Sunday, January 18, 2009

In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room

In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room
all the birds sing words
and the flowers croon
in the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room!

When I was a kid, and to this day, I was entranced by the "talking" birds in Disney's "Tropical Serenade." This was the attraction in Adeventureland where you'd go into a theater modeled after a Polynesian long house and see talking animatronic birds, singing flowers, and drumming Tiki statues. I loved it. The entire setting was beautiful, especially the birds. It still exists, except that in 1998 Disney added a component from their succesful movie Aladdin to the mix. Now, what a Persian boy has to do with Polynesian kitsch is beyond me -- the premise is that Aladdin has taken over management of the Enchanted Tiki Room. Guess I'll have to go see it some time to find out.

Anyway, last night I went to my friend Danese's 50th birthday party. While there I ran into some other friends who had just come from a Tiki bar in Alameda, and suggested that a bunch of us go back for some tropical cocktail fun. So, Kim, Jengo, Cliff, Kara, and I headed over to Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge. It was an adult-drink paradise!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The 43 Hour Friday

After a long and boring trip where I drank way too much (it started when I found they had a nice Piper-Heidsieck champagne in cute little bottles in fridge in the United lounge) and slept too little (watched "Tropic Thunder," "Baby Mama," and "The X-Files: I Want to Believe") I arrived home. My bag made it, with both bottles of wine and all Christmas presents intact, although the TSA did open and inspect it.

My next "-land" trip will be ScotLAND, in May!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Rainy Day in Sydney Town

Well, not much rain, but some spotty light wetness did fall from the sky. Today was dark, dreary and cold -- a huge change from the unending sunshine earlier in the week. I guess this will prepare me for returning to the dark Northern Hemisphere and cool foggy San Francisco.

I had a bit of a late start this morning, so I headed to the Museum of Contemporary Art. After my great experience at a similar museum in Brisbane, I was very interested to view the work on display here in Sydney. This museum seemed smaller, but it did have one exhibition that I really enjoyed. Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE works with Dutch "wax cloth," which is the very brightly designed and colored cloth used in a lot of West African clothing. He's done collage paintings with it, and a series of sculptural reworkings of famous European paintings. For an example of what I mean, look at this famous painting by Fragonard, and then at the Shonibare's sculpture.

The art museum had a nice café, so after a tasty lunch I made my way to the Art Gallery of New South Wales to view the Yiribana Gallery. This is Australia's best collection of aboriginal and Torres Strait islander art. Unfortunately, the Yiribana was closed! I was disappointed, but walked through the 19th and 20th century collections of Australian art. This included some pieces by indigenous artists, but was mostly art by European and European-descended painters and sculptors.

By this time my head was swimming, I can only look at so much art at once, so I picked up my bags and took the train to my final hotel, the Holiday Inn Sydney Airport. I decided to spent my last night here because I have a 9am flight tomorrow to Melbourne, connecting to my 2pm flight to Los Angeles, and I wanted to reduce the chances of me having problems in the morning. When I checked in I was once again pleasantly surprised. The last two Holiday Inns I've stayed in were kind of dodgy, but this one is decently decorated and quite comfortable.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Missed it by That Much

My plan for today was to tour historic houses, but due to a series of barely missed connections, I ran out of time. Still, I really enjoyed what I did get to see.

I started out by taking the train to Kings Cross and walking to the Elizabeth Bay House. This was built during the Australian colonial period, and features a beautiful cantilevered stairway under a domed ceiling. Unfortunately over the years the parkland around the house was sold off and sub divided, so this gorgeous specimen of a stately home is packed in cheek by jowl with apartment buildings.

I walked back toward Kings Cross to get the bus to my next destination, and just barely (by less than five minute) missed it. Then I made a bad decision when a different bus came by -- I should have gotten on it, but I wasn't sure, and so I had to wait about 25 minutes for the next one. Meanwhile, some totally blotto guy was sleeping on the narrow bench in the bush shelter, so I couldn't sit down. At one point he rolled off the bench and didn't even wake up when he smacked into the ground. He just kept sleeping on the sidewalk pavement. It was sad and gross at the same time. I've seen several homeless people in Sydney, and even got panhandled walking around an upscale shopping street, which was a bit surprising because a friend had been explaining to me about how there are basically no homeless people in Australia because anyone in that situation can still get basic health care and other assistance from the government. Maybe this guy was a junkie? Anyway, it was an odd interlude. The bus came and I got on, it was a very nice clean bus, with nice normal people on it.

