Monday, June 28, 2010

Meet The Grandkids in December and June

Anybody who knows us knows we love our grandchildren! We enjoy spending time with them, for example 2009 Christmas festivities at our house with five of them.

Teamwork occasionally occurs when it's time for Lily and Peyton to open presents...


Or to play ball...


Daddy Dave bravely tries to read to them in a quiet (?) moment...


Jake, Lily, Taegan, and Avery...


At the dinner table...




And a June 2010 birthday celebration weekend - the first time we've had all seven grandkids at our house at the same time!

Happy Belated Birthday Taegan and Avery.






The others, like Riley, patiently await their slices of cake.


From Left to Right...
Avery, Taegan, Peyton, Lily, Blane, Riley, Jake

We don't look proud, do we?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

June 19, 1969

1969 was 1969 was memorable, full of news and momentous events.

•Richard M. Nixon is inaugurated 37th President of the US (Jan. 20).
•The United States, USSR, and about 100 other countries sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
•27-year-old Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi deposes King Idris of Libya and establishes a pro-Arabic, anti-Western, Islamic republic.
•Kathy and Brian get married June 19.
•Sen. Edward M. Kennedy pleads guilty to leaving scene of fatal accident at Chappaquiddick, Mass. (July 18) in which Mary Jo Kopechne was drowned—gets two-month suspended sentence
•Apollo 11 astronauts—Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., —take first walk on the Moon (July 20).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SEA Holiday Inn: No COOL Room At The Inn

A quick overnight at the SeaTac Holiday Inn on International Boulevard made us grateful the weather is cool and rainy. Our first room wouldn't drop below about 76 degrees despite the intervention of the maintenance man who jump-started the compressor. The window didn't open so we called the Front Desk, who offered us another room shortly after 11:00 p.m. The air conditioner didn't work any better but at least we could open the window.

Better some noise than an all-night sauna but it's not our favorite kind of choice. This is our first night in an Intercontinental property since being comped to Gold in a cute promotion run for Hilton Hhonors members when Hilton devalued its points. Not the greatest start, even at a relatively cheap rate.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Fond Adieu Australia

The itinerary for our fifth trip to Australia wasn't the most spectacular on first glance. After all, on previous trips we've visited the Great Barrier Reef twice, Tasmania, Hamilton Island, Fraser Island, the Great Ocean Road and the Mornington Peninsula, flown all the way to Broome, and taken a tour of the Outback with a professional guide. We've also spent a significant amount of time both in Melbourne and Sydney.

This most recent expedition included a flight to attend the Flyer Talk Do in Adelaide for two days, several days in Melbourne, and a road trip through Gippsland.

Yet this visit was equally rewarding and satisfying, due to the hospitality of our Australian friends, and their willingness to show us some fascinating sights we wouldn't have seen otherwise. Of course, our six nights at the Melbourne Hilton South Wharf were a lot of fun too. The lounge for Diamond members is terrific and we enjoyed the views from our 17th-floor room.



Sometimes there was a balloon or two early in the morning. The one on the left is firing up the helium to gain some elevation.



Our evening view was equally spectacular.



We had a lot of fun on a rare rainy Melbourne day attending that food and wine fair in the convention centre next to the hotel with our friends Ross and Jenny.



Bill and Sue walked with us back to the Hilton on our final full day, which included the RAAF Museum and an enjoyable lunch.



And Vikki, the friend of daughter Karen and her fellow Rotary Exchange Student in Strängnäs Sweden a couple of decades ago, changed her schedule twice to drive her four-year-old twins Sam and Jorja in for a visit before taking them to kinder.



Seeing this busy mother and her kids made us even more eager to see our own grandkids again. And here we are at home just a few days later, looking forward to dropping in on Taegan's birthday party tomorrow, and planning a combined late birthday celebration for her and her cousin Avery next weekend at our house, with all seven of our grandkids in attendance.

The RAAF Museum at Point Cook II

Photos taken during our visit to the RAAF Museum with Bill and Sue...



























Toward the end of our visit, we walked over for a look inside the restoration hangar...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sehome Street Home

Our plane finally took off around 4:00 p.m. and we arrived home a few minutes ago after a couple of detours. We've now already seen 5/7 of our grandchildren, with two greeting us at our own house - what a welcome!

Let's see... the shuttle to SkyBus picked us up at the Melbourne Hilton South Wharf at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday, May 9, and it's now 3:15 p.m., Thursday, May 10, in Melbourne.

We hope to sleep long and well tonight.

