Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sydney Day 5

After the somewhat frantic pace of the past two days, we went with a much slower itinerary today. We walked to the area known as The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney so-named because of all the rocks located there. It was established shortly after the colony's formation in 1788. It was also where the convicts were brought over from England. We had breakfast at a place called Pancakes on the Rocks - cute name for a place known for their fabulous pancakes.

On Sundays the area is filled with vendors selling their wares, so it was fun to walk through there on our way to the part of town called Barangaroo. Jim had heard of the new park called Barangaroo Reserve, and he wanted to check it out. I'm so glad we did. What an amazing place! Opened in August of 2015, the park was designed by American landscape architect Peter Walker in association with Johnson Pilton Walker of Sydney.

The park was built on a 16 acre lot that once housed the oldest industrial site in the area. The concrete container terminal has been reimagined into a rocky outcropping, landscaped with over 75,000 native trees and shrubs. Dual pathways allow walkers, runners and bicyclists to co-exist safely. The 10,000 blocks of sandstone were excavated directly from the site during the project.

Today we saw many people utilizing the park - walking, running, riding bikes and scooters, and just enjoying the beautiful sunny, 69 degree weather. It is quite a show-stopper with the never ending water views. It was great to be able to see it.

Once we left the park we decided to try to find a grocery store to pick up a few things. The concierge at our hotel had given us directions from Barangaroo to one, but we were having a hard time finding it. While we were looking at a map, a kind Australian man asked if we needed help. He said the place we were looking for was closed on Sundays, but he could direct us to Cole's. In fact, he walked part of the way with us, discussing politics as he was interested in Donal Trump. Yeegads!

We found the store with no problem, and were surprised to see that we had to take an escalator down below street grade to enter the store. It was not a large grocery store, but it had all we needed and it was fun to look at their different products. We then went back to the hotel and snacked a little while resting our feet. We are having no problem getting our 10,000 steps a day here. In fact, we normally hit that number by noon.

In the early evening we walked down to the Opera House to see how it is lit at night, and then grabbed some Vietnamese food from a street vendor for dinner. The food was okay, but nothing to write home about. Oh wait, I guess I just did that, didn't I? Ha...

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sydney Day 4

Today was jam-packed with activities. We met our tour bus this morning at a nearby McDonald's for a 7:15 pickup. Or at least it was supposed to be 7:15. Apparently a couple of people overslept, making the driver late for our pickup location. That is so incredibly rude to inconvenience everyone else, not to mention that it impacted our schedule for the rest of the morning.

We drove in a small bus the 90 km to the Blue Mountains National Park, which is a World Heritage site. We stopped once about 45 minutes into the trip for a potty/coffee break. Once we arrived in the park we had time for a quick peak at the Three Sisters, a sandstone rock formation, before boarding the Scenic Skyway, a cable car with a glass floor that takes you 270 meters between the cliffs over the Jamison Valley. It is the highest cable car in Australia. Once across the valley, we entered the Scenic Cableway, Australia's biggest cable car. It can carry 84 people. Fortunately we only had about 30 on our  run.  The car took us 545 meters to the bottom of the valley.

Once at the bottom we walked on the Scenic Walkway, the longest elevated boardwalk in Australia. We learned about the temperate rainforest and the plant life, and also about the mining that had been done in the area. When that part of the tour ended, we climbed into the Scenic Railway. With a 52 degree incline, it is the steepest passenger train in the world. It took us back to the top where our bus met us to drive us to Echo Point Lookout. From there you have a grand view of the Three Sisters and the mountains in general. Several of us braved the intimidating steep, sloping staircase to go down to see the first "sister" up close. It was a rushed hike as the driver was trying to make up the lost time from the morning latecomers. We were scheduled to see an 11:30 aboriginal show, and Jim and I were a couple minutes late for that.

After the show we went to a nearby country club for lunch, consisting of baked chicken drumsticks, fried fish, salad, vegetables,  and a couple desserts. Then our driver took us to a surprise stop at Lincoln's Rock. The rock formation has no guardrails of any kind, and is a sheer drop off. It was gorgeous!

Last stop was at Featherdale Wildlife Park. Small by animal park standards, it is nevertheless home to  Australia' largest number of native wildlife. You can have your picture taken with a koala and also hand feed the kangaroos. We enjoyed the experience!

