NCD

Today, being a certain person’s birthday, has been declared National Carb Day. It is the ONLY day when it is permitted to “Carb out on Carbs”. It is with this in mind that we set out but only managed to get as far as the World’s Best Bakery at Glenorie, our first (and only) visit this trip.

World’s Best Bakery

Here we (over) indulged in carbs. I had my favourite ever pie (mash potato) and a vanilla slice while Mirinda had a birthday steak pie, neenish tart and passion fruit palmier. She also had strawberry milk, something we can’t get in the UK, while I had an iced latte. It was all very much a celebration.

Fully loaded (I was actually a bit more fully loaded than full) we headed off for the mountains for our usual pilgrimage. Of course our first proper stop was the Norman Lindsay Gallery but before that we made a couple of short stops at look-outs.

The first lookout we stopped at was a a place called Yerrimundi Reserve where a lovely little path led the way to a splendid view of the Nepean River. Here a family fished, little kids and grandad (I think) among the birds and water fowl and large piles of discarded beer bottles and the normal detritus of people who don’t care about anything. Clearly it’s a job for Supa Shaz.

Nepean River

Hopping back into the car we then stopped at the once named Hawkesbury Lookout which is now called Yellamundee Reserve which is particularly confusing. Still, the confusion just evaporates when you take in the wonderful view. You can even see Penrith in the far distance…possibly the best way to see Penrith.

Finally we headed off for Faulconbridge and the home (once) of one of my favourite artists, Norman Lindsay. We always pop in on the way up and yet we still find things we’ve not seen before. It’s always a joy to soak in the surroundings of a man determined to paint as many naked women as humanly possible.

Actually, I was quite lucky with the above photo. There was a sign on this room which stated that there were no “cameras, iPhones, iPads or videos” allowed. I figured the person responsible had an Android phone and just didn’t like Apple. I took the photo. Mirinda wasn’t allowed.

Having studied everything in the house (including his ship models) we wandered around the garden for a bit then Mirinda bashed a bit of bush around the bush track while I photographed the fountain.

(I should mention that the weather is, once more, perfect. That’s absolutely no exaggeration.)

Birthday girl

Having settled into the Waldorf Leura Gardens in the wonderfully scenic room 218 overlooking the golf course, we headed out to reminisce over the Three Sisters (along with a few hundred tourists). Unfortunately the sun had vanished behind the mountains by the time we reached the edge of the lookout. We could still see but it very quickly became too dark to see much of anything. We headed back to the hotel via the centre of Katoomba (some things never change) and had a rest before dinner.

For Mirinda’s birthday we decided to go to Silks. We’ve always wanted to go to Silks but, for one reason or another, never have. Tonight that was all to change. And what a fabulous restaurant. Three courses of utter delight plus an excellent white wine from Orange. It rounded off an excellent day.

Especially for Mirinda from Silks

Posted in Australia 2017, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment

At home with Adele and Dave

I’ve been testing an app that converts voice to text. It’s so I can take notes for the blog to eventually turn into a post and save me writing things down. I don’t think the testing is over. This is what was created today while I waited for Mirinda and Adele:

Well ambulances blaring while you were stuck in traffic maybe this is just good for taking notes rather than an entire blog post harrow

Today, as the title indicates, we went down to Wollongong to visit Adele and Dave (and Molly during dinner). Again, the weather was fantastic. (If we were tourists we’d believe that Australia always has perfect weather with nothing but blue skies and sun and always a delight at the beach. We know this is nonsense but it’s been remarkably beautiful since we arrived.)

Despite Bob’s warnings about the Easter holiday traffic, we didn’t see any. There was a brief moment on the way down when a set of traffic lights refused to let more than three cars through at a time but this caused more traffic problems than it solved and had little if anything to do with Easter. Without this hiccough, we’d have reached the Gong in an hour and a half but, instead, it took an hour and three quarters instead.

On the drive down I remembered what it used to be like when I was young and carefree. Trying to join up roads and highways, fighting the desire to buy a helicopter. It was never very pleasant and seemed to take hours. Probably it did because the non-air conditioned cars were slower and the roads narrower. Now it’s all very easy and (almost) direct. But enough reminiscing…

We arrived and demanded that Adele make us a cup of coffee after our long, rigorous journey. Adele then demanded that Dave make us a coffee in their new coffee maker. It was very involved and provided hours of entertainment. We then headed down to a wonderful cafe called The Point.

