Friday, 28 November 2014

The Never Ending Monday

Monday 24th November 2014

We set the alarm for 4 am (Monday morning), which meant that somewhere in the world it must still have been Saturday night.
All we knew was that it was early and dark outside.

Fortunately the Sunday evening packing of cases made it vastly more easy to finish getting ready and downstairs for Bec to pick us up at 5 oçlock for the early run to the airport.
Is this the real reason we have children – so that they can take us old people to the airport early in the morning when we really should be asleep – I am thinking that this could be one of those reasons but maybe not the only one.
Anyway there we were outside the airport saying goodbye to Bec and wishing that we could have spent some more time together – with this lifestyle we can never be sure when any of us will meet up again.
We loved Auckland and the weather had been great as well.

Unlike our early morning experience in Melbourne just 3 days earlier, there were plenty of people waiting for check-in but with enough desks open we were through pretty quickly.

Again the flight was uneventful – the same movies and programs were available on the in-flight entertainment, just in case we had missed something the first time.

We arrived in Sydney about 9:30 local time and after going through security again – even as a transit passenger we then found the general mulling area with people sitting around waiting for their flights to be called – the usual situation.
For us though, it would be a bit of a wait as the Qantas flight was not due to leave until 15:35.
We have become used to a lot of airports and waiting and we have found that generally they appear the same but at least there are a number of places in which to eat or just sit around.
Must say we were disappointed with Sydney – if you want something other than McDonald’s then there was just one other food outlet and only one other coffee shop; there seemed to be a dearth of phone/device charging points; just the one area in which to sit down and not overly large at that.
What there is plenty of are the high-end shops willing to charge quite high prices for something to add to your carry-on luggage.

Still we managed to spend our time reasonably easily there – which is a sign in itself.

One ominous sign for us was that even with an allocated gate number we could not simply go to that gate and wait; and later we found out why.
It seemed to us that flights to the US all go through specific gates which allows the passengers to be checked before they actually get anywhere near the gate and have random checks done for explosives – from what we could gather this was a US requirement.
Once you get through this (Diane was one of those pulled aside for this random check – there was also a check done by a “pat-down” and unfortunately for her it was done by a woman), we were then required to wait in a very small waiting lounge – with seats for no more than about 100 people – and this being for an A380 flight.
If only there were this many people on the plane - everyone would
have a whole row to themselves - definitely not enough seats for all
to sit down and wait.

Anyway we were wheels up about on-time and away – by this stage we had been travelling for almost 14 hours i.e. since we had woken in Auckland and our Monday was now about 18 hours old.
The A380 is a superb plane and one that we have travelled on a number of times – the extra seat width and leg room is very much appreciated.
We settled in for a lengthy flight – the expected flight time being approximately 15 hours and reported to be the longest flight in the world.
We have done the Dubai to Melbourne flight of about 13-14 hours a few times already and found no problems with it and so expected that this would be just the same only slightly longer.
Despite a couple of young children (babies really) in the seats in front of us we did manage to doze off a few times but with any flight it is difficult to get good quality sleep but I managed a bit – Diane perhaps less so.

At a little before 14:00 (Dallas time) we touched down and were in the US for our third time in 3 years and it was still Monday – having crossed the International Date Line during our flight.
Monday was now 35 hours old.

Breezed through passport control and after a short wait for bags we were out into the US – at large.
Caught the bus to pick up the car rental – no problems there either – those were to come  as we pulled out into the traffic – the most asked question for people driving in a new area “Which way do we go?” closely followed by “Why did you go that way?”

We had a general map and some brief knowledge from the lady at the rental place, but as usual we got a bit confused and ended up going around in circles and then the wrong way.

