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A glimpse of San Francisco

The seven sisters (painted ladies) with the city behind them. I wouldn’t want to live in a tourist attraction.

After a very nice breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant we were ready to catch the shuttle bus into the San Francisco city centre. But it turned out to be a shuttle for a lot of hotels in the area, not just the Marriot. The driver came into the foyer and told us the bus was full – but if we wanted to stand for the half hour trip into town we could do that. Pete and I shrugged and got on the bus. In the scheme of things a half hour stand wasn’t a big deal.

Within a few minutes a young couple who looked Japanese offered us their seats. We refused, as you do. It was our choice to come on a bus with no seats. But they insisted and so we thanked them and sat down. We exchanged a sheepish glance. It was one of the first times we’d actually been faced with the fact that people thought we were OLD.

Little boxes on a hillside…

The bus went along a freeway. It was interesting looking at the suburbs spreading up into the hillsides around the bay. It reminded me of that Pete Seeger song – little boxes.

We hopped off the bus in the city’s central square, once again thanking the young couple who’d stood for us. The day was cool and although the drizzle seemed to have moved away, we weren’t sure. A line of double decker, open-topped buses stood in a row, offering sight-seeing tours and we thought we’d better do that rather than just walk around. That way, we’d get our bearings and see some of the main sights without wearing off any more shoe leather.

The view from the bus

Like the rest of the world, we’ve seen San Fran in the movies. We knew about the steep roads courtesy of Steve McQueen’s movies, the tram cars were familiar – they’re the same as the older style used in Melbourne – in fact, that’s where they came from. And we knew about the hippy flower days of the sixties and seventies, when we were young. That vibe still remains in areas like Haight Street. The whole inner city is bright with colour and quirkiness. Street art was flourishing even back in 2011, a little earlier than many places. Given a choice between Washington, New York and San Francisco, San Francisco won hands down for me.

Lombard St

Lovely American architecture

What it says

Back to the days of flower power

I’m sure the food’s lovely

Wonderful street art

Stevie Wonder’s paver (and a few others)

After the bus tour finished Pete and I caught a tram down to Fisherman’s Wharf, another place we’d heard a lot about. The place was packed with tourists, many of them doing what we were doing, stopping for a seafood lunch. Of course we had clam chowder. It was delicious and very filling and we regretted the fish and chips we’d ordered as a main course. Hey ho. We did our best, then wandered around the waterfront.

A road to the Bay

Fisherman’s Wharf

There’s more to Fisjerman’s Wharf than just the restaurants. We ambled through the tourist area, picking up a couple of Tee shirts to take home, then checked the historical precinct.

 

A sub and a Liberty ship

Alcatraz stood on its island in the middle of the bay but we couldn’t get on a tour. A submarine, and one of the original liberty ships built by Rosie the Riveter and her companions, were moored at the quay and were open to visitors. Read all about them here. In fact the liberty ships were actually built in the waterways next to our hotel. The factories are long gone, replaced by parkland.

Alcatraz

After a full day we boarded the shuttle bus back to the hotel. We were looking forward to having a pre-dinner drink, then enjoying a steak in the restaurant. But at around 6:30 on a Friday evening the bar and the restaurant were both closed. When we enquired at reception we were told the bar and restaurant were only open from Monday to Thursday. The clerk couldn’t suggest any restaurants nearby but we could order a taxi into the city. Apart from that, we’d find an order-in menu at the back of the amenities folder in our room. He assured us the food was good.

We were frankly amazed. This was a Marriot hotel. But I suppose it was in a more industrial part of town, no doubt frequented by business travellers rather than tourists. We schlepped back to our room to consider options. We looked on the internet but there wasn’t anything within walking distance of the hotel so we opted for a delivery to the room. Pete ordered a veal and mushroom casserole with a salad and a beer.  I ordered lasagne – after all, who could mess up lasagne – and a bottle of Chilean wine. We were told the food would be delivered in about an hour.

Two hours later Pete rang to find out what the hell had happened. After the usual pathetic excuses they said the delivery should get to us in ten minutes. Make that more like fifteen. Whatever. At around 9:30pm at last we had food.

Or so we thought. My lasagne was disgusting, grey mush which might have been meat between a couple of sheets of pasta. It was totally horrible – so bad that I wrote am email to the company complaining about it. Pete’s food was a bit better without being brilliant so we shared that.

Chicken and mushroom casserole with rice

“Lasagne”

This was our last evening in America. It certainly didn’t end in quite the way I would have hoped although it was memorable – for all the wrong reasons.

Our breakfast venue

Next morning the hotel restaurant being closed, we caught the shuttle bus (not crowded this time) into town and found a bar serving a cooked breakfast. It was a fun place and Pete enjoyed chatting with some of the folks there. Really, on this, our last day, we didn’t do much just strolled around the city, visiting some of the shops and malls.

