Monday, March 31, 2008

Back to Australia Tomorrow

I can't believe our trip home is just about over. Phil and I leave tomorrow afternoon to fly back to Australia. Him (because it was a business trip)- flying business class on Air Canada. Me- got bumped to first class from Philly to San Francisco because I'm now silver preferred status (whoo hoo) but relegated to the cattle-car in economy for the lovely 15 or so hour flight from San Francisco to Sydney on United. Sigh. Lucky us, we'll have our own version of the Amazing Race to see who gets to Sydney first. Listed below is the Top 10 List of the Best Things About Coming Back Home.

1. Rubbing my nose in Sox's fur as his tail wags furiously for a very happy reunion.

2. Drinking plenty of cans of Diet Coke in glasses filled to the top with lots of ice.

3. Sleeping in our own bed again.

4. Cheesesteaks.

5. Being back at our home church.

6. Being with family a lot.

7. Eating mom's roast with carrots, potatoes, and rutabaga. (I know I'm picky, but I do like rutabaga.)

8. Spending Easter in Ohio with the fam.

9. Pizza from Peppi's. Nothing like it.

10. Lots of hanging out with good friends eating, laughing, and talking just like old times.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Phil Keeping Busy While I'm in the States

As you will see below, Phil has not just sat and twiddled his thumbs while I'm here in the States. (Although I'm sure he has spent many hours pondering on how much his life is so much emptier when I'm not there to fill his days with joy.) Before I left, he signed up for a trip to the Great Barrier Reef to go scuba diving. I know...what?!!! He wisely figured that I would not be one of the first to sign up for a helicopter ride from Cairns to a boat anchored off of the reef to scuba dive.

Now, at some point I wouldn't mind seeing the reef but I have no desire to ride in a helicopter. And after hearing about the boat ride back to the mainland, I'm not so sure I want to do that either. Rob and Faith, remember our boat ride down to Chesapeake City a couple of years ago? I'll just say that Faith and I were tossing our cookies and when we finally go to the dock, Faith layed down prostrate on the the dock and vowed never to get back in that boat again. Enough said.

But Phil really enjoyed this trip. He met some interesting people. (We now have an open invitation to visit a couple who live in Munich, Germany.) Saw some really cool fish and coral. (See pictures below.) And really liked scuba diving. (After he got used to the breathing from a small tube.) So, add scuba diving to his list of things he likes to do...riding the motorcycle, driving the boat, flying the plane, etc.'s like being married to MacGyver. But Sox and I still can't wait for him to come home on Sunday night!

A few edits from Scuba Phil himself...

For those of you who have never been diving- I think you need to put it on your list of things to do before you get old (ergo- the bucket list!!). Once you get over the extreme awkwardness of being under water yet still being able to breath, it's amazing. So yes, add one more to the "Phil's expensive hobby" list. Hmmm- maybe we should keep that boat after all ;)

Oh, and when you try it- go big, go Great Barrier Reef!! Actually the conditions were really bad (raining and "poor visibility" which in GBR terms means about 30 feet- sometimes you can see 150 feet!!). Sandra and I have done snorkeling a few times in the Carribean, etc but this is a whole different experience.

Just be ready for some open water boating and rough seas. Yes Faith- the trip home was much like our little adventure in the lower Delaware River (who knew the Delaware could get 10 foot swells with breaking heads??) except that you're in a much bigger boat that's not actually leaving the water... You move around a lot, but it doesn't feel unsafe.

For Sandra's benefit, I've been assured that the Australian Winter/Early Spring (August/September) is "guaranteed" to be calm and good conditions.

So all you pasty white East Coasters- get on a plane and get down here. I need a diving partner :) Although I had a very good diving partner on this trip, I'd love to actually go out with someone I know from the start. I met a lot of great people on this little adventure, as Sandra mentioned above a great couple from Munich, Germany- Marcus and Xenia (yes Cedarvillians, just like the city in Ohio- it's Greek for "hospitable" in case you were ever wondering). If you guys are reading this, thanks again for the good company and I hope that you're enjoying the rest of your Australian adventure! Hopefully some of our friends in Philadelphia will get to meet these folks at some point, as we are both trying to get the other couple over to our respective sides of the Atlantic.

I also met and got to spend some time with a few young folks (holy cow I'm sounding old now...) who were spending a year or so "backpacking" through Australia. I'm fascinated by this whole culture of people who spend an extended period of time in a foreign place with no plans or schedule. You see them a lot in Australia (there are a lot of youth hostels in Sydney), but to actually get to know a few of them it was really neat. And now that I've made my parents and Sandra's parents really anxious talking about it, I can assure you that I'm not going backpacking any time soon- I fairly sure that we missed that time in our life!!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Best News Ever!!

