. The central streets are named after members of the royal family. Streets named after female members run parallel to the river and perpendicular to streets named after male members. Throughout the city there remain distinctive homes referred to as “Brisbaners” along with other protected architecture from the 1880’s. The city’s glass and concrete towers, hotels and paved shopping malls stand on the location of a bulldozed area. Brisbane is a growing city that retains its connection to the past but has its sites on the future. Our guide pointed out many of the city’s highlights as we made our way to our destination.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is home to over 130 free roaming koalas, as well as kangaroos, Australian birds, Tasmanian devils, wombats, dingoes and lizards that walk freely on the Sanctuary’s paths. The rain had kept the crowds away on a day that would have otherwise been quite busy. This was to our advantage as we watched the koalas (which are not bears, but marsupials) of all sizes and ages sleeping, jumping from one tree branch to another, chewing on leaves and playing. The highlight of the day was watching the interaction between the mother koalas and their babies. We had our picture taken holding a koala and fed the kangaroos and wallabies (looks like a kangaroo, but smaller) and observed many of the other animals and yes, we had to be careful not to step on the large lizards.

As we made our way back to the ship, our guide explained that when people speak of Queensland, they often refer to it as Australia’s Sunshine State for it is renowned for its dazzling white sand beaches and surfing. The most famous stretch of beaches is known as the Gold Coast and is not far from Brisbane.  The lushness of the area’s semi-tropical climate can also be found not far from the city in the mountain forests and many National parks. It became clear that much variety could be found within and around the city of Brisbane.

Back onboard, we learned that our departure from Brisbane had been postponed until 6am tomorrow morning.

Cruise the coast of Australia 1/25/2013

Today we are traveling north, as we make our way up the eastern coast of Australia. As expected we have a fairly constant view of land on the horizon. We have a new captain onboard.  Last night he announced that the seas would become rather rough this afternoon and if needed, we should take necessary measures, which we translated to mean, prepare yourself if you are prone to seasickness.

The captain updated the weather and sea conditions at noon. We would not enter the rough seas until after dinner but the swells would be such that the ship would “ride the waves and pitch“. He again cautioned those who required it, to take precautions, but he hoped the worst would be while we are sleeping. Tomorrow morning we will be traveling through rain and the forecast for Brisbane is thunderstorms. This is not encouraging news, especially since we have an outdoor tour planned.

We have started the third and final segment of our journey. How did it get here so quickly? When we booked this trip, I wondered, if we would tire of being on the ship, if there would be too many stops to be able to differentiate them, if this many sea days would be impossible to endure or if it would be impossible to live together in one room for this long a period of time.

In reality, with each “turn-around day”, we have been happy to not be packing or leaving the ship. Each stop has had its own characteristics and together have given us an overview of the countries we are visiting. We have come to look forward to the sea days as quite relaxing and a time to recoup before the next adventure. Because of all that is offered on the ship, neither of us has experienced “cabin fever” and we agree that we could remain onboard for an even longer period of time.

However, based on the newest weather predictions, we may reconsider.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sydney Day Two 1/24/2013

Sydney continued 1/23/2013

Entering Sydney Harbor 1/23/2013

Good morning from Sydney, Australia, and what a morning it has been!
Two years ago we were on a cruise ship that was entering the city of Venice. The captain explained that there were three ports into which it is quite spectacular to sail, Venice, Rio de Janeiro and Sydney. Since then we have been told that Istanbul should be added to the list, so now it totals four.
Today, we were going to personally experience our second of these with an entry into Sydney Harbor. We got seats in the observation lounge at 6:30 am. The ship met up with the pilot boat at 7 and we made our way toward the harbor. 
At first all we could see on the port side was the shadow of the city in the distance. 
As we got closer and rounded the corner we could see the city's skyline right in front of us.
Another turn and there it was, the Opera House we have seen in pictures and heard so much about as well as a portion of the Harbor bridge. In that first moment, we felt as if we had discovered a hidden jewel and it was breathtaking.
                             The Opera House and bridge were then both in full view.
We made our way closer and 
sailed past the Opera House and under the bridge before reaching our berth. 
                                            It had indeed been quite spectacular!

