Be Back Whenever

Mark and Susan wander the world

“A few of our favorite things …”

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

Best restaurant

  • 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.

Unexpected experiences

  • 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

South Pacific Cruise with the “older” clientele

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”.

Rommel, the bartender

Our favorite bartender, Rommel, in the Pinnacle Bar.

Fortunately, most of the days at sea had flat water and sunshine. Humidity increased as we approached the equator, reaching 98% in Pago Pago.

International Date Line Certificate

Official recognition of crossing the International Date Line.

agendas for April 21

A daily schedule was in our cabin every night for the next day. Two of them had the same date … different agendas for the 2 days it was April 21. Per, our Norwegian friend, celebrated his birthday twice!

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.

Cabin 1

This was home for 16 days.

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!

Mark and Per with sculpture

This is what two passengers do when they’re the last out of the dining room and have had a few glasses of wine in the evening plus a Hendricks and Tonic and pepper and cucumber.

Per and Lise

Per and Lise live in Norway. He’s a ship’s master/captain and they have some interesting stories about taking oil ships around the world.

Tim and Debbie

Tim and Debbie live in London and are semi-retired, traveling while they’re young! Tim loves Bingo and Debbie knows all about Elvis.

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.

Dravuni Beach

Dravuni Beach wasn’t as soft as Kuto but had warm, clear water.

Dravuni Fiji

Dravuni Island, Fiji

Fiji sunset

Sunset in Fiji

Kuto beach

Kuto, New Caledonia. This was the best beach of the entire trip with soft sand and warm water.

We rented a car in Lautoka, Fiji, to drive to Nadi for some shopping. Driving was a piece of cake and the roads were great after 2 weeks on Indian roads.

The local bar at the the port on Easo on Lifou, New Caledonia.

I have no idea what this plant is. It resembles a poinsettia with leaves/petals that are partly red and partly green.

Lifou view from the church

We trekked up this hill on Lifou in New Caledonia to see a church with a great view.

Pago Pago port

This is the Pago Pago port in American Samoa. Susan didn’t see much of the port after she slipped in mud on a sidewalk and sprained her wrist.  She was the third or fourth person to slip in the same place that day!

Pago Pago sunset

We had a lovely sunset as we left Pago Pago.

Disembarking in Honolulu – piece of cake! The ship arrived on time in Honolulu about 7 AM and our flight from Honolulu to Maui was booked for 12:15 PM.  (Susan likes to allow lots of time!) 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.

Mark and Susan climb out of bed at 6:30 AM, shower, and hustle off to the theatre where the line for US passengers’ immigration is 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 scanned our cruise card and a U.S. Immigration official looked at our passport for about 3 seconds and waved us on.  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 have time for a quick breakfast before we pick up our hand luggage in the room, leave the ship, walk through a warehouse, turn right and find 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”.

4/30 Figtree Adventures

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.

Mark, Susan, Trevor and Gale after a walk on the beach

Mark, Susan, Trevor and Gale after a walk on the beach

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!

Sir Donald Bradman statue

Sir Donald Bradman at the International Cricket Hall of Fame in Bowral, New South Wales, Australia

Fitzroy Falls

Fitzroy Falls in New South Wales

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.

Cricket field

We watched a bit of cricket – think baseball but with only 2 bases to run back and forth between with a 360 degree playing field.

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!

Sea Cliff Bridge and coastline near Wollongong

beach view

This beach is near Wollongong. The water was a bit chilly for us when we got to a beach where we put our feet in.

This escarpment runs from Sydney down the coast.

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!

Big Potato

There’s no choice but to pose in front of the Big Potato!

magpie on porch

This magpie visits Gale and Trevor every day.

King parrot in tree

One of the king parrots we spotted in a tree

Pink and Grey Gallas

Australia has some beautiful birds. These are Pink and Grey Gallas just hanging out in a park.

cockatoo

Sulfur-crested cockatoos are everywhere. They are incredibly loud and destructive, ripping leaves off of trees at will. We still think they’re beautiful.

Three weeks in Victoria, Australia

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.

Rob and Justin at Mooroba Winery

Rob and Justin took us to the Mount Towrong winery up the road from their new house and helped us spend a superb Sunday afternoon.

How better to spend a Sunday afternoon than drinking wine and eating food with friends at the Mount Towrong Winery?

We babysat with the girls – Ruby and Molly, the cocker spaniels – while the guys were at a party.

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.

Ian and Terry – it seemed like just yesterday we saw them.

Essenden Bomber mascot

Mark had front row seats for the Essenden – Adelaide Footy match thanks to Ian. It was even the first match of the season. Ian was thrilled when Essenden came form behind to win!

Ian and Terry took us for an afternoon road trip to the Mornington Peninsula for a brewery visit, 2 wineries, and Arthur’s Seat.  This is a view of the Mornington Peninsula from Arthur’s Seat – a drive, not a hike.