Adele must go there pretty regularly because she is on a first name basis with the proprietor. And knows her back story. The Point even allows dogs so Charlie often pops in as well.

Charlie and her favourite toy

Poor Charlie has only recently recovered from the snail bait eating incident that had her at deaths door and claiming on her insurance. You’d never know it from being with her now. In fact, she’s exactly the same as I remember her from my last visit…which was many years ago now.

After having a lovely lunch at The Point, Dave went back to the house to start dinner while we walked down to McCauley’s Beach, which I’m glad to say has an apostrophe. This is where Adele regularly brings Charlie for a walk. It’s one of four dog friendly beaches within cooee of her house and is very handy because this country isn’t as dog friendly as it used to be. I left Mirinda and Adele to go for a chatty walk together and sat on a bench, being welcomed by all manner of dogs and owners.

Mirinda and Adele head down

Back at the house we popped out the back to check out the results of the various plantings in the reserve behind the house. Which reminds me, they’ve had the house completely redecorated since we last visited. Both inside and outside have been repainted and look marvellous. Even the furniture has been updated though I agree with Dave about the lounges.

Adele demonstrates her ballet moves in the reserve

Back inside, we sat around talking while Dave pottered in the kitchen and then were entertained by a fair few Molly videos and one very impressive one of Dave playing drums at the Whiskey A Go-Go club in LA as part of a Deep Purple rock ‘n roll fantasy present from the family last Christmas. He told us all about it and it sounded fantastic…though the Japanese chap providing lead vocals was not exactly vocally ‘fantastic’ he was very enthusiastic and the bassist had his own ideas about how the solo went. Dave, never one for gilding the lily said it was the best present he’s EVER had.

Dinner was a delicious lamb casserole followed by cheese. The wine was perfect and the company exceptional as we were joined by Molly who almost joined in the conversations. She’s presently rehearsing Mary Poppins (she’s playing Mary and will fly) and thoroughly enjoying it…I think.

Eventually we took off for the return trip to Dural (again, no traffic and this time we made it in an hour and a half) arriving at just gone 10:30. Another lovely day; another visit with friends. And, of course, here’s another video…

Posted in Australia 2017, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment

Extreme real estating

Mirinda always likes to check out places we might want to live…all over the world. It’s a strange hobby she has which should never be taken seriously. Though if we were ever to move to another country, it’s nice to know the research has been done.

It’s with the above in mind that we hopped into the car and took off for various parts of the northern side of Sydney. This was not before eating a massive bowl of prawns that Bob said would go off if we didn’t have them for breakfast. This is possibly one of the first times I’ve had prawns for breakfast. It seems that it’s pretty much the same as having prawns for lunch…or dinner. Delicious.

Our first location, location, location was Belrose quickly followed by various addresses in Frenchs Forest (I’m not sure I could live in a place that is short an apostrophe). Both areas are very nice though somewhat hilly. Actually, everywhere we looked today was hilly to various degrees – except for those that were downright mountainous. Which is odd because we both don’t really like hilly – let alone mountainous.

Hilly though they be, Belrose and Frenchs Forest (I am so tempted to include the apostrophe every time I type that) are beautifully surrounded by glorious bushland in the form of national parkland. Of course we couldn’t walk our dogs because that’s not permitted in NSW. So much for Belrose and Frenchs Forest.

But they were never serious contenders because our next destination, various Northern Beaches suburbs were where Mirinda had her eye firmly fixed.

Before driving down narrow, windy roads at the top of Pittwater, we headed for Whale Beach for lunch. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Whale Beach. It is seriously beautiful. Everything a Sydney beach should be. Slightly hidden away, dangerous surf, the promise of being swept out to sea, not too many people and a brilliant cafe disguised as a down market kiosk.

Whale Beach looking perfect

Lunch was a delight. Mirinda and I had a perfectly lo-carb avocado, ricotta, rocket and poached egg topped sourdough slice while Bob had an equally scrummy wrap. They had flat whites while I indulged myself with an amazing iced latte with ice cream (naughty, I know, but so totally worth it).

Having fortified ourselves with sustenance, we headed for the beach for a stroll.

Strange panno featuring Isadora Duncan wannabe

Ignoring the various warnings scattered about the place, quite a few people were daring to indulge in the water and, as reported by Mirinda and her thermometer toes, the water was warm. It all seemed idyllic and the perfect way to spend a Sunday (religious festival or not) and the amount of family groups was nice to see.