Later in the evening we collected our bags and went to the airport for the long haul home. San Francisco to Los Angeles, then the seventeen-hour flight to Brisbane on Qantas.

It was going to be nice to be home.

 

Crossing America

San Francisco and the bridge

After our stay in Washington we would be flying across America to San Francisco on the west coast. I’m not sure why we weren’t on a direct flight, but we weren’t. We would be flying to Detroit, then on to SFO on Delta, which Pete thought was the better of the US airlines. In fact, before we left Australia, Delta informed us we’d been upgraded from business class to first class. How nice. We arrived at Washington’s airport in plenty of time for our flight and discovered a few… unexpected things about air travel in the USA.

Although airports everywhere are trying to shorten queues and reduce the number of staff at airports in various ways, up to this point (in 2011) everywhere we’d been we went up to a counter, checked in our luggage with the clerk, where we watched it disappear via a conveyor belt, and received our boarding passes. Not in Washington. For a start we had to wait a looong time to get served, despite being business class/ first class. And then when we checked in we were given a boarding pass and told to take our suitcases up to baggage handling ourselves. Then we had to go through security. When I noticed other people taking off their shoes I asked a staff member if that was required. She looked at me as if I was a bit stupid or just being difficult. There were no signs telling passengers what was needed, or if there were I didn’t see them and I STILL haven’t been through any other country’s security where shoes had to be removed – unless they set off the alarm. It was also the first time I’d been through the full-body X-ray booth.

Business class boarded first and we sat watching the other passengers file down the aisle. Many of them had suitcases which were almost as large as the bags we’d checked in and the cabin crew stuffed the luggage anywhere it could fit in the overhead lockers. Obviously, everybody was avoiding checking in luggage. We landed in Detroit and found our flight to SFO had been delayed several hours. Despite our business class/first class tickets we were not permitted into the airline’s lounge so we kicked our heels clock-watching with everyone else.

At last, we boarded and we were off. Flying across America takes as long as flying across Australia but the view is very different. In Australia most of the flight is over desert, the red heart of the country. In America we crossed farmland, enormous rivers, large cities, and mountain ranges. And maybe a bit of desert. The view out the window was great.

City, river, and hills

Farmland

Mountains

I can’t say the same for business class service. It’s a five-hour flight so we were offered a meal. We were in the last row of the business class section (I never did see any sign of first class) so the choice was a do-it-yourself hamburger, or nothing. The salad had already been snapped up by everybody else. We were delivered a tepid meat patty, a cold bun, a slice of plastic cheese, a lettuce leaf, slices of tomato, and some dressing for the burger, with potato salad (I think) and a slice of cake. I didn’t finish the burger and only tasted the potato salad which was inedible IMO. I probably ate the cake. It was the worst meal we had on any flight anywhere, by a long way.

First class meal

By the time we got to San Francisco it was quite late. We’d booked two nights in a Marriot hotel situated between the airport and the city that offered a regular shuttle bus into San Francisco. The place had a nice restaurant with an inviting menu but it was too late to eat a meal, so we sat at the bar and had a couple of drinks with some nuts before we wandered off to bed.

We’d have tomorrow and a good part of the next day to look around before we headed home.

A last look at Manhattan

After our less than salutary experience with the hotel’s breakfast the previous day, we went off to find a café nearby that offered breakfast. This would be our last day in New York. We were heading for Washington the next day. We spent a fun morning enjoying some of the quirkier bits of the city. And another quick trip to Central Park, though not for long.

Toy Story characters. I suppose a bit like the dress-up Roman soldiers at the Colosseum

A Jewish tailor working on his sewing machine. It illustrates what used to happen in that area of New York

I don’t know what Christian sect they belonged to. They sang beautifully and offered free christian literature right outside H&R Block.

We headed back to the hotel so we’d be ready to meet a friend. My editor, Diane, lives in Pennsylvania and she had agreed to catch a bus to New York so that we could actually meet. I was looking forward to that. I’ve met a few online friends in real life and always found it very comfortable. We’d already met at an intellectual level, so this was just a matter of putting a face to a person. We returned to our room and waited for her to call from the lobby.

It was the weekend and a bunch of girls in their early teens were booked into the hotel. I assume it was a school group on an excursion. When Diane rang to say she’d arrived, I caught a lift to go down to meet her. We were on something like the 23rd floor and when I entered, the lift held about four people. From there on down it was stopping at all stations. More and more kids entered the lift. I was at the rear, my back now firmly pressed against the wall. Bear in mind I’m an introvert with a tendency to claustrophobia. When the lift stopped again I felt sure you couldn’t fit another person in that car. The kid didn’t agree, though, winkling her way into that scrum while I begged all the deities I don’t believe in not to let the lift breakdown.

