Sigh, Time to Head Home


When I went to bed, I told myself to be awake at 6am.  I was.  I’d assigned a wakeup call for 6:15am and the alarm was set for 6:20am.  All worked, and we were busy finishing our packing and eating breakfast when it was time to leave.  Dressed, carry on bags, luggage, extra food, all ready to go and we were out of the door right on time, 7:00am.

The cab stand sits right around the corner of the Southern Cross motel and we were on our way to the airport at 7:15am.  Light traffic, great.  40 minutes later we had arrived at Melbourne International.

It’s always best to get an early start for an international flight.  Traffic, weather, late; those are the passenger’s problem, not the airline’s problem.  Be there on time or buy another ticket.  That simple.

Neither of us bothered with pictures for the return.  By now, I’ve pretty well covered what it’s like to sit in an aircraft for 14 hours.   I only slept for about an hour, even with sleeping pills.  Movies, music, I tried to write but it didn’t work, games on the entertainment system, pure miserable exhaustion, anything to pass the time.  It actual goes by faster than what you’d think.

Arrival in Los Angeles and customs.  Being towards the front of the aircraft really really helps.  Mental note, premium economy is worth it on these overseas flights.  We got through customs fairly quickly and walked to our gate.  And walked.  And walked.  It took nearly two hours from the time we deplaned until we were at the gate for our San Francisco flight.  That is something to remember about LAX.  Give yourself plenty of time for an international connection.   Three hours minimum.

And, the trouble started.  Pouring rain in LAX.  High winds and flight delays in San Francisco.  I inquired about an earlier flight to SFO and yes, we could do that but our luggage would go on the original, later, flight.  I declined, reason why coming up.  The agent was very nice.

So we got a ground hold in LAX of a half hour.  No big deal except that our connection in SFO was only 40 minutes.  Not good.  We pulled out of the gate, then sat on the taxiway for an eternity.  I kept looking at my watch, more gloomy as the minutes passed.  Finally, out of LAX.

Into SFO and we were off the first flight at boarding time for the next flight.  And, we got a poor airport split.  Not the 7-10 (end to end, no fun at all in Hong Kong), more like the 4-10 (medium, but awkward, half way across Minneapolis or Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta).

Lucky for us, there are speed walks in SFO, and we used them.  Walking as fast as we could.  At the boarding gate for the Pasco (PSC) flight, the agent was asking everyone walking by if they were going to PSC.  Yep.  And two more people behind us.  Now, the reason we didn’t take the earlier flight.

Every single agent I passed on the way to the flight, I told them, “We have four luggages coming off of UAL 449 and a long, expensive delivery in Pasco.  Watch out for them”.  They were rushing me to the flight because of the pouring rain and wind, but I stopped and took the time to tell each and every one of them.  Bless those agents.  They did watch and wait.  The flight was held an additional 10 minutes and our luggage made the connection.

I couldn’t have pulled that off if we were on the earlier flight.

Rough ride in and out of SFO.  Not really bad, I’ve experienced much worse.  And another bumpy descent into PSC.  The flight attendant spent more time sitting than standing as the weather was very unsettled.  She was talking with some other people ahead of us.  The flight crew was expecting another long delay in PSC for the return to SFO, and probably being late for the rest of the day.  They are used to it and take it in stride.

Kudos to United Airlines.  I’ve heard a lot bad about them, but our experience, both ways was about as good as could be expected.  Comfortable aircraft, good customer service, concern for people’s belongings, polite flight crews, decent food, flights on time or close to on time.  Frequent water cart trips during the international flights.  (Asiana needs to do that.)

Landing in Pasco, reality set in.  Snow everywhere, with the tiny drifts in the runway that signals fresh falling snow and wind.  Ugh.  I made myself a promise as I gloomily watched the frozen tarmac pass underneath us.  I’m not coming back home to this ever again if I can help it.  We’ll wait for warmer weather.

We were dressed too cold.  Praxy still had on sandals, so I held her arm ALL THE WAY TO THE TERMINAL because of solid ice on the ramp.  And we had a long walk.  There were several other flights on the ground, I suspect they were delayed or perhaps cancelled for other destinations.   We got stuck a long ways away, nowhere close to the jetway.

Waiting at luggage claim (still nervous about SFO as I wasn’t positive about the baggage making this flight) and our luggage did indeed show up.  Praxy got out her coat, socks, boots, etc. and I got out my coat was well.  Scott and I loaded up the Jeep and we were off.

Praxy starting laughing and grabbed her camera.  Here ya go!

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Vineyards just outside of Pasco.  Meanwhile, one third of the world or 8,500 miles away as the crow flies…

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A bit of a disconnect.

It was very slow driving from Pasco to our house.  50mph tops, most of it 35-40.  Few people were on the road, which is good.  A person SHOULD stay home if possible.

Groceries in Dayton, drop Scott off in Pomeroy, and the drive out to our house near the dam.  Normally a 3 1/2 hour trip, this afternoon and evening it took 5 hours.  No rushing in these conditions.  Some people hurry, and they, sooner or later, live to regret it.

Noon on the 15th and I haven’t seen temperatures above freezing since we left SFO five days ago.  Unless we were indoors or in the Jeep.  The weather is supposed to break in three days and the frozen roads will thaw.  This creates an even more difficult driving experience until the ice clears.  (This information is for my Philippine and Australian readers.)  Challenging conditions, something I haven’t seen since the winter of 2007-2008.  No worries, I can handle it.  Praxy refuses to drive as she has had a couple of accidents and several other bad experiences.  If you aren’t confident, stay home.