After about a half hour ride, I arrived in the eastern suburb of Vaucluse, where Vaucluse House is located. The bus conveniently stopped right at the end of the drive. This was another colonial house, built in an oddly gothic style (yet still sporting a characteristic wide and deep shaded veranda). The family who had lived here were well off but were social outcasts due to the fact that the husband and wife only married after they had had two children -- they had ten in all. Also, both the husband and wife had some ancestors who had either gotten on the wrong side of the law or who were actual convicts. Still, they worked hard and built an interesting home, and the family had very nice furnishings and traveled to Europe a lot (where they were more accepted in Society). I wandered the property, where there is a working vegetable garden, and was offered a delicious sample of heirloom cherry tomatoes. After lunch in the on-site tea room, I went to catch the bus, only to find that I had missed it by about five minutes. This means I had another half hour to kill, so I walked through the quite ritzy neighborhood next to the house and stopped by the family's mausoleum.

I took the bus to the end of the line, where I had planned to catch a ferry back to the City. I went down to the pier and found that I had missed the very last ferry of the day by less than ten minutes. This is when I came up with the title for today's post. I went back to the bus stop and hopped on the first bus that I thought was heading back to downtown, but it turned out it was a bus for Bondi Beach. The positive thing about this was that I got to see the beach and people watch as sunbathers and surfers got on and off at the various stops. The negative thing was that it was getting very cloudy so everyone seemed to have decided to leave Bondi at the exact same time, and the bus moved at walking pace for quite some time. After about 40 minutes of this, I got off at the first rail station and took a very fast train back into the City.

My original plan had been to go to Elizabeth Farm in the western suburbs, but it was way too late for that. So, after a spot of shopping for Christmas presents, I stopped in at the Marble Bar, a very beautiful and ornate bar in the basement of the Hilton. The bar was built in 1889, and so has been around long before the Hilton even existed. I had a pink fruity drink called a Love Letter, which was based on raspberry vodka, and then called it a day. I have one more full day in Sydney, although tonight is my last night at the Hilton. I'm moving camp to the Holiday Inn by the airport so as to facilitate me catching a 9am flight on Friday morning. It took me about two hours to completely unpack and then repack, but I got everything situated and I'm hoping that my checked bag still weighs in at under 17kg. It was 16.5kg on the flight from Brisbane, and although I've picked up some things I've also gotten rid of others, so I think it will all work out in the end.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tourist Marathon, Day 2

This trip has been the longest I've been away from home at a stretch in a number of years. I'm handling it well, usually I get kind of homesick but I think I'm staying too busy for that. I know the cats are well, I've been communicating with my friends via Facebook and email, so it's all good. However, I am starting to get tired of being a tourist, and my writing juices have pretty much dried up. But I also feel like there's so much to see and do and I came all this way that I can't let up now. So, today I toured the Sydney Opera House, briefly visited the Museum of Sydney (where I took a quiz about pet ownership and was told that I should only own a Pet Rock), took the ferry to the Taronga Zoo, walked up on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, stopped in at the Luna Park amusement park to ride a couple of rides, and then went to the top of the Sydney Tower.

I was hoping I'd see a Platypus at the Zoo, but the Platypus enclosure in the Platypus House was being renovated so the animals were in a natural walk-through habitat. It was a hot day, and Platypuses (Platypii?) are nocturnal, so they were not to be seen. I did manage to see another wombat, this one was sleeping in his burrow so really all I saw was a snoring mound of fur. The Tasmanian Devils were out and about in their enclosure, though, and I've got to say that they are charming little guys. Maybe they're called "Devils" 'cause they're cute as the devil! My favorite place was a large walk-through aviary, filled with dozens and dozens of different native Australian birds. They're pretty used to people, and I found that after I sat in the same place for about ten minutes I was able to see many birds up close.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Harbour, Darling!