I heaved a huge sigh of relief when we finally reached the ground floor and everybody poured out. It must have looked like one of those Benny Hill sketches where far too many people climb out of a mini or something.

Diane was lovely, of course.

After a while we decided we’d head for New York’s natural history museum, easily reachable on the subway. We bought tickets and sat down. After a couple of stations an announcement was made via the PA. It seems to be a requisite for railway stations that all announcements are unintelligible. We stayed where we were and the train started off again. And picked up speed and zipped through stations. It seemed that the powers that be had decided that this train would be an express. We seemed to go a long way before the brakes came on and the train halted. We piled off and watch the rear carriage disappear into the tunnel. Now what? The sign said Harlem. Gosh. We’d heard all about Harlem back in Oz, not the best place to be. Oh well, All we really wanted was to know how to get back toward the central city. Reading signs didn’t help much. In the end Diane went and asked a passing lady and returned to report we had to go over the bridge to a different platform.

A train soon arrived and we climbed into a packed carriage, where we were forced to stand. One young woman sitting on a bench made to get up. “One of you can have my seat.”

“Nah,” we all said. “It’s okay. We’re not going far.”

Pete being Pete added. “One of us can sit on your knee.”

She looked us over for a second, decided we were a trio of harmless old coots, and patted her lap.” Okay. Which one of you?”

All of us laughed.

This episode stuck in my mind and a couple of years later, a suitably embellished version of this experience (along with Central Park) was used in my urban fantasy novel, White Tiger. Did you know that there are more tigers living in America than out in the wild? They’re kept as pets in backyard zoos – or even backyards in often unsuitable conditions, although thankfully, the number of states that permit the keeping of wild animals has reduced. It’s a fact that somebody actually kept a pet tiger in an apartment in Harlem. I wove that (fictionalised) into White Tiger as well.

Ahem. Back to New York, 2011.

We got off the train at the natural history museum and spent several enjoyable hours wandering through the exhibits.The museum is excellent, with fantastic displays of skeletons, reconstructions, explanations of evolution. There are other sections displaying Mayan, Incan, and Native American artefacts.

Triceratops skeleton

The evolution of the horse – much more complicated than the simple straight line that we were told about when I was young

Eohippus – the dawn horse

Part of the Ican exhibition

Then we went to find dinner. It seemed every restaurant we went to either didn’t do much for us, or didn’t have a table. We ended up back at the Irish pub where, if memory serves me right, Diane had shepherd’s pie for the first time. Later, we walked Di back to the bus station, then went back to our hotel to prepare to catch a train to Washington the next day.

New York, New York

Manhattan under the clouds

I’d never been to the USA. Peter had, several times during his working years, once not too long after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre. I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the parks in Utah… But we wouldn’t have time for any of that. This was going to be a ‘taste of America’ – three cities for a few days each. What the hey. It was all new to me.

Wheeling my brand sparkly new bright red suitcase, we went into Copenhagen airport to board our Lufthansa fight to New York via Frankfurt. It all started in the increasingly common way. I was stopped by security who wanted to check my carry-on luggage. I had to open the bag for the man. I’m not sure if it was a random check or whether they really did get their knickers in a twist over the little metal container filled with mints. Must have done. The man took the mints out and re-scanned the bag. I’ve become inured over the years, though I still can’t help a sigh. Flying used to be fun but all that security has taken the gloss off.

The flight was generally uneventful, although one passenger was a pain in the butt from Frankfurt to New York. The cabin crew were up and down to his seat every few minutes and he had his entertainment system on so loud I think everybody could hear the dialogue for the movie he was watching. And, of course, he was first out of his seat, talking loudly on his phone as soon as we arrived at the gate at Newark.

We collected our luggage and joined the lines to pass through immigration. When it was my turn I marched up to the end of the long counter where the immigration officer sat and handed over my passport. Officer Wong (he had a name tag on his shirt) looked me over as if I smelled bad, looked at my passport, was probably disappointed my online visa was in order.

“How long you stayin’ in the US?”

I’d prepared for that. “We’re going home next Sunday.”

He looked down his nose at me. “Ah don’t care when you goin’ home. How long you stayin’?”

I admit to being slightly flummoxed. Well shit. Let’s see… three nights here, a few in Washington…

Pete must have noticed things were not going according to plan. He came up behind me. “I’m her husband,” he said, handing over his passport.

Officer Wong took a look at the page. “You’re married? You got different surnames.”

“Yeah,” Pete said. “She didn’t change her name. Makes it easier for the divorce.”

Officer Wong’s demeanour changed instantly, clearly a fellow-traveller in that respect. “Oh, yeah. Makes sense.”

A bit more banter between the boys and we were outta there.

