I updated the Trip Statistics page so you can see our “lists” of everything. One of us loves to make lists!
Mark and Susan wander the world
After spending 4 days in Gozo, it was time to take the ferry and head back to Malta for 8 days. (The ferry is free FROM Malta to Gozo but they collect 4.75 Euro from everyone on the way TO Malta.) This turned out to be the worst weather day in a year of traveling. The rain started while we waited for the bus to get to the ferry, bucketed down on the way to the ferry and while we waited for the ferry, letting up only when we actually rode the ferry. By the time we landed at the terminal in Cirkewwa on Malta, the downpour returned!
What happens to taxis when it rains? They disappear! With no taxis in sight, we huddled under the bus stop with everyone else, complete with suitcase of all sizes and shapes. Since we arranged to meet our AirBnb host at the apartment, I texted to tell him we were waiting for buses to appear. James was stuck in traffic, too, and said he’d just pick us up so “hang out”! What a great guy!
We spent 8 days in Melleiha on the west end of Malta. It’s a “real” town – only 3 things listed in Lonely Planet to see and very quiet at night. We met 2 Americans who live there when we were in Scotland last year at the Whiskey Experience in Edinburgh and enjoyed two dinners with them in Malta. Sorry – no pictures! They’ve lived in Malta for 3 years so gave us the scoop on what it’s like – inexpensive services and health insurance, inexpensive food, lots of hills to walk, traffic if you choose the wrong time of day to drive ….
The hills surprised us in Malta – they are everywhere! Melleiha has hills and steps connecting different streets on the hills. One day we walked up 43 flights and down 47 flights, according to our Garmins. After a little arithmetic and geometry, we figured out one block we walked has about a 13% grade. If Malta residents don’t have great legs, I’m not sure why!
Malta is fairly cheap as far as Europe goes, including the wine they produce and import. We tried some Malta wine – 4 Euro for a bottle and it was perfectly drinkable.
The bus system covers the island pretty well and we used the bus to get from Melleiha to the capital city of Valletta one day and visit . Valletta is a port city with lots of cruise ships stopping. The day we went, three cruise ships were in port, crowding everywhere! One recommendation (We clearly didn’t do it.) is check what cruise ships are around if you’re going to a port!
Another day we took the bus to Mdina, a walled city next to Rabat. This bus ride took an hour with stops, narrow roads and streets, hills, and traffic to go 11 km. It’s a beautiful city, though, after we finally arrived.
Sunday, we went to the Melleiha Beach along with the locals and had lunch on the beach.
You might remember that Susan started buying, tasting and recording different potato chip flavors when she was in Bhutan. Who can resist “weird” flavors?? Here are 3 we found in the grocery store up the street in Malta.
Before you even ask, Gozo is an island in the country of Malta. Malta is in the Mediterranean Sea near Sicily (roughly 100 miles) and only 241 miles from Tunis, Tunisia. Malta is a member of the EU and uses the Euro. It’s been on our list to visit for a bit and when we met two Americans who live here (You meet the most interesting people tasting Scotch last December in Edinburgh), we decided to come see the country.
First we had to get here the day after we went to Oktoberfest! Thank heavens for Star Alliance Gold! The Munich Airport was a disaster at 10 AM with LONG lines snaking through the terminal to check in/drop bags (the longest lines we’ve ever seen in Munich by far) and then go through security. Since Lufthansa checks in Air Malta (the airline we flew), Mark said “Let’s use our United Gold card and go to Star Alliance First Class/Gold line”. I KNEW those mileage runs would come in handy!
That line had about 6 people in it. The Lufthansa check-in lady said Oktoberfest always makes the airport busy and next week (Wednesday) is a Public Holiday – Reunification Day – so lots of people took Monday and Tuesday off to go with Wednesday.
We touched down in Malta almost on time but getting to Gozo involves a drive to the ferry port, ride the ferry for 20 minutes to Gozo, and another drive to Victoria where our hotel was. The taxi drive from the Malta airport to the ferry took about an hour – tons of Friday afternoon traffic on not very big roads.
The ferry ride from Malta to Gozo is free – you pay on the way back! We took a cab from there to the Duke Hotel in Victoria. Gozo traffic was pretty bad but it was Friday and there’s only one road from the ferry port to Victoria.
Gozo is pretty small (about 9 miles by 4 miles) with a collection of 2 lane roads, narrow city streets, and parking on 2 sides of the main city streets. Don’t forget .. Malta was British for so long that they drive on the left side of the road.
One day we walked up to the Citadella, built in the 15th century and reinforced and added to over the years. There’s also a Cathedral in the middle of it. It was hard to get any good pictures of the castle up close.
Another day was Hop On Hop Off bus day! Little did we know a Holland America cruise was in port and lots of those passengers opted to take the sightseeing bus. The bus was packed when we got on and most of the people, we think, just stayed on and rode around the island without ever getting off.
The bus went through Victoria on the way to Dwerja where we got off to wander around the rocks and see the sights for 45 minutes, use the toilet and buy 2 postcards. Back on the bus to drive past Ta Pinu (large cathedral), Fontina, Xlendi (beach town near Victoria), Marsalforn (beach town).
We started looking for megaliths when we lived in Portugal. The Ggantija megaliths in Gozo are well-organized and easy to find with a good visitor’s center in the sleepy town of Xaghro. I didn’t have to drag Mark on any dirt country roads in this trip!
When the bus finally showed up again, we rode it past Ramla and Nadur to Mgarr, the ferry port, where we lost most of the other people on the bus. When we arrived at the Rotunda Church, the driver told us we could have 5 minutes to go in the church since the next stop is closed on Sunday and he has to wait at the church, anyway, to stay on schedule. We checked out Rotunda of John the Baptist, 4th largest rotunda in Europe, depending who’s doing the calculations!
Best sight of the day … worker at the port trying to get a group organized for a speedboat ferry. He finally said, “OMG” and then blessed himself!
We had so much fun last year in Munich at Oktoberfest that we wanted to go back this year and Bettina from Heidelberg agreed to get the table reservation. We couldn’t convince anyone else from Fort Collins to come along but Jutta from Essen, Germany, met us there. (We met Jutta in Tanzania at dinner one night before our safari and kept in touch.)
To reserve a table, you have to reserve the full table of 10. The reservations are free but you have to buy coupons for 2 beers and a chicken for each of 10 people. We were at the Pshorr Braurosl. Besides us and Jutta, Bettina and Michelle came down from Heidelberg, making 5 at the table. Four “students” joined us from Cal State – Fullerton. The “students” are not students any more. They’ve all graduated and pay their own bills. One has a Mom who works at Fullerton with exchange programs which is where the connection comes in. I think they had fun! They danced on the benches, anyway, and enjoyed the chicken and drank the beer.