Another point of View 
-the ship, as seen from land-
Lisa and Charlie Feldbaum have joined us for the trip from Sydney to Singapore. From their hotel room, they were able to take a picture of the ship coming into port.

Sea Day 1/22/2013

Melbourne Second Stop Day Two 1/21/2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sea Day 1/19/2013

Hobart - Second Stop 1/18/2013

View from Mt. Wellington
Conservatory at Botanical Gardens
People who live in Hobart claim that one can experience all four seasons in one day.  We believe them. We started our day with a tour titled, “Hobart, Jewel of the South”. As we left the ship to make our way to the top of Mt. Wellington it was cool and raining. At the top of the mountain, as we took in the panoramic view, there was a cold, biting wind. The rain let up when we visited the Botanical Gardens but we were still happy to go into the warm Conservatory to see the orchids. Our tour ended by the pier where is was sunny and became quite warm as we walked through the shops and cafes of the Salamanca Market. 

We had been told that we could not come on this trip without having fish and chips at least once and today was the day. By the pier, we stopped at “Fish Frenzy” to have one beer battered and one crumbed piece of fish with the traditional chips (French fries). With this accomplished, I guess we can now come home, but neither of us is ready. We have more to see and do before returning home.

The Hobart Synagogue was this afternoon's stop. This synagogue, dedicated in 1845 during the eighth year of the reign of Queen Victoria, is the oldest synagogue building in Australia. It stands as a rare example of the Egyptian Revival style of architecture, which became popular at the time Napoleon invaded Egypt. The synagogue began with approximately 540 congregants, today has between 40 and 50 and shared by the Orthodox and the Progressive (Reform) population. The entrance was decorated with two carved pillars supporting an architrave and cornice, upon which still appears the Hebrew inscription from the Book of Exodus: “Wherever my name is mentioned there will I come and bless you.”

According to information given to us by our guide and found on the Internet, James Alexander Thomson, a Scotsman originally sent to Australia in 1825 for attempted jewel robbery, designed the building. The Egyptian style represented antiquity and the synagogue’s design was meant to indicate Judaism’s ancient roots. On either side of the doors of the Ark, which are richly carved and gilded, are placed two elaborately carved pillars, supporting an entablature and cornice of cedar, which are also gilded. The Ark contains multiple Torah scrolls, thought to be as old as the synagogue. In 1951 Lady Rachel Ezra of Calcutta, India donated another scroll, which is thought be of Syrian origin. It is kept in an ornamental silver casing in the Shefardic style.  

Elsewhere on display is a Memorial Sefer Torah from Czechoslovakia that is one of the 1,564 scrolls seized from desecrated synagogues.

A large group had come from the ship to see the building and after our tour returned to our "home away from home". Later, onboard Jon and I attended Friday night services and joined two other couples for our Shabbat dinner. One of the couples was from Houston, the wife being a native Houstonian, who knows my family and many of our Houston friends. The other couple’s husband had an interesting story to tell. In 1939, when he was nine years old, his family had tickets to leave Germany. They arrived at the pier and were informed that their Visas had been cancelled and their point of destination was no longer accepting refugees. With the help of many and a willingness to go wherever they would be accepted, they boarded a boat for Bolivia, South America, where his family made their new home. When old enough to go to college, he was encouraged to attend in the United States. With little money but a strong desire and a long process of searching, he found a school in Illinois that would accept him. He came to the United States and eventually earned a PhD from Columbia. He and his wife now live in Philadelphia and have three grown children with families of their own.

With our experiences in Hobart today, and our upcoming tour of the Jewish sites of Melbourne, this must be the segment of our trip devoted to "Judaism Down Under".

Tasman Sea - Second Crossing Continued 1/17/2013

 Is it bravery or foolishness to travel round trip on the Tasman Sea? Regardless of the answer here we are in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean "crossing the ditch"and making our way back to Australia. This quiet day gives me a chance to reflect on some of what we have seen, learned and experienced in New Zealand.

- Lying in the southwest Pacific, New Zealand consists of two main islands – the North Island and the South Island. Stewart Island and many smaller islands lie offshore.

