Can’t believe it – Tuesday 17th April 2012


So that’s it then!
The last full day of traveling.
Six months on the road, what an adventure.
When I started out, I didn’t even know what a blog was. Now it feels like part of my existence to write about my day.
The plan, initially was to record what I do, so that, when I am really old and may have Alzheimer’s, someone can read this back to me.
Forward planning, I call it!
So many new activities, sights, places, flowers, animals, birds…memories!

And, today it is raining! The shops are full of plum, amber, chocolate and russets to compliment autumn, and I am about to go back to Spring. This will be my longest summer ever! Three back to back.

We hang round much of the morning, waiting for the rain to ease. It is no hardship, I have loads of blogs to catch up on. Finally, we brave it, walking down the pavements to the Strand. Here we began our journey in October, forcing ourselves to have lunch when our body clocks shouted for sleep after the 24 hour flight. Then, as today we ordered Turkish Raisin Bread and Cappachino.

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We make our way through familiar streets and shops, commenting on changes occasionally. The New South Wales art gallery is just by the botanic gardens. We had noticed it in December. We enjoyed the galleries in Brisbane and in Melbourne.
There’s a wonderful floor of aboriginal art, none of which you can photograph. But a great collection of bark painting, of traditional stories and some modern takes in a naive style which is very appealing with bright colours and bold strokes.
Picasso, Rubens, Constable, Van Gogh, and hundreds of other artists are represented here. Yet I did not feel the thrill of their collection. Sadly it was rather trying to cover the range of styles and periods, in some way, instead of finding the best examples of each artist. That sounds very stuck up, and I really don’t know much about art! Anyway, we had a brilliant time, wandering through and pointing out our likes and dislikes.

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On the way home, a spider caught our eye.

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Funny thing about spiders: in England we say “if you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive”, I bet they don’t say that in Australia. Poisonous things!
In the apartment, we begin the tedious process of throwing out. We need to get our baggage weight down, and we have so many clothes which are more or less worn to shreds. After the first bout, John took a plastic bag of old clothes and began sidling up to bins to pop a pair of sock here and trousers there, until we found a wheelie bin that would hold the whole bag. Good job too! It felt worse than seeing people sidle up to bins and take out things to keep!
Now we start the thinning process again, debating taking home parcel tape, shampoo, olive oil and the like.
The fridge was next. All the vegetables were amassed and cooked into a meal that heaped high on the 12 inch dinner plate. John is frugal by nature, and hates to see waste, so it was no problem for him to eat all his!
And here I am!
Only the flight to go.
When I get home, back in London. I want to re-read the page, “how travel enlightened my view on retirement.”
It has…
I need to add to it.

I guess I need the next stage of the plan now.
Moving house!
I’m still not at all decided if that should be blog worthy. If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading me.

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Final drive to Sydney – Monday 16th April 2012


Funny, how things turn out when you’re traveling! We use our IPad to plot the route, wherever it might be. Googlemaps usually gives us one or two choices in route and off we go. So it was today, but suddenly I saw a sign “Pacific Ocean Drive”. I remember before we even started to travel and I was browsing the net to see what we might find in Australia. This drive came up with its own website. An image stuck in my head of a road clinging to cliff face, over the ocean. I want to do that, I thought.

“Turn right here!”
So we increase our journey length by about one hour but…
Much of the drive steers you through seaside towns, which makes for slow going. Much of the drive has no obvious relevance to a coastal drive at all. Frequently we are maneuvered back onto Princes Highway for a spell but…
Just past Woolangong, the drive takes a spectacular turn for the better: lots of coastal driving and then…
The road swoops around the massive perpendicular cliffs, hugging its side and hanging over the ocean, just like the photo. It’s impossible to stop for a while (roadworks, would you believe!) but, when we did, you could look back…

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Just beside us is a field, atop the cliff, where hang-gliders and para gliders land and take off.

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From here the road takes a totally different character as it plunges into National Park forest, twisting and turning.
Then, without warning we are in suburban Sydney and a new style of driving is required. Oh, but this is second nature to me. It’s just like London, crammed with traffic, traffic lights, roundabouts, lane changes…yes, this feels like home already.
It was a good drive: a kind of tribute to the many beaches, seascapes, forests and wild bush we have seen over the last six months.
The car is dropped back, the apartment, which is lovely, is found and we unpack, like professional travelers. Unpacking is also second nature now!