We’ve already made a reservation at Hotel Uhland for next year for 3 nights. (It’s cancellable.) We love this hotel! Susan stayed there in 1982 on a trip to Munich. It’s about 2 blocks to the Oktoberfest entrance, nice people, good breakfast, and a dog to pet. This year we met Eddie, a big fluffy dog who leans to get more pets.
If you’re interested in going to Oktoberfest, think about going the first week before it gets crazy; avoid weekends, and book a table for an afternoon session which is 11:30 – 4:30. Afternoons are way calmer and much quieter. Of course, it helps to have a German speaking person to try to get a table. If there aren’t many people in your group, you can usually find some seats by just walking in. We (2 of us) had no trouble finding seats at Marstall tent one afternoon.
After the tent and beer, it was game and ride time! Oktoberfest is like a REALLY big fair with lots of rides, including upside down, spinning rides. Why anyone wants to ride the upside-down ones after a beer or two is beyond me. Mark rode two rides with Bettina and Jutta, Mark and Susan rode a small roller coaster.
Mark and I did some sightseeing in Munich before Oktoberfest. The weather was perfect with clear blue skies!
On the way back to the Hotel Uhland, Mark asked two guys if they needed directions since the guys stopped at a corner to discuss the map on their phone. One guy said “This is good. We have an American guy telling two German guys how to find Oktoberfest!” Yes, they needed directions at the messy intersection.
Our next stop was Krakow, Poland. Susan was in Krakow about 5 years ago with her Mom on a tour, loved the city, and thought Mark needs to see it. Off we go from Riga to Krakow.
No problem taking the tram to the bus station and taking Bus 22 to the Airport for about $1.25 each for a ticket. The bus wandered through the city and country and dropped us off right in front of the terminal. We were first in line to check in at LOT airlines. The one hour flight from Riga to Warsaw was OK.
Come boarding time for the Warsaw to Krakow flight, we went to the gate (Shared door for Gates 36 and 37) and stood by the group 1 sign (Group 1 was on our boarding pass.). At our boarding time, a plane came into Gate 37 – we are at Gate 36. The gate agent put a Disney line strap up to separate the gates but Gate 36 didn’t/couldn’t board until all of the Gate 37 people got off or at least that was our explanation. THEN there were no boarding groups called – everyone just used 2 machines to have the boarding passes checked. I got behind some old lady who had to quiz the gate agent about, I’m guessing, her bags and where she would get them. Even in Polish I could understand “baggage” and “Krakow” repeated several times.
We FINALLY got through the gate and ended up boarding a bus to be taken to the plane. No matter how many times I have to use this bus boarding system, it rarely gets more efficient and this was one of the MOST inefficient boarding we’ve done. Once the bus arrived at the plane on the runway, they only had steps up to the front entrance on the 737 (Using front and back entrances with good directions for which rows should use which door works pretty well – SAS in Stockholm for example). Polish LOT passengers carry as much, if not more, luggage on board than Americans – hard to believe, right??
The first bus of people boards the plane only to find out there’s ANOTHER bus of people we’re waiting for. It shows up in about 15 minutes and the inefficient boarding starts again but now there’s even less overhead space than before. The flight attendants actually went through the bins and made anyone who put items that fit under the seat do just that – put the items under the seat in front! We finally got out of Warsaw and landed in Krakow about 40 minutes late after the pilot landed the plane at a pretty fast speed and bounced it on the runway. Mark sat next to a LOT pilot who said nothing during the flight or landing.
Luggage took a while to show up so we opted for a taxi to the AirBnb. The taxi driver could rival Paris taxi drivers.
We’re in Krakow!
Mark went to Auschwitz and Birkenau on Thursday morning. Susan passed because I saw it with Mom and visiting this concentration camp more than once is more than I can handle. We’ve been to Dachau in Germany and Terezin in Czech Republic and three concentration camps is overwhelming. Visits to them are mandatory for school children in their respective countries.
The next day we took a tour to the Wieliszcka Salt Mine. The tour took us down to 136 meters underground, using 800 steps to get there. Yes, we took an elevator back up! The tour took about 2 hours underground and we walked 4 km. It’s a fun place to see!
Saturday was our day to wander around Krakow hitting all the hot spots and who knows how many churches. Poland is VERY Catholic with more churches per capita than any city outside of Rome. In the countryside 90% attend Mass on Sunday; only about 40% within the cities. At one point we could see 5 churches from where we stood! We walked up to the Wawel Hill to see the Cathedral and Castle Grounds overlooking the Vistula River. Had to check out a few markets, too, and do a little jewelry buying.
Today, we walked to Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter, where only about 3,000 – only 5,000 out of 60,000 people survived from the German Occupation.
One thing we’ve noticed in Krakow is a lack of traffic signals and walk signals to control people crossing the street in front of cars, trucks, buses, trams. People pretty much walk where and when they want creating traffic havoc. We can’t figure it out!
Next stop is Munich for Oktoberfest.
We are wandering our way across the Baltic states and central Europe on our way to Munich for Oktoberfest, moving from expensive Scandinavia to less expensive Estonia and Latvia to MUCH less expensive Poland before reaching reasonable Germany.
We heard good things about Riga so it was on the list to visit. This time we decided to take the bus from Tallinn to Riga and chose Lux Express after doing a bit of research. The ride was 4.5 hours long, cost 28 E each, express from Tallinn, with comfy seats, wi-fi, power in the seats, and videos to watch. We opted for the slightly higher priced tickets only so Mark could have more leg room. The bus left on time and arrived on time; the scenery was good – lots of birch forests and wooden house; nothing we would call a city between Tallinn and Riga. Note also… the Tallinn bus station is very nice with clean toilets and a few shops to buy sandwiches.
Tallinn is charming – a medieval Old Town still in good shape. Riga, on the other hand, is much more cosmopolitan even though it, too, has a small, charming Old Town. Parks abound in the city filled with beautiful gardens and interesting sculptures. A canal winds through the city as does the Daugava River. The leaves are falling and seem to be raked up daily.
Riga has over 600 Art Nouveau buildings which are beautiful, hiding in plain sight all over the city. Looking up became a pastime to find all the magical and mysterious touches to buildings. The pictures below were all from one block full of buildings near where we stayed. I’m sure the people who live on this street get tired of everyone staring at their homes and offices.
Riga has embraced the shopping culture since shedding the Russian influence. We passed numerous shopping malls in our bus rides around the city. They still make use of the old Central Market with fish, meat, and veggies. It was packed on a Sunday afternoon.
Smiling is not big in this ex-Russian dominated city. After what they went through with the Russians, Germans, and Russians again, a serious demeanor could be expected. The younger people are a bit more genial although we’re still waiting for the mid-20’s lady in the Costa Coffee shop to crack a smile. She didn’t even ask us what we wanted to order but we noticed she didn’t ask the locals either!