As far as a viable place to live, Whale Beach has to be quite low on the preference list. The hills in and out are ridiculously steep. So much so that were one to stroll down to the beach from one’s vertiginous viewpoint home for a refreshing swim, one would be in need of another by the time one returned home. And forget driving down because the car parking would be horrendous, the closest being in one’s own carport.

Still, none of that makes it any less beautiful. Here’s a short video…

From Whale Beach we headed across the peninsular to Pittwater where we ended up in the dizzying heights and heavenly lows of Claireville and Avalon. Now here we could possibly live. Okay, the hills are still pretty extreme but a lack of surf means the area isn’t quite as popular and the houses a little closer to the water are possible contenders. Even I had to admit how much I liked the area…something that rarely happens without a lot of inducement.

And with the final realisation that if we did move to the Northern Beaches it would probably be on the Pittwater side, we headed back to Dural.

It was another restful day for us though poor Bob had quite a high level of adrenaline inducing driving to contend with around some narrow steep and twisty roads.

I finished the day by showing Bob how to access the ABC iPlayer on his smart TV.

Posted in Australia 2017, Gary's Posts | 2 Comments

Falling rocks do not stop

There was a bit of religion around me today – the good, the bad and the downright ugly. I’m reliably informed that religion is all about faith. Proof and evidence are just there for the believing. Which makes me wonder why creationists don’t believe in evolution something they think is ‘just a theory.’ Like gravity is a theory. And gravity is something that I believe in…like the sign writers along the Hawksbury River.

For Mr Klopper, religion is the be all and end all. He believes that god is in everything, sees everything, IS everything. And so he feels like he has to abuse anyone who thinks differently. Especially Mrs Klopper and his son, Thomas. Mr Klopper fears that if his family doesn’t follow god’s plan then they will be damned for all time. Mr Klopper is what you’d call fanatically devout and what I’d call delusional.

The Klopper family, however, doesn’t go to church. Along with other crazy locals, they gather in a house and hold services with Mr Klopper reading from his weathered old bible about plagues and stuff. They also don’t take the tram because god doesn’t like people catching trams on Sunday. Because THAT is something god is so concerned with he doesn’t have time to fix up everything else that’s wrong with the world.

The Klopper family are the main characters in a play called The Book of Everything, which we saw tonight at Castle Hill Players. Originally a book by Dutch children’s author Guus Kuijer, it has been adapted for the stage by Australian writer Richard Tulloch. It was first performed in Sydney at Belvoir Street.

I have to say that I enjoyed it. In particular young Brayden Sim who played Thomas. He gave an excellent performance, well beyond his years. And Paul Sztelma as his father, Mr Klopper. He gave a very powerful performance both as Klopper and the vicious Bum Biter. Hating Klopper is very easy as seen through this performance. I should also mention Jesus (Gavin Jamieson) who was a continuous presence and who had the funniest line in the play (“Jesus swept” – unexpectedly genius).

Both Mirinda and Bob were concerned I’d be overly critical of the play because, apparently, I am normally overly critical of things we see. Personally I can’t see it and prefer to think of myself as honest. Being as this was an AmDram production meant that Bob was certain to assure me that it probably wouldn’t reach the high standards I’m used to. But I’m not going to be critical at all.

Back in the day, when I was involved in AmDram, a company would be loathe to try something so adventurous, relying instead on old reliable plays that followed the tried and true rules of story telling. This was one of the reasons we branched out on our own. It’s very good to see Castle Hill Players pushing the envelope rather than sitting comfortably behind the well established.

Castle Hill Players – the foyer

The only shame was the lack of audience. Being Easter Saturday, I reckon most of the usual audience was probably out and about, on holiday or just exhausted from a day spent on the Hawksbury River…where we were. Not Bob, he was playing and winning golf, but Mirinda and I went for our traditional pilgrimage to Ebenezer to see Mirinda’s ancestors.

In order to get to Australia’s oldest church, we took the Sackville ferry, something that’s always a treat. In fact, it’s such a delight that I have decided to share it with anyone reading this. Here’s an edited video of the journey. There’s no need to worry, I’ve reduced the trip to two minutes.

Note that the video has to be taken inside the vehicle because you’re not allowed to leave it. Also the electronic voice you hear is that of Delores, Bob’s SatNav.

As is always the case, Ebenezer was beautiful, bathed in sunshine and not too hot. In fact, it almost made me believe in some higher power, one that works for the good of the tourist rather than domestic violence. And gravity.