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.

Tall building with Airnb.

The tall building with the red arrow is where our AirBnb was.

View of Etihad Stadium in Melbourne from our AirBnB

Electrical Outlets

See the extra button in the middle? For the cook top to work, this has to be turned on!

We visited the Shrine of Remembrance that now has an informative museum about the role of Australia in various wars and military actions.

Shrine of Remembrance

Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, dedicated to WWI

MCG

The Melbourne Cricket Ground, the mecca of cricket in Australia and site of the Grand Finals in Aussie Rules football.

Flinders Station

Flinders Station in Melbourne

What else did we do in Melbourne?  Haircuts, a little clothes shopping and toothpaste shopping – all the important tasks!

No devils spotted in Tasmania

Tasmanian Devil warning sign

A slightly marked up warning sign for Tasmanian Devils. The creatures are nocturnal. These go along with the koala, kangaroo, and wombat warning signs.

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.

At the Hobart marina, we found a police boat named for Mark. Wickham, Australia is way up in the northwest near Broome.

sculpture of women prisoners in Hobart

This sculpture was on the waterfront where the convicts from England arrived. Some were women and children.

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 taps in Shambles Brewery

Shambles Brewery taproom in Hobart, Tasmania

Taproom in Hobart Brewery

The bar in Hobart Brewery

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.

MONA ferry with champagne

MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. We took the ferry to get there. You can pay more for the Posh Pit seating and enjoy champagne and coffee on the 25 minute trip each way. The coffee was in the morning. On the way back, we only drank champagne. The museum has lots of interesting art to accompany the architecture.

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.

Port Arthur prison

Port Arthur Historical Site – one of the main prison buildings. The scenery looks a lot like West Virginia/Western Maryland minus the water. The roads are equally winding and hilly in places.

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.

The bridge was built by convicts in Ross, a small country village. Ross sits on the 42nd parallel SOUTH of the equator.

Chocolate Factory sign

How could we not stop at the Chocolate Factory? Yes, we bought some.

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.

Low Sound Lighthouse

Low Sound Lighthouse overlooking the Bass Strait. Penguins live near here but we didn’t see any during the day.

Mark and Susan

Another one of spectacular selfies – proof we made it to the Bass Strait.

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.

Wines for Joanie

On the way back to Launceston, we drove through some of the Tasmanian wine region and made a stop at Wines for Joanie since Susan’s Mom is Joan.

After 3 days in Launceston, I directed Mark on a different route to get back to Hobart to fly on to Melbourne.

Tasmanian Devil scuplture with suitcases

This sculpture is in the Hobart airport near luggage claim.

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!

Fooling your Garmin Exercise tracker – method #2

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.

Holland America MS Noordam

This is the MS Noordam, a Holland America cruise ship, sitting off shore in the South Pacific.

 

For the love of maps!

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!”

A week in Tasmania

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!

sculpture of women prisoners in Hobart

This sculpture was on the waterfront where the convicts from England arrived. Some were women and children.

We found a police boat named for Mark. Wickham, Australia is way up in the northwest near Broome.

MONA ferry with champagne

MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. We took the ferry to get there. You can pay more for the Posh Pit seating and enjoy champagne and coffee on the 25 minute trip each way. The coffee was in the morning. On the way back, we only drank champagne. The museum has lots of interesting art to accompany the architecture.

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.

Port Arthur prison

Port Arthur Historical Site – one of the main prison buildings. The scenery looks a lot like West Virginia/Western Maryland minus the water. The roads are equally winding and hilly in places.

Tasmania water scenes

Views from the water of Tasmania around Port Arthur.

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.

Chocolate Factory sign

How could we not stop at the Chocolate Factory? Yes, we bought some.

Low Sound Lighthouse

Low Sound Lighthouse overlooking the Bass Strait. Penguins live near here but we didn’t see any during the day.

The bridge was built by convicts in Ross., a small country village. Ross sits on the 42nd parallel SOUTH of the equator.  Fort Collins is on the 40th parallel NORTH of the equator.

Mom’s name is Joan. When we saw a winery “Wines for Joanie”, we knew we had to stop and taste. Pretty good wine and the tasting room lady was an American/Australian lady raised in Tennessee.

These are the only Tasmanian Devils we saw along the way.

Tasmanian Devil warning sign

The creatures are nocturnal; hence, the warning signs along the roads. These go along with the koala, kangaroo, and wombat warning signs.

Tasmanian Devil scuplture with suitcases

This sculpture is in the Hobart airport near luggage claim.

Koalas and friends

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.

Levi and Amy

Amy and Levi took good care of us!

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.

Port Macquarie beach

One of the city beaches in Port Macquarie. Amy took us for coffee along the beach.

A good time to visit is in the afternoon when the volunteers hand feed the patients.

Koala visiting a tree near the hospital.

This koala likes to visit a tree near the hospital. He’s not a patient!