First things first...the drugs have worked, I've got some sleep, drank much Diet Coke with ice to the top of the glass, have had much fun visiting and laughing with old friends and life is good. And as of last night Sox and I got the best news ever...Phil is coming home!! He unexpectedly has been called to some meetings here in Philly so he's flying home on Easter Sunday night for a whole week here. Woo hoo! My little trip home has now been extended one more week. Sox is showing his excitement below.

So Phil, until you come home and join's a little taste of home, Sox style.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ever Been Soooo Tired?

Well, that is a plane ride that I don't want to do I think, "Man, I have to do that again in 2 1/2 weeks." That was brutal. For the Sydney to San Franciso leg the man (with the loud, piercing, Aussie-accented voice) who sat three over from me proceeded to talk for the first seven hours of the trip to the guy sitting next to him. hours. I mean, really, who has seven hours worth of material to talk about with someone you just met minutes before?! Alas...only about an hour or two of sleep.
But it did not compare to the 5 hour leg from San Francisco to Philadelphia. I'm sitting on the aisle with a man at the window mumbling to everyone coming down the aisle "Please don't sit here in the middle seat" over and over. As the flight attendant announces that this is a full flight the mumbling turns to "Please don't be big" over and over. I know...kind of rude, but you know that's what you're saying too. And of course, the largest man on the plane stops right in front of me with a jolly, "Looks like I'm in the middle." I am not amused. I'm really not amused when he moves my arm rest up so that he can fit into his seat and spill over into mine. And amusing is not what I'm thinking when even before we leave the runway for takeoff, his head is back and he's snoring very loudly with a loud snort every once in awhile for good measure. For four and a half hours of the five hour flight I'm lulled not to sleep but to homicidal thoughts of death by pillow-smothering my fellow traveller. Not my best moment, I admit.
After getting home and reuniting with Sox, (oh, so nice) I fell into my bed thinking ah...this is good. Not so good when I woke up wide awake at 2:00 am. Yes...a measly 2 hours of sleep the whole night. I picked up a bit of a cold on the way home as well, so here's to a hefty dose of some medicine that will hopefully knock me out for the next, I don't know, 8-10 hours. Please....

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Heading Home

Well, I'm all packed and ready to head home..although I'm not ready to face 14 hours in a plane to San Francisco, a 2 hour lay-over, and then another 5 hours to Philly. Sigh. We've had a great week with our friends, Dave and Amy and have given them the grand tour of Sydney. We crossed everything off of their list of things to see.
I'm ready to see Sox, friends, family, home, my own bed, glasses filled to the brim with ice and Diet Coke, Chick-Fil-A, etc...but it stinks that Phil has to stay here. :( A minor detail named work. He will have a fun adventure while I'm gone, however. He is flying up to Cairns (pronounced Cans with that Australian accent) and then taking a helicopter to a dive boat that is (I was going to say parked, but I know that's not right) anchored off of the Great Barrier Reef. He'll spend a long weekend there diving and having all the fun that I have no desire to have. Seriously, I wouldn't mind seeing the reef, but the idea of spending a couple of days and nights on a boat does nothing for me. Neither does taking a helicopter ride. Keep me on the ground (I say as I think about the long plane trip ahead). Double sigh.
I will continue to post from home...Phil wants to see pictures of Sox, friends, and family so from tomorrow through the last week in March, my posts will look a little up, petted Sox, watched some current tv shows, lunched with the girls- DAGS, if you will, went over to friend's houses to hang out, spent time with family, etc. Sounds good to me!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Showing 'em Around

We've had a full week showing our friends Dave and Amy around the city. Yesterday after our Opera House tour (very interesting by the way) Phil went on to work and Dave, Amy, and myself hopped on to the ferry to the Taronga Zoo. We spent the day there and I even got my picture taken with a koala.

Yes...still nursing a little sunburn from the previous day. Forgot the old sunscreen once again. Today Amy and Dave are taking the ferry over to Manly Beach for a day at the, well, beach. I need to get a passport picture taken for our Visa application as well as stop at the office of immigration to fill out a form that will allow me to leave the country before the Visa is approved. Otherwise, I may not be allowed back in. Not much else new...may have some pictures later of Bondi Beach (where we're headed for the day tomorrow) or pictures of the Pacific Coast Highway which we're driving down on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Blue Mountains

We had a great time on Monday travelling to the Blue Mountains, about 2 hours west of Sydney. On the way to Katoomba, a town where there is a lot of touristy things to see and do, we stopped off in Leura, the town right before it to hike some paths down to a waterfall. I can't remember the name of it but it was pretty! I think it was the Leura Cascades.