It’s wonderful to have a top of range bathroom, large white fluffy towels, table lamps, nice smells, a balcony with a view of the CBD.

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I have arranged to meet an ex-colleague, who had taken the post as deputy in my school as a maternity cover, and had proved very talented both as a teacher and a leader. I meet his new partner and we enjoy a drink and meal together, exchanging gossip of how our school is faring without us!

Back in our apartment, we luxuriate in our new space. It’s so clean and modern!

Bats and the cathedral in Sydney


Alarm goes off and we struggle out of bed. 15 minutes later John checks his watch. It’s 5.15 a.m. It should be 4.15! I have not allowed the IPhone to update the time since we crossed the daylight saving zone. The Greyhound leaves at 5.50 and the taxi was ordered for quarter of an hour ago.
Phone taxi.
Rush round crazily, pushing things into cases, including wet towels. Yuk!
Jump in re-ordered taxi.
Arrive at bus station on time but without breakfast.

The journey to Sydney follows the usual pattern, including the half hour detour to pick up no-one and half an hour back. It’s mildly interesting to note it takes 2 hours by train to Sydney and 3 hours in a coach due to traffic.

We take a taxi from Central Station, drop off the cases at the hotel and have a cup of coffee to make up for the weird breakfast we had en route.

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This is our second stay in Sydney, as those who have stuck with me since October will know. We had not realized there is a lovely Catholic Cathedral. Not bad for a modern replica. It melds English features with beautiful stained glass window with glimpses of modern architecture including a plate glass wall, complete with outdoor, life size crib at this time of year.

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The government buildings nearby have history of the convicts and the hardships of 1880s. There is also the old mint to see.
It’s so nice for us to feel at ease in the city, simply because we have been here before.
We are most impressed by the view from our room at the Bayview Boulevard.

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John take loads of these while I tap away at my iPad trying to catch up with this blog.
Later we mooch around Darling Harbour and opt for eating at the Kasbah. It’s wonderful food and if you time it between 5.30 and 6 the $25 main course with a glass of wine is incredible value. I eat gloriously plump prawns, set on pilau rice with broad beans, rich in flavor. John has the duck, which comes in enormous quantity with fried sweet potato ribbons, excellent falafel and quince.
Suddenly, we feel Christmassy. David Jones the department store has brilliant marionette windows depicting carols with the music sounding outside to match each scene.

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We loved the shepherds washing their socks!
A girls choir sing more carols outside the cathedral as night falls. The bells ring out across the park and we look up. To our surprise fruit bats, or flying foxes fly from the botanic gardens through the spires, creativity a horror movie effect to counterbalance the charm of the singing.

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Spontaneous Sydney – Wednesday 26th October 2011


Whilst it is still grey, the wind has dropped a little. We settle happily in work mode, even though there is no work to do. We both love computers, so for over a hour we sit emailing, using Facebook, researching where to go next and how to get there. We work in harmonious silence, punctuated by snippets we find interesting.

But today is our last in Sydney for a while and many more things beckon. Primarily, we’d both like to cross the bridge!

How quickly we grow habits! Already our route is down George Street, which we know leads to the Quays and Rocks area. But there have been landmarks we have not done justice to so far. This time it’s the Queen Victoria shopping mall.

Built for the same purpose as London’s Covent Garden, this 3 story mall retains much of its heritage with cast ironwork railings, beautiful tiled floors, extravagant external carvings and decorations. Most recently they have added escalators, very sympathetically.

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The crowning glory is a pair of clocks, one of which has a small model of Cook’s boat sailing around to count the passage of time.

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An exhilaration hits us, we can actually go anywhere, we have a freedom that has not existed before! Jump on a train to cross the bridge. As soon as we make land, we jump off again, like school kids catching free rides. We walk back over the bridge the train has only just crossed, taking photos.

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What now? Which ferry can we chose at random? Which will leave soon? Which goes somewhere we have never heard of?

Mosman Bay, please! Turns out it’s north of Sydney where the houses are old style but lovely. You can tell monied people live here and there are plenty of large yachts moored. But no cafe, no where to entice us to stay. So we jump on a bus that’s just waiting by the landing stage. No idea where it will take us! Slowly it makes its way back to Milton’s Point on the North side of the bridge. Lucky eh?