Koala Sleeping leaning on a branch.

This guy was having a nice nap.

Koala sleeping in a tree

This little guy was at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie. Injured or sick koalas are treated here until they can be released. Some stay forever due to their injuries – blind, amputated limbs

North Haven Beach

North Haven Beach – a short little drive south of Port Macquarie. The beach was empty the afternoon we checked it out.

Snake warning sign

Snake signs seem to be everywhere we turned in Australia.

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!

Burge Sparkling wine

Burge Sparkling wine – yummy! Thanks, Sonya, for introducing us.

hollie Graham Mark Sonya

Hollie, Graham, Hollie and Sonya – friends in Port Macquarie

Even more signs

We have LOTS of sign pictures!

Warning sign in Jodphur, India – selfies and the guard rail warnings are good.

Snake warning sign

Snake warning signs are everywhere in Australia! We never saw a snale, thank heavens.

Sun warning sign

Yes, this sign really exists. We’ll pass on the political thoughts that came to mind when we saw it in Western Australia.

Ladies out of order sign

Mark thinks there must be a joke in these signs somewhere.

 

More signs along the way

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!

Icy path sign

Oxford had to explain that the paths might be slippery if it’s icy. Really??  This is the same country that cancels train service with the excuse “Leaves on the track.”

We found this sign in Oxford University at the Sheldonian Theatre.

The firefighters have to be told how many hoses to use in Port Macquarie?

slippery tiles warning sign

Yes, this sign was REALLY in one of our bathrooms!

These signs just made us smile!

Hobart uni no parking sign

University parking is a problem all around the world. This one is in Hobart; coincidentally across the street from the Hobart Brewery.

Perth train rules

All the rules about riding a train in Perth.  The sign creator had a sense of humor at least!

Perth Rail sign to give up seat

Students MUST give up their seats. How often does this work??

“Signs, signs, everywhere a sign” – apologies to Five Man Electrical Band

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.

This sign is in Fort Augustus, Scotland where English is the first language and they still can’t spell – or proofread!

missing a T in the word

No room for the “T”

Misspelled fruit shake sign

Spelling is not always perfect in signs. This one’s in Thailand.

Then there are the signs about phones and computers!

 coffee shop no laptops

A library coffee shop in Oxford wants to keep the tables free for patrons.

rome no cell phone sign

One of our favorite little pizza places in Rome has this sign.

No selfies with the penguins! We found this sign in South Africa while watching penguins.

Scot Rail sign

This sign was on the train between Edinburgh and Inverness.

Jodhpur hotel advertisement

We like the “etc” on the hotel advertisement on this Jodhpur hotel.

Jodhpur no smoking sign

The fort in Jodphur tried to discourage smoking.

closed coffee shop sign

The coffee shop at RMIT university was closed when we walked by.

No parking sign in middle of parking spot

This sign takes up a perfectly good parking spot and there were 3 or 4 of them in Porrt Macquarie.

Champagne sign

Advertising Tasmanian sparkling wine.

Rome – Cash only economy!

scotland hot water sign in a sink

Just in case you can’t figure out that water in a sink might be hot. This was in a Scottish toilet.

No feeding kangaroo sign

Don’t you dare feed the kangaroos!

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!

sit on the toilet

Make sure you sit on the western toilet. We found this sign in Bangkok.

What we’ve learned in Australia

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.

 

15.5K steps and 47 flights of steps – all in a jeep

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.

19116 Steps all while sitting in a jeep

Susan’s 19116 Steps all while sitting in a jeep and bumping across India!

If you want to cheat your fitness tracker, just go on a tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park, India.

Margaret River visit

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.

Cape Naturaliste LIghthouse

Cape Naturaliste LIghthouse – Cape Naturaliste is the northernmost point of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge and separates Geographe Bay from the southern Indian Ocean.

snake sign

These snake signs were at both lighthouses we visited.

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.

House of Cards Winery

House of Cards Winery

McHenry Hohnen Winery -

McHenry Hohnen Winery – first stop on the wine tour. We tasted about 7 different wines here.

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.

Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse at the southwest most point of Australia.

The Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean collide at this point.

Mark Susan Cape Leeuwin

We can prove we went to Cape Leeuwin.  The wind was howling when we visited here.

We wandered our way through the NP and ended up at Surfer’s Point, another great viewing spot.

Surfers Point surfers

The surfers were out in droves enjoying the big waves.

Surfers Point, Western Australia

tall trees

The trees in the National Park were tall. Do not ask me what kind of trees they are!

Adventures on the West Coast of Australia

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!

Fremantle art project

An art project in Fremantle. It only makes sense from one spot in the city. Otherwise, it looks like someone is trying to figure out whether yellow looks good on the building.

Bon Scott ACDC statue

A statue of Bon Scott of ACDC fame and raised in Fremantle

coffee holder

One street in Fremantle is labelled “Cappuccino Row”. This was a latte holder.