Finally after a bit of thought about it all and asking at a service station we found where we needed to go. We were on a schedule as we needed to pick up Sam – the problem being that she was flying into a different airport.
We found the signs to go to Dallas Love Field Airport and as has been our luck in the past, we found the place where we were staying by pure chance, so we quickly checked in and unloaded all of the bags, and then headed off to the airport.
Got there just as her plane landed and then waited a fair while until she finally appeared; collected her luggage and off to the supermarket for supplies.
Finally made it back to the accommodation and had a bite to eat – now it was 8pm – time elapsed since Monday began – 39 hours and still 4 to go.

Monday 24th November 2014 had lasted just under 2 full days – it could have been longer if we had landed and stayed in Honolulu but not by much.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Auckland – City of Aucks (Orcs)

Friday 21st November to Sunday 23rd November 2014

The alarm was set for 2:45 am and the cab was due at 3:45am – the flight to Auckland was scheduled to leave at 7:15am.

All of the what if’s had been factored into the equation – what if we don’t wake up straight away; the cab is late or doesn’t show; there is traffic; there are a lot of departures and the queues are long.

The only what if we didn’t allow for was what if none of any of that occurs – which it didn’t

We woke up on time; ready early and had a chance of some breakfast; we were out early for the cab which arrived right on time; there was a clear run to the airport which only took 15 minutes; no other departures at that time; the check-in hadn’t even opened when we arrived and we causally strolled through the marked lanes even when they did open – we were 2nd through – no hassles, not even when one case was over 24kg.

We even had to go off and have a coffee waiting for the customs and passport control to open – when it finally did we were through there in almost an instant; we had allowed time in case the claim back of GST was slow or others in front – charming lady there was on her own with no-one to look after until we arrived – 5 minutes and the refund of $140 was done – no hassles at all.

Off to the gate where there was a chance for another coffee and we were all called to board – no fuss and not much of a wait – just 2 or 3 minutes.

The plane was ready - it was still not yet light in the morning
that's how early we were ready to go
So we are all on board the plane; doors closed and everyone ready to go – what happens then – an announcement that we are overweight and they need to take some cargo off.

So all of the preparedness from us only ended in a delay in takeover caused by the airline .

We did however arrive in Auckland dead on time – it was a very uneventful flight.

We gave customs a bit of concern – they X-ray the bags as you come into the country – seems we had something “organic” in one of the cases – in one of my shoes to be exact – “oh yes the carved echidna” would do that.

Rebecca was there to meet us – she had the day off and after a training lecture to nurses in the morning the rest of the day and the weekend were hers and ultimately ours.

We managed to catch the peak hour traffic around Auckland that seems to start to build up after 2pm on a Friday afternoon; eventually we made it to the hotel and whilst the room wasn’t quite ready, we were able to leave the cases and head off for a late lunch.

Back to the hotel; the room was ready so we took the bags up and gave it a once over – small kitchenette; lounge; separate bedroom and two bathrooms – all very good.

Bec had told us she was going to be moving her place of residence in a few weeks so we thought we should check out the new area - Mission Bay – it coincided perfectly also with having a drink overlooking the water and as luck would have it, one of the choices of drinking establishments was a Belgian Beer Café – a neat two-storey place where we could sit our on the balcony and look out at some of the views of the bay – not a bad way to spend a Friday early evening.

The Belgian Beer Café with balcony to sit and drink and watch
the world go by - in this case the late Friday traffic

Belgian beer and the views
Mission Bay - the park and beyond to the bay

more of Mission Bay

just some of Bec's soon-to-be noisy neighbours

and this old vintage vehicle in the main street

After all of this the effects of the early start and the plane journey seemed to be starting to take its toll on both of us and we thought it best to head back for a bit of an early night, but only after we picked up a few provisions at the supermarket, which we did.

So it was a relatively early night – in bed by about 8pm – looking forward to some sleep and some recovery.

We did sleep pretty soundly and when we awoke on Saturday morning the roads showed that there had been some rain overnight.

A bit of breakfast followed and then we headed out to start exploring the city – Bec had a staff Xmas party on that day and we had encouraged her that she should attend and we would share Sunday with her.

So first port of call was Starbucks, just around the corner; for some proper coffee and free internet, which both came in very handy – as did the newspapers provided.