Sydney is huge with tightly packed suburbs, prosperous shops and lots of lovely clothes outlets. A good insight into life and the bus is warm and comfortable. The shopping aspect is frustrating. I no longer have an accommodating wardrobe to add another outfit in. The suitcase is already at its limit and we will have to dump something at some stage to fit in souvenirs. Window shopping takes on another meaning!

At Milton’s Pint we change bus twice more before buying string (!) in case we need to make a clothes line, and ingredients for dinner. Clearly this is the answer to the shopping dilemma! Only buy things of use that are very small or for immediate consumption.

Just at the end of dinner Gemma and Sarah, our lovely daughters, come on Skype.

All that’s left is a shower, packing and the next stage of our epic journey – the Blue Mountains. After that we have decided to fly North to Cairns. All my pre-travel research had been to drive South to Melbourne, but we now think the heat will only intensify and we need to enjoy the tropics in a more moderate weather. Impulsivity, freedom, choice: I’ve been missing these things!

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Don Giovanni Sydney- Tuesday 25th October 2011


The weather has turned: cloudy, dull, windy. Just right to force us to consider our plans. We leave for the Blue Mountains on Thursday. That far has been our only pre-planned concept of this whole adventure. Just enough I thought to get us settled and acclimatized. How easy will it be to arrange accommodation and transport beyond that and WHERE do we actually want to go?

By 3.30 we have done some washing, laughing at the top loader machine never seen in England, and met with Gemma’s friend Kat with her lovely baby, Sophia to wish her a happy birthday and it share some coffee. That’s it then. We don’t know anyone else in Australia.

Trying to find a pre-opera meal seems impossible mostly because we don’t want to eat at the same place as yesterday and we are trying to keep our expenses down. We end up in an Italian near the Quays which looks like a cosy cafe but is of very poor quality. It’s amazing how busy this place is- except the are very few options open around 5.30-6 pm.

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The opera, however, is wonderful. Classic in every sense f the word. Devine simple set, elegant costumes, with just a twist for the Don himself: something from Anne Summers in the opening act, I think but very becoming!

I was particularly impressed when having coffee in the foyer before the performance, on being offered a canapé!

I loved the grand finale, when the ghost caused the set to fall dramatically to the floor and the Don is consumed into the floor.

It’s like whale watching! An experience to return to when lying in bed, to remember how lucky I am and those rich, rare things I’ve done.

The day was topped with a half hour watching Keoni on Skype. Our grandson is just 14 months old and I’ve been lucky enough to see him many times a week while living in UK. It is a dreadful wrench to leave him, and my daughters. But a joy to see him this way.

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Bondi beach – Monday 24th October 2011


You can tell immediately: it is going to be hot. It’s got to be the beach, and that must mean Bondi! We’re getting the hang of the transport system, head off down George Street, take a right at Museum and catch the 333.

It’s further than I thought, but we travel the length of Oxford Street, through Paddington, where Gemma lived all those years ago during her gap year travels. It’s good to see and strangely reassuring that it’s a lot nicer than my imagination – isn’t it always!

On the bus, I hear a familiar accent. Peter and Sue are from the Lakes. Having retired 2 or 3 years ago, they’ve taken a ‘Round the World’ ticket for 3 months with the ultimate aim of catching their traveling son in New Zealand.

They tell of solo travel in Vietnam, Thailand etc., spending a night or two in each location. Now in Sydney, they have a week in a YHA. It’s the longest they have stayed anywhere and, they admit, this time in one place has been brilliant. Constantly moving, packing and re-packing is exhausting. It’s good to hear their experiences. Peter and Sue thread through our time at Bondi, on the beach, on the bus back.

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Bondi beach is shorter and deeper than I expected. The sand is wonderful! Soft, warm and very fine. It's divided into patrolled sections, one for surfing, the other for swimmers. The waves are sudden, coming from no-where and rearing up over your head. I loved watching John plunge through them, amid crowds of others. Like a new person! My sea going is more modest, waist deep, but the water is fresh, clean, just right for the heat of the day.

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Whales Sydney – Sunday 23rd October


Whales! This afternoon we sailed out of Sydney Harbour in a powerful catamaran. Thinking we might need to be some way out to sea, John settled down to coffee when -whales!