Slightly Stranded in SFO

Our schedule looked efficient to us:

United 0840 lve MEL 11:20 AM arr SYD 12:45 PM 1 hr 25 min - 439 miles
United 0870 lve SYD 02:45 PM arr SFO 10:59 AM 13h 14m - 7412 miles
United 6316 lve SFO 02:07 PM arr SEA 04:09 PM 2h 2m - 678 miles

Our flight from SYD landed a half hour early and neither Immigration nor security at the domestic terminal held us up too long. So why are we still sitting here?

SFO is having one of those air-traffic-control-due-to-weather days and the departure screen is chock full of delays. Our 2:07 p.m. departure has been pushed back twice, and is now at 3:40 p.m.

Now that makes for a long day, even if we have luckily managed to find a spot in the "quiet room" at the RCC.

It didn't even seem to be that big a coincidence to run across an Australian couple, the male half of which was wearing a Hawthorn Footy jacket. We talked for a moment and I wished them well in their attempt to get to Boston today.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The RAAF Museum at Point Cook

Our friends Bill and Sue yesterday drove us out to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook. It's a beautifully laid out facility and includes a wide variety of "flying machines," along with displays presenting information and exhibits from the earliest days of military flight in Australia right up to the present.

We visited a couple of hangars full of planes, and one hangar reserved for aircraft restoration. One plane in there, with only part of its largely wooden fuselage visible, is scheduled to be completely restored in something like seven years, and given that it's a huge task and that volunteers are involved, that appears to be a realistic timeline.

We couldn't have had a better guide than Bill, a veteran RAAF pilot and instructor before he started piloting helicopters for Esso. A couple of hours there went by very quickly - we could easily have spent the entire day, especially when escorted by a guide who could answer every question we threw at him. He pointed out the number on one of the planes in the exhibit and said he'd actually flown that very plane. We also saw quite a number of other planes and helicopters which he'd piloted and, in some instances, instructed.

On our way there out of Melbourne, we drove over a large bridge and Bill casually mentioned that he'd led the air force team that performed a fly-over when it officially opened in the early 1970s.

Photos will follow at some point after our return home. It was a terrific grand finale to our trip, especially when capped off by an enjoyable late lunch at the Blue Train Cafe back in Melbourne.

We're already missing Australia and our Aussie friends. On the other hand, we're greatly looking forward to seeing our grandkids.

Lounging Around MEL and SYD

Here we sit in the MEL RCC. It's a snug spot, especially after an unusually long wait standing in the "crew and express" security line (rank does have its privileges) behind folks taking as many as four tries to pass through the magnetometer. It can't be their first time in a security line if they're standing in this one, can it?

The shuttle to SkyBus picked us before 8:10 a.m. We stepped out of the mini-bus and onto a large articulated bus that left almost immediately and whisked us out to the airport rapidly on this rainy Melbourne morning.

We board for SYD in another half hour or so, fly to SYD, and then transfer to our longest flight, SYD-SFO, after hopefully spending some quality time in that wonderful Air New Zealand Koru Club.

So far so good...

Updated to 1:00 p.m. The Air New Zealand Koru Club looks as good as ever after a quick and smooth flight from MEL. In passing, we always notice that the flight attendants are particularly cheerful on those short flights, since they have the rest of the day off in Sydney before working one of the long flights to LAX or SFO.

A Long Hop Across The Big Pond

Our bags are packed and we're ready to go, as Peter, Paul and Mary used to sing. Tomorrow's schedule looks like this:

8:00 a.m. Shuttle from Hilton South Wharf to SkyBus terminal and ride to MEL

United 0840 lve MEL 11:20 AM arr SYD 12:45 PM 1 hr 25 min - 439 miles
United 0870 lve SYD 02:45 PM arr SFO 10:59 AM 13h 14m - 7412 miles
United 6316 lve SFO 02:07 PM arr SEA 04:09 PM 2h 2m - 678 miles

Another day, another 8590 flown miles in our accounts, given that flights such as MEL-SYD add up to a 500-mile minimum. A good day of flying, in which we arrive in San Francisco "before" we leave Melbourne.

Hilton Melbourne South Wharf - Superb!

We're sitting in the Executive Lounge on the last evening of our stay at the Hilton South Wharf, and we've placed this property firmly on our personal list of favorite Hiltons around the world, including it with the Prague Hilton, the Munich City Hilton, and the Bangkok Millenium Hilton.

We've enjoyed a beautiful room, and every employee we've met has been friendly, efficient, and genuinely hospitable.