Ebenezer church sitting behind its graves

I’ve written extensively about the church and Mirinda’s ancestral links before but here’s the two sentence version.

The church was established in 1809 by a group of people including a few of Mirinda’s ancestors. Among them was John Grono, a Royal Navy sailor who eventually became a very successful ship builder on the Hawksbury.

Grave

You can read more about the church and the free settlers who started it here. These days they serve tea and scones and the sun always shines.

We sat with our tea, admiring the view before wandering around.

Me and the bread oven

We then headed off for lunch…only we didn’t find any. We’d headed for the Paradise Cafe at Lower Portland only to find it too full to accommodate anyone else. It was a huge shame because it is beautifully situated on the river. It also serves quite a lot of beer. Still, we climbed back aboard our faithful borrowed steed and headed for Wiseman’s Ferry along an increasingly narrowing road which sometimes forsook bitumen for gravel with signs warning us of the possibility of our being crushed by huge chunks of sandstone.

It was all very picturesque and a delight even on an empty stomach. We may not have eaten at the Paradise Cafe but we certainly savoured paradise…all day long.

Posted in Australia 2017, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment

Best kind of holiday…almost

I had another day of nothing today. This was mainly because Mirinda journeyed up to Budgewoi to see her Nanna who is now in a nursing home full of crazy people. She told Mirinda about Dave who sits in her chair and watches her sleep. This would creep most people out but, apparently it’s just one of those things in a home where the inhabitants are growing towards full-on dementia…leaving Edna to her lonely sanity.

Bob reckoned I shouldn’t go and who was I to argue. I sat at Dural and caught up on blog posts and entertained Suzie.

I also spent an enormous amount of time booking tickets to a Kabuki performance we want to see when we’re next in Tokyo (May 12). The Japanese rather like a lot of options in just about everything online. Still, I fought the forces standing strong before me and, eventually broke down the wall of defiance to secure two tickets. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I bought two tickets which I have to get from a machine outside the theatre on the day of the performance. Possibly that will include a fair bit of faffing as well.

We were wanting to get a couple of single performance tickets – these are for one part of a three part show – to avoid the craziness of the entire day thing but this proved impossible. The rules around single day tickets are quite restrictive. Everyone has to queue up for the ticket on the day because each person can only get one ticket. There’s no guarantee of a seat because it’s first come first served and even if you do get a seat it’s unlikely you’ll be sitting together. And, of course, there’s a good chance you won’t get a ticket at all. While it costs considerably more, at least we have a seat in the Japanese version of the stalls…guaranteed.

Apart from showering and washing my hair, that was about it for me today. I think one of the best things about coming to Oz for holidays is the fact that we can have long restful days rather than having to roam around being tourists. It’s a great opportunity for battery recharging.

In the evening, after their return I joined Mirinda and Bob on the back verandah for a couple of glasses of pommeau. This bought back memories of our time in Dom though Mirinda almost spoiled it by mentioning the tower where the knights were kept until they rotted away to dust. I suggested the better memory of Dom would be the amazing view from the restaurant. Bob couldn’t remember what he ate but claimed it was delicious. I probably finished with a creme brulee that I was dissatisfied with.

One bone of contention was the fact that Bob managed to score a giant liquor glass which, according to Mirinda, he filled to five times the amount of pommeau than we had in our thimbles. He claimed we evened it up by having five glasses each. Oh, how we laughed.

Booze in the evening

Posted in Australia 2017, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment

Hey Tosser!

Each year, over 25,000 tonnes of litter are indiscriminately tossed in NSW (from NSW EPA website). I find this extraordinary in a country that I’m always saying is proud of itself. Seriously, when people talk about litter in Europe and how bad it is, I always say “It’s unusual for people to litter in Oz because we love the country so much.” This must hark back to the ‘Keep Australia Beautiful’ campaign of my youth and the follow-up ‘Do The Right Thing.’ Whatever the reason, it seems that litter is as big a problem here as it is in Europe.

The reason I’m writing about rubbish is because tonight we had dinner with the woman responsible for the whole Tosser thing. She has the cross party backing of the state government/opposition to change the thinking of the entire state and make the population proud of how little like the scruffy countries it can really be…but more about her later.

Today was my Karen day.