- Kiwi is the nick name used internationally for people from New Zealand. The name drives from the “kiwi”, a flightless bird, which is native to, and the national symbol of the country.
- Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. They came more than 1,00 years ago from their mythical Polynesian homeland. Today Maori make up 14% of the population and their history, language and traditions are central to New Zealand’s identity.
- New Zealand has another name, "Aotereo", which means "Land of Long White Cloud".
- New Zealand has two languages. At sporting events one will hear the national anthem in the Maori language and then the European.

-“Haka” is a traditional Maori dance. Countless New Zealand teams, normally immediately prior to an event, have performed it. It was adopted by the New Zealand ruby union team and has been performed by this team at every local and international match since 1905.
- The first European to spot the land in 1640 was a Dutchman named Abel Tasman.
-The area was mapped in the 1700's when James Cook circumvented and mapped it.
- New Zealand sits on two tectonic plates – the Pacific and the Australian. Because these plates are constantly shifting and grinding into each other, New Zealand has a lot of geological action.
- The South Island was created primarily by glacial action, the North Island primarily by      volcanic activity.
- The South Island is the largest and very rugged with many mountains.
-  The North Island is home to the largest population.
- All of the major population areas are on the east coast of the Islands.
- New Zealand's closest neighbor is Australia.
- New Zealand has had many connections to Antarctica. New Zealand in its entirety placed beneath Steward Island would touch the top of Antarctica.
- New Zealand is known for it's farming and natural exports.

These facts only begin to tell the story of New Zealand. For us, it was a land of wonderful discovery. We were impressed by the natural beauty, the friendly people and the manageability of the cities. We would love to be able to return one day to experience more of this jewel of the Pacific.

Tasman Sea - Second Crossing 1/16/2013

During our journeys in New Zealand we have seen and learned a great deal. Along the way there have been surprises, one of which being the country’s involvement in the lumber industry.

Forestry in New Zealand has a history starting with European settlement in the 19th century and is now an industry worth four percent of GDP. Much of the original native forest cover was burnt off but it was also logged until 2000. Native forest logging on public land attracted opposition with protests and environmental groups becoming very active until it ended.

It now occurs only on private land and is shown to be sustainable. Extensive forests have been planted, predominantly with Monterey Pine, the same tree found in California.

Here conditions are such that the trees mature at a faster pace, allowing New Zealand to export wood chips, whole logs, lumber and paper products, the evidence of which we saw at a number of our stops.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Milford Sound 1/15/2012

Cruising the western coast of Lower Island
Today we bid New Zealand adieu, but not without a grand finale from both the land and the sea. Leaving Dunedin we made our way around the southern coast of the South Island and headed north along the western coast toward Milford Sound. Our entry was dependent upon whether the required pilot boat could manage the conditions of the wind and ocean swells at the time of our arrival.
Entry to Milford Sound

In the afternoon, the Captain announced that we would indeed be able to enter and our exploration began. The entry is narrow and could easily be ignored. What a shame it would be to miss this area of fjords, waterfalls and snow-capped mountains.

Notice the relationship between the boats and the cliffs

 A historian, who has been giving lectures throughout the cruise, gave commentary. Milford Sound is a fjord within Fiorland National Park and a World Heritage site. It is a place where lush rain forests cling to cliffs, while seals, penguins and dolphins frequent the water. There are two permanent waterfalls in the Sound, Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. Among the peaks inside are The Elephant and The Lion as well as Mount Kimberly, which is the largest in the Southern hemisphere.  We were so fortunate to have sunny skies and calm water, as this is an area known for unpredictable weather, rain and storms.

Stirling Falls
 The captain had the outdoor front “crew only” deck opened so that passengers could closely view the sights and take pictures. There were many highlights, all produced by Mother Nature but one was the creation of the captain's as he steered the ship so close to one of the waterfalls that those standing on the deck could feel the spray. Pictures could not capture the beauty of this area, but they are the best explanation available.
Lady Bowen Falls and Mount Kimberly
(L to R) Mier's Hat, Elephant, Lion
Leaving the sound the captain informed us that the seas ahead were not as welcoming as the calmness of the Sound. There would be swells and high winds and we would feel the movement into the night. As we headed back to Australia, we wondered what we would experience as we crossed the Tasman Sea a second time.