We’d arranged a shuttle service for the trip to New York City before we left home. All we had to do was find where we were supposed to go. It took us a while. Signage in Newark seems to be aimed at American people who fly a lot. But we got there in the end, joining half a dozen other people in a small van. How do I describe the traffic? Sydney on steroids? Or maybe St Petersburg on steroids. Our driver cut and weaved and dodged between lanes, pushing into lines of traffic to take the tunnel to Manhattan, all the while messing about with a tablet on her knee. Eventually she pulled up around the corner from our hotel in Hell’s Kitchen and fetched our luggage. I stumbled out, glad to have made it alive. I expect she does it all the time – but I don’t.

Pete took out his wallet to tip her – and couldn’t find his passport. The driver waited while he checked the vehicle, his pockets, his carry-on… I was starting to wonder where the nearest Australian consulate was and the driver was glancing at her cab and its load of passengers. She wanted – needed – to leave.

Pete gave her the tip and she headed off. Then he went back through everything we’d done since meeting Mr Wong. And at last, Bingo! We’d had to produce passports at a desk somewhere, to do with the taxi service, and he’d put his passport somewhere unusual. It was there.

Heaving a huge sigh of relief, we checked into our hotel. We were on the 23rd floor or thereabouts with a view of the river, not a large room – we didn’t expect it would be – but with everything we’d need. The hotel was a few blocks from Times Square, so in a good location.

The view from our room

That afternoon we went for a walk getting a feel for the lie of the land. The things I particularly noticed were the rubbish bins lined up along the kerbs, the food vans at just about every corner, the external fire escape stairs, the apparently abandoned scaffolding where building projects had been started. Remember, this was 2011, only a couple of years after the global financial crisis. And I learned that Times Square is an intersection.

We went to the post office to post a parcel and managed to mightily offend another customer because we didn’t understand the protocol involved before you could approach anybody at one of the counters.

Roads like canyons, with the Empire State in the distance

Food vans at every corner. They were left there overnight. We wondered how fresh and safe the food would be.

Eventually we ended up in an Irish pub – Molloy’s, on 9th Avenue – where we rested out sore feet and downed a drink or two while chatting to the Irish barman. On the way back to the hotel we felt in need of some food. Nothing substantial, just something to soak up the alcohol. We passed a few uninspiring convenience stores, then came across a sign advertising chicken sandwiches.

Perfect!

Except the Australian idea of a sandwich doesn’t line up with the American one. We were expecting a couple of slices of bread containing slices of chicken and some salad – lettuce, tomato, cucumber. What we got was a bread roll about 20cm (~9″) long, stuffed with shredded chicken mixed with something like barbecue sauce. A shred of lettuce and half a slice of tomato appeared on the plate as garnish. We’d bought one each, but one between us would have been more than enough. We left more than half of it, but we ate the garnish.

We were about ready for bed. Tomorrow we’d go and do some more exploring.

 

A slice of 17th century maritime history

Heading off for shore leave

The Norwegian Sun’s next port of call was Nynashamn in Sweden. It’s the ferry port for Stockholm, which is about 55km away. The ship sailed in between islands and anchored offshore. From there we were ferried across to the port in the lifeboats. It’s quite an operation when a couple of thousand or so people have to be moved. This was one time when we went along with everyone else. After the boat trip we boarded buses according to our destination in the city. For us it was a no-brainer. We went for the quick city tour and then a visit to the Vasa Museum.

Lifeboats to Nynahamn

The bus drove on a motorway through wonderful scenery but while we had greatweather in Tallinn and St Petersburg, by the time we reached Helsinki the clouds were gathering and now it was cold and drizzly. As we drove our guide told us a little about Swedish history. For instance, did you know the present royal family is descended from one of Napoleon’s marshals, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte? He was invited to become king in 1818 at a time of upheaval in Sweden, which had just lost control of Finland. Sweden had been a great power in Northern Europe during the 17th century but had lost most of its external possessions by the early 18th century.

I mentioned last time the rivalry between Sweden and Finland in ice hockey. The relationship between the countries in this part of the world are a bit like England and Australia in cricket, or New Zealand and Australia in rugby – friends but competitive.

The visit to the Vasa Museum was a bucket list item for me. The Vasa was a warship built by Dutch craftsmen, who were recognized as the best in the world at ship construction. Vasa is a contemporary of the famous Dutch ship Batavia and the similarity is obvious, although Vasa was always supposed to be warship, not a merchantman. In fact, Vasa’s demise preceded that of the Batavia. Vasa sank in 1628 on her first and only voyage just outside the port, rather like the Mary Rose in England. At least Batavia made it to the other side of the world before she hit a reef in the Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Australia in 1629. (I wrote a book about that – click here to learn more).