We hopped back into the Jeep and then drove to Katoomba. Once there we drove to Scenic World. This was once the headquarters of the Katoomba Coal Mines. (No, I'm not using my handy guide book...just the visitors map I picked up there.) We got a great picture of "The Three Sisters". According to Aboriginal legend these were three, yes, sisters that were turned into rock. Seen below. If you're wondering why the Blue Mountains are called the Blue Mountains...and even if you're not...they're called that because "the ever present haze that gives the Blue Mountains their name is caused by rays of light striking droplets of oil dispersed by the gum trees."

While at Scenic World we took the railway down to the bottom of the valley. Now this "train ride" was too much fun. It's the steepest railway in the world. We were enclosed in what felt like cages and then the train went almost straight vertically down. In the words of Phil, "They would never have a ride like this in the U.S." But don't worry, we had a plastic chain across the sides of the open train car to keep us in. Very fun.

We then walked along the boardwalk paths at the bottom and then took a cable car back up to the top. We also took another cable car across from one mountain to another. Very, pretty...and yes...I was a bit white-knuckled on the cable car even though it was completely closed in.

When we left Scenic World we drove to Blue Mountain National Park to see some kangaroos in the wild. Really...they were just eating the grass right by the side of the car. We also saw some cockatoos and one nasty spider.

Today, Phil is working till 3:00ish so I'm taking Dave and Amy to the Botanical Gardens and the Rocks this morning and early afternoon. Early tomorrow morning we have a tour scheduled of the Opera House. Should be fun.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Singapore...the Sequel

Well, our friends Dave and Amy arrived safely here in Australia this morning...after vowing not to step on to an airplane for awhile. (at least till their return trip to Michigan next Sunday). We're going to go out and do some exploring in a bit so I thought I'd finish up yesterday's post. On Wednesday night after Phil got back to the hotel, we took a cab to the mall where we got on a little monorail that takes you over to Sentosa. As mentioned yesterday, Sentosa is a resort island right off the coast of Singapore. After stepping off of the monorail one of the first things you see is the Merlion. The Merlion is a statue that's half lion half fish that spits out water into, the water. This is a copy of the real Merlion that is in the business district. I was expecting more..but below is the real Merlion and then the lit up copy of the Sentosa Merlion, a 37 meter statue. Not sure of the conversion to feet. I've only now just mastered the conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius...(multiply by 9, divide by 5, and then add 32). Wouldn't it just be easier if we all just got along and did Fahrenheit together? (said the American.)

The best part of the day was riding the street luge ride. The street luge is part go-cart and part-tobaggan. I pulled out in front of Phil right away but after an "Eat my dust" taunt, he flew past me and I tried to catch up the rest of the way down. But it was not to be. After getting off at the bottom of the hill, we took the ski lift back up to the top. Phil took some nice pictures while I white-knuckled it all the way up. I am not a fan of heights, especially when dangling from a cable. Below is part of the 650 meter luge track. Good times!

Finally, after we got off of the luge we walked across the street to a little beach. Not the best picture but I know mom always likes to see pictures of us. And unfortunately, if Phil has the camera, no pictures of him. So, mom...this one's for you. Tomorrow Phil is taking the day off and all four of us are driving to the Blue Mountains, about 2 hours west of Sydney. We'll take some pictures and give you a tour.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Observations of Singapore

Well, we got back yesterday afternoon after several days in Singapore. After a nice 3 and 1/2 hour nap yesterday afternoon (needed after an overnight flight that included the man next to me snoring all night as well as the baby seated 2 rows ahead of us crying alllll night long...what, it's not ok to give a baby a cocktail or a bottle of formula mixed with a tad of vodka to quiet them?) and a full night of sleep I'm feeling good. Here are my observation of Singapore...enjoy!

1. Flying Singapore Air on the big Airbus 320 is the way to go.

On our way out we flew this huge airplane. It's a full double-decker airplane that seats over 500 people. The flight wasn't full so Phil and I got our own row of 4 seats just for us. The seats were roomier...even in Economy, we had big individual tv screens to watch movies, tv, and even play games on (lots of Who Wants to be A Millionaire) whenever we wanted to, meals that were actually good with real silverware (ok, still plastic knives) and real glasses, hot cloths to wash your face, etc. Nice. Refer to my above paragraph regarding our trip home on a smaller plane...not so nice.