One day we took the bus out of town to the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum to see buildings from all over the 4 distinct areas of Latvia. This building collection began in the mid-30’s, quite a forward-thinking idea at the time. This preserved old buildings from destruction and allows everyone (school groups included!) to understand a bit of life in earlier times.
We visited in the middle of the week during the off season and had the place pretty much to ourselves. That being said, we missed any demonstrations of life in the villages that may be done during the peak season, according to friends and the website. One fact we took away was bath houses and saunas have been popular for a LONG time!
Laundry … our AirBnb had a lovely washing machine and a lovely 4 hours wash cycle if you’re so inclined! We opted for a shorter one – about 1 hour this time. Did I mention the elevator? The building in the Embassy part of town had an elevator, too! I love those when it comes to carrying the suitcases in! We were around the corner from the Greece embassy and about 2 blocks from the Russian embassy – noticeable by the fence, guard box, and cameras all around!
Here are a few other highlights from our visit to Riga.
Rather than fly, we took the Viking ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, about a 2.5-hour ride across the Baltic Sea. The ride was good and the ferry provides lots of entertainment in bars, night club – not so much on Monday morning with a ship full of old people! One ferry worker told us the ship is rocking on weekends when it’s full of younger people heading to Tallinn for a cheap weekend. The drinking starts BEFORE they even board the ship. On our sailing, coffee was the drink of choice for most people.
The highlight of the ship for many was obviously the duty-free shop full of wine and alcohol. Given the prices in Helsinki, we understood the attraction. All we bought was a bag of licorice and pepper candy that Juhis and Noora turned us on to in Finland.
The Old Town part of Tallinn is beautiful, full of stone walls, old buildings, churches, cobblestones everywhere on the street and the sidewalks. We needed to kill some time before we could get into our AirBnb so we opted for lunch and picked the Texas Honky Tonk for some Mexican food. Surprise! The Mexican food was the best we’ve had outside of the U.S. by far and better than a lot we’ve had IN the U.S. Turns out the Estonian owner visited Austin, loved Mexican food and opened this restaurant. We ate there twice! We also ate at Vaike with great service and better food. It’s a partner restaurant to Rataskaevu 16 that was recommended by several friends and TripAdvisor! We didn’t plan ahead so couldn’t get a last minute reservation at Rataskaevu 16 but could get into Vaike – around the corner and serving the same menu.
One thing we’ve noticed in both Estonia and Latvia – smiling must not come naturally to almost anyone, including people in the service industry. Being grumpy or dour is the modus operandi in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, shops. The service people who smile definitely stand out!
One note – For those who wonder how we can travel at “such a pace”, we are NOT traveling at the Tour group pace! We spent at least 4 nights in Bergen, Stockholm, Tallinn, Riga, and, soon, Warsaw. Our typical day is:
- Sleep until we wake up unless we have a train, bus or plane to catch and have to set the alarm
- Eat breakfast and drink coffee
- Sightsee – try to walk at least 10,000 steps and that’s not hard!
- Around 4 PM, come back to the apartment and rest, nap, read, work on blog, pictures, etc.
- Find dinner about 7 PM or eat in the apartment if we ate lunch out
- Go to bed whenever
Most of Estonia is either Lutheran or Orthodox. There’s one Roman Catholic Church in Tallinn (population of about 500,000) and it’s the Cathedral, about the size of a small parish church in the U.S. There’s also one Ukrainian Orthodox Church and we visited that, too. Pope Francis is visiting the Baltic countries at the end of the month, including Tallinn on Sept. 25. Posters hang everywhere and the Ukrainians are hoping he will make a visit to their church when he’s in town. The schedule seems to be in flux.
So far, we’ve with stayed in AirBnbs or with friends. When we pick an Airbnb, we always find an entire apartment so we can eat breakfast and one other meal in AND make coffee AND do our laundry. Prices vary, of course, from about $90 U.S. dollars per night in Stockholm to about $35 U.S. per night in Riga. We’ve had great places so far and have seen all sorts of little showers built into renovated bathrooms, washing machines in all languages (This trip has had all English language machines.), walked up flights of steps to apartments, used elevators to get up to the 3rd floor, etc. We’ve picked up keys in lock boxes, met the owners to get keys, used key pads to get in the buildings and apartments, etc. The one in Tallinn had the most interesting entrance. The 4 floors of apartments shared a building entrance with a strip club – Gentleman’s Club.
After we visited Mom, we headed off to Scandinavia to visit some friends and see a few new cities. Miraculously, the flight from DC to Munich to Copenhagen to Bergen went flawlessly and our luggage even showed up at the end in Bergen, Norway, second largest city in the country. Bergen is a nice city right on the water and on every Scandinavian Cruise itinerary, we think.
We made Bergen the starting point for an all-day excursion “Norway in a Nutshell” – gorgeous scenery on a rail, bus, boat, and the steepest railway in the world trip. Yes, Dave, we rode the Flam Railroad and found a Norwegian brewery along the way.
The next few pictures are taken when we rode a boat for 2 hours on the Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord between Gudvangen and Flamm. No pictures can do the scenery justice. Spectacular doesn’t come close to doing it justice.
After 4 days in Bergen, we headed via train to Tonsberg, Norway (Oldest city in Norway) for a weekend with Per and Lise. We met them on the Pacific cruise earlier in the year and they were kind enough to show us Tonsberg , feed us EXTREMELY well, and take us on a daylong boat ride along the Norwegian coast. Yes, the sun was out for the entire weekend. If you’ve heard rumors about Norway being expensive, you heard right! Just bring your CC and vow not to drink much (or any) beer or wine.
Per and Lise swear they’ll come to FC next Fall so we’re taking suggestions for uniquely Colorado things to do – Bruce’s Bar???
Stockholm was our next destination, this time via plane. Another 4 days of sunshine and a visit to the Vasa Museum was the highlight of the week. We enjoyed finding out about life in the 1600’s aboard a boat but the story of how the ship was raised and preserved was even more fascinating. Stockholm looked affordable after Norway. We stayed in an AirBnb and bought food at the little Thai food cart down the street. It was yummy and only cost about $8.50 per meal.
When we visited the Seychelles last November, we met Noora and Juhis from Helsinki, Finland, on a trek from hell across an island. They invited us to come for the weekend in Helsinki. As one friend said, “Never invite Susan and Mark unless you mean it because they WILL show up!” We did show up and had a marvelous weekend with them and Lilly, the poodle.
Observations about Scandinavia …
- Norway is expensive!
- Norway, Sweden and Finland have a monopoly of wine, spirits and strong beer. You can only buy them at state monopoly shops. The name of the shops has what looks like “monopoly” in it.