A model of the vessel

Her richly decorated stern

Like the Mary Rose, Vasa sank because people in power who knew nothing about ship construction poked their noses in. Like so many of the nobles of the time, ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ was a driving force and the powerful king of Sweden was right there with the rest. Like all merchant ships of the time, Batavia carried guns for protection. She was configured with a gun deck, an oorlop deck, and the hold, and carried 32 guns. But the king of Sweden wanted TWO gun decks, so he got two gun decks. The thing is, this style of ship wasn’t designed to have all that weight on the top decks. As soon as Vasa encountered a breeze stronger than a zephyr, she keeled over. The canons broke their restraints and slid over to one side, and water came in the open gun ports. She foundered just outside a major shipping lane and lay there in the mud complete with the remains of at least fifteen people who went to the bottom with her, passing out of history (a bit like the One Ring) until 1950.

Crowds admire the real ship’s bow

Her remains were rediscovered in 1950. The task of lifting Vasa‘s timbers, preserving the material, and reconstructing her started in 1961. In 1990 she was moved to the present museum, along with fascinating exhibits showing how the original vessel was constructed. Willem Vos, who built the replica of the Batavia, worked here for a time learning the skills of ship-building in the 17th century. Many of the skills had been lost because they were passed from master to apprentice, often father to son, and never written down.

A model of a shipyard showing how vessels were built

The intricate rigging on the reconstructed ship

Historians have also delved into the history of the people who went down with the ship, providing information about their jobs on board and how they lived. Needless to say, the captain and the officers weren’t among the dead. Sorry, photography was difficult.

If you’re ever in Stockholm, take the time to visit the Vasa Museum. It’s a fascinating slice of 17th century history.

 

A detour to Arrowtown and then Te Anau

It was just as well we enjoyed the sunny day at Queenstown. The clouds were already gathering as we drove away. Today would be a short drive to the village of Te Anau on the shores of the lake of the same name. But on the way we took a short detour to the restored village of Arrowtown and its beautiful museum.

On the way we crossed the Shotover River, home of one of the best-known jet boat adventures. It’s pretty, as well.

As mentioned earlier, this area was opened up by gold miners. Alluvial gold was found in the Arrow River in 1862 and the miners flocked in to make their fortune. As in Australia, hopefuls came from everywhere, and as in Australia the Chinese were not popular with the European miners. They were forced to set up their dwellings at the edges of town. Reading through some of the exhibits in the town’s museum, I got the idea that eventually a certain level of respect developed. But the Chinese were not entitled to New Zealand pensions. In fact, while much is said about Australia’s white Australia policy, New Zealand wasn’t much better. I found this article interesting.

A rainbow over Arrowtown

Chinese people in any case generally wanted to be buried at home with their ancestors and did their best to make arrangements to go home before they died, or have their bodies taken home. Dave told us about a ship taking home 500 deceased Chinese which sank in Hokianga in 1902. There’s a memorial in Arrowtown set up for the Chinese and it is visited – if only for a few minutes – by the many Chinese who visit New Zealand every year to pay their respects. [1]

You can read a bit more about Arrowtown’s colourful past here.

By the 1960’s the town’s population had dwindled to a few hundred. But since then, the town has resurrected its history. The old main street looks as it would have in the town’s hey day and you can visit a reconstruction of the Chinese settlement down by the river. It’s a short drive from bustling Queenstown, a nice break when people get sick of flinging themselves off bridges with rubber bands around their ankles.

George and I had a great time wandering around the museum. In fact, once or twice he was quite naughty. Then we took a stoll down the main street.

George chatting with some of the locals

We beat the rain out of Arrowtown but it followed us along the hills as we headed for Lake Te Anau. It’s possible to do a day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown but it’s a helluva day. Breaking the journey at Te Anau was sensible. We got a chance to admire the beautiful scenery. Being Australian, all that green in the pastures along the range of hills was something different. Except maybe if you’re Tasmanian.

By the time we reached our hotel, the weather had set in. We couldn’t see the other side of the lake and although the township was a short stroll from the hotel, Pete and I, having actually crossed the road to the lakeside during a brief break in the drizzle, decided staying in our digs was prudent.

George looks over at the lake

Like most of our group, we had lunch at the hotel. After the disappointment of the seafood chowder in Queenstown I hesitated for a moment before I ordered. Folks, it was lip-smackingly delicious, thick and hearty and full of seafood, served with grilled bread. We had two nights at Te Anau and a LOT of people ordered the seafood chowder as an entree. I certainly did.

Our server at lunch was a young South African named Henk. He was here with his fiancée who we met at dinner and also at breakfast. They were due to go home next week for the off-season but then would return and apply for permanent residence in New Zealand. Good luck to them.