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.

Dave Young at Lake Clifton

Dave Young at Lake Clifton

thrombolites in Lake Clifton

Some of the thrombolites in Lake Clifton

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!

Rob Mark Susan on boat

Rob, Mark and Susan enjoying plastic cups of wine on the sail.

Saliing on the river

The boat won the casual race. Prize? A bottle of wine. We were NO help at all in the race. My goal was to not fall in the water.

Twilight sailing at the Fresh Water Yacht Club in Perth.

Twilight sailing at the Fresh Water Yacht Club in Perth.

The Indian Pacific across Australia

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.

luggage to be stored

The compartments are small so all these bags went to a luggage car not to be seen for 4 days!

 

toilet and shower on the train

The toilet and shower compartment were very functional! Each compartment for 2 people has a little toilet room with a shower. The shower worked better than a few we encountered in hotels in India.

Train Compartment

The beds are stored during the day.

backpacks stored

We had our backpacks and one small cloth bag for our clothes. We had to buy the cloth bag in Bangkok!

Dave on train engine

Dave couldn’t wangle a visit to the engine compartment so he settled for climbing on the engine while we made a stop in Cook.

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.

Kalgorlie mine

The Kalgorlie mine is a gold mine operating 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

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.

SUsan and ladder into the top bunk

Mark got to use the ladder to crawl into the top bunk.

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.

Cook explanation sign

This explains exactly where Cook is in Australia – 1523 km to one coast and 1984 km. to the other coast.

nullarbor plain green

A tropical storm had just crossed Australia and the Nullarbor Plain was very green.

rawlinna train length

The train stretched fro about one mile.

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.

Adelaide Oval

Adelaide Oval. Mark didn’t get to go on the pitch since they were getting it ready for a cricket match

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”.

Broken Hill Susan

Proof we made it to Broken Hill

 Broken Hill drag show

One drag queen from the show in Broken Hill

On Day 4, the train wandered its way through the Blue Mountains and suburbs of Sydney before arriving about noon at Sydney Central Station.

Blue Moutains

By the time we reached the Blue Mountains, we’d entered a completely new climate area. Lots of trees and from here the train wanders into Sydney.

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.

Toilet paper

toilet paper size

A very small roll of toilet paper!

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!

Jaipur

Jaipur is a lovely – pretty clean, has a great flyover road to skip a bunch of traffic, lovely buildings with uniform signage.  The traffic chaos still exists but the architecture and city layout help.

The Amber Fort was the first stop and it’s lovely.

Amber Fort view through window

This is the view through the screen at the fort into the courtyard.

The fort wall seemed to go on forever.

Amber Fort

Mark and Susan at the Amber Fort

Our guide was good at taking pictures. This is us at the Amber Fort.

Ajay was a good tour guide – took us to the hot spots. We used the ramps a lot that were built for the queen’s wheeled chair when her dress and jewelry were too heavy for her to walk. He gave us options on what to see or skip and told us if we want to shop or see the local block printing, just tell him.  He’s been a guide for 22 years and definitely has the personality for it. We passed on the shopping.

It’s a small world! The guide’s nephew is at CSU. I looked him up in the Student Directory and he’s majoring in Engineering.

parking lot chaos

The parking lot at the Amber Fort was mass chaos when we left and tried to find Sonu.

Palace of the Wind

The Wind Palace. It’s only one room deep and the ladies used it to watch what was going on in the streets. It’s very lacy and airy.

The Jantar Mantar Observatory was fascinating and measures time in India Local time which is not used any more. India Standard Time was started by the British when they needed uniform schedule times for the trains.  The offset is shown every day at the Observatory.  There’s an astrology clock too.

ticket prices

This is a good example of the difference in ticket prices paid by Indian nationals and non-Indian tourist. The exchange rate was about 62 rupees to the US dollar.

We went on the food and market walk in the afternoon from about 3:30 – 6:30 AND we even crossed the streets about 6 times with the guide.  The street crossing rivaled Hanoi! The guide was quite good and we can now find the wedding dress section and the metal pan section in Jaipur.  Had some samosas that were great. People bought them by the big bags full!  The stand sells several thousand a day.

Chilis fried

I’m not sure the name if these but they were tasty chilis.

Samosas along the street

Samosas cooked in front of us.

Fried food in the market

People bought these by the bag full. They sell several thousand a day.

Food tour spices

Some of the spices at the Spice market we saw during the Food tour in Jaipur.

Paneer

Paneer – it’s fresh cheese and was yummy in all the veggie Indian dishes we tried.

Monkey eating food

He munched on the food he found along the street.

Gin and tonic

Proper gin and tonic by the Samode Havelli – lovely hotel in a historic building that was a palace for a ruler from Samode.