- Finland is WAY less expensive than Norway.
- Many (most?) people in Norway, Sweden, and Finland speak English as well as, if not better than, our fellow Americans. We had a lovely discussion with a 14-year-old Norwegian girl in English and she wasn’t at all shy about speaking to us.
- I cannot pronounce Norwegian, Swedish, nor Finnish language correctly… but I make people laugh when I try!
Day 1 – boarding in Vancouver. Not a problem! We had to clear US Immigration again after spending about 13 hours in Canada! Because Mom and Susan were signed up for one room and Mark for a different one (Susan and Mark sailed on Princess in the past and got discounts on rooms their names are one.), when JB cancelled, Susan and Mark each have a room to ourselves! We got keys to each room and our cabin attendant unlocked the balcony door between the cabins. We can go back and forth.
Gloriously sunny day with blue sky for departure from Vancouver.
Day 2 – awoke to fog that continues pretty much all day long! At sea all day heading north with no land in site since it’s hidden in the fog.
Day 3 – Juneau – the sun came out in time for a walk around Juneau and a visit to Devil’s Run Brewery.
Day 4, 5, 6, 7 – fog and heavy clouds were the operative words for 4 days. Glaciers look more blue when it’s cloudy – or so we were told!
Day 10 – the sun comes out just in time for our 8 hour trip to Denali National Park. Yes! We saw Denali!
Live in Colorado? How hard can it be to get to Vancouver for an Alaska cruise? Not hard at all – right?? Wrong! Susan’s Mom, JB, has wanted to go to Alaska to see Denali for years. We finally convinced her that a cruise and then land tour would be the way to go (That’s a whole other story.) We signed up all three of us and Mark and Susan booked plane tickets.
The story needs a small detour here. JB lives in extreme Western Maryland and can’t drive to Dulles Airport 150 miles away. This means Mark and Susan fly to DC, rent a car, drive about 150 miles to Cumberland, pick up JB after spending a few days there, and then we all fly to Vancouver to start the Princess Cruise. At the end of the cruise in Fairbanks we undo this process to take JB home.
Well, we discovered that there’s no direct flight from Dulles to Vancouver on Star Alliance meaning the routing took us from Washington Dulles to Denver (Just like being home) to Vancouver. Either that routing or fly through Chicago (never our favorite) or have very short connections in Toronto or Newark. OK … tickets are purchased and we’re ready to go.
Not quite … JB contracts an ailment that made her decide not to go on the cruise and changing our tickets was too expensive. Plus, JB paid for the trip! Off we went to DC and spent a few days in Cumberland for a visit and managed to do a few errands for Mom before we started on our little journey to get to Vancouver. Here’s the summary of that excursion!
• Boarded the plane in DC on time, left the gate on time.
• Sent to the “holding area” when the airport had a ground stop for all west bound planes. Did I mention it’s been raining on the east coast for a month?? We hung out there for an hour waiting for the weather to clear and to get new routing to Denver, taking us way south and adding a bit of time to the flight.
• Arrived in Denver one hour late and deplaned.
• Determined our flight to Vancouver was 20 minutes late, 30 minutes late, 45 minutes late, 80 minutes late while we waited for the arrival of the plane coming from Philadelphia – east coast – not a good place to come from! Scheduled departure 8:43 PM and no change for at least 2 hours.
• We hung out in the United Club and had a grand view of the hail storm hitting the airport. The hail storm was short at the terminal and just small hail – pea size – no worries! After all the hail storms this summer, this was nothing.
• Go to the gate at 8:15 (We saw the flight from Philadelphia had arrived and we could see the plane from the United Club windows.) thinking we’d board. No gate agent in site.
• Gate agent arrives at 8:45, gets on the plane, comes back and says, “I have no idea what’s going on here.” In the meantime, the gate info shows the next flight leaving from our gate was the one to Phoenix.
• Flight crew is missing one flight attendant. Finally found one and she gets applause when she shows up. The gate agent was good at keeping us updated on her search for a flight attendant.
• Boarding begins at 9:00 and we actually manage to depart about 9:30.
• Arrive in Vancouver at 11:30, clear immigration quickly and wait for our luggage for 20 minutes. They took lessons from Denver.
• Get a taxi to the hotel, arriving about midnight and were in bed by 12:20 AM. (This is 3:20 AM DC time.)
Summary – we could have flown to Europe faster from Denver than it took to get from DC to Vancouver. Oh well … we managed to get there!
After 17 days on the Noordam with 1900 new friends, the ship docked in Honolulu and we disembarked. (Note: the ship went on to Lahaina but Honolulu was the only port you could disembark with luggage.)
The ship arrived on time in Honolulu about 7 AM and our flight from Honolulu to Maui was booked for 12:15 PM. Everyone on the ship had to clear US immigration before they could go ashore in Honolulu and clearance was to be held in the theatre. What would you think when you hear “immigration, customs, and 1900 passengers” all in the same sentence?? Given how long it can take to clear immigration at an airport, we were prepared for the worst!
We climbed out of bed at 6:30 AM, showered, and hustled off to the theatre where the line for US passengers’ immigration was half the length of the ship! We started timing the line because we bet it would take at least an hour to clear U.S. Immigration, but the line moved in a slow walk to the front of the ship where the ship officer scanned our cruise card and a U.S. Immigration official looked at our passport for about 3 seconds and waved us on. We thought there must be another check point so Mark asked if Global Entry is available. The Immigration guy said, “I am Global Entry.”
They made no differentiation between passengers disembarking for good and passengers just going ashore for the day. Total time – 8 minutes from the start of the line to the end! Note: International visitors took longer – about 45 minutes.
Hey! We had time for a quick breakfast before we picked up our hand luggage in the room, left the ship, walked through a warehouse, turned right and found our suitcases sitting in the Pink group! Holland America gave the disembarking passengers (us) the standard Customs cards the night before. What would you think? Somewhere we’ll have to go through Customs, right? Wrong! We picked up the bags and walked out the door, across the street and took a taxi to the airport.
Mark’s comment about Customs – “This would have been the time to bring back a $20,000 watch”.
Next stop was Maui. The flight landed on time, we made a Costco and Safeway stop, and checked into the Condo for 2 weeks. Maui was incredibly green thanks to all the rain they had this winter.
Mark met Seattle Bob at the grills one night. Seattle Bob asked if we like ahi and snapper because a friend with a fleet of fishing boats sent over several BIG packages of fresh frozen fish and it was too much for them to eat. We love fish, thank heavens, since we ate fish for 5 straight days before we took a pizza break.
It was Iowa week in Maui. Iowans are everywhere and Maui is no exception. Two guys Mark has known since freshman year were in Maui!