While at Te Anau we were offered the chance to visit the glow worm caves, an optional extra to the tour. You went across the lake in a boat, where you had to crouch twice to slip under a couple of low-hanging rocks to get into the cave. Then you travelled in a boat, in the dark, to see the glow worms. Dave made it clear it was cold, damp, and claustrophobic so nobody could pretend they hadn’t been prepared. I am a bit claustrophobic – getting stuck in a lift in London for a couple of hours a few years ago wasn’t exactly pleasant – but perversely, I’m not too bad in caves, so I was game. Until Dave said you had to sit bolt upright in those little boats as though you were having a school photo taken. The whole trip would take about two and a half hours. My back tapped me on the shoulder and told me to forget it. So I chickened out.

As it happened, the tour was cancelled. Apparently the water level in the cave had risen so much in the cave that the tour wasn’t possible. But hey – this is the internet. Come and join me.

We enjoyed another lovely dinner. Tomorrow we would be off to Milford Sound, where I would tick off another item on my bucket list.

 

A day in Queenstown

The lake from the road outside the hotel

Sunshine! We’d almost forgotten what it looked like. It glinted off the water, sparkled off the fresh snow on the mountain peaks, streaked the native grasses with golden highlights. I’d like to say it warmed the skin, but the air was still cool.

Queenstown from the peak

After breakfast we caught the local bus downtown and walked up the slope (slowly) to where a cable car took people up to the top of one of the peaks overlooking Queenstown. It was beautiful up there, cold and crisp with wonderful mountain and lake views. In keeping with Queenstown’s image as the adventure capital of New Zealand, you could take a bungee jump or a sky dive or go along to the luge track to hurtle down the hill on little carts with wheels (I imagine in Winter it’s more like the toboggans you see at the Winter Olympics). https://www.queenstownnz.co.nz/ We were grateful for our thick winter coats, bought for a visit to Europe in Oct/Nov a few years ago but barely used.

TSS Earnslaw sails away

Down below on the lake the TSS Earnslaw returned to its berth. We would be sailing on her this afternoon for our visit to Walter Peak Station, which was part of our tour. There’s a sort of submersible shark thing you can ride in and also those water jets that shoot you up in the air. But… it’s been a few years since I did my solo sky dive and the water looks a bit chilly for getting wet. We settled for admiring the view. We did think about the wildlife park near the cable car, but even at a reduced price, $88 for two was a bit steep to get a look at a kiwi (bird) and a few other animals for maybe an hour or two, so we mooched around the town and the wharf.

George on the Earnslaw

It’s a picturesque spot, nestled between the mountains and the lake. The last of the Autumn leaves added colour. The town’s very much orientated for younger, fitter visitors. There are many shops offering tours and adventures, and many, many of the staff are Asian – which indicates where most of their tourists come from these days. I noticed an article in a local paper which claimed there’s been a large drop in tourist numbers since the Christchurch massacre – especially from Australia. That surprised me. The idea of not going ahead with our holiday didn’t even occur to me.

Drinks on the Earnslaw weren’t exactly cheap

We filed onto the TSS Earnslaw promptly for a 4pm departure. The lovely old steamer was launched in 1912, the same year as the Titanic but obviously the ship hasn’t suffered the same fate. The wind had picked up and it was a bit choppy on the lake. The late afternoon sun lit up the mountains on the far aide of the lake and gave us a lovely, bright view of Walter Peak station’s homestead where we would be having a buffet barbecue dinner. It’s a high-country property running sheep and cattle. There’s a way in by road during the warmer months, but when the snows arrive it’s access by boat only. The beautifully restored homestead offers accommodation and farm stays as well as day trips. And why not? Tourism helps to keep the old steamer going and offers extra income.

The Colonel’s homestead

Like every dinner we had on the tour, it was delicious. The buffet offered seafood, soup, shellfish for entrée, then all manner of salads and vegetables to enjoy with barbecued fish, pork, venison, lamb, beef and/or chicken. After all that there was a wide selection of sweets, all served in small containers so you could mix ‘n match. Here’s some more info with food porn.

After dinner we made our way to a covered outdoor arena to watch a young man tell us about the property and show us how a sheep is shorn. The property runs merinos for wool and (I think) perendale for meat and he’d brought in a perendale ewe which had never been shorn before for this demonstration. Control of the beast, he explained, was vital. Sheep are prey animals and will run – after they’ve kicked you. He explained that while we might think it unkind to shear the sheep at such a cool time, shearing was vital to the sheep’s welfare. Dags and dirt collect in the wool around the animal’s belly and hind quarters in particular, so those parts are trimmed up regularly. Besides, they were well adapted to being shorn. This ewe’s skin would have doubled in thickness within 24 hours – and of course, the wool grows back.

All the while our host’s two-year-old short-haired border collie (cunningly disguised as an Australian kelpie) curled up beside him. He’d had to tie Kim up for now, otherwise she would have been out in the sheep paddock doing her thing. These dogs love to work. When he’d finished shearing, he sent Kim out to bring in the five sheep he had in the holding paddock. She shot off, a silent streak, and had them back in a couple of minutes. The real affection between the man and the dog was a joy to see.