Jodhpur

First stop was the Jaswant Thada Memorial to the Maharajas where they are cremated and then a memorial is built over the ashes.

mausoleums

More mausoleums on the same site.

memorial to Maharaja

Jaswant Thada. It has translucent marble walls. They are beautiful when the sun shines through them.

Jodhpur has a current maharaja but he has no power.  It was all given up in 1971. The maharajahs could keep their land and holdings by paying a tax to the government. This maharajah kept the palace (Now a Taj hotel is on the property.) and deeded the Mehrangarh Fort and other palaces to a trust in the same form as in England. He became King at age 4 and was educated in England so likes the UK form of trusts for national monuments.

Amber fort and walls

Mehrangarh Fort from across the lake. We could walk, take an elephant, or have Sonu take us to the top!

Amber Fort

Mehrangarh Fort  Jodhpur

After we finished at the fort, we walked down through the blue city – home to Brahmin caste and jewelry smiths, historically – through the temple area, past the public kitchens, bangle market, wholesale spice market and grain markets.  We ended up at the clock tower where the clock was built using the same type of mechanism as Big Ben.  It was a block from the hotel!

Yes, potato chips can be bought loose. I have no idea what a kilo of these costs. I stuck to finding strange flavors of Lay’s potato chips!

 

A bangle bracelet vendor. Pick your favorite color!

The country people buy the bangles in wholesale and mark them up a bit, selling them in small quantities.  They come to the same location every day to sell them.  The sari section sells used saris. The people buy old ones and then resell them here for uses as curtains and other items that need large quantities of fabric.

fireworks stand

One section of the market had fireworks stands everywhere.

Michael, tour guide, was great! He’s from around Goa and earned a MS in Tourism Mgmt.  Told us good info and answered questions about India. He’s Catholic so no long weddings for him but he did have receptions on different days from wedding – one for his veggie friends and one for his non-veggie friends.

building scaffolding

Makeshift scaffolding for carrying bricks and mortar from one level to another.

We watched construction across the street – ramps used from one story to the other to move cement and bricks!

We could see this groom on a horse from the rooftop restaurant where we ate dinner. He was accompanied by friends and a very loud music truck!

A procession for the groom came by the hotel so everyone was watching from the roof.  The groom-to-be is on a white horse.

Udaipur – a clean city!

Udaipur was a wonderful surprise!  The streets are amazingly clean – very little trash.  The mayor is adamant about having a clean city and it was very noticeable!

Every city comes with a tour guide and the guide in Udaipur was excellent.  The City Palace sits on top of a hill – surprise!  It was built by the kings and added on to by every king.  We gave up trying to keep all the rulers’ names straight – too many and names are way too long!

City palace balcony

City Palace Balcony

City Palace from lake

City Palace. We were in a boat in Lake Pichola.

city palace mirror room

One of the mirrored rooms in the City Palace

City Palace of Udaipur

City Palace of Udaipur

Two hotels use part of the palace. “Octopussy” was filmed partly at the City Palace and in the streets of Udaipur.  “Marigold Hotel” scenes were filmed here, too.

My favorite part was the window screens carved all from one piece of stone or marble. These allowed the women to see out but prevented anyone from seeing the women.

Carved screens

These carved screens were carved from one piece of stone.

The Queen’s Side of the palace can be rented for parties and weddings now – to the tune of millions of rupees for this site.

Mark and Susan on Palace Island. We needed one posed picture to prove we’d been together on the trip.

We had our own boat out to Palace Island.  The guy who built the Taj lived on this island when he hid from his Dad.

washing clothes illegally

Washing clothes and bathing in the river is technically illegal in Udaipur. They don’t want the soap in the water.

water garden lily pads

Garden of the Maids of Honor

We made a stop at the Water Gardens built for princess with lots of fountains that run naturally.

Mark and Susan with Indian ladies

These ladies wanted their picture taken with us.

monkeys and mom

A few of the many monkeys at the City Palace

 

Bundi

Bundi was our least favorite stop In India. It’s a small town with fort and palace – surprise!  The tour guide was terrible – we fired him after about an hour.

Nighttime view of the fort

Nighttime view of the fort

Fort in daytime

Bundi Fort during the day

The best thing about Bundi was sitting on the roof of the hotel and watching the total lunar eclipse.

full lunar eclipse

The lunar eclipse occurred when we were in Bundi. We watched it rise over the fort and then go into eclipse.

Tigers!

Ranthambore National Park is home to tigers along with a variety of birds, monkeys, sambars, but the tigers are the big draw.  Tiger safaris leave in the morning or the afternoon. It was back on safari schedule – 6 AM wake up with coffee and tea, quick showers and off to the NP.  We knew we’d be in a 6-person vehicle but we had no idea with whom.  The first morning we ended up with 3 other people – a couple from the UK and Abeget, an Indian from Cupertino who works for EA Entertainment Arts.