Bob and Mirinda, on the way to Castle Towers and an unsuccessful visit to the Medicare office there, dropped me off at Round Corner so I could have a coffee at Gloria Jeans before boarding the bus for the QVB. At a loss for change, I’d asked Bob if he had some and he loaned me his Opal Card. This is a lot like our Oyster Card and is loaded up with money so you can get on and off transport all over Sydney without having to buy a ticket.

At first Bob was a bit reticent about loaning his card to me because of it’s specialness. It’s a senior card and he was concerned I’d be upset about being relegated to the ranks of ‘pensioner.’ To be honest, I was a bit in two minds about it. Part of me kind of hoped the bus driver would take one look at the card, a second at me and then laugh at the idea that I could be even close to old enough to have a seniors card. Bob said the bus driver wouldn’t even look at me let alone the card.

As it turned out, the Opal reader on the bus wasn’t working so me and the many other passengers, were given a free ride into Sydney. Everyone was delighted. So much more so when we were entertained all the way in by a couple of uni students telling us all how brilliant they’d be at job interviews. I’m sure they didn’t mean to include everyone on the bus in their conversation…but they did.

And Bob was right, the driver didn’t even give me a passing glance. He was far more interested in listening to La Boheme then The New World Symphony, to take any notice of me.

Loud music drowning out conversation aside, I arrived unscathed in the Sydney CBD and walked up to the QVB where Karen was waiting patiently for me. It was at about this time that I received an email from her asking where the bus came in and where we should meet. I thought it easier to answer her in person.

We then retired to the nearby cafe (the one where Queen Vic sits outside) for a catch-up and a coffee – green sludge for Karen, obviously. Actually, I discovered today that Karen gets violently ill at the smell of fresh coffee (she swears my instant was never any problem). I only mention this because she’s the second person in a month to tell me this, the first being a reader at Talking Newspaper. Most peculiar. I’m waiting for the third.

After refreshment, we headed down to the Maritime Museum, somewhere I’ve never been before which Karen was very surprised at. I’d noticed posters advertising an exhibition presently on about the rescue at Pompeii following the eruption of Vesuvius that preserved everything so perfectly for us future generations. It looked interesting because it’s not something I knew about – the ‘rescue’ obviously. It was bizarre because only last week, while in Naples, I was at the site of the Roman navy port where the navy would have sailed from.

And the exhibition was excellent (though it didn’t say anything about how much the superstitious Romans hated going to sea) following the eruption and rescue attempt from the Pliny (Older and Younger) eye witness accounts of the time. They have managed to borrow some remarkable objects, a few of which I’ve seen in the Archaeological Museum in Naples. The thing is though that objects are so much more evocative when seen in some sort of context rather than lying around in general display cases. Whoever came up with the rescue concept is very clever. It works a treat.

Arghhhhhhh!

After wandering through the exhibition, Karen humoured me with another wander, this time all over HMAS Vampire, the last of the ‘big destroyers’ built at Cockatoo Island. She is a Daring Class destroyer built between 1952 and 1956 and served for 27 years sailing around 808,000 nautical miles. She is also now permanently moored alongside the museum similarly to the way the Belfast is in London.

And what a perfect day to be visiting an old warship. No clouds or rain today.

The weather on Karen Day is always a perfect.

Actually, the Vampire is one of a number of other ships open for inspection, including a submarine. Unfortunately a small coastal cruiser, normally also open, was closed. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the Vampire and it was enough. Maybe next time I’m in Sydney…

We then had a very late lunch. Or, rather, I had a very late lunch while Karen had mineral water. I had calamari and a beer which was just about perfect. We then headed back to Karen’s flat to see Nigel…who wasn’t there. He’d been called into work.

We sat and chatted until he returned when we sat and chatted some more, this time with rather than about him.

Finally, as 6:30 rolled around, they walked me across the road to the Light Rail stop where I boarded a carriage for Dulwich Hill. I was going to meet Mirinda at Dulwich Hill and it’s purely a delightful coincidence that the Light Rail line terminates there.

A marvellous bit of public transport

The last time we visited Sharon, Judd and all the little Juddlings, they were planning an extension, the same as we were. I was really looking forward to seeing theirs. I’m glad to say, it is superb. Talk about a house transformation. I now know how people feel who walk into our house having seeing it before the extension.

The design is one big open space with a very high ceiling and wooden floors. I really loved it…especially Judd’s super fire rated window on one side. I think he was trying to compete with our stained glass window. If so, he failed.