Then, just to prove she’s versatile, she and her handler escorted us back to the Earnslaw for the trip back to Queenstown.

Tomorrow we’d be off to Lake Te Anau – on the doorstep of Milford Sound.

Gosh! We’re in for a heat wave!!

Today on one of the TV morning programs the young woman reading the news announced that after a brief respite, the continent would be returning to heat wave conditions. Adelaide would soar to 39 tomorrow and 41 later in the week. This was after a ‘scorching’ Christmas and New Year, with everyone urged to stay indoors in the hottest part of the day, drink lots of water, and look after the old and the very young.

What a load of bollocks.

Adelaide has a Mediterranean climate. That is, dry, hot summers and cool, wet winters. Temperatures of 39 and 41 are par for the course. Every. single. year. We call it Summer.

There were warnings of a heat wave up the Australian East Coast over the holiday period, with Brisbane expecting temps in the mid-thirties. Ooooh. Shock-horror. We’d be surprised if the summer temperatures in Brisbane weren’t in the mid-thirties.

I lived in Perth, which also has a Mediterranean climate, between 1955 and 1996. The day our migrant ship arrived in Fremantle in 1955 the temperature was 100°F – it was 14th April, well into Autumn. During Summer Perth routinely has a week and more with temperatures over 40C every day. As I recall, February was the hottest month when cyclones building up North would push hot, humid air down to the city. Heavy cloud formed a blanket preventing the heat from escaping. We’d pray for rain which rarely came, while the temperature stayed over 40. We didn’t have air conditioning at home and neither did schools. That was how it was. You shrugged and went about your business.

Basically, I believe the ‘news’ broadcasters are sensationalising normal events. I also have to wonder why these announcements of heat waves are always accompanied by images of people sun bathing at the beach? Sun bathing in temperatures of 35+ is NEVER a good idea and never was, yet the footage is never accompanied by suggestions that keeping covered up and in the shade might be wiser.

The other day I received an email via a friend of a friend of a friend about REAL heat waves. The content was pretty much what you’ll read on this The Higgins Storm Chasing Facebook page with a few bits highlighted and some changes to fonts to make it more dramatic. (I went looking for verification, you see.) This is a partial quote.

“The earliest temperature records we have show that Australia was a land of shocking heatwaves and droughts, except for when it was bitterly cold or raging in flood. In other words, nothing has changed, except possibly things might not be quite so hot now!

Silliggy (Lance Pidgeon) has been researching records from early explorers and from newspapers. What he’s uncovered is fascinating!   It’s as if history is being erased! For all that we hear about recent record-breaking climate extremes, records that are equally extreme, and sometimes even more so, are ignored.

In January 1896 a savage blast “like a furnace” stretched across Australia from east to west and lasted for weeks. The death toll reached 437 people in the eastern states. Newspaper reports showed that in Bourke the heat approached 120°F (48.9°C) on three days.

Links to documentary evidence (1)(2)(3) [Note – these links go to newspaper reports in the Australian Government’s public archives, Trove.] The maximum was at or above 102 degrees F (38.9°C) for 24 days straight!

Use the several links below to read the news reports at the time for yourself.

  1. By Tuesday Jan 14, people were reported falling dead in the streets.
  2. Unable to sleep, people in Brewarrina walked the streets at night for hours, thermometers recorded 109F at midnight.
  3. Overnight, the temperature did not fall below 103°F.
  4. On Jan 18 in Wilcannia, five deaths were recorded in one day, the hospitals were overcrowded and reports said that “more deaths are hourly expected”.
  5. By January 24, in Bourke, many businesses had shut down (almost everything bar the hotels).
  6. Panic stricken Australians were fleeing to the hills in climate refugee trains.

As reported at the time, the government felt the situation was so serious that to save lives and ease the suffering of its citizens they added cheaper train services.

What I found most interesting about this was the skill, dedication and length of meteorological data taken in the 1800’s. When our climate is “the most important moral challenge” why is it there is so little interest in our longest and oldest data? Who knew that one of the most meticulous and detailed temperature records in the world from the 1800’s comes from Adelaide, largely thanks to Sir Charles Todd. The West Terrace site in Adelaide was one of the best in the world at the time, and provides accurate historic temperatures from Australia’s first permanent weather bureau at Adelaide in 1856? Rainfall records even appear to go as far back as 1839.

Lance Pidgeon went delving into the National Archives and was surprised at what he found.

The Great Australian Heatwave of January 2013 didn’t push the mercury above 50C at any weather station in Australia, yet it’s been 50C (122F) and hotter in many inland towns across Australia over the past century.”