After that we were off to visit the weekly French market that Bec had told us about – we found it without too much trouble – having decided to walk the entire distance – about a 2km walk.

Skytower Auckland - where you can walk around
on the outside, or if crazy enough, you can
jump off

Symonds Street Auckland

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

Does my bum look big in this chair - oops that's not my bum

The French Markets
It was a lovely little market with some specialty stalls and you could easily come away from there with bags full of delicious goodies – we restricted ourselves to a fresh juice and pastries.

Next on the list was to catch a bus and investigate some of the inner city areas of Auckland – we would have done just that, but the first bus to appear actually did a large circular route further out from the city centre, so we hopped on and paid our $4 each.

A lovely couple on board got talking to us and suggested another market to visit which was right by our intended stopping point anyway – so we did so – another gem in the centre of the city.

new style coffee van at The International Market

After that we were pretty close to the Viaduct Harbour so an easy matter just to walk through where we admired the boats moored and decided which would be suitable to buy and which we would bypass entirely – we also watched a boat reversing into a mooring spot – these boats have bow and stern thrusters and can be reversed easily in a straight line.

A bridge opening for the cat about to leave

The water was so clear and clean - unlike the canals we will
head back to
Watching is always fun, especially when the person doing the job is a complete novice – came in too fast; too much forward which gave them forward momentum; then reverse; then forward; then managed to drift offline – eventually the security person dockside told them to throw the line and cut the engines – he pulled them in and tied them up – nice to know that bucket loads of money can buy you a nice boat but not the brains to think how to moor it up properly.

A wander around the shops and a chat to a guy now living in Auckland but originally from England – he started as a carpenter and has now ended up a boat designer.

Which one will I get to wear when the Welsh beat the All Blacks
only problem was the All Blacks won
We had lunch overlooking the ferry moorings and watching them arrive and leave.

Queen St Ferry Building
By this stage we had had enough – the legs were getting tired in direct proportion to the weight of the eyelids, so a walk up Queens St towards the hotel should complete the job – for both eyelids and legs.

We found reasonable internet at the cinema complex and then chatted away to Sara in Dallas; then a hot chocolate at the Coffee Club and watching a 3-on-3 basketball competition for teenagers was a pleasant way to finish the day for us.

After that it was just a short uphill walk to the hotel; a bit of TV and a snack before we were off to bed – early again.

We had had two glorious days so far, with only a bit of rain early on Saturday morning, and Sunday was a continuation – even better than the other two days.

The arrangements for today were that we would meet Bec around 9am and head off to the ferries for a day out at one of the islands.

We met at Starbucks, where we once again made use of the wi-fi; by this time we had made a friend of the young barista who was really good to us – the coffees kept coming as did the extra minutes of internet usage – maybe he just took pity on two old people – well one at least, as Diane will tell you how much younger than me she is.

Bec met up with us and after another coffee we headed south – towards the water.

Diane and Bec made the decisions about the day – much easier on me then – I just go along with the final choice.

Waiheke Island it was to be – by ferry, then once there a bus to other parts of the island with a clear intention of sampling some of the wines from the some of the local vineyards.

The sun was getting warmer and the day certainly looking like a memorable one indeed.

What do you do in a harbour city like Auckland – even if you do live on a boat – take a cruise on the water and watch how the bigger boys do it.

So a 35 minute cruise out past the cruiser terminals and cargo ships; past the hidden little bays – big and small – and out to one of the larger islands within the general harbour area.

We took the bus to the furtherest part of the island which could be reached in this way; had a bit of a stroll along the beach, admiring the houses around – most appeared to be holiday houses anyway, but all with the clear sign and plenty of money available.

Diane and Bec removed shoes and rolled the jeans up to let the water lap at their feet and ankles – seems that it was pretty cold at first and took a bit of time to get accustomed to it, but enjoyable none-the-less.

quite simply a stunning location
Back onto the bus to head to the first winery and somewhere to have lunch.