I just took her down to the river in the Jeep so she could go for a walk.  15 minutes was all she wanted in the 18 (-5C) temperatures.  We tested the ice on the river.

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It took quite a while to find a rock or something to throw into the river.  Praxy located a piece of ice on the shore that a fisherman had pulled out of the water

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About 1 1/2 inches thick.  Too thin to walk on, it needs to be at least two inches thick for that.

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I’m going to close this with my personal touristy splurge from the trip.   While this probably has no ceremonial and little cultural value, it is something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

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This is a didgeridoo, purchased at Halls Gap, Grampian National Park in the Brambuk Cultural Center.  Aborigine artists sell their creations to the tourist market here, and the artwork is guaranteed authentic.   I paid the premium price, willingly.

There were several to choose from, all made by an artist new to the Center, Wimbok.   This was my instant favorite in the small size.

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There were larger ones and I agonized for fifteen minutes over buying a large sized one that looked similar in size to what the aborigines play for real.  The price, more than double, wasn’t the issue at all.  It was the size.  It would HAVE to be carried onto all aircraft and I wasn’t sure if it would get confiscated.  It could be construed to be a possible weapon.  Or it might be too big to fit in the overhead bins.  Also, there is always a risk someone else could damage it with their carry on baggage, intentionally (in their way) or unintentionally.   This was the largest one that would safely fit in my luggage.  It got to it’s new home without a scratch.

So happy.  So happy.

1/15/2017  12:30pm

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Last Day-On The Great Ocean Road


Here’s the wiki link, I can’t really describe the Great Ocean Road and do the job justice.

Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

What I CAN do is tell you about my experience there.  How it can be done in one day relatively inexpensively.

One day is not enough.  I think three is a minimum.  But we didn’t have that option.

Back when I was planning our vacation, I wanted to explore here.  But with visiting friends, driving on the wrong side of the road, unfamiliar territory, and such, I didn’t want to commit until after I looked the situation over.  Mistake.  We happened to be in Aussie at the peak tourist time of the year.  Many Australians have four weeks off around Christmas, so motels in popular areas can be jammed.

I’m sure we could have found some place and Edmund agreed.  But he also said that any available rooms would be charged an outrageous premium.  Plus, rent a car in downtown Melbourne, crowds at popular spots, etc.  It just didn’t sound like something I wanted to take on.

Edmund came to the rescue.  He volunteered to set us up on a one day train, bus, bus, train tour of the GOR.  As I had no idea how this would work, we accepted.  He then volunteered to be our tour guide.  I now owe him BIG TIME and hope I can pay this back some day in the US.

First, off to a VLine ticket counter to purchase your ticket.  Since we were right next to the Southern Cross Station, it was easy and we did it the day before.  Knowing exactly what to purchase is a different matter.  On the odd chance someone reading this blog decides to make this trip, here is the description of the route.

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Saved this as a souvenir.   Train from Southern Cross Station to Geelong main station.  There are three stations in Geelong, get off at the second stop.  If you have any doubt, ask the conductor when you board.  Tour bus from Geelong to Apollo Bay.  Tour bus from Apollo Bay to Warrnambool.  Train from Warrnambool to Southern Cross Station.  Notice the first class ticket on the last leg.  It’s only $8 more and you get a wider, reclining seat with a better quality of passengers.  Worth it.  4 hours from Warrnambool to Southern Cross.

This is a long, long day.  About twelve hours.  Bring a lunch to eat at Apollo Bay as there is no time to buy anything there.  Dinner is available on the train, selection is limited by the end of the day.   You have about an hour to pick up a bite to eat in Warrnambool.

The bus from Apollo Bay to Warrnambool operates Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as of this date 1/14/2017.  Keep that in mind.  Some people get on and off, spending a few days at various towns along the way.  This will cost extra, but it’s a helluva lot cheaper than renting a car and worth considering.  You can also turn around in Apollo Bay and return after a two hour layover in Apollo Bay.  Not something I recommend as the best sites are further on around the loop.  I can’t see any reason why a person couldn’t spend a few days in Apollo Bay for the same price.  Or Warrnambool, but there isn’t much to see there.

We were supposed to meet Edmund at 8:20am at the Woolworth’s at Southern Cross Station.  But, we were up early and made it there at 8:00am.  Bought our lunch  and Edmund walked up about the same time we got out of the store.  He bought his lunch, and we were ready.  Since the trains leave about every 15 minutes in the morning, we jumped on the 8:30am train.  No problems with that.

I was waiting for this station.  Not about to miss this picture.

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Classic rock music buffs are familiar with the Little River Band.  On the highway near this stations is where they found their name.   Quoting from wikipedia…

“After their return to Australia [from the UK], the members began rehearsing in February 1975, still using the name of Mississippi. In Wheatley’s autobiography, Paper Paradise (1999), he described how they obtained their name: “It was now time to get out of the rehearsal room and play to a live audience – somewhere without any fanfare, somewhere out of the way. I booked the Golfview Hotel in Geelong for the Saturday night of 1 March 1975. While travelling to the venue down the Geelong Road from Melbourne, we passed the turn-off for Little River. From the back of the truck Glenn Shorrock shouted, ‘What about the Little River Band’? And so, that night the Golfview Hotel witnessed the first performance of the Little River Band, albeit advertised on the marquee as Mississippi.”[8] On 20 March 1975 they played their first official gig under their new name at Martini’s Hotel in Carlton.[9] They played a return gig at the Golfview Hotel five days later.[9][10]

The rest is history.  Possibly the most influential rock band from Australia, in my opinion.