The safari vehicles have no top; they are completely open air.  Khem Villas provided a wool blanket with hot water bottle, 2 bottles of water and 2 sandwiches. We laughed when we read this but, when we hit the road, the blanket with the hot water bottle came in mighty handy!

The driver drove fast, making our heads and faces even colder.  First stop was at the main gate of the National Park so the hawkers could try to sell hats and gloves and fleeces. For some reason, they didn’t bother Abaget!

The park is divided into zones and each vehicle is assigned a zone never to be violated by entering another zone! Zone 2 was ours with the road following along the bottom of the hill with the Ranthambore Fort which is high and VERY large.  Pictures can’t do it justice.

Ranthambore Fort

The walls of Ranthambore Fort

tiger paw print

A tiger paw print in the road.

Victory! We saw two tiger “cubs”. This guy is only about 18 months old.

The tigers blend into the background quite well.

Hawkeye spotting!  A lady in a passing vehicle in the National Park saw Mark’s shirt and said “GO Hawks!”

Sambar deer in the lake

This lake was full of birds and Sambar deer during the afternoon safari

female NP guide

Our afternoon National Park Guide. She is the ONLY female guide in the National Park.

Naturalists are freelance and work on a rotation basis.  She tried really hard to find a tiger for us in the afternoon but to no avail.

sambas having sex

These sambars had some afternoon delight.

The birds were spectacular even if the tigers are in hiding.

owl in tree

The guide spotted two owls nestled in the tree.

Fruit bats

Fruit bats hanging around in the trees!

An Indian train ride!

After the Agra tour, we hopped in the car with Sonu and headed off for our next adventure – riding a train to Ranthambore National Park.  Our train was 2 hours late (no surprise!) but even waiting for the train was an adventure.

selling chai on platform

This vendor sold chai to the train passengers.

selling food on platform

The vendors walked up and down the platform selling food through the train windows when the train stopped.

waiting on the rails to get on

These guys knew the next train would be crowded. Some of them jumped on the track to board the train through the other doors in hopes of getting a better spot.

The Audley rep met us at the train station and arranged porters to take our bags to the correct track, thank heavens!  The rep waited with us and another Audley couple to make sure we got on the right train and right car. While we waited, the rep wandered off every once in a while, talking to everyone he knew, giving the hawker and beggars the opportunity to swoop in and make us practice saying “no”.

When the train finally showed up, the Audley rep got the train guys to put our bags up above our seats and told us not to tip until they took the bags down at the other end.  That strategy worked, even though the porters grumbled, and it saved us from manhandling the bags up the steep train steps, through the crowds on the train, and then undoing everything at  the end.

The train was worn and old but the seats were comfortable and we all had a reserved seat.  Our car’s monitor didn’t announce stops, making it somewhat of a guessing game as to where we were at any point in time.  (It’s now dark so we can’t see the stop names as we come into the station.)  We had our eyes on the Western tour group with an Indian guide– when they got off, so were we!

Some Indian guy traveling with his family stared at the two of us for the whole 3 hour train ride! I didn’t dare take his picture!

Another Audley Rep met us at the station and took us to Khem Villas who’d been alerted to our late arrival. They greeted us with hot towels, lemonade, showed us to our room (outdoor shower and tub and candles) and then fed us dinner at 10 PM.

Agra and the Taj Mahal

This day did not start off well!  Susan woke up at 3 AM with nausea and suffered the effects of food poisoning for 5 hours while Mark slept through the whole thing.  He couldn’t have helped much, anyway.  The Costco version of Immodium and some Indian anti-nausea meds helped!

We had our own driver for this whole India adventure; this gave us the flexibility to put off leaving Delhi for Agra until 11:30 AM while Susan recovered a bit.

AQI hazardous

The smog was so bad it obscured some of the Taj Mahal. I wondered if Corel has a smog cleaning tool for photo editing?

The air quality was Hazardous as we drove to Agra on the freeway. After arriving in Agra and meeting our guide at the hotel, we told him we’d pass on any tours today and meet him at 8 tomorrow morning for the Taj.

The Taj Mahal was built as a love story – you can find the story here – and the building is beautiful in every way you’ve heard described.  We lucked out because the cleaning of the Taj has just been completed and the scaffolding was gone! They still have to clean the dome but that’s a project for another year.

Mark and Susan at the Taj Mahal. Our guide did well with the cameras, thank heavens! Our selfie skills are severely lacking.

No crowds at 8 AM so no lines for security. Speaking of security … every monument we went to had some sort of security.  Our bags were at least checked.  Regardless of the security, men and women go through separate lines all the time.  Since non-Indian visitors pay a much higher price for admission tickets, we also use separate admission lines.  The non-Indian visitors get the faster lines thanks to paying 10-20 times the price that an Indian citizen pays.

high value ticket signs

Different lines for “high value” ticket holders. Translation – foreigners who pay WAY higher admission prices!