We then sat down to dinner and long and delightfully involved conversations about Judd’s new job (advising the Greens) and Sharon’s world changing efforts at litter control (Tosser).

Luka was home but, sensibly left us to discuss boring adult stuff while he sat in the lounge listening and laughing at something (or someone) while wearing his headphones. Though he did wait long enough for a history lesson on how the Polish were such a great help in defeating the Germans during the Battle of Britain. Naomi and Joel were at rehearsals but returned while we were still there so we could tease Judd in front of ALL of his children.

Naomi, it seems, has inherited her mother’s voice. Like any proud parent, Sharon reckons Naomi’s could be better given the evidence shortly after her birth. It’s not often a newborn can scream a full octave above high C and maintain it while any glass around them shatters into fragments.

After a bit of cajoling, Naomi played us a CD track of the band she plays in at school singing about the teenage angst of Saturdays and Vegemite. I wish I’d asked her to send me a copy. It reminded me a lot of the Cranberries, in particular Zombie. I told her she should have a listen. I was quite surprised she hadn’t heard of them. (Annoyingly, when I thought to look I had some Cranberries on my phone I could have played for her but I was back at Dural by them – sorry Gnome!)

Joel is at the Con at the moment, studying and playing clarinet and piano (not at the same time) and writing music. I think he’d like to eventually write for films. A very talented young man and such a world away from Baby Yuck Yuck.

We spent a lovely night talking, drinking (teasing Judd) and hearing all about Sharon’s amazing work for the Universal Relief of Litter. She told a very funny story which I can’t help but include.

Apparently they have had very few complaints about the use of the term ‘tosser’ in their campaign, one of which was of particular interest. Someone wrote, complaining that they were maligning masturbation by claiming it was a bad thing to do. I thought this was absolutely hilarious and the sort of thing I’d do. Presumably it was from a pedantic ex-Catholic.

After a long night, we headed back to Dural though thankfully (almost) empty streets, arriving at 1am. It was a big and thoroughly enjoyable day. It was probably not so enjoyable for poor Judd who I subjected to a lecture about the development and adoption of the screw propeller.

Posted in Australia 2017, Gary's Posts | 2 Comments

Tom Cruise? No, I’m Top Gun!

This morning Bob went shopping while we slept. He returned while I was at my morning coffee. He showed me my lunch and swore me to secrecy. It was, in part, because Mirinda had refused to share one of her three prawns with me at dinner last night. Needless to say I was deliriously happy when lunchtime came around.

My hand is for scale

Mirinda, meanwhile, was off visiting Lisa while I rested my leg. She set off, full of trepidation (because of the road changes between here and Mosman) but arrived without any problem at all. She spent a lovely half day wandering the streets and parks of the North Shore with Lisa, Anna and Rascal. Jack had to dash off for a bit of situation cleansing after a rather negative blog post threatened to harm his business.

There was none of this for Bob and me. After Justine arrived and the two of them entertained me with a bit of synchronised grass cutting, Bob took me and his baby drone out to the paddock for a spin.

He was given the drone by Tomas when he was last over here. The batteries last about seven minutes, something we all sneered at. I tell you what, seven minutes is an eternity in drone flying when you’ve never flown one before. Mind you we had a spare battery so I actually had 14 minutes which was more than enough time to crash it multiple times while narrowly avoiding fence posts, the creek and the roof.

With my apologies for the lousy landings and the shaky video work, this is a short (I chopped out a lot of boring bits) film of my attempts at drone handling.

Mirinda eventually returned home, car intact and we settled down to separate meals – Bob had his carbfull casserole while we had smoked salmon and salad. We also drank the wine which Mirinda forgot to take to Lisa. Thanks Lisa.

Posted in Australia 2017, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment

Finally Sydney

It was another dull flight (the best kind) from Tokyo to Sydney punctuated with a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones (I’ve almost caught up). The only exciting thing was the incredibly vanishing Japanese man in the seat across the aisle from me.

He was one half of a couple, possibly in their late 50s, who I think may have been flying for the first time. In any case, they were getting a lot of attention from the stewardesses. At one point when I was trying to sleep, I looked across and he’d gone. I thought that maybe he was in the loo but he didn’t return. All night.

His wife (I assume) was curled up in the seat and appeared to remain fast asleep for the entire flight. On the other hand, I didn’t get any sleep at all apart from fitful short moments of closed eyes. This is completely opposed to the rest of the passengers who seemed to be comatose.