You can read more about Lance Pidgeon and the Adelaide meteorological station, at forgotten -historic hot temperatures recorded with detail and care in adelaide.

All of this brought to mind the recent claims that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology is fiddling with historical climate records. They’ve homogenised figures and glitches in their equipment have filtered out some of the lowest temperatures. Jo Nova is a climate change sceptic but it’s worth reading what she has to say about historical climate data. BOM scandal: “smart cards” filter out coldest temperatures. Full audit needed ASAP! By the way, it was Lance Pidgeon who noticed the Goulburn anomaly as the recorded minimum temperature changed from -10.4 to 10, then disappeared. [4]

I have to wonder, I really do, about when a normal summer became a shock-horror heat wave.

And just as a reminder – I don’t deny the world’s climate is changing. I just don’t believe we Humans did it, or that we can stop it. ‘Believe’ is the wrong word, since the reasons for climate change are supposed to be based on science. As far as I’m concerned the climate models are dodgy and based on insufficient and sometimes spurious data. There is sufficient scientifc evidence to suggest that climate change is dictated by large, slow factors, such as the sun’s cycles, the movement of tectonic plates and subsequent shift in ocean curents. We have to learn to adapt.

 

 

 

Just another lazy Sunday

The thing about being retired is which day of the week it is doesn’t matter much. In fact, you know those questions they ask old folks to see if they still have mental capacity? One of them is ‘what day of the week is it’? Just as well I have a computer because otherwise, quite often I wouldn’t know. The state of the shops and car parks is a bit of a give-away. Even with every-day trading, at around 1pm on Saturday afternoon, Hervey Bay shuts down. The roads empty – although there are still plenty of people in Bunnings or the Mall.

Sunday’s a bit the same.

Oh – and Wednesday is bin night, so we have to remember that one to put the bins out for collection. Still, if we forget we’ll know Thursday morning when we see the rows of bins outside everyone else’s house.

Butcher bird doing exercises

The animal life doesn’t give a damn what day of the week it is. This morning a butcher bird came to tell me he was waiting for breakfast. We give him small pieces of bacon rind. He eats the first piece, waits with the second piece in his beak, then I throw a handful out. He (and a couple of others) eat their fill then take the rest back to the nest.

Then the resident lorikeet couple  came to the veranda. The male comes up and virtually knocks on the door. “Where’s ours, missus?”

If it happens to be bath morning we get a hootin’ hollerin’ bunch of bathers in the bird bath. It’s very popular with everybody except the miner birds who still prefer the Big Blue swimming pool and the adrenalin rush of bathing in danger.

You might recall I mentioned a couple of weeks ago our mango trees were covered in fruit? Not anymore. Most of it has fallen off. Even so, there’s something out there that likes unripe, hard mangoes. The windfalls have been chewed by rats or possums, maybe both.

After another very dry month, a large storm system swept past last evening, slapping the Bay area with a sideswipe as it headed out to sea. After a bit of sound and fury it dropped 9mm of rain on our grateful garden. We’d like some more, of course. What else is new? But then, in Australia it’s boom or bust. In a month’s time we might be begging for some dry spells.

The beautiful city of Bordeaux

The city at night

The River Royale docked at Bordeaux in the evening so that we could be taken on a night tour of the city after dinner. We boarded open-topped buses and were driven around the city streets while our local guide pointed out the various attractions. I have to say it was just like driving around any other city by night. However, it’s obvious the people venture out at night. The city was packed at 10pm, and many people sitting outside restaurants and bars waved as we went by.

The main drag

We passed on the walking tour of Bordeaux next day. There’s only so much fun in ambling along behind a sign-carrying guide with twenty other people, even with the option of little tastings on the way. We did our own thing, starting at a walk along the esplanade next to the river, busy with joggers, skate boards, bicycles, and walkers. Then we wandered through this beautiful town along winding alleys into squares. It’s all very clean and very safe, as are the trams.

street art

The site of a famous well

It wasn’t all beer and skittles, though. We were standing in a packed tram when the driver slammed on the brakes. Since the vehicle was very crowded we all got squished but not too damaged – except for Pete, who sustained a bruise and a cut leg. It bled a bit, but he’ll live.

The wine museum at night

In the afternoon we visited the wine museum (Cite de vin) which looks a bit like London’s gherkin and is supposed to resemble a wine carafe. It’s a wonderful resource if you have the time and the interest. I confess we were more interested in the free glass of wine and the nice views from the top floor.

The beautiful cathedral

Joan of Arc

In our wanderings around the city we came across the cathedral and went inside. I would rank it up there as one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever been to.

All in all I’d give Bordeaux a big thumbs up. In fact the whole trip was interesting because of the excellent tours. We learned something every day.

From here, we’d be going back to Italy – and a whole new, very different adventure.