I loved this story and had to include it.  The LRB has always been a favorite of mine.

Into Geelong, we had about a 40 minute wait for the bus.

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This station is a major intersection for commuters heading to Melbourne for work.  Buses are constantly in and out, meeting the trains.  We were first in line so Praxy and I scored the front seat.  The country rolled by, ocean side.

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A lighthouse in the distance

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At 61 kilometers, it’s still close to an hour to Apollo Bay from here.  The road is twisty and slow.  Who wants to hurry?  I wanted to see the scenery.

The bus stopped infrequently and only to let passengers on and off.  It’s a little over a two hour ride from Geelong to Apollo Bay.

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This view shows up constantly on the internet.

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Odd plastic statues.

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Fires raced through here 2 years ago destroying over 100 houses.  This is the aftermath.

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Odd rock formations, Apollo Bay in the distance.

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This is another Vline bus, but has a different branding on it.  Something to do with being out of the Melbourne transit system.  We were a little late so we only had about 20 minutes for lunch.  We didn’t dare leave the immediate area, concerned the bus might leave without us.

Back on a different bus and off across the toe of Australia.

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I have to admit that at this point I was a little bummed out.  I’d heard so much about the great ocean road, this was a bit of a let down.  Then…the real show began.  Back to the ocean and the driver announced “30 minute stop at the 12 apostles”.  We jumped out for this.

With the exception of Ayers Rock, this is probably the most famous vista in Australia.  I even saw a 20X24 inch blow up sitting at the camera department in Costco two days ago.

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The “12” are down to about 7.  Storms have been reeking havoc.  But this is still a most wondrous site.  And very popular.

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Nope, that’s not a line of army ants.  It’s people.  Hundreds of them.  Many, many Chinese now visit Australia.  Perhaps a third of these people are Chinese tourists.

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This was a difficult, hurried shot.  The crowds were incredible!  People looking out for people walking in front of people trying to take pictures of their own people without any other unwanted people in the way of the people with the cameras and trying to avoid taking a picture with the people in the helicopters in the background.  Whew!

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Looking the other way.  Beautiful, the lighting was better looking south.

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Praxy’s turn.  There was a line for this shot!

Back in the bus and on to the Loch Ard gorge via Port Campbell.  Quick stop here to drop off 3 young adults.  Edmund, Praxy, and myself had to bus to ourselves for the rest of the journey.

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This looked like a VERY nice place to spend a few nights and explore the area.  If we come back, I think we’ll stay here.  The bus then continued on the Loch Ard.

A ship named the Loch Ard sank here with two survivors.  Another wiki link…

This place was gorgeous as well.  We got about 10 minutes here.  The driver would not allow us on the beach as he would have to clean up the sand himself.

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Fine white sand that gets everywhere.  It lines the path as it clings to the visitors even after they walk up these steps.

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I didn’t blame the driver.

I could have spent an hour here easily.  Maybe some day.

Back in the bus for a 10 minute ride to the next stop, London Bridge.

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Possibly a future pair of “apostles” several kilometers away.

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The overlook is as close as a person wants to go at ANY of these stops.  The edges are rather crumbly.  A possible Darwin award nomination goes to the fools that climb over.

A short ride to the next vista, the Bay of Islands’’.

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Except for the photo with Praxy, all these photos are pieces of two montages I plan to stitch together.  I’ll have to download a program later.  Perhaps this means I’ll have another post to show some of the finished work.  There are also a couple of videos that I want to post on youtube.

This was the last scenic stop.  We continued on to Warnambool for the end of the bus ride.

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The train station rests in this little bowl.

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Classic late 19th century brickwork.  I love the feel of these icons of the past, still in use today.

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Our guide, Edmund, sits with Praxy on the platform waiting for departure time.  His knowledge made our loop possible.

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Diesel electric locomotive for this leg of the trip.  Many of the trains in the metro area are run by overhead electric.

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Very nice in the first class car.

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These trains are a wider gauge than standard, and the tracks are new.  They fly along at almost 70 miles per hour, with little shaking or rocking.  Still, it was nearly four hours back to Southern Cross.   We parted ways with Edmund, he caught a ride back to his home on another train.

A wonderful, long, fun, busy day.

We walked across the street to our motel.  Dirty clothes into the luggage, clean clothes in the closet.  We were packed and ready to fly out the next morning.  That job was done the night before.  After all the excitement of the day, suprisingly, we both got a decent night’s sleep.  We’d need it for the next day’s flight back to the US.

1/15/2017  10:00am

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Returning on the Overland…errr Dreamliner…errr Back Home


I tried writing a couple of times on the way home.  It didn’t go that well.  The train was too unsteady, and I couldn’t cut and paste from the tray table on the 787.  Putting pictures in the posts was difficult and frustrating.  Plus editing, correcting, and moving text was next to impossible from the mouse pad.  It got to be such a hassle, I gave up.  Most of this is written from home.

Writing from the dining car.  I didn’t realize what a pain in the ass this is.  The train car rocks and rolls like Elvis at his best.  Still, I wanted the view and this is the best place to watch the countryside go by.  And it’s going.  We’re doing about 70 mph through the wheat fields and sheep pastures. 

It’s a lot easier than driving.  We’re retracing the route that brought us back from the Grampians.  We’re along side the 18 inch steel pipe that supplies water to Bordertown or Keith.  40-50 miles of pipe.  That’s how dry this country truly is.  Water is precious.  