Then, when the lights came up at about 7:30am (Sydney time) the man had returned. It was very strange and something I will never know the answer to.

Meanwhile in Business Class, Mirinda had a rather odd selection of leftover dishes for breakfast which she told me later had no place in Business Class. Though she did manage to get some sleep, she wasn’t very impressed.

Almost ‘home’

As we flew across Sydney towards Kingsford Smith, we had a lovely view of the Heads and the city from the port side of the cabin. I had a view across the Japanese couple but, even so, the Opera House, the Bridge and the Harbour all looked brilliant…as always. Though the weather was a bit grim. Bob told us on the way back from the airport that it hasn’t stopped raining for ages so I’m surprised it held off for us.

After the eventual discovery of the car (it seems to have gone and changed its parking location without telling anyone) and how to get out of the airport – it has changed considerably since Bob last drove there – we took the crazy route to Dural because Mirinda didn’t want to go through the Harbour Tunnel. This accidentally meant driving through Sydney at lunchtime.

Fortunately, being school holidays, the streets were pretty clear though Bob reckoned it was crowded. Mirinda said that compared to London, it was deserted. Apart from any of that, I rather enjoyed driving through a familiar part of the city that hasn’t changed (much) since I worked there and used to walk up to the MLC Centre from the bus stop in Hunter Street.

We noted the almost impossible to drive on George Street which is being dug up in order to re-install tram lines after they dug them up so long ago. I’m sure Karen will fill me in on the mayhem when I see her.

Eventually (and it was a long eventually) we pulled into the drive at Dural and headed for the kitchen for tea and coffee.

Always a pleasure

After doing a shop at Glenorie, Mirinda claimed she was going to have a mid-afternoon snooze but after a shower, decided she didn’t need one. I decided to have a mid-afternoon snooze and it did wonders for me.

For dinner, Bob treated us to a delicious meal down at the Dural Country Club (I had the Barramundi – delicious) before heading home for bed.

Posted in Australia 2017, Gary's Posts | 2 Comments

The city that always speaks

Strolling around the massive and crowded Ueno Park during the cherry blossom time is an extraordinary experience. The Japanese indulge in something they call ‘hanami’ which dictates that they have a picnic under the blooming trees. In order to help them, generous types sell packaged food and bright blue tarpaulins at the entrance to the park.

After wandering around most of the park we concluded that there appears to be two types of hanami. First, the more comfortable where the big family groups cluster on their neatly laid out tarps, spread out over the bare earth, their shoes placed perfectly at the edges. It’s all very civilised and is pictured above. It’s also somewhat crowded as each group jostles for the best position under the best tree and avoids being trodden on by the gathering storm of bystanders wishing to snap away at the best tree under which they are sitting.

Secondly, and in my opinion so uncomfortable as to not be an option at all, there are those that sit on the edge of the asphalt path facing green plastic strips and roped in between bins that are not in use as bins but as posts to delineate the spaces for picnickers.

Enjoyment Tokyo Style

I can only assume that this second lot were too late in arriving at the park to get a decent spot. Still, if I was going to arrive too late I reckon I’d settle for eating beneath a photo of a cherry tree in full blossom in my house in preference over the discomfort of the path.

Speaking of discomfort, I’m pleased to announce that absolutely none was experienced as a result of testing out the astounding toilets in Tokyo.

Lots of study required before use

Quite the opposite, in fact. I’d go so far as to say I’m going to miss the butt rinse, the heated seat and the automatic lid lifter. The Japanese might have some strange ideas about noise but they have, easily, the BEST toilets in the world.

I should explain what I mean by ‘noise.’ I think they are afraid of silence in Tokyo. The noise is constant. If it’s not the theme tune to Astro Boy blaring out from a train station, it’s announcements in the park about not lighting gas fires. It’s no wonder that the majority of people are zoning out of the world and focusing on their smartphones. One wonders what they did beforehand. You can’t get away from some form of electronic noise. Mind you, they insist on telling you to switch your phone to silent and not to make phone calls on the public transport because it may disturb the fellow passengers…as opposed to the constant announcements.

Still, it quickly fades into the background and we just moved through it. At least the train announcements are in English as well as Japanese. That makes it considerably easier to navigate the city, something we have done quite comprehensively in our short stopover visit. In fact we managed to completely circumnavigate the JR Yamanote Line (the green one on the map) today.