Stoneyridge Wines was not a name that I had seen or heard of, nor one that I had tasted, but it was right opposite the bus stop and the drive beckoned for some travellers – so we obliged.

There was a small charge for a tasting selection and as we sat beneath the palm tree and the cool of the shade had it’s desired effect on the three of us warm from the walk up the premises, the wines arrived and we looked out over the valley – which really was unspoilt – seemed like a nice enough place for lunch as well.

no one's idea of a tough life....

...and views to match...

...and the restaurant is right there as well.
We parked ourselves there for the next 2 hours to enjoy a fabulous and lengthy lunch which was well presented and prepared; the wine to go with it was equally lovely; the cheese platter finished it all off and you then wonder – why do we have to ever go back to work – ever!

Time then to move on and whilst we had every intention to visit another winery, the time was such that they were closing up and we decided that after a such a pleasing day we should head back ourselves, which we did with just a short stop at the main village for a look around; then to the ferry and the trip back to Auckland.

From the water the City of Auckland creates a great skyline
One last suggestion – this time from Diane and we headed up to the first floor of the Queen St Ferry Building and we plonked ourselves down on the lounges on the balcony; ordered some drinks and as the sun was silently getting lower in the sky we relaxed – looking out at those who were on later ferries than us; and simply enjoyed this pleasure as it should be.

Still not a tough life you two

A perfect end to a perfect day.

Diane and I wandered back to the hotel; Bec caught a bus back to her flat – the only thing we had to do was pack our bags ready for departure on Monday and tend to the sunburnt face that I had acquired.

This was definitely a day to savour and remember.

Friday, 21 November 2014

The End to the Australian Leg

Saturday 26th October to Friday 21st November 2014

One of the main reasons for the original timing of this trip was to coincide with Diane's dad turning 80; the rest of the things that required us to be on this trip all fell into place as a result of that original reason.

As they live in Queensland (Mooloolah) and they have done so for the last 20 years - something about it being warmer and such nonsense - I think I have made mention of the fact that I do not do hot weather all that well - never have, never will - it necessitated a huge amount of time and effort co-ordinating everyone to be able to make the trip - at least as many as could go.

As a sure sign of some solidarity, which is unusual for this complete family, everyone made it.

Diane and I flew up on the Saturday with Mitchell and Sara flying onWednesday; Sam and Vivienne were Thursday flyers; Robert, Sonia and Rialey are Queenslanders and only live 25 minutes away anyway.

Anyway, arriving on Saturday evening we were immediately confronted with darkness - these banana benders do not understand about the concept of daylight saving, preferring instead to have the sun come up at 4:30am and then set at 7pm - dumb, dumb, dumb.

It's a bit like going back in time by 10 years and 1 hour.

So it was night-time when we arrived but still warm-hot - nothing changed there.

Both Millie and Fil were well and in fact looking better than we had seen them for some time - always pleasing as they are just coming out of middle-age - at least according to Millie.

They moved house about 12 months ago and whilst I had been there last year when I came back to Australia, Diane had not seen the new home and was really pleased with both the size (not too big); the space (plenty of usable room) and the small backyard (means less work for them).

The rockwall that was worked on last year was now looking a treat with the plants established.
The place is looking more established and quite colourful
compared to a year ago

The little township is quite well populated with shops and really only a 5 minute walk away, so there is a chance to pop down to the supermarket or the hardware shop or grab a paper; as well there are a few good restaurants/take-aways, but importantly there is a nice coffee shop/cafe.

We think the coffee is fine, but Sam (the barista) will tell you otherwise - she has become a coffee snob, me thinks!

I had arranged to keep working for this week - I realised a while ago that when the sun is up early I am usually the same; older people take longer to get themselves going - this meant that the morning would be spent waiting for others to get ready (even if there was nothing to get ready for), so instead I used it to work.

We had a couple of days (really hours either side of mid-day) out doing some sightseeing and not a lot else; we organised a few things for the birthday night; and for the day after.