Typing is too bloody difficult.  Going to give this up and watch the scenery.

[Break]

4 days later, on the United 787 somewhere near the equator on our flight home.  This is a lot easier to write.  Time to start catching up.  We’ve got a lot done in the last few days.

We spent two more nights in Mount Barker with our friends, then it was time to start for home.  First stop was two nights in Murray Bridge.

I’m going to have to come out and say that the town of Murray Bridge was a bit of a disappointment.  There isn’t really a lot to do there other than take the dinner cruise on the sternwheeler boat.  These were booked out months before and there was NO chance of getting a nice romantic dinner on the river with only a week’s notice.  Methinks there is an opportunity for another business, or at least another boat.

The motel we stayed at, the Parklane, was convenient for catching the train.  What I liked most about the place was the tasty and inexpensive Vietnamese restaurant at the motel.  A welcome break from the greasy food, Vietnamese cuisine is more about vegetables. 

 

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This is the east side of the old Murray Bridge, which was built in the late 1800ds.  Sign says 1879.  The newer railroad bridge is now located about 100 yards downstream. 

After two nights in Murray Bridge, it was time to say goodbye to the state of South Australia.  Up at 7:00am, pack up, and get ready.  We ordered a lunch from the restaurant, pork, rice and veggies.  Better fare than what you can get on the train and a lot less expensive.  About 100 yds away, all down hill, all concrete or pavement, sat the train station.  It took us one trip to marshal all our luggage down to the track side.

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Praxy on the platform.

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And me.

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While we were waiting for our train, a freight train came through the opposite direction.  It was a long one.  The end of it was obstructing our train’s track.  Ours pulled in and the freight train took off for Adelaide.  Loaded all our stuff into the passenger cabin and we took off for Melbourne.

Not much to report about the return trip.  Most of the good scenery lies between Murray Bridge and Adelaide.  But I was able to look out and watch the traffic on the Adelaide-Melbourne highway.  The same highway we had driven on four days before during our return from Ararat and the Grampian National Park.  It occurred to me that we might have been better off catching the train to Ararat and renting a car there.  I’m going to look into that if we ever go to the Grampians again.

Hotel room, then plan for the next day.  I chose a destination that seemed to be close and fun, the Melbourne Zoo.

It was only a 15 minute train ride from Southern Cross Station to the zoo.  This zoo is worth a visit.

Most of the cages, especially for larger animals, are quite roomy.  The large animal cages are set up for quick, safe, and easy cleaning.  The day we chose was very warm and some of the animals could have suffered.  Not to worry in Melbourne.  Sprinklers are installed on every cage that had animals that couldn’t take the heat.  Koalas, birds, orangutans, and probably others got either an afternoon mist or impact sprinklers.  It made it nice for us as well as long was we protected our cameras.  Temperature on that day ended up being 99F. 

Over the equator now and the sun is starting to set.  3560 miles down,  5160 miles to go.  5 hours and two movies down, over 8 more hours of butt time to go.  This jet is quiet!  We are over the wing in premium economy and talking is easy.  The only sound is the air rushing by the cabin, rushing by at 571 mph.  I’m watching the shadow of the cabin creeping up the wing.  When the light is gone, I’m going to try to get some sleep.

Here are some of the highlights of the zoo…

[Break again.  The pictures were such a problem, I gave up writing and went back to watching movies on the jet.]

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Meerkat Manor.  Engaging little things.  They would come right up under your feet and rare up, hoping for a handout.  I found out later that we happened to be there at about feeding time and they were hoping for their meal.  I didn’t get a picture of them up close that wasn’t blurry.  Meerkats are always on the move.  There were four in this pen.

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Finally, I saw a platypus.  The room was dark, so I was stuck with trying to time it when the plat was still.  No luck.  This was the best I could do without a flash.  Flash photography was forbidden in the viewing area for obvious reasons.  Oh well.  At least I saw a real, live platypus.  They are quite cute little things.  Very busy.  I assumed the zoo kept this cage brilliantly lit during nighttime as the little critter was active as could be during our daylight hours.

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Better pictures of Little Penguins, also called Fairy Penguins.  These are cute as well.  In the underwater viewing area, they constantly came up to the window to check out all the humans.  It was a blast to watch the toddler kids chasing penguins around the room!

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Banded lemurs.  By now the day was quite hot and the animals were looking for the coolest part of their enclosures.  Lucky for us, this cool spot was close to the rail.

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I can’t remember what kind of monkey this was, but I got a kick out of it.  The keepers had JUST put the food in it’s cage and it had “hidden” all it’s favorite food from the other monkeys in the cage.  This hiding spot was at the viewing window, right next to us.  Cucumber spears.  It kept peeking at the other monkeys below, watching to see if they were going to come up and steal the treats.  The other monkeys were pawing through the goodies, vainly looking for the cukes.  Hilarious.  I got a blurred picture of this monkey with a cuke, but it wasn’t worth posting.

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  The walk through aviary was just about the best part of the zoo.  About a quarter acre of flying area, and the birds were taking advantage of it.  I missed some photos as the sprinkler system was spraying water everywhere, and that everywhere included my camera.  This is a Royal Spoonbill, about 10 feet away.  Pretty cool looking bird.

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Another denizen of the aviary, a Black-Necked Stork.  There was a pair, but one flew by a couple of feet away from me.  A picture of that flight was impossible, but it sure looked impressive.