Spent the day visiting attractions around the tourist area known as Darling Harbour. There was really a lot to see, and the cheese factor was rather low -- no wax museums, for instance. I visited the National Maritime Museum, where I toured a decommissioned destroyer and a submarine, plus saw a fascinating exhibit about Australnesian (they don't use the term Polynesian here, it seems, or this is a new term) navigators. Next was the Powerhouse Museum, where I focused on the exhibits concerning Australian design (fashion, advertising, and industrial). After that I spent a relaxing hour in the Chinese Friendship Garden, which is the largest such garden outside of China and would do any formal garden in Suzhou proud. Next I walked through Sydney Wildlife World, where I finally saw a wombat. There were two of them, sleeping in their burrow, flat on their backs with all four (eight) feet in the air, snoozing mightily.

I capped it all off at the Sydney Aquarium, which many people apologized for in advance ("it's not that great if you've seen the Monterey Bay Aquarium") but I thought it was worth it for three things:
  • seeing a woman struggling with her Louis Vuitton purse while yelling at her kid named "Chanel." I wanted to ask what her son's name was.
  • walking past a another woman who, while gazing at the large fishes in the Ocean Tank, remarked, "those look delicious!"
  • seeing the Great Barrier Reef Tank, and realizing that I can actually take pictures of the fish! I'd never tried it until today.

In all, a long day, and completed with a soak in my large and deep bathtub while sipping more of that wine.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sydney Style

I like to travel in style and relative comfort. I also like getting a good deal for my money. When the two intersect I'm really happy. I managed to book the Hilton Sydney through Expedia for much less than the hotel was charging for its best rate. I've stayed in many nice business-class hotels over the years, and appreciate fancy toiletries and fluffy duvets. But when I got to my room today, I was really wowed. It's a corner room with a partial view of Sydney Harbor, and a full-on view of the Sydney Tower (as pictured here). I love having windows on two sides. There's a sleek chaise lounge, and a very modern frosted glass bathroom with separate tub and shower.

After I unpacked, I resisted the urge to lounge and headed out for some lunch/dinner and for a walk. The Hilton is in the Central Business District, but it's a straight shot to The Rocks and Circular Quay, where the famous bridge and opera house can be seen. When I got to the quay, the first thing I noticed was that Celebrity Millennium was in port. Mom & I have cruised on two of Millennium's sisters, Summit (Panama Canal) and Infinity (Alaska). Millennium was berthed right between the two famous sights I had come to see.

I also made a stop at David Jones, Australia's fancy department store, for some wine and Australian cheese. This time I'm drinking Wirra Wirra "Church Block," a Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot blend that is very nice. I usually don't like Cabernet but the addition of Shiraz and Merlot makes it very enjoyable for me.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Take Me to the River

My final full day in Brisbane began with the soft pattering of rain on the corrugated steel roof of Bryce's traditional Queensland-style house. The weather had turned quite cool, and the rain was soft and dreamy.

We decided to head to the Miegunyah Folk Museum, which was housed in a historical old house. Unfortunately, when we got there, there was a sign on the door saying it was closed until February. So then we tried to go to the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame, but when we got there, we found out that the address given was just an office space. The real Hall of Fame is about 1200km away in Longreach!

Not to be deterred in our sight-seeing, Bryce suggested a cruise on the Brisbane River. It meanders through town, and a series of boats and motorized catamarans taxi passengers up and down and across. Many people use these, which are owned and run by the city as part of their public transit system, too and from work.

Continuing in our theme of things being closed, we had planned to go to Tukka for "advanced Australian fare" -- i.e. "bush tukka." They offer dishes such as strawberry and tonka bean cured Queensland crocodile with asparagus and a passion fruit dressing, and kangaroo fillet. When Bryce called for a booking, though, he was told the restaurant was closed until next week. So, we went for Balinese food, which I had never had before. I had a spectacularly delicious lamb stew cooked in a hot pot with bok choi.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Artistic Optimism

Spent this afternoon at a fantastic art exhibit, "Contemporary Australia: Optimism" at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. The three most interesting exhibits were a video montage of rabid Michael Jackson fans singing along to all the tracks on "Thriller," a plush fake-fur winter wonderland forest, and a series of information kiosks about space aliens that were aimed at little kids (one of which showed an alien dancing happily to Outkast's "Hey Now").