From there our driver Tim took us on a short drive through Olympic Village (from the 2000 Olympics) before dropping us off at the dock where we would caught a ferry for our return trip to Circular Quay in downtown Sydney. As we traveled down the Parramatta River on our way to Sydney Harbour, this was a different view of the city than we had seen before. Upon arriving we picked up dinner to go and brought it back to the room. We are tired!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Sydney Day 3

Following a massive breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks, so named for its location in the oldest part of Sydney, we stopped in at the information centre to get some advice on tours. We knew that we wanted to get out to the Blue Mountains, but it was a question of traveling on our own by train versus hooking up with a tour group. In the end, we decided to go with a small tour company that only takes 20 passengers as we liked the variety of activities that was offered by them - including a couple that we would not be able to do on our own. Our original plan was to go on Monday to avoid weekend crowds. But the woman at the centre assured us that Saturdays are a good pick because locals go on Sunday due to greatly reduced train ticket fares. So we booked for tomorrow, which is Saturday.

Today we traveled by ferry to the Taronga Zoo. Jim is working on a zoo project that includes the possibility of transporting guests by gondola, and the Sydney zoo has that already in place . Opened in 1916, Taronga has over 4,000 animals located on 69 acres built into a hillside. We arrived at the ferry terminal after a short 12 minute ride from Circular Quay and headed for the gondola lift. What a breath-taking ride to the top of the zoo!

The zoo is nicely laid out, if a bit challenging for some folks with its hills and steps. Around every corner was an amazing view of Sydney Harbour. The animal displays were guest-friendly, and you can tell that the zoo caters to families with children. They even have a couple of playgrounds that were being extensively used while we were there.

After we tired out, we took a ferry to the community of Manly, where we enjoyed a very late lunch along the waterfront. We will be turning in early tonight as we need to meet our tour group at 7:15 in the morning. We are very much looking forward to tomorrow!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sydney Day 2

This morning I woke up pretty early (as in 3:30 in the morning early), so I checked messages as I normally do first thing only to find out that back in St. Louis lightning had struck the remaining oak in our front yard causing the tree to fall. Those of you who follow my blog know that we lost two huge trees out front a couple years ago, and they fell on two different neighbors' cars. The good news is that the tree landed predominantly in our yard, and hopefully did not destroy the small buckeye we put in last year to replace the one that had fallen the previous year. The bad news is that it took out the internet and cable line. Oh, and the huge quote to remove the tree was not exactly good either. Thankfully we have people staying in our house while we are gone, and they could deal with the issues right away. We are so grateful for the wonderful neighbors who came over to offer their assistance to our house sitters.

Once we were assured everything was being taken care of at home, we took off for an early breakfast and then made our way to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Affectionately known as the "Coathanger", the bridge opened in 1932. It is the world's largest (but not longest) bridge, spanning 1149 meters in length. It carries eight lanes of vehicle traffic, two train lines, a footway and a cycleway. You can climb the bridge spans if you dare, with prices beginning at $158 Australian dollars. Once I learned that no phones or cameras are allowed, that was a deal breaker for me. We chose to walk across instead. The views from the bridge are quite spectacular.

Once on the other side of the mile long bridge we were in what is called North Sydney. There at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge we found Luna Park, an amusement park that was built in 1935. The park is only open Friday-Monday, but we were able to walk in a bit of it. Luna Park is one of two
 amusement parks in the world that are protected by government legislation. Several of the buildings in the park are listed on the Register of the National Estate.

By the time we completed our walk back across the bridge, grabbed lunch to go, and returned to the room to eat on our terrace, we had already racked up over 15,000 steps and walked nearly 7 miles. And it was only noon!

Following lunch and a short rest we walked to the Royal Botanic Garden. This 74 acre garden opened in 1814 and is free to visit. Paths meander throughout, taking you past lush planting beds, ponds and along the harbour. Numerous birds call the area home and we even saw parrots! We will need to make another trip back as dusk began to fall before we had finished exploring. Luckily it is within a short walking distance of our hotel. As we hit over 23,000 steps on our Fitbits today, we were ready to find somewhere to eat dinner, then head back to the room.