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Just outside of the aviary this little bird. a Bell Miner bird, had built a nest.  A day later, I learned that these birds are very noisy with a distinctive call.  They are also very aggressive about defending their nest.  As I shot these pictures, both parents few over and stayed close, ready to pounce on me if I got any closer.  Brave little birds.  This picture is shot from about two feet away, the nest was almost in my reach.  Both parents were not about to let me get to that nest without a fight, and I sensed this even before I learned about their habits.

Of course there was the normal zoo assortment of lions, tigers, zebras, elephants, etc. etc. that I couldn’t get close enough to take a decent picture.  Every single animal in the zoo was in the coolest part of their enclosure by now.  And of course that wasn’t close to the viewing areas.  Those areas are kept clear so us humans can see the animals better.

There were also numerous indoor displays with low lighting.  These were poorly lit to keep the animals calm.  Not great for pictures.  Reptile house and amphibian house come to mind

All told, a great zoo to visit and anyone in the area should have a look.  On a cooler day, of course.  At least the crowds weren’t there.  Not a lot of people as most stayed home rather than deal with the heat.

We took a number 55 tram (air conditioned) back to downtown Melbourne.   This route winds through the park, then across the CBD to a different station than Southern Cross.  I got off at the correct stop, then proceeded to, yet again, get completely disoriented.  We walked a complete circle in the hot day as I couldn’t figure out where our motel was.  Egad.  Next trip south of the equator, I’M. TAKING. A. FREAKING. COMPASS. WITH. ME!  I never, ever, really got my bearings.  I was lost 6 minutes after arrival and 6 weeks later when we boarded the jet.  Yep, I was even turned around again at the airport.  Very disturbing to me.  I never get confused like that in the US, or even Mexico.  Ever.

Edmund later told me he has similar problems north of the equator.  His aren’t as bad because he travels a lot and is more adapted to the change of hemisphere.

Next day, we met up with Edmund and his wife, Didi.  On to a free tram across the Melbourne CBD (Central Business District) to Chinatown for lunch.  I wish now I’d known about Chinatown.  There were perhaps a hundred different restaurants just waiting to be sampled.  Plus, stores and such.  And all in the free transportation zone in the CBD.  On second thought, maybe not.  I’d probably get lost and end up Sydney.  Or Tasmania.

Didi went home, but Edmund took us over to the Melbourne Botanical Gardens.  This place was beautiful.  I have to admit.  Melbourne has some of the best public attractions I’ve ever seen.

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Huge trees, flowers, birds, and relaxing people in a little paradise in the middle of the city.

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Guilfoyle’s Volcano.  This originally was to supply water to the plants in the park.  Now it’s more of a display, a round collect pond for a local spring.

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Succulent kale on a stalk.  Weird looking stuff.

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Three pleasant hours.  That’s about all for this day.  One more post to go.  The Great Ocean Road with the voyage home.

1/12/2017  2:45pm

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Grampians National Park, Day Two


Up and at ‘em early.  Crowds in the park meant that it would be nice to see the sites with not so many people around.  We hoped.

Through Halls Gap, and up the winding road into the upper elevations of the park.  Sure enough, no one there.  Well, one car plus us.  This gave us a chance to get some peace and quiet with the park.

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View from Reed Lookout.

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Praxy by the lookout tower.

Wild fires are a huge issue here.  In 2006 the fires were so severe, that the park had to be completely closed for a year.  Even some of the pavement got burned.  There were some fires in 2015, but not near as serious.  You could hardly tell it 1 year later.

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This would be quite a place to work.   I love views like this.

About a 1 mile hike to and from The Balconies.

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This used to be (and still is to people that disobey the signs) a great place to sit for a picture.  It’s at least 500 feet down from the end of those rocks.  The lower one looks quite precarious, not much support remaining under it.  Looking at google images…

(The Balconies) will show some pictures of brave people on these rocks in much better lighting.  The overcast just ruined my pictures from an artistic standpoint.  But it is what it is.  I don’t have endless days to return for perfect conditions.  I suppose I could photo shop ‘em, but I’m too lazy.

Back to the car and the parking lot was almost full.  That’s perhaps 40 cars in the time we were walking back and forth to The Balconies.   The sleepyheads were finally awake.

Next stop was MacKenzie Falls.  Back out to the main road and it was busy with cars heading somewhere.  MacKenzie Falls was that destination.

This alone was worth the trip from Adelaide.  First thing was to walk out to the overlook.  As we set out, it became obvious we were getting worn out.  Praxy’s knees were bothering her and I had a serious hitch in my left leg.  We’d come this far, so we toughed it out.  And here’s the results.

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Cool, there’s steps…

People at MacKenzie Falls

..and people at the bottom!

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This required some investigation, sore legs or not!  We walked back, dropped off our warm clothing, and took off down those steps.

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The top of the main falls.

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Most Australian waterfalls are rather a disappointment as they are nearly dry.  This one was the exception.

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Almost there.

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Whew.  People were streaming down the steps at this point.  I took refuge on a rock to shoot these pictures, Praxy got a picture of me!

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Quite a bunch of people from all over the world.

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The overlook from below.

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We walked down below the falls a bit, it was a 3 kilometer walk to a trailhead.  Not for us, so time to return.  Up all those steps.  Wait!

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One of the locals out looking for lunch.  These little guys are pretty brave.  It would have been easy to grab one.

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Didn’t try to cross on the stepping stones.  Too many people.  I was trying to put it off, but no getting around it.  Those steps were still there.  SIGH!  Here we go!