 Taj reflecting

Taj reflected. If you look really carefully, the dome is a different color because it hasn’t been cleaned yet.

Taj reflected in the pools.

The fountains at the Taj don’t turn on until about 9. This made for a nice reflection in the pools. The crowds hadn’t descended on the Taj yet, either.

 Itimad uh Dualah Baby Taj

Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah is a Mughal mausoleum often regraded as a draft of the Taj Mahal.

The Itamad uh Dualah, also known as the Baby Taj , is a smaller, delicate building on the river with very few visitors and a lovely western toilet!  Somehow, an unwritten rule seemed to be that international visitors also were charged more for the toilets – 20 rupees versus 10 rupees.  If the toilet was clean and western, I was happy!

Driving/Riding in India

Camels, cows, elephants, goats, sheep, trash, shrines, dogs, motor scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks, push carts, bicycles … you name it, you probably find it on the roads of India. Throw in a few – or not so few –  people along the way and the picture gets more complete.

DIsclaimer: Many of these pictures were taken from the car as we moved along.

street traffic

Bicycles, auto-Rickshaw, people, and motorcycles all share the road.

goats on road

A few goats along the way. I like the spotted one.

Autorickshaws on the strret

Autorickshaws in India are the same thing as tuk-tuks in Thailand. Bicycle powered ones are just called “rickshaws”.

This guy hung out at a busy intersection in Delhi.

cows in road

Where does a cow cross the road? Anywhere she wants!

Camel on road

Camels are used for hauling wagons in the countryside.

cow wants a coffee

She obviously needs her coffee in the morning. We saw this in Bundi, down the street from our hotel.

White Baby camel

Baby camels are pretty cute! This group was walking down the road.

Staying within the lines on any road is completely optional as is going in only one direction on a divided highway.  Want to turn across traffic? OK … just stick the nose of your car out and nudge your way across the road while blocking traffic.

Truck blow horn sign

Telling someone to “Blow Horn” seems pretty unnecessary! Blowing the horn must be a requirement on the driving test.

One day, we had a diversion (British for “detour”)  at some point that took us through little villages that we never would have seen. The road was very bumpy, holey, cracked with a large sample of trash, shrines, cows in the road.  The road took us through small villages where all the men seem to sit in groups outside of shops visiting and drinking coffee and tea, reading the newspapers, while the women do all the work.

Walking along road

Walking along the road and we have no idea where they were going.

This guy walked through the traffic lined up to pay tolls. He was selling snack food.

truck full of grass

Taking grass of some sort to the animals. We never saw one tipped over but it has to happen!

riding in back of truck

An Indian countryside version of a bus. They were all going to the market town near them.  Spelling was a problem!

Indian freeway. The trucks were taking gravel to a road works site. This is the clearest lane I ever saw!

This gives you some idea of the variety you see in the cities. This was Delhi.

Snake charmer

Throw in a snake charmer or two on the sidewalks. The snakes are de-fanged.

Two weeks in India!

We know so many people from India and have heard so much about the country that India made the final list of places to visit on this trip. The Chief Travel Planner (Susan) decided she didn’t really want to try to figure out how to get around India so we did a bit of research on tours. We scratched the group tour idea and decided to go with a driver/guide combo.

After finally deciding on Audley, we gave them the places we wanted to visit, and Bryn put together the itinerary, booked drivers, hotels, and guides.  We just showed up!  Audley did a great job from start – meeting us at the Delhi airport – to end when the rep helped us navigate the lines that are the Delhi airport at midnight.  Sonu, our driver, took care of us and didn’t freak us out on the roads at all. He knew the best places to stop for food and CLEAN bathrooms!

Sonu our driver

Sonu was our driver from arrival time in Delhi until we flew home. He’s from the Himalaya region of India and an amazingly good driver and nice person.

Along the way we saw Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Ranthambore National Park, Bundi, and Narlai.  It was an adventure!

The first 3 days were in Delhi. Because it was National Day (Public holiday) AND the ASEAN conference was going on with leaders from all the ASEAN countries, security was tight with closed roads and many buildings closed.  We saw many of the places from the outside that, normally, we could have visited.

jama masjid mosque

Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi

electric line chaos

This street was pretty normal with electric, phone, TV lines going in all directions.

approaching mosque in smog

The mosque was only about a block away and you can tell how smoggy the air was.

234 Unhealthy Air Quality Index

Air Quality Index – Unhealthy!

How to make a bed

No pictures with this – just a pet peeve!

Where have all the sheets gone??  For years, I thought only Germany and Austria used just a duvet on beds without a top sheet. I’ve been known to pack my own flat sheet to get around this problem.  This trip we’ve been in more hotels than not who use just the duvet and forego the top sheets.  These are way too hot for us to sleep but so far I haven’t resorted to one trick – take the duvet out of the cover and sleep with just the cover.