I've been researching why photos can't be placed in this blog on an iPad, and haven't found a satisfactory solution yet. I never have problems on my iMac at home, but for some reason blogger cannot find the photos I have uploaded to this iPad. It is very frustrating as that is why I brought the iPad along. I'm not giving up yet!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trip of a Lifetime

We have talked off and on for years about traveling to Australia and New Zealand. First of all, the countries look amazing, and second Jim had a landscape architecture professor at Iowa State who relocated his family to Melbourne 30 or more years ago. He has always invited us over for a visit. We decided it was time to finally go as none of us are getting any younger.

The planning began in 2015, but between scheduling issues, health issues on the other end, and dealing with American Airlines, it took until July of 2016 for the trip to get booked. We wanted to use frequent flyer miles to upgrade our seats, because I told Jim that the only way I was getting on a 15+ hour flight was if my seat was in business class. The airlines really do not want you to be able to use those miles you collect, so it took quite a while and a lot of flexibility to make the tickets happen.

Because there was no business class on the plane from St. Louis to Los Angeles, we were given first class seats. We didn't complain! We had over 4 hours to kill at LAX, but the Admirals Club made that bearable. We boarded the next flight at 10:20 p.m.for an 11:00 departure. Neither of us had been in business class, so this was a real treat. The single cubicles, for lack of a better word, had wide, comfortable seats that could fully recline for sleeping. We were given slippers, pajamas, and a toiletry kit to keep, and a large pillow, comforters and Bose noice cancelling headphones for use during the trip. There was a remote control for the large personal LCD screen in each seat. Plenty of storage space was provided in each cubicle. The food was good as was the service.

Neither one of us slept much on the flight, despite the comfortable arrangements. We arrived in Sydney a little ahead of schedule, enjoyed the streamlined epassport services at the airport, and quickly collected our bags. The longest wait was in the que to get a cab.

We are staying at the Sir Stamford Hotel, which is located in Circular Quay. Fortunately, despite the early hour (8:00 a.m.), they had our room ready. We enjoyed a cup of hot coffee (tea for me) on our terrace, freshened up a bit, and then headed out to explore. This location is excellent, and we quickly found ourselves at the Sydney Opera House - the most iconic symbol of the city. Having seen it so often through the years in films or videos, it was surreal to be standing in front of it. For today, we just enjoyed walking around the outside, but we will definitely go back for a tour.

We found a lovely place along the water to have lunch, and then did more walking before making our way back to the hotel room. Two days of no sleep are catching up with us, so we will just chill tonight before taking the city by storm tomorrow.

For some reason I am not able to post photos to the blog. As I am too tired to figure that out right now, I will look into this tomorrow. Hopefully I can figure it out!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Weekend Highs and Lows

The Better Business Bureau office in St. Louis had a paper shredding event last Saturday at one of the local malls. I had a stack of papers that I have slowly been shredding over the last year or so with my underpowered paper shredder. But with an event this size, I decided to tackle the file cabinets to see what we could get rid of in one fell swoop. In addition to our personal taxes dating back more than seven years, I had old bank statements for the kids as well as all the check book registers dating back to nearly when we were first married. I also inherited all of my dad's paperwork, including his medical and financial reports. He died in 2004, so I could have safely disposed of these many years ago. Ahem...

boxes of paper
By Saturday morning I had five cardboard boxes filled with papers of various shapes and sizes. The event ran from 9-12, so I decided to arrive around 9:30 to avoid the crowd. Ha! On my way there, a lady in a huge Lexus SUV decided she wanted my turn lane in addition to her own, and despite me laying on the horn she continued to come fully into my lane. It's a good thing I was paying attention since she obviously was not. That was the second time in a week that I nearly got creamed by someone. Come on people, vacation is right around the corner and I want to be in one piece for it!
waiting in line