At the end of 3 weeks we flew back to Denver! Home again after 263 days!
Now that the trip is coming to an end, we reflected over a gin and tonic about the good and the bad of the last 8 months. For what it’s worth …
- Favorite “normal” places we visited – Seychelles (Mark); Split (Susan)
- Favorite adventure – Rwanda trekking with gorillas
- Least favorite “adventure” – hike across Le Curieuse Island in the Seychelles
- Least favorite town – Bundi, India
- Least favorite “things” during the trip – Food poisoning (Susan); Bad tour guide in Bundi and Kota
Best place for a drink
- Beer in Serengeti
- India Pacific train
- Catamaran to MONA in Hobart
- Beer while watching the total lunar eclipse from the rooftop in Bundi
- Wine on the twilight sailing yacht in Fremantle
Best place we stayed (Other than with friends)
- Meridien in the Seychelles with an oceanfront room
- Sheraton in Koh Samui – best A/C of all!
- Meridien in Koh Samui with a plunge pool
Worst Hotel – Bundi Vilas Halewi
Best Hotel Lounge – Bangkok Westin
Best flight – Munich to Bangkok in First Class on Thai Air
Worst travel day – Port Macquarie to Hobart – 4 hours of flying time turned into a 14 hour trip
- Steak at the Jail House Inn, Launceston
- Mexican food at Terminal 21, Bangkok after 5 months of no Mexican food
Best restaurant view – Indique in Jodphur
Worst food – Colonel’s Retreat, Delhi – Susan’s food poisoning location!
Worst roads – India, hands down!
Rudest person on the trip – UK couple on the train in India
Weirdest person we ran into on the trip – the Indian guy who stared at us for 4 hours on the Indian train
“Glad it wasn’t me” event – Aileen not getting her luggage for 5 days on the safari
Great coincidence – Aileen didn’t have her phone charger and she used her phone to take pictures. Mark had his camera since he used his phone for pictures. He loaned Aileen the camera but didn’t have the charger for it. Annie from Tennessee had a charger that fit the camera! All was well in the photography world.
- Twilight sailing in Fremantle on a yacht and dinner at the Fresh Water Yacht Club
- Seeing 2 kills in Serengeti by 3 lionesses. They killed 2 wildebeests
- Landing in Mwanza, Tanzania, to clear immigration leaving Tanzania
- Food Walks in Delhi and Jaipur
Little too close for comfort – the airline we flew in Tanzania crashed a plane into Ngorongoro Crater National Park just a few days after we used them
Illnesses – 4 colds (2 each) and 1 case of food poisoning and 1 sprained wrist
New friends and acquaintances
- Avijet – Indian in Ranthambore NP from CA – works for EAS
- Ana – met in Split – anesthesiologist from Singapore/Malaysia/Cambridge
- Nora and Juhis – Finland met in Seychelles
- Rob and Justin; Sonya and Graham – Australians met in Split
- Peter from Melbourne via Rob and Justin
- Gayle and Mark – Sydney
- Margarida – Sydney Sheraton clerk from Portugal
- Ben and Belinda – from Geneva – met in Golden Monkey trek
- Uta – from Germany met in Tanzania
- Ryan from Malta – met in Edinburgh
- Clifford – from Madagascar – doing laundry in Bangkok
- Suchin Shah – from South Carolina – sells RV’s
- Per and Lise – from Norway
- Debbie and Tim – from London
After spending about 2 months in Australia, we had to figure out some way to get back to the U.S. or wherever we went next. We see “repositioning cruises” advertised all the time, mainly between the U.S. and Europe but we figured the cruise lines have to get their ships back to the west coast in time for the Alaska sailing season after spending the Southern Hemisphere summer sailing in Australia/New Zealand and the South Pacific.
Off the Chief Travel Planner went to Google and quickly found a website, www.repositioningcruise.com. It turns out there weren’t many to choose from, but Holland America was moving the MS Noordam from Sydney to Vancouver starting on April 13 and we could disembark in Honolulu on April 28. Yes, that makes this a 16-day cruise. We crossed the International Date line so repeated April 21, just like “Groundhog Day”.
Boarding the ship in Sydney – no problem! Mark had to go on a hunt for his luggage but discovered it was in Ship Security waiting for him to remove the knife they saw when x-raying the bag before it was loaded on the ship. We traveled with a sharp cooking knife after being in a number of apartments with less than sharp knives! They missed/ignored the corkscrew, a knife on a cutting board from Tasmania, and a Swiss Army knife he had. The knife was returned on the last night of our cruise.
Our cabin was compact but had enough room for our few clothes. Let’s just say that Gala Nights didn’t see any tuxes or ties or jackets on Mark. Susan used the cruise as an excuse to buy a few clothes in Sydney and Melbourne.
Average age of 1900 passengers – guessing 75-80 or so! We’re sure we were in the youngest 10% of the passengers – about 190 people. We saw one baby, about 5 children under 15 and the associated parents of said children, and a family of 4 from Alabama. We met one lady who just retired and 2 women with their 85-year-old mom. The other 170 people in the “10% Club” we can only guess at. The ones we put in the club are either truly younger or have really good genes.
The passengers were a majority Americans but LOTS of Canadians and Australians with a handful of other nationalities represented – German, New Zealand, UK, Norway.
We met some fun people – Per and Lise from Norway, Tim and Debbie from London who traveled for 5 months before the cruise, Jan and Chris (UVA grad) from Texas. We quickly found our favorite bars and bartenders and got into a routine – wakeup, coffee, breakfast, workout or walk, read, watch movies, sit in sun, before dinner drinks with the group, dinner at 8 PM, after dinner drinks, bed … repeat!
Two nights Tim and Mark stayed out late (1:30 AM) and they’re sure they were the last 2 passengers awake on the ship. We often were the last table to finish dinner and the last bunch to close the bar – about 11:15 PM. With a passenger list as old as on this cruise, the dining room was packed at 5:15 when it opened for dinner and fairly empty at 8 PM when we went to dinner.
We made stops in New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and Pago Pago, American Samoa. You can check out the map on the Trip Statistics page to find the locations of the various islands. We also had 5 straight days at sea before we arrived in Honolulu.
No … that’s not Figtree as in a plant but “Figtree” as in the town in New South Wales near Wollongong. Susan met Gale and Trevor 2 years ago on a trip with Mom to Eastern Europe and they committed the ultimate folly … they said, “Come visit”. Mark and I did! We spent 5 days with them and had a marvelous time seeing some sights and watching the Commonwealth Games on TV while sipping wine.
One day we took a drive up in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales where we checked out Fitzroy Falls on a short walk and paid homage to Sir Donald Bradman of cricket fame in Bowral. His house has a plaque on the fence; it’s easy to see where people tread on the grass to take pictures!