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Puff puff puff…

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Whew, now for the final overlook a few hundred yards upstream.

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The upper part of the cascades.  There are a series of waterfalls tumbling down the sandstone cliffs.

This was the end.  Both of us were exhausted.  Back in the car to sit down.  Two days later, we’ve both recovered.

We took the long way back to Ararat via Horsham and Stawell.  NO TRAFFIC in the park.  Everyone, all those cars crowded on the road, were going from Halls Gap to MacKenzie Falls.   Hardly saw a car until we reached the main highway.

The drive back to Adelaide the next day was mostly uneventful.   Miles and miles of wheat and sheep.  We paralleled the rail route for the Overland train for hundreds of miles.  Four days from now we’ll go back through Horsham, Stawell, and Ararat on our return to Melbourne.

The rental car has been safely returned to downtown Adelaide.  That is just about all the driving I’ll be doing.  I took the bus back from town to Mount Barker.

Though I never got really super comfortable with driving on the wrong side, I feel confident enough now that I would do it again.  England?  India?

The following posts will be covering our return to the US. 

2/1/2017  5:20pm

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The Grampians National Park/Ararat in Australia, not Turkey


We got to Ararat in the afternoon and, ulp, no vacancy sign at the Southern Cross Motor Inn.  Glad we’d booked in advance.  Looking around, almost all motels showed a no vacancy sign.  Here and other nearby cities and towns on the way in.

We got a beautiful room here; king bed, fridge, microwave, 50 inch TV, big comfy room.  The owners thought of everything.  A major highway goes by 30 feet from where I’m typing with tons of truck traffic.  And you can hardly hear a truck go by.  Maybe feel some vibration.  Open the door into the parking area on the opposite wall and, large amount of noise from that truck comes in from the courtyard through the entry door!   How did the owners do that?  I’ll tell you.  Quadruple pane glass on the windows and thick walls.   Glass panels are one-way glass.

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In all my years of travel, both for pleasure and for work, this is the second best motel I’ve ever stayed at.  The best, in Bremerton, Washington, has changed hands at least once in the last 25 years so I don’t know what it’s like now.  The Oyster Bay Motel.  High praise.

That is a PILE of nights in motel rooms.  Early in my career with the fisheries, I’d be on travel for 4-6 months of the year.

Couple this with a spectacular restaurant around the corner.  The Blue Duck, a family owned and operated business.  We tried it on the second night in Ararat.  I had duck shanks with mash and steamed veggies.  Praxy had the roasted pumpkin salad with the optional chicken.  5 star dining, every bite was perfect.  I’ve got to figure out that dressing on the salad.  Amazing!

Stay here if you pass through Ararat.

Why did the Oyster Bay beat out the Southern Cross?  Two reasons.  Fabulous restaurant on site, and a hundred thousand dollar view of Oyster Bay from my room.  Room was not as nice, but damn good.  The other two things made up for that and then some.

Up the next morning to visit the park.   I chose a route that brought us in from the southern end.

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The road sign was a bit confusing.  The wind had blown all the direction signs to the same direction.  Thanks to a map, I figured it out.

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There’s the park.  See the clouds on the mountain tops?  That was the previous days of rain evaporating.  Made for sucky scenic photography in the park later that morning.

First stop was the drive up, then the finishing 2 mile hike to the top of Mt Williams.  The view was great, but the weather made the sky not good for pictures.  Here is a brief sample…

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This was a steep road.  I was huffing and puffing going up.  Just fine coming back, of course.

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It’s about 300 feet strait down just to my right.  Awesome!

Off the mountain and a short hike to Silverband falls.

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Not a ton of water, but very pretty nonetheless.

Back in the car and down to the Brambuk Visitor’s and Cultural Center at Halls Gap.  And…I was able to buy something I truly wanted.  Mancave item.  A genuine Australian carved, wood-burned, and decorated, didgeridoo.  Local Aboriginal artists have rights to sell there and I just couldn’t resist.  Touristy, yes, but NOT MADE IN CHINA.  That and the favorable exchange rate made this purchase a slam dunk.

It’s only a short one.  I didn’t want to try to pack a big one all the way home.  I’d have to carry the big one on.  Would it be allowed as it kind of looks like a club?  What if some moron throws his carry on into it in the overhead bin?  I’d have to guard the hell out of it, like I do my camera.  So, this one fits in my luggage.   I would have gladly paid the $400 AUD for a big one if I could have figured out how to get it safely home.  I truly thought hard about it.  The price was no deterrent.  Maybe some day when I can afford first class air fare…

Through the tourist trap called Halls Gap and up the hill to the Boroka Lookout.  Better weather for photos in the afternoon.

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Halls Gap with Lake Bellfield in the back ground.  Can’t see the crowds of tourists from here!

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Looking towards Ararat.

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Across the canyon that we drove up.  Very odd looking sandstone formation.   Must be some hard stuff on top protecting the more erodible layers.

This was the last stop in the National Park for the day.

12/31/2016  7:00pm

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After Christmas


 

We decided it was time to tour around a bit.  Back to Budget car rental for another go at “wrong side” driving.  Yep, I’m a glutton for punishment, or at least stress.  But, there’s too much to see around here.  Not going to sit waiting for something to happen.

Got Ben’s younger brother BHN.  A 2016 Toyota Corolla with only 30,000 kms.  Might be Russian as there is a shortage of vowels.  Comrade BHN has served us well so far, we’re at Victor Harbor safely.