Arriving at the mall, I could see where the shredding was taken place, so I turned left into the parking lot where two volunteers were standing in their bright colored vests. One of them asked me if I was there for the event, and when I indicated that I was he directed me to pull behind a stopped SUV up ahead. It wasn't until that point that I realized the line of cars was snaked through the parking lot west of where I had entered. No problem, I figured we would have to wait our turn and then they would let our group move ahead at some point. Well, that didn't exactly happen. The other cars continued on uninterrupted, and I'm sure they thought that our lane had just arrived and was trying to butt in. One man was particularly vocal and yelled out at us that some people didn't want to wait their turn. He had no idea how long we had been waiting. In hindsight, they should have had all cars enter at the same place to avoid any misunderstanding, road rage being what it is and all. Any way, we finally were allowed to proceed, and once at the truck volunteers grabbed the boxes out of your car so I didn't have to lift a finger - just my tailgate. Easy, peasy...
paper shredder
I returned home to finish cleaning for Easter Sunday. Normally my sister has everyone over for dinner, but she has had a rough start to the year health-wise. I knew she would not have the stamina to clean and shop, much less cook, for a dozen people. So I volunteered to host at our house. I wanted to get everything cleaned on Saturday so I could focus on cooking Sunday.

pineapple upside down cake
Everyone brought something, so that helped a lot. I made my dad's pineapple upside down cake using his special pan, and it was like having him in the kitchen with me. Then I prepared the bone-in ham the way he used to, covering it in cloves and later pineapples and cherries along with a glaze. I was able to put the potatoes and the ham in the oven at the same time, which only left the rolls at the end. Everything worked out perfectly, and we enjoyed a wonderful meal together. After eating the cake and/or the peanut butter pies my sister brought, we broke out a game of Code Names. It is easy to play with a crowd as you divide into teams, and is so fun. Andy had brought it at Christmas, so we were familiar with the rules.
baked ham
All in all, it was a nice day, and I am so grateful that we have some family in town so that we can celebrate the special events together. I just wish the kids lived closer so they could come as well.

Monday, April 10, 2017

That's Just the Nature of Things

My sister and I were finally able to get together for lunch recently. She has been pretty sick for a couple of months, so I was glad that she was feeling well enough to meet. We went to our favorite pizza parlor in Pacific, Missouri as that is close to being a halfway point for us to drive. The pizza was great, as was the company. After we ate I enjoyed taking photographs in the area.

Pacific, Missouri
It has been incredibly beautiful around here, despite the severe storms that have come along with early, high temperatures. We have been getting out whenever we can to enjoy the weather. Shaw Nature Reserve is lovely year round, but spring brings out the daffodils and bluebells, among other things. We took a five mile hike into the back of the reserve, and had the place to ourselves, except for the ten deer that we came upon. Ten! It was amazing, for sure. But the stinkers were running through the woods so I was unable to capture a picture of them.

Shaw Nature Reserve
Saturday I attended the annual Family History Conference put on each spring by the St. Louis Genealogical Society. Their conferences are always great, and I was particularly excited for this year's event. One of the main speakers was Cyndi Ingle, creator of Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet. The site holds a categorized index of more than 335,000 online resources, including my website on researching house history. Not only is she a wealth of knowledge, she is also a wonderful speaker. Also on the program was Jan Alpert, who was offering up tips on using DNA in genealogy. This was of particular interest to me, and not just because I have had my own DNA analysis done. I also had my father-in-law tested, and his results were puzzling to all of us. The ethnicity breakdown for him showed 50% Great Britain, 26% Scandinavia, and 24% Europe West. As I have researched his family back to the early 1800s and found nothing on either side of his family but Germans, the 50% Great Britain makes no sense. For that high of a percentage you would expect that one of his parents was English and that is certainly not the case.

Once I studied the map that you can find when digging deeper into the test results, it sort of began to make sense. Their designation for Great Britain dips way down into parts of France, Belgium, and Germany. As his ancestors are from northwest Germany, I can see where that statistic is coming from. But why in the world do they include that part of the world in their Great Britain designation? It certainly is not the most helpful thing to do.

I spoke with a couple of people who are knowledgeable about DNA at the meeting, and they suggested that I have my father-in-law retested with a different company. I may eventually do that, but I also found out that for $19 I can upload his test results to one of the other testing companies so that I can gain access to their reporting systems. So I will probably start with that and see what happens. I want to have my husband tested as well, since my mother-in-law and one of my sister-in-laws have been tested. It will be fun to compare all of them.

While I was sad to be sitting inside a conference center all day on Saturday as it was a beautiful day, Jim and I got out for a nice walk at Francis Park on Sunday. We have been busy getting ready for an epic adventure, so it was nice to take a break from planning and get outside.

Bob Cassilly's sculptures at Francis Park