Two local cricket teams were playing a Sunday afternoon match. I don’t know much about cricket, but it was evident, even to me, that one of the bowlers was really bad and was going to be buying the beer after the match.
The coast around Wollongong is beautiful and it’s easy to see why so many people want to live there and will even deal with the terrible commute to Sydney every day either by car or train AND why the house prices have shot up!
Australia seems to be enamored with “big” things. In a previous trip we saw the Big Merino, and a Big Avocado. Gale and Trevor made sure we had our picture taken in front of the Big Potato in Robertson. The meat pies for lunch in Robertson were way better tasting than the Big Potato. We’ll leave it to your imagination as to what other names that spud gets!
We lived for 9 months in Melbourne back in 1994-95, visited again about 8 years ago, and wanted to come back to visit friends and see all the changes.
First stop was in Woodend north of Melbourne to visit Justin and Rob who we met in Split, Croatia, while checking out a menu and then sharing some wine. Justin rescued us from the busy Melbourne Airport on Friday evening and we spent a fun 4 days with them seeing some of the area around Mount Macedon.
Terry and Ian were our second set of friends to visit. We met them 24 years ago before they even had any children (now in college and high school). It was like we saw them just last week.
We rented an AirBnB for 10 days right in the middle of the city, conveniently located by the Coles Market and Liquorland. Melbourne has a free tram zone now to attempt to reduce traffic in the CBD. Our place was in the free zone making it convenient when we wanted to go around town.
We visited the Shrine of Remembrance that now has an informative museum about the role of Australia in various wars and military actions.
What else did we do in Melbourne? Haircuts, a little clothes shopping and toothpaste shopping – all the important tasks!
After the travel day from hell, we started 7 days of exploring part of Tasmania – Hobart, Port Arthur, and Launceston. Hobart is a lovely little town right on the water with a big port. Every Saturday, the Salamanca Market with local products and arts is held on the waterfront and it was packed! We figured the entire population of Hobart (about 220,000) was there but then we found out that the Royal Caribbean Cruise ship, Innovation of the Seas, with 5000 passengers was in port.
After our shopping excursion, we went on a search for a few microbreweries. Mind you … this was a beautiful Saturday afternoon about noon when our walk started. We found T-Bone Microbrewery about 1:15 it doesn’t open until 2 PM. Why would you waste a perfectly good beer day by not opening?
Lots of stores close in Hobart about 2 PM on Saturday and are not open at all on Sunday. It was a holiday weekend and pretty quiet except for the cruise people! This didn’t give us much hope of finding an open micro-brewery but we ambled down the street to Shambles (They were open!) and had some pretty good beer.
The next day, Sunday, off we walked to Hobart Brewery, another brewery with a great location by the cruise port in a big red barn on a large lot. They don’t take advantage of any of this – only open on Sunday afternoon for a few hours, no music, not even any snacks. The co-founder and head brewer is from Colorado and you would think he’d have a few business ideas for the brewery – as in having more than beer there!
Then there’s the whole issue of brewery paraphernalia – as in not much if any at all! Mark loves t-shirts but try as he might, craft brewery t-shirts were hard to find. Most of the breweries we visited in Australia could take a few marketing lessons from U.S. craft brewers – t-shirts, glasses, bottle openers.
Many restaurants in Hobart had a line on their menu “10% Surcharge on Saturday and 15% surcharge on Sunday and holidays”. We learned that restaurant servers get paid more if they work on Saturday, Sunday, or holidays and the restaurants want to cover their costs.
Our Tuesday excursion was to MONA – Museum of Old and New Art – in Hobart. We took the 25-minute ride and then tackled the 99 steps UP from the dock to the museum.
MONA is an interesting art museum to say the least! One piece of art was a guy with tattoos as a piece of art.
Tuesday morning we left Hoabrt, after we picked up a car at the Avis office. We headed out of town after a few times around the block and around the round-about (The Google map lady is less than useful with 3 lanes of traffic heading into a roundabout.) on the way to Port Arthur Historic Site. This is the site of a British prison for convicts in the 1800’s. It’s a large site and it’s easy to spend an entire day there with various talks and tours.
Until we arrived at the Historic Site, we thought the Port Arthur Shootings happened in the town of Port Arthur. The shootings that led to complete revamp of Australia’s gun laws happened at the little café on the Historic Site Harry who’d we met at the Twilight Sail in Perth was at the Port Arthur Historic Site on the day of the shooting. He wanted wine with lunch and didn’t stay at the Café when they didn’t sell wine. This was the only reason he missed being at the shooting. To celebrate and remember, he drinks a glass of wine very day for lunch.
After Port Arthur we retraced some of our path and then headed north to Launceston with a stop at Ross – 42 degree latitude marker, Wool Centre, Bridge built by convicts. This part of Tasmania has very little traffic – more sheep than cars or people.
Day 1 in Launceston had us driving to Low Head along the east side of the Tamar River to visit the Low Head lighthouse and Pilot Station.
We crossed the Tamar River and drove down to Green’s Beach to say we’ve been to the Bass Strait. The tide was out; the beach is deep and wide.
After 3 days in Launceston, I directed Mark on a different route to get back to Hobart to fly on to Melbourne.
At the Hobart airport, Susan’s bags were swabbed for gun powder along with 2 other peoples’ bags – all using the same swab. What was the security lady going to do when it came back positive? She’d used the swab on at least 8 different bags!
We took a cruise ship from Sydney to Honolulu for 16 days, including doing April 21 twice. We had plenty of time to make a few observations. One of these life altering observations is you can fool your Garmin Fitness tracker on a ship just as well as you can on a rough road in India. Doing laps around the Promenade Deck of a cruise ship that’s moving will also make your Fitness tracker think you’ve walked up 10 flights of steps!
The scenery was a bit monotonous but the ship was much smoother than the safari vehicle.
Parents … teach your children how to read a map, would you?? I love maps and am always the map reader on our trips. I’ve used AAA maps to navigate around the U.S. We used a map in Japan to find our ryokan by counting the streets we passed since we couldn’t read Japanese.
I’ve used Michelin maps all over Europe to get us to small villages in France for the Tour de France. We even have a shorthand of explaining how big a road is based on the colors used on Michelin maps – white road (really narrow, maybe one lane), yellow roads (has some minor route designation) and red roads (major route designation). Paper maps have served us well.
Along came Google maps and my students all said “Why do I need to know how to read a map? Google will tell me where to go.” I use Google maps. They saved our lives in Austin one evening when we could see the hotel but couldn’t figure out how to navigate the silly side roads all over the Texas interstates.