Suddenly Wednesday arrived and so did Mitch and Sara who found the house without too much trouble - Sara had not met the grandparents before and she took to them as indeed they took to her - well really why not - she is such a lovely girl.

Arrangements had been made for the two of them to stay at a resort at Caloundra - still only about 20 minutes away - and they would drive over.

It worked out well as they picked up Sam from the airport - she was the last to arrive - and we headed up into the mountains to Maleny for the birthday dinner at Key - Tastes of Africa.

Robert, myself and Sonia

the lovely Samantha

you reckon they look like father and son?

Fil (Terry) with his pet Komodo dragon

We were all there about the right time - restaurant was ours for the evening - and the service, the food and drinks were all very good.

With so many options on the menu, it was difficult for some to make a choice; they were able to cater for special requests including gluten-free.

Everyone was chatting away without any problems and we just enjoyed a very good night, which was just as well because Fil (Terry) had a great time as well - not one to be enamoured with the prospect of having people fuss over him, it all went over well and he enjoyed it as well.

Before we knew it we needed to be on our way home; the bill was taken care of and the place was left reasonably tidy.

The following day, Friday, we had only said to the older pair that we were taking them out for the day and that there would be a little bit of walking involved.

They do enjoy a good trip to the zoo, so we spent the day at Australia Zoo, just down the road and the home to the Irwin family (and a bunch of crocs).
They are really looking well - Fil (Terry) and Millie (Dorothy)

Sara and some guy - oops looks like Mitch

The weather was warm to hot (when isn't it) but with plenty of shade around we managed a fair amount of walking and seeing most things; with nearly all of us from interstate/overseas we wouldn't be back for a while anyway, but for Millie and Fil, who were only a few minutes away, they probably would like to see things again - so we arranged for a season pass for each which will last until March 2016 - mmm, that is thinking a bit ahead - they may not get to use all of it - a bit like being very positive about things and buying green bananas.

By the time we got home we were all feeling a bit knackered but not enough that the games wouldn't come out, including the Trivial Pursuit.

It was a close run thing with each of the three teams having answered questions to get each of there "cheeses" in place, all were on the centre spot at the same time - 2 teams answered incorrectly, but Sara and Mitch triumphed in the end.

Another latish night - Sara and Mitch headed off - they were off down to the Gold Coast in the morning for 2 days - the rest of us were going to take it easy and recover - 2 late nights in a row and an exhausting day in between - I certainly needed the chance to recuperate.

There apparently were markets on each of the two days over the weekend and those with an interest in them disappeared to be absorbed in them - Fil and I rested (Sam as well on Saturday).

With an exhausting week behind us, Sam and I flew back to Melbourne, and met up with Mitch and Sara who flew from Brisbane at the same time - Joey (one of Mitch's friends) arrived to pick us up and at some time after midnight, this little white rabbit was finally in his own bed - the weather outside considerably cooler and more inviting.

Diane stayed in Queensland for an extra few days and we then spent the last two weeks of our time in Melbourne finalising the movement of Sam upstairs and Mitch back downstairs.

Coupled with all of that was getting rid of all of the rubbish that seemed to have accumulated between the two of them.

We said goodbye to Sara as she flew back to Los Angeles to begin their relocation to the US - but without her man - just for the time being.

Once the US Embassy starts getting on with the job. Mitch will get his visa and he will be off.

Had another problem with this laptop - another virus that McAfee wouldn't handle - but thanks to the guys at Geek Computers the laptop  was restored to how it was prior to the problem. I updated it with all of the stuff I did on the new one I bought in the meantime. I should however have got rid of McAfee and installed the new anti-virus software because it (McAfee) let the same virus through.

Special thanks to the Geek guys again - they provided great after-hours service to help get me up and running again - first thing I did was uninstall McAfee and install Trend Micro - all working well again.

Now on holidays and no work for over a week.

In the meantime we managed to squeeze about 90kgs into our bags; got a taxi to the airport at 4am and flew out bound for Auckland.