Traffic has been outrageous.  Christmas holidays are still on and it takes forever to get a break in the traffic so a person can cross a street.  Many stores are closed as Christmas was on Sunday and Boxing Day on Monday.  Over half the stores in Victor Harbor were closed Tuesday.  Lots of people looking through windows shopping.  I’d think that most people would have enough shopping for Christmas.  Whatever.

Anyway, left the Marion Hotel at 9, got off the bus too early in the CBD.  Again.  Had to walk 7 extra blocks.  But BHN was waiting and we got out of town around 11am.

Across the valleys and hills to Victor Harbor.  So many cars on the road that no one could even pass.  Got our room, and I was off to explore a bit.

Off to the Visitor’s Center to book our penguin excursion.  $20pp AUD or $15pp USD.  Worth it.

We left early to take a little walk around Granite Island.  As I’d done this before, this walk was for Praxy.  She loved it.

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I always enjoy it when my wonderful wife is having a good time.

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More wind art.  Sculpted from solid granite.

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Years and years ago, this was a main loading point for ships hauling wheat and other supplies from southern Australia.  Now it’s an oversized dock and fishing pier.

Our walk got cut a little short.  Rain started in and we ended up hurrying to the kiosk to keep from getting soaked.  This “hurrying” will become a repeating theme.

Ah yes.  The penguins.  No pictures.  Those little critters show up in the dead of night and are just about invisible to any type of photography.  We had a great time watching them make their way out of the water, across the roads, and into their burrows to feed their chicks.

How could we see them?  The tour guides had red flashlights and the birds have a lot of trouble seeing red.  So, if it’s not shined directly into their faces for a long time, they don’t pay much attention.  It is VERY important to be as quiet as possible.

We say maybe 10 or so.  A couple of them were real close.  Close enough we had to back off so we wouldn’t frighten them.  About the size of a small duck, they waddle slowly to their burrows.  We saw a couple of chicks peeping out, but that was all.  In spite of that, it was worth it and I recommend it to any readers in the area.

We got back to our room at about 11:30pm.

Next morning, rain.  Lots of it.  Finally a break around noon and I took off to see what all the train whistling and tooting was about.  Ah HA!  Train tickets to/from Goola for $30 each.  I zipped back and dragged Praxy out of the safety and dryness of the motel room for another little adventure.

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As we arrived in Goolwa, the heavens opened up!  Our plans to explore Goolwa were washed away.  We waited on the platform for the return.

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621 was dispatched to take us back.  This was it’s first run in 11 months as it’s boiler had to be rebuilt.

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The old steam loco passing us the other direction.  These photos were hurried as I was shooting in a driving rain.

Enough of a break in the rain to show 621 on the turntable getting set for the return.

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On…

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And just about ready to get off.

Back to our room for the night.  Not a lot of sleep, though.  We got woke up my a huge wind and rain storm.  The rain was pelting against the slider door and tin roof above us.  There were a lot of people tent camping around the area as this is “summer time” here in Aussie.

Next morning we were off early in on-and-off rain.  We did indeed pass many tent campers that were shivering over cups of coffee and trying to dry out their gear.   Also a lot of trees and branches on the road, which made for adventurous driving for someone used to driving on the other side of the road.  We almost got into one accident.  I was following a rig and a tree showed up half way in our lane.  But as I was serving out to the miss the tree, a speeding moron went around me.  I nearly forced him into the ditch on the far side.  I don’t know what it is about these Aussie drivers.  Always in a hurry, and they don’t seem to like to slow down during adverse driving conditions.  Sounds like drivers in the big cities of the USA.  Whatever.

We crossed the Murray River on a state run free ferry.

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Saved us thirty miles of driving.

We found a little caravan park in Penola that had cabins, so we spent the night there.  I also booked a room in Ararat for three nights while there while in Penola.  Good thing I did.  Many motels were sold out for the holiday period.

Next day, off to Mount Gambier.  It was a little out of the way, but people were telling us to visit Blue Lake.  We were glad we did.

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We showed up right at the time the tour of the pumping station was scheduled.  The intake is behind us on the far side of the crater.

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A black-tailed wallaby grazes on the lawn in front of the pump control building.

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The passageway from the elevator to the pump deck

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This picture, taken from the other side, shows where the tour takes you.  We were on the concrete deck on the left side of the picture, and also took the stairs down closer to the lake.  You start at the top of the rim, walk down a road to the control building, elevator down, and walk near the pumps.  Very nice, a bargain at $10AUD per person for the one hour tour.

The water is very pure, hence it’s blue color.  During the winter, more limestone leaches into the water and the lake turns a grey color.  We hit it right.

Off to another site in Mount Gambier that I thought my wife would like to see, Umpherston Sinkhole.

Back in the late 1800d’s, James Umpherston got an idea to turn this limestone cave sinkhole into a private garden.  130 years later, it’s still a garden and quite possibly the most visited attraction in Mount Gambier.

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Stunning.  It attracts hoards of tourists, including a couple from Pomeroy, Washington.

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Tourists leave apples, bread, and other goodies for the possums that live in the sinkhole.  There are hundreds of them that come out in the evening.  We got lucky and spotted one under the steps, looking for a noontime snack.

Back in the car for the drive to Ararat.  I’ll pick it up in the next post.

12/31/2016  4:00pm

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Lounging around on Christmas day


104 degrees today, not excited about being outside.  Time to catch up a bit.

I really don’t have much of interest to write about.  We’ve been hanging around with friends going shopping at malls and relaxing.