Tony Albert

Alien nation embassy

Tony Albert’s interest in aliens responds to both the alienation of Indigenous people within their own country and the ‘alien invasion’ of Australia by Europeans in 1788. Especially for kids, Tony Albert has created the Alien nation embassy and invites all earthlings to become honorary citizens — but not before passing the ‘citizenship test’! The multimedia installation features a population counter, video footage of the artist with the aliens, and electronic swipe cards for kids to access secret alien information.

(Warning -- this video is really awful quality, but you'll get the idea!)

After that, I did did a spot of shopping and picked up a new bathing suit at my now-favorite Australian store, Witchery. Since summer is in full swing here, everything is on sale, and I got a great new tankini for the equivalent of $20 US!

I capped off the evening sipping yet another great Australian Shiraz with Bryce, interrupted by a possum wandering into the kitchen! It brushed up against his toes under the kitchen table, and when he flinched and jumped to look at it, it rapidly scampered out to the back porch.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Surf 'n Turf

We hit the road around 10am and head north out of Brisbane for the Sunshine Coast. This is a string of beaches and beach towns extending upward toward the Tropic of Capricorn. It's Florida-hot here, but not at all as humid. We arrive at Sunrise Beach, find a place to park the Land Rover (it's wide and long), and head down to the sand. Now, I usually hate sand, but a good experience last week when we drove down toward Portsea has made me think twice about it. Australian sand is golden, and sort of the consistency of light brown sugar. The sand I can't stand is the very soft, very talc-y, and very dry.

I slather myself with sunblock, and then hit the water. Although the surf is kind of rough, there is no real undertow and the water is pleasantly warm. A team of surf lifesavers have set up a patrol area, the idea is to always swim between their flags. It turns out that the surf lifesavers are volunteers, and that there are surf clubs all over Australia that watch over various beaches. Bryce continues further up the beach so he can go fishing.

I go in and out of the water a few times, and crack open the huge Thomas Pynchon novel that I've been hauling around all week. The breeze is stiff, the sun is bright, the day is warm. I am so relaxed that I think my brain would just slide out of my head if I tilted it the right way. I take a long walk to the far end of the beach, where there are rocky tide pools. The rocks are covered with little limpets and barnacles, and tiny fish. After my walk, Bryce notices that I'm starting to sunburn, so we pack up and head back toward Brisbane.

After a stop at McDonald's (abbreviated to "Macca's" by the locals, Aussies seem to abbreviate everything) for a frozen Coca Cola (think Slurpee), we drive the tourist road to the Glasshouse Mountains. On the way we pass the zoo started by Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, the guy that was killed a couple of years ago in a bizzare stingray accident. The mountains are all that are left of a series of ancient volcanoes. All the parts of the cones have eroded away, leaving only the basalt lava "plugs" that were the heart of the volcanoes.

Happy New Year!

Bryce gave me the scenic tour of Brisbane yesterday. We walked around the lovely City Botanic Gardens, which included an actual mangrove, and drove up into the hills of Mt. Coot-tha, the highest point in the city. After taking in the panoramic view, we navigated toward a large scholastic-gothic building we had seen on a hill. It was private school, and seemed extremely upper-crust. As we pulled up to the main buildings and stopped to take pictures, a security guard came by and informed us that this was private property and suggested that we move along. From there Bryce drove to an old cemetery, located along hillsides with spectacular views.

We ended our perambulations downtown at the Anglican Cathedral, which has the distinction of being a brand-new gothic style church. The spires were just completed this year, in fact.

There were several sets of fireworks planned for bringing in the New Year, but I was feeling hot, tired, and sticky, and so we stayed home. Bryce fired up his grill and cooked lamb steaks, eggplant, sweet potato, and summer squash. Everything was delicious and we washed it down with yet more shiraz (regular and sparkling). I fell asleep around 10pm watching a replay of Aussie Rules Football. Guess I'm getting old. Happy 2009!