Yes, we used Google maps on this trip to help get around Tasmania and Western Australia. I even let “The Voice” give directions. However, being able to read a map helped me make a decision to NOT accept Google’s directions to drive through the middle of Perth at rush hour. Google directions don’t do any good when you lose cell reception! And the lady’s voice is less than useful when she says, “Head northeast from the parking lot” and you have no clue where north is. Reading the map and making the left, right, or straight decision is a good skill to have!
Another reason to know how to read a map … in the middle of cities with lots of high rise buildings, GPS doesn’t work really well. You need to be able to figure out which direction you’re walking. You can turn around before you walk too far as soon as you find a cross street.
Reason #2 – You need to figure out which tram/bus goes where and which stop to get off. All you have is the tram map to solve the problem because you have no cell reception.
Reason #3 – You’re on the “Amazing Race” and need to find the challenge. If you watch the show, you’ll know how many teams have lost because neither of them could read a map!
Even if GPS is working, a few map problem-solving skills can be useful. Ever come out of a subway stop that had 6 exits in the middle of the city and try to figure out even which side of the street you’re on? Do I turn left, or do I turn right? Being able to follow the Google blue dot as it moves comes in handy!
Mark and I must look like we know where we’re going on this trip. Two ladies from Hong Kong asked for directions back to their hotel in Launceston, Tasmania. Thanks heavens they knew the name of their hotel. Google showed us the location of the hotel and we gave them simple directions.
Some college-age guy was standing at the cross walk in Melbourne looking confused and staring at his phone. He asked if we could tell him where Swanston Street is. We told him to walk straight for 7 blocks and he’d be there. His reply – “Best directions I’ve had all day!”
We hadn’t made it to Tasmania on previous visits and we weren’t sure we’d make it this time! Our flight was scheduled for Port Macquarie to Sydney to Hobart. We got to the Port Macquarie Airport – very tiny airport – at 8:30 AM, dropped off our car, and discovered that the 10:10 flight was delayed to 11:00, to 12:00, to 12:25. We finally boarded at 12:57. Needless to say, we missed our connection in Sydney. I will say Virgin Atlantic was waiting at the gate to hand out new tickets to all the “missed flight” people. Now, we had a 3 hour wait for our new flight and that one was delayed by an hour. We finally landed in Hobart about 10:15 PM. By the time we got the shuttle and were dropped off at the hotel, it was 11:05 PM. No food open except the Domino’s Pizza down the street! The pizza was pretty good .. or were we just really hungry?
Our Australian friends said we could have driven faster to Hobart if the Bass Strait wasn’t in the way. This flight day was the worst of the whole trip so far. I guess we can’t complain!
After Hobart, we picked up a rental car and drove to Port Arthur Historical Site where many of the British convicts were imprisoned. The site is large and very interesting. There’s also a memorial for the people killed in the Port Arthur Shootings in 1996 that started the Australian gun reform laws. We always thought the shootings were in the town but they happened in a cafe at the Historical Site.
One of the guys we met in Fremantle on the sailing evening always has a glass of wine with lunch. It turns out he was at the Historical Site the day of the massacre. He stopped at the cafe but they didn’t serve wine and he wanted a glass of wine with lunch. They went somewhere else that day, just missing the shootings. A glass of wine saved his life so now he has one every day in thanks.
Launceston was the next stop on the road trip. It’s not far up to the north coast with lovely scenery along the way as well as a plethora of road construction.
These are the only Tasmanian Devils we saw along the way.
Port Macquarie was one stop we made after a few days in Sydney. Where is Port Macquarie, you ask? It’s about a 4-hour drive north of Sydney or a one hour flight on a prop plane. We opted for the prop plane and were met at the airport for the whole reason we added the city to our itinerary – Amy!
Amy was matched up with us through CSU’s International Friends program way back in 2001 when she spent a semester at CSU as an exchange student. We showed her Rocky Mountain National Park and took her to packed sports bar for the first round of March Madness! Now it was her turn to show us koalas and the beach and introduce us to her partner, Jacques, and her son, Levi.
Even though we hadn’t seen her since 2001, it seemed as if it were just yesterday and we caught up with all her adventures and life. We had a great time! I should mention that Amy introduced us a bit of Australian trash TV – “Married at First Sight” or MAFS. They record the show (They can skip the commercials. and after watching 5 episodes, we were hooked and watched it until the end to see what happened! It was good to learn that Americans aren’t the only people who will do anything to be on TV.
After our visit with Amy, we headed across town for a 2 day visit with Sonya and Graham and Hollie, the cocker spaniel. We met Graham and Sonya in Split, Croatia, and when they found out we actually had Port Mac on the agenda, we got a lovely invite to spend a few days with them. Sonya and Graham took us to do some wine tasting and beer tasting and introduced us to a delicious Australian sparkling wine. Hollie, the cocker spaniel, was a good hostess, too. She was more than willing to let us pet her as long as we wanted!
We wanted to fix everyone Mexican dinner while we visited. Our first plan was chicken enchilada casserole with green enchilada sauce. We moved to Plan B when we couldn’t find any green enchilada (or red!) sauce. The Plan B fajitas were a success!
We have LOTS of sign pictures!
We spotted many long winded British signs. Australia learned their sign making skills from the Brits in many locations.
Thanks to Darcy for starting us on the task of recording signs!
These signs just made us smile!
Signs are everywhere. Some we could read; others, not so much. Some are pictures giving directions and some are just bad translations. Some are written by the Brits; easy to recognize by their length – as in long. Here are some of the more amusing or puzzling or long signs we’ve seen along the way!
Spelling is a problem both in English and non-English as a first language countries.
Then there are the signs about phones and computers!
Mark used the toilet in Terminal 21 in Bangkok. We saw many Japanese tourists there and we assume that’s why they had a Japanese style toilet with all the bells and whistles. At least they posted these directions on what the functions of the various buttons are on the toilet – sort of! It goes along with some signs we saw for how to use a western toilet – SIT on the seats!
We knew that Australia drives on the left side of the road, but we’ve learned a few new things about Australia while we’ve been here. (Random order)
- Subway stores in Australia don’t have oil and vinegar to put on the sandwiches.
- You don’t have to show any ID to fly on a domestic flight in Australia.
- You can take whatever liquids you want through security for a domestic flight in Australia.
- “Beetroot” in Aussie English = “Beets” in US English.
- Seatbelts are mandatory in the back seat of a car.
- Tasmanian Devils are now endangered.
- You’ll need a dictionary to figure out what coffee to order!
- Different pay rates apply on weekdays, Saturday, Sunday, and Public Holidays, explaining the surcharges applied in some restaurants!
- Backsplash (US English) = Splashback (Aus English)
- Pay by credit card and many places charge an extra 1% including hotels. Who has 5 days of hotel cash laying around?
- Plasterer = Drywaller in US English
- Grocery stores are closed on Good Friday! This calls for planning ahead.