The hotel itself is in a great location in Melbourne and we genuinely hope to return one of these days.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Melbourne's Hutong Dumpling Bar - Yummy

We were on our way to eat yum cha at the Shark Fin until the Hilton concierge suggested we try this little place, just down the street and around the corner from the Shark Fin in Melbourne's skinny Chinatown.

Great idea. When you have to wait 10-15 minutes for a table on a Monday you suspect you're on to something good.

A great spot for a spicy lunch, as the young Chinese student from Szechuan sitting at the adjacent table confirmed for us.

She Steals Seashells By The Seashore

Squeaky Beach...





Footy at the MCG

Footy is, of course, Australian Rules Football, and The MCG, or sometimes even The 'G, is how the abbreviation-prone Aussies describe the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

This afternoon we attended a thoroughly exciting match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Port Adelaide Power, which Hawthorn eventually won. The game was somewhat lightly attended, although that's hard to tell in a facility that holds 100,000.



Our friend Ross is a member and got us amazing seats at what we'd call the 50-yard line, although the playing field for Aussie Rules seems absolutely huge even compared to an American or Canadian football field.



Our photos can't do justice to the scope of the game or the amazing athleticism of the players who kick, punch, and even dribble the ball, along with showing incredible skills in lateral passes. Non-stop excitement!

We know the Aussies are serious drinkers, but we were surprised at the special holding-area service for those who've overimbibed, until we realized it was simply a line to obtain a re-entry pass.



The game itself has something for any fan of American/Canadian football, soccer, or rugby, with a bit of basketball dribbling and jumping thrown in.









The multitude of game officials (do they have their own union?) receive their own security and police escort as they exit the field at the end of the game. It wasn't really needed today because the great majority of the fans were barracking for the Hawks.



Another great day in Oz...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Choppers II

We mislaid our camera in Kathy's purse before our Esso Heliport Tour, but our friend (and recently retired pilot) Bill came through with photos on his iPhone.



We watched a couple of these fairly large helicopters actually taxi down the runway to help them lift off with up to 11 passengers, counting pilot and co-pilot, for their trips out to the off-shore rigs. Bill made it sound as if it's not all that complicated to use one of these joysticks. Easy for him to say...



With several flights to and from the rigs scheduled each day, it's an impressive operation, and we were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to tour it with Bill.

A Rare Rainy Day in Melbourne

We awoke to a sunny morning but by early afternoon it was raining on and off. Our friends Ross and Jenny drove in to lead us on a long walk they'd planned around some of the most scenic parts of Melbourne but a long walk was not in the cards.

Fortunately the Good Food and Wine Show was on at the cavernous Melbourne Convention Centre next door to the Hilton and off we went. We spent a fascinating couple of hours tasting a variety of food and wine. Many of the food products were different than those we're used to. Just for one example, serving-size portions of canned (tinned) tuna in a variety of flavors are popular items here, enabling one to open it up and spread it directly on bread.

It was a popular spot, especially on a rainy Saturday, and eventually we decided to stop fighting the hungry hordes and to head over to the nearby Crown Casino for one of their buffets. We borrowed a couple of Hilton umbrellas because it was now pouring at 4:45 p.m. It was worth walk though - this buffet includes a half kilogram of prawns for $19.50. That's a deal and the Thai prawns were excellent.

Later we wandered back to the hotel and said our goodbyes to Ross and Jenny, who left us with a couple of tickets to tomorrow's Australian Rules Football Match at the Melbourne Critic Ground.

We've been asked to barrack (cheer) for Hawthorn. We'll do our best, but we're still a little vague on the fine points of the sport, such as which team has actually scored points. It will be the second footy match we've attended though, so maybe we'll catch on a little more quickly this time.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Hilton Melbourne South Wharf

We dropped off our rental car, took the free tourist tram around to South Wharf, and checked in at the Hilton Melbourne South Wharf. We're sitting in the lounge, enjoying the appetizers, and growing accustomed to four more nights of the same. To be continued...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Driving On The Other Side Down Under

We've now logged a couple of thousand miles over the past few years driving in Australia and New Zealand. With that modest experience, we'd encourage anybody from "Up Over" not to hesitate in hiring a car "Down Under."

The drivers are civilized and there is not the degree of tailgating or any other kind of reckless driving that can be found elsewhere. Australians and New Zealanders both adhere strictly to the posted speed limits, always aware of the presence of speed cameras and radar. The police apparently tolerate as little as a maximum of three kph over the posted speed limit and radar detectors are illegal, pretty well taking all of the sport out of it.