Don’t do Tokyo without one of these babies

The two other things of great import that happened today were

  1. We accidentally had Chinese for lunch. The trouble is, our western eyes have great difficulty discerning the difference between the characters. Still, it was delicious.
  2. We were sitting outside Starbucks when a rather odd chap walked away from the chair he’d been sitting on, leaving his back pack behind. We thought perhaps he was going to the bin (no) then the toilet (no) but he just kept wobbling away. We decided the bag presented a problem. We packed up and moved to the other side of the park half expecting an explosion at any moment. There was none. It was very odd. We would have told an official but there weren’t any even though the loudspeakers insisted on telling us there were.

Eventually, having seen as much as we could (including two amazing temples) and smelled all manner of odours (the bridge of food stalls was very dense and aromatic), we headed back to the train, to the airport then onto the plane for Sydney.

To be completely honest, I think I’ve fallen a little bit in love with Japan (and not just the bum hosing toilets) and am really looking forward to our ten days to come. As a taster and example of how to get around, this stopover has been priceless.

Posted in Australia 2017, Gary's Posts | 3 Comments

In Japan no-one can hear you wee

The toilets at Haneda Airport, quite conveniently play waterfall sounds so no-one knows what you’re doing…though everyone is doing the same. Humans are very peculiar sometimes.

After an uneventful flight we touched down at Haneda International Airport dead on time. The weather wasn’t too good: rain and 15 degrees. Mind you, the hotel we’re booked in is ridiculously close. So close, in fact, that it’s tacked on to the end of the airport terminal. From the airport there’s all sorts of connections to Tokyo central, which is extremely handy and, of course, when we leave tomorrow night, the airport is…well it just is.

Sadly it means we don’t get much of a view from our room but who cares. I mean the floor is made of purple* and the aircon works.

Not the best (or worst) view we’ve ever had

Having settled in and established base camp, and rested for a few hours to get over the flight, we headed off to savour the delights of the Tokyo public transport system.

Once you get over the strangeness, it’s all very simple and there appears to be trains that go everywhere you could possibly imagine.

Monorail!

We headed off for Tokyo central, thinking this was where all the big lights and action takes place. Quite frankly, it was a tad disappointing. In fact, it was quite dark and dead.

We wandered around a bit, working out where to go for a visit to the imperial palace tomorrow and found the most amazing restaurant.

It was called Grill Ukai and serves mostly steak. In fact, the first they do is introduce you to the meat. There were three choices. Naturally we choose the most expensive but, by the gods, it was amazing. The best piece of steak I’ve ever tasted.

Actually all the courses (for there were many) were delicious and attractive, though the six desserts were a bit excessive.

The salmon course

The ultimate part of the meal (leaving aside the shock of the bill) was the head waiter carving the still sizzling meat at the table. This was after we’d been shown it fresh from the grill. In fact there was a lot of meat interaction to the extent that I started feeling a bit odd eating it given I felt like it was almost a member of my family who I’d known for years. Fortunately I didn’t give it a name because then it would have just been impossible to eat.

Actually the head waiter was a lovely chap who taught us a bit of Japanese; like how to say thank you and good evening. We instantly forgot the ‘good evening’ which Mirinda thought was similar to Kumbaya but we started saying ‘arigato’ all over the place. I think we had more fun than the couple at the table close by who spent most of the evening looking at their smartphones except when the waiter took their photo with them sitting together as if they’d spent the night together enjoying each other’s company.

We did use the phone a couple of times, obviously for film and photos in this post but, more importantly to find the bit of Tokyo with all the lights and the big crossroads called Shibuya giving rise to the Shibuya Scramble. Given it was only a train ride ride away, we paid the bill and headed across town.

The massive pedestrian crossing which features in the opening credits of Tokyo Stories: Midnight Diner is world renowned and is such a tourist magnet that people stop in the middle, mid scramble, to take photos and videos. Given you don’t have very long too cross and there’s an enormous amount of people coming towards you, this is a hazardous activity. Being essentially a coward, I took some film before crossing.

We had a jolly good wander around…

…then, starting to tire (jet lag starting to apply its brakes), we headed back to the hotel.

Our first taste of Japan was a great success.

* I have no idea what this means. It’s in the guest book and says: “The premium floor is made of sophisticated light purple to create a luxury atmosphere.” The thing is, the floor isn’t purple and it doesn’t look either sophisticated or luxurious.

Posted in Australia 2017, Gary's Posts | 1 Comment