We both have a Garmin Fenix – Susan has the 5 and Mark has the 5X. This watch is very accurate when it comes to distance. When we first got them before we left Colorado, we did a 5K (3.1 miles) and the watch recorded it as 3.12 miles!
On our trip to India, we went Ranthambore National Park to look for tigers. For all of you thinking “Didn’t you see Tigers is Africa?”. Nope! Tigers are in Indian; lions are in Africa. To see tigers, you need to go on a safari either for 4 hours in the morning or 4 hours in the afternoon. We were picked up at the hotel about 7 AM and the fun began. (We actually did 3 of these safaris, two in the morning and one afternoon safari.) As noted in our blog, the roads are extremely bumpy and the drivers drive like maniacs.
About half way through the one of the safaris, both our fitness watches indicated we hit 10,000 steps and that we’d reached our step climbing goal of 10 flights. When we finally got back to the hotel after being shaken like a can of paint, Mark’s watch said we walked 15,500 steps and climbed 47 flights of stairs and descended 31 flights. Susan’s watch had an amazing 104 flights climbed and 132 flights descended.
If you want to cheat your fitness tracker, just go on a tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park, India.
We rented a car for our expedition to Margaret River from Fremantle. Mark drove and it didn’t take him long to remember that the turn signal is on the right side of the column! He only turned on the windshield wipers once or twice. BTW … European cars don’t reverse the controls on the columns in Australia but Japanese cars do.
Stopped at Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and then drove the back roads to Margaret River past all the wineries.
In Margaret River we needed to do the laundry and went off to find the laundromat. When we realized we needed the correct change for the washer and dryer, Mark asked at a bank if she would give us 10 $1 coins. “Are you a customer?” Mark said “No.” and she replied that she could only give change to customers. Really??? Mark left without comment and went to Liquorland next door where the lovely clerk, Mel, gave him change and told us where to find some good beer – Settlers Tavern up the street.
We booked a wine and food tour with Harvest Tours because no one wanted to be responsible for driving after wine tasting. The tour was fun … coffee tasting, wine tasting, lunch and wine tasting at Brookland Valley Winery, chocolate tasting, cheese, olive oil, soap (no tasting), and finished off with a Brewery stop at BeerFarm.
The BeerFarm is a brewery in an old barn with a milking shed. They built a water slide into a lake but after an adult broke his arm, the council forbid adults and only allow children on the water slide – Don’t ask!
Before driving back to Perth the next day, we headed south to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse – the southwestern most point in Australia where the Southern Ocean and Indian Ocean meet. It’s a good whale watching spot but not in March.
We wandered our way through the NP and ended up at Surfer’s Point, another great viewing spot.
After leaving India and Thailand, we flew to Perth, Australia to visit friends and check out the Margaret River wine region before we took the Indian Pacific to Sydney. Dave Young joined us for the drive to Margaret River after a few days in Fremantle.
Wade and Robyn in Fremantle were kind enough to host us for a few days and show us the Fremantle scene. It’s a suburb of Perth but certainly has its own unique vibe – beachy, boaty, lots of coffee shops, laidback like Hawaii in many ways – including the cost of housing!
After Dave showed up and we rescued him from the Perth Airport after his 30+ hour flight, we headed to Margaret River for sightseeing and wine tasting. One of the stops was Lake Clifton is in the Yalgorup Lakes National Park to see the thrombolites, some of the earliest living creatures on earth.
Twilight sailing was a special surprise! We met Rob in Split while wandering around looking for a restaurant. We had several meals together and shared a few bottles of wine, a few beers at sunset, and a splash of Croatian grappa while in Split. He and Justin live in Melbourne but Rob happened to be in Fremantle doing some consulting at the same time we were in Fremantle. Rob knows lots of people there and invited us along on a twilight sail. What a treat!
We each had one item on the RTW trip from our wish list. Mark wanted to trek with the gorillas – check! Susan’s wish list item was a bit tamer – ride the Indian Pacific train across all of Australia. We took it from Perth to Sydney – from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean for 4352 km or 2704 miles. This trip takes about 4 days and we had the fun of sleeping on the train for 3 nights.
When Dave Young from Fort Collins heard about the train, he invited himself along since he’s a HUGE train buff and this one is on his bucket list.
The Indian Pacific left at 10 AM Sunday morning from Perth and climbed out of the suburbs into the hills. The ticket prices include food, unlimited drinks including wine, champagne, beer, gin and tonic, coffee, soft drinks and tours at each stop.
The tour part is important because our first stop along the way was at 10 PM Sunday night in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. The tour took 2 hours on the bus and showed us where the houses of prostitution were and where the huge gold mine is. It’s a pit mine, about 1.5 kilometers deep and is worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We want to come back in the daytime for a real mine tour.
Then it was back on the train for our first night of sleep in the little bunks. Mark got the top one! Sleep was OK although at 3 AM, the tracks got a little rough! Mark’s bunk had a rail he could put up just in case he might want to roll out.
Day started with breakfast in Rawhinna about 6 AM outside on tables. Rawhinna is on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain and is the start of 478 kilometres (297 miles) of perfectly straight rail – the longest in the world . On Day 2 we stopped at Cook for a resupply of water for the train. Cook is pretty much a ghost town after the Australian government privatized the rail. The only things there are an airstrip for emergency commercial flight landings in the middle of the country (Never used), fuel and water for trains, and overnight accommodations for freight and passenger train crews.
Day 3 started with Adelaide at 7:30, Mark took the tour of the Adelaide Oval – cricket and Aussie Rules and Rugby – while Susan took a bus tour of the city. Dave left us here for 5 days in Adelaide before he flew home.
The train stopped in Broken Hill in the afternoon. We saw the Main Drag show in the hotel that was used in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”.
On Day 4, the train wandered its way through the Blue Mountains and suburbs of Sydney before arriving about noon at Sydney Central Station.
In between stops, we used our cabin for reading or naps or we wandered up to the Lounge Car and had a glass (or 2 or 3) of wine while we talked with other passengers. We met Gayle and Mark from Sydney and even got invited to their house for dinner. Another US couple we met, and there were not many of us, were from California and they’d been on a diving trip for about 2 months. We had drinks with them in Sydney.
Overall, the trip was fun. There are miles and kilometers of nothing in the middle of Australia. This trip drives home the point that Australia is about the size of the US but only has about 30 million people! Lots of it are pretty uninhabitable in the middle of the desert.
The next train trip to do in Australia is the Ghan that goes from Darwin south through Alice Springs into Adelaide. This train has been completely updated and we heard is quite posh.
For whatever reason, toilet paper in India is quite thin but the rolls are also very small – as in not many sheets of paper. One was so small, it only lasted a day! And, no one had Delhi Belly!