That probably explains why our Australian Ford Falcon, set up as something of a high-performance car with lots of zip, has an "overspeed indicator" that can be set warn you if you go above whatever speed you've set. Traffic tickets are expensive here, and even overspeed indicators may not protect you from faulty speed cameras.

We continue to be careful in intersections. Roundabouts have been civilized, although something of a nuisance during a rush-hour type of situation. Fortunately we've generally avoided the busy times.

We drop the car off today - we're only about a two-hour drive from Melbourne - and utilize Melbourne's terrific public transit system to travel around for the next few days.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Choppers

Bill just retired officially within the last two days from his position flying helicopters out to the oil and gas rigs from the Esso Heliport near Sale. This afternoon he gave us a personal VIP tour of the facility that was truly amazing.

We saw helicopters taking off and landing, met managers and pilots, had a close look at a chopper sitting in one of the hangars, and even got to walk up into the control tower, manned today by a very friendly former air traffic controller.

As amazing a tour at this compact facility as we've ever enjoyed anywhere.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Squeaky Beach at The Prom

We spent the first night of our road trip in a small and cozy motel in Tarwin Lower. We enjoyed our dinner in the hotel next door, and chatted with some of the local residents.

Yesterday we drove over to Wilsons Promontory National Park, abbreviated Aussie-style to The Prom. We didn't see any wildlife - most of Australia's interesting creatures are nocturnal - but we enjoyed the scenery. A modest highlight was a long walk on Squeaky Beach, so named because the white quartz sands actually squeak when you walk on them.

Late yesterday afternoon we pulled into the charming town of Lakes Entrance and found the Heyfield Motel, run by a very nice couple. A clean and comfortable room, off-season rates, and free Internet. The owners, Darron and Julie, recommended dinner down the Esplanade at Ferryman's, a fish market as well as a restaurant. Good choice!

Today we'll explore the town and the surroundings and then drive to Sale, where our friends from Flyer Talk Bill and Sue have kindly offered to put up with us for a couple of days before we drive back to Melbourne.

Thrifty Rental Car Melbourne: Free Rudeness With Your Rental

It finally had to happen after four previous trips to Australia. We've repeatedly spread the word about "G'Day," "How ya goin'," and "No worries," so we finally had to encounter a truly rude Australian, just to round out our experience. She was not only rude, but she possessed that certain type of attitude that can be found in a number of nationalities of positively savoring her own rudeness, and the resulting discomfort to the poor slob who happens to be the customer.

We found her at the Thrifty Car Rental in Melbourne City Centre.

We entered the office on Elizabeth Street to pick up our car after a 30-minute walk from the Hilton South Wharf on a lovely day. The agent started the paperwork, giving us the usual heavy sell on the extra insurance, which we bought, it being Australia, one of the few "different" countries where our credit cards don't cover the extra insurance - ripoff city but "when in Rome..."

Having read the posted sign warning customers that they weren’t allowed to use the toilets, Brian asked where the nearest ones were, and the clerk replied “Victoria Station,” about a five-minute walk across one of the busiest intersections in Melbourne. Brian mentioned he was an “old guy” and needed to use the facilities before leaving Melbourne so we’d then like to leave our bags for a few minutes. The clerk immediately replied that that we couldn’t do that, due to “security.” We then asked about leaving the bags in the car, which the clerk had pointed out was now sitting at the curb with its four-way flashers on. She replied that the car was parked illegally and that we would be responsible for any tickets or towing.

Brian first asked if there was a hidden camera (with memories of the old Candid Camera show) and then summarized for the clerk: “We can’t use the toilets here, we can’t leave our luggage here, and you’ve parked the car for us illegally,” to which she smirkingly replied “Yes.”

Kathy stayed with the luggage while Brian walked down to Victoria Station. On return, we noticed that the car could have easily been pulled in to a small parking area adjacent to the office.

We noticed scratches on the car, and Brian re-entered the office to confirm with the dragon that scratches didn't matter, since we'd invested our life savings in the super-dooper insurance. One last jab: The dragon replied that damages wouldn't be covered if we inflicted them deliberately.

Yes, if we treated customers like that when renting them a car, I wouldn't be surprised if the vehicle came back with the upholstery slashed and the gas tank all sugared up, but that's just not our style.

This clerk obviously doesn’t like a) North Americans, b) males (or is it females, since she was cutting to Kathy as well?), c) her job, or d) life.

Choose any or all of the above and never rent from Thrifty in Melbourne.

No worries... It's a special event to find Basil Fawlty's love-child in a Melbourne car-hire office.