I took one day that Praxy was feeling under the weather and took off across town to Costco.  Not to shop, but to look around.  It takes three buses and over an hour and a half to get from the Trott park/Flagstaff Hill area to Costco on the other side of the CBD (Central Business District).  Both directions.  The transfer in downtown Adelaide was quite confusing, but I’ve got it now.  I lost a little time there.

Costco in Australia is quite similar to Costco in the USA.  Many of the same items are available.  Kirkland branded items are rare-ish, but can be found.   Some things are a bargain, beef for example.  25% lower price than the USA for the same cut.  Considering the exchange rate, most items are similar.  (Aussies are taking a hit.  US dollars are getting stronger as we stay longer.)  Some of my favorites were there.  Jelly Belly jellybeans.  Kirkland AAA and AA batteries.  Premade pizzas.  Cheap hotdogs and drinks in the snack bar (which was packed, btw).  Canon and Nikon SLR cameras.  Kirkland mixed nuts in a jar.

I noticed a lot of Asians shopping there, Chinese in the lead.  Looked like many of them were stocking their restaurants, like they do in the USA.   Probably good prices.

Three buses back to the house.  I was a little late and Praxy was starting to wonder about me.  No problem, got back fine.

Time for a few little opinions I’ve formed about this beautiful country.

Prices here are higher than in the US for most items.  Even considering the favorable exchange rate.  Food and gasoline lead the way with gas around $4 per gallon.  My old international standby, MacDonalds, is about 20% higher.   Burger King (called Hungry Jack’s) is higher as well with no “value meal” options at either.   Bargains, at least true bargains, are hard for me to find.  Vietnamese is your best bet for a mealtime cheapie.

Cars are smaller.  There is no such thing as a 3/4 ton pickup such as my Dodge Cummins diesel or a Ford F250.  I see many a small pickup and van pulling what I consider a large RV trailer considering their diminutive size.  I’ve wondered how the tow rigs were faring.

Most places and parks are clean and relatively free of litter and debris.  Crime is low, but some friends were hit hard by an express burglary.  Traffic violations are dealt with harshly at great expense and hardship to the driver.   Don’t speed here.  Ever.  Traffic cameras are everywhere.  I hope I haven’t been caught screwing up.  I’m trying not to, but I’m getting a little paranoid.  The authorities will catch up to me if I do and the rental car agencies are required to help them.

I haven’t seen anything that remotely resembles slums in Aussie.  I’m assured they are here with Sydney being the biggest collection.   None in Adelaide.   Some of the outlying areas look a little seedy, but everyone seems to keep busy.  In short, Australian people seem more industrious than the people from the USA.  From my limited perspective.

Voting here is compulsory.   Prices for electrical kilowatt hours are some of the highest in the nation in this area.  Water is scarce with most yards being totally brown.  I assume prices for water are high as well.  Guns are outlawed, although many still remain hidden away.

All adults are required to be tested and found a career.  I find that rather refreshing.  Welfare types seem to be frowned upon.  Wages are generally decent.  Welfare is only for sick or handicapped.  I believe that health care is state sponsored.  It is best to have your own private insurance as those people tend to get to the front of the line for treatment.  Uninsured can have very long waits.

Public transportation is super.  You can get most anywhere in the city with a bus ticket and a 30 or less minute walk.  Price for a fare is $1.50-$3.00 depending on time of day.  A REAL bargain.  Trains, buses, and trams.   Only place I’ve seen that compares is San Diego, California.

A new friend took me to the wine area of Barossa the other day.  It was a great time as I wasn’t driving.  I could sample any and every thing.

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This winery is quite well off.  They had a bottle of great Shiraz called “Double Barrel”.  It was aged in two different whiskey barrels from the USA.

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The best, as usual, was a little hole-in-the-wall place called Whistler.  It’s hard to find, but worth it.

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They had a Merlot that was about the best I’ve ever tasted.  Yeah.  The ole hick from the sticks now knows that wines have a wide variety of qualities and tastes, even from the same region.  I always thought that wine was wine.  Nope.   We went to a very fancy place that at least the wine didn’t impress me.  They had a lot of other cool stuff, though, and great history.

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Great ambiance and many things to see.  Charlie and I took off into their cellar museum for a quick look.

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Charlie is married to Praxy’s schoolmate’s younger sister, a toddler at the time Praxy left Asgad for good.  He took me around for a quick trip to the famous Barossa Valley area for a few stops.

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That liter of 1916 is under lock and key.  $700 per liter.  The 1926 is a bargain at $500 a liter.   No, I didn’t get to try it.  Why would I?

There was a metal and knife shop, a leather shop, and an art studio here.  Much to look at.  We killed over an hour looking around.

I have to admit I enjoyed the wine tasting.  Maybe there is a scrap of cultural hope for me after all.  Still can’t get my pinkie finger elevated as I sip my wine, though.

The Barossa area maybe covers 5 square miles.  There must be 150 wineries in that area.  Amazing.

It was an 1 1/2 drive each way for Charlie to take me back across town, so I hopped a train from near his house north of Adelaide.  $1.50 to travel 35 miles back to Marion Center mall and Trott park.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.  Train was air conditioned and comfortable.  I had to wait almost an hour to catch the M44 bus to Marion mall, but our friends were waiting for me there.  Saved the last bus leg.  Yay!

Moving on to another round at Victor Harbor.  Victor Harbor is an interesting, fun place to visit.

12/27/2016  4:30pm

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