2. There is a lot of humidity in Singapore.

Ever see that Friends episode where they all go to (I think) Bermuda and Monica's hair gets frizzier and curlier the longer they stay? Yep....I believe at one point Phil says to me, "Wow...your hair is frizzy." After my morning showers I would blow dry it straight but by the end of each day it would not be so. I think our last day there, the tour guide on our bus that we were driving around on said that it was nice today...not so humid...only about 80% humidity. Enough said.

3. The picture of Singapore in my mind was not what Singpore really looked like.

I'd never been to Singapore before so I really didn't know what to expect. Actually, I'd never really thought much about Singapore...I guess chalk that up to my American view of the world- not really thinking too much about the rest of the world outside of the US. I pictured men with funny straw hats pulling people in rickshaws down the street. A bit off...Singapore is full of busy streets (of cars), lots of lights, huge skyscrapers. It looked like any huge downtown US city. Of course all the Asians speaking other languages would tip you off that its not quite the US. It was a very weird feeling to look like a minority. Singapore is a small island country. I also didn't know it is an island off of the coast of Malaysia. You could drive from one end to the other end of the country in 40 min. to 1 hour. And then imagine over 4 million people living there. It's a bit crowded.

4. The country of Singapore smells like a giant Chinese restaurant.
Not bad necessarily, just different.

5. There's no messing around in Singapore when it comes to drugs.
Before we got off of the plane we had to fill out an immigration form. The one side of it read," Warning: Death for Drug Traffickers According to Singapore Law."

6. Shopping is the national past-time of Singapore.
Singapore is one big shopping mall. As you walk around downtown, it's just mall after mall after mall. And big ones...500 stores each.

7. One could get a complex about your size when shopping in Singapore.
When surrounded by tiny Asian women whose legs are the size of my wrist, it can be a challenge to find anything that might fit. A medium in Singapore is a US size 4 or 6. Yeah....whatever.

8. Foodcourts can be different in a Singapore mall.
It's not too appetizing to see headless ducks skewered on polls hanging in the window of the restaurants in the foodcourt. And the smells.... All I can say is I felt like breaking into a rousing rendition of "God Bless America" when I came upon McDonald's. And yes, the next day for lunch I did eat at Long John Silvers. Note to self...Diet Coke here is called Coke Light. When we were walking through a mall one night, we came across an Auntie Annes! Here in Singapore...victory! Alas...the agony of defeat...pretzel flavors included nutty, almond, green tea, and that local favorite- seaweed.

9. The local Singapore paper is an interesting read.
Our hotel gave us a paper each morning which I enjoyed reading (by the pool)...I know, I lead a rough life as a professional tourist. Singaporeans are also interested in the presidential race in the states. It was noted that candidates were always referred to with their titles...Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama. There was another article about Condoleeza Rice on a 3 country Asian tour and always referred to her as Dr. Rice. Interesting. You know...there's a lot more going on in the world besides what's happening in the US. Again, my American view of the world is getting stretched. I also read an article about the world's Muslims. They had polled Muslims world-wide to see what shaped their views...religion or politics. The one statistic that stuck out to me was that only 7% of the world's 1.4 billion muslims felt that the 9/11 attack on the US was completely justified and the right thing to do. ONLY 7% ????...That's still a frightening large number! Yikes!

10. There's a variety of wealth living in Singapore.
On our last day there, we took a couple of bus tours through different parts of the city. Very interesting. We went through the kind of slummy areas of little India, Arabia, and Chinatown to the area where homes are sold for millions.

85% of the population lives in government housing. In order to qualify you either have to be starting a family (getting married) or be over the age of 35. Hence our tour guide said that Singapore has the largest annulment rate in the world...over 300%. As you can see in the picture below, most women hang their wash out to dry on poles that hang out of their windows.
11. Sentosa is fun!
Sentosa is a resort island off the coast of Singapore. It has resort hotels and beaches as well as a "theme park" to walk around. We went there on Tues. night for a laser light show and then again on Wed. night to walk around and go on some rides. The street luge ride was most fun! You climb into individual tobaggons and steer your way down a curvy road to the bottom of the hill. You then take a ski lift back up to the top of the mountain. Definitely the best part of the day. I'll post some pictures of Sentosa tomorrow since Phil is on the Skype (internet) phone with his dad and whenever I download pictures it messes up their connection. More tomorrow.