Pillows … way too hard! I was thrilled at the Intercontinental at the Johannesburg International Airport after 3 weeks in Africa to find soft, squishy bed pillows at 3 AM!  The Sheraton and Meridien hotels in Koh Samui have great pillows, too.  I’m enjoying the Aloft pillow in Bangkok, too, for a few days.

Electricity in Hotels

elecrtric outlet

Love this string of outlets – controls for the fan, on/off switch and one outlet that was a bit loose. If you jiggled the plug JUST right, you got a connection.

Many hotels around the world are trying to cut down on electricity use. That’s a great idea!  How do they do it?  The room’s electricity only stays on when the key card is placed in the slot by the front door.  Theoretically, this works great – EXCEPT when the key card controls ALL the power to the room and not just to the lights or TV or A/C.

In some hotels, the key cards also switch off power to the outlets which causes a major problem when trying to charge computers, Kindles, cameras, etc. while we’re out of the room!

Years ago, we figured out that there’s nothing magical about the HOTEL key card.  We would leave other cards in the slot when we left so the outlets stayed on and our computers charged. We’d laugh and say “Powered by Qdoba” or “Powered by Body Shop”.

This trip we discovered 2 hotels in Thailand where we really had to use the key card!  The key card had an RFID chip in to unlock the door and that same RFID chip turned on the electricity.  At one hotel, the Bangkok transportation card with a RFID chip worked as a substitute  but at another hotel, no substitute chipped card worked except for an ATM card.

Then there are the motion-sensored air-conditioners all over the world.  I hate them!  If no one moves, the A/C shuts off. Great!  When we sleep, we want it COLD -as in about 62F or 18C – so having A/C on all night is important.  We must not move enough in bed nor get out of bed often enough, because the A/C always shuts off and then I wake up and am very hot.

We have read a way around this – tie a balloon to a string and tape it near the A/C.  That should be enough motion to keep the A/C/ running. We haven’t tried that trick!

Hotel Bathroom Commentary

We’ve been traveling for 5 1/2 months so far and have stayed in hotels and apartments, as well as with friends.  You’d think bathrooms are pretty standard, right??

African bathroom artwork

Cool tub and artwork at Gibb’s Farm in Tanzania

mahe2 open shower

This property in the Seychelles has an open shower in the middle of the room. You’d better be comfortable with your roommate!

samui meridien pool and bath

We used Starwood points to book a room in Koh Samui with a private pool. Little did we know the toilet, shower, sink are all by the pool and separated from the bedroom by a door and a few steps/walkway next to the pool. Let’s just say it was interesting at night finding the toilet!

Let’s start with electricity … In the UK or any country with historical ties to the UK, light switches are OUTSIDE the bathroom – for safety’s sake, of course.  This is despite the rest of the world turning on light from switches INSIDE the bathroom and not dying.

Don’t even think of plugging in a hairdryer or a curling iron in the bathroom, either, in UK countries – too close to the water.  This makes for interesting times every morning trying to find an outlet for the curling iron and hair dryer in a location that I have some hope of looking in a mirror.  I’m pretty sure that GFI outlets would work in the UK bathrooms!

Then there’s the lighting … some have bright lights … some not so bright.  It’s always a toss up to see if makeup can be put on in the bathroom.

Oh, sink handles.  You’d think there is universal agreement on HOT and COLD – Hot on the left, Cold on the right.  Most of the time yes, but not always. Two sink handles in one sink should turn on and off the same direction, right?  They both turn water on clockwise and turn water off in the counter clockwise direction. Not so much!  I gave up counting all the various combinations of how sink handles turn.

Backwards faucets

These 2 faucets turned opposite directions for on and off..

Water pressure in showers??  Most of the time, the water pressure has been OK. Then we reached India and at least 2 showers had such low water pressure I wasn’t sure I could get the shampoo out of my hair.  Seriously, the camp showers in Africa had better pressure and it was just gravity fed.

Bundi bathroom no pressure

The tiles are old Victorian tiles. This is the shower that sort of dribbled our of the faucet.

Where do you, logically, place a toilet paper dispenser?  Close to the toilet, right?  Someone needs to reach the toilet paper when sitting on the toilet, right?  We’ve had TP holders to the rear about even with the tank.  My arms need to be longer to reach those!  Others have been placed down low or up high, relative to the toilet.  A few were in the front of the toilet requiring the user to stand up to reach the TP.  The current one in Bangkok is hung upside down so the roll of toilet paper slides off.

Relarive size of a roll of toilet paper

Rolls of toilet paper in India are not exactly large even if the paper is thin. I used a pen to show the relative thickness of a new roll of TP.

So far, every hotel/apartment has supplied a hair dryer which is good!  Of course, two of them didn’t work – one in Germany and one in India.  The India one was replaced right away; the German one wasn’t replaced before we left so I had wet hair at the airport!  Some dryers have very little power, one blew the air so hard it knotted my hair up, and others were just right!