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There by Manly cliffs a mum with her baby. So many times, they surfaced, reminding me of the Loch Ness Monster: deepest black against the silver blue ocean. A graceful arch, a gentle breath letting go as a sigh. There are two kayaks in the water offering a unique sense of scale. Their orange boats puny against the 15 meter length of mum. For some long while we watch and marvel before they sink out of sight. Several times the cat repositions itself to give a best view. It’s a gentle, calming scene, despite the little motor boats and kayaks around us- and our ow massive 3 story cat!

In the distance 3 or 4 other pods blow and for a moment I suppose we’ve seen our whale, perhaps that is that! But the crew are interested in giving value and they head out further to sea.

We catch up with three makes who are heading North. The crew tell us these “boys are motoring along” as they travel at 12 knots rather than the usual 3-5. We all guess this is a race to prove fitness for a female – or maybe it’s just play. Either way we match them.

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Every minute they rise for air and they are never far below the surface. One has a large white arch on his side and is easy to spot as he glows a luminous turquoise. All the spectators learn now to spot him and when they will rise. A unison of cheers and aahs accompany their swim.

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All around us now there are explosive spouts of air and water as other pods go on their way. It’s an amazing spectacle as these whales migrate with their babies who were born near the Coral Sea. Now they are all returning South to feeding grounds for the summer.

This is a lifetime ambition for me. To see whales, close up and for a long time. They are totally wonderful and I feel very honored to have been so close, sometimes as close as 25 m. Pure joy!

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Sydney day 3 – Saturday 22nd October 2011


A slow start, perhaps because we have crammed our time with tourism up to now. We are determined to take it easy, relaxing in the flat.

Main aim for the year:
Buy a phone
Investigate iPads

Mission accomplished!
Bought:
2 SIM cards
1phone
1 IPad
Achieved:
1 Skype call to Gemma, our daughter who has volunteered to look after the cats and our house while we are here but the call is poor quality
1 phone call to Gemma much better quality and only $1
1 FaceTime to Margaret, John’s sister, very good quality

Lots of relaxing

Sydney day 2 – Friday 21st October 2011


There must be an enchantment on any theatre tour. Sydney Opera House mixes a peep into each venue, with videos of its construction, which is a story in itself. Imagine the sketchy original idea which was nearly not even short listed. Imagine the architect never even saw the finished building. Imagine the horror when no-one knew how exactly to construct the shells!

I love the enthusiasm of the guide. She seems to have seen every performance for years and is very knowledgable about architecture.

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The presentation attracts the attention of a guy form Melbourne and we get into conversation. He wants to visit Italy and France and asks our recommendations. In return they tell us about Melbourne and the grand occasion of the Melbourne Cup horse race when everyone dresses up.

As we m is our ferry back we end up drinking even more with them. When they had gone it occurred to me, I knew his family came from Latvia originally, they’d been married for 20 years, they loved Tasmania, but I did not know their names!

By the time we got home we were exhausted and struggled through some pasta before falling into bed.

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Sydney first impressions- Thursday 20th October 2011


Sydney is a mix of 19th century charm and architecture mixed, quite sympathetically I think, with glass and concrete sky scrapers. A red brick banknote houses a pub (yes, I know it’s been done before) sparkling malls, ornate brickwork with arched windows and lintels over the universal plate glass shop front windows.

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The Strand is exactly equal to London’s Picadilly arcade. Mosaic, wrought iron balustrades, elegant shop front windows with extravagant prices. But how delightful to sit in the arcade, drinking coffee and eating raisin toast. In the nearby patisserie, macaroons in dainty pinks and greensand $5 a piece(smaller than their English counterparts) and a beautiful chocolatier sells selection boxes for $180.

We stroll from the Strand through paved shopping centers towards the Rocks. even with maps and the net to guide us, I am finding it hard to piece the city together. Poor John feels baffled that North and South have spun round and the sun has scuppered his natural sense of orientation in this hemisphere, but, with occasional map consultations we get there.

A true sense of “there it is!”

The Rocks, The Quays with a range of yellow and green ferries. The Bridge to the left and , of course the Opera House to the right.

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The water is clean and clean, the air brings faint salt in the gentle cooling breeze. A corner of rock beat accompanies a digareedo (and you can’t help seeing this is the only aboriginal role). The Ibis mix with seagulls. The huge overseas passenger terminal no longer serves a purpose. Loads of families and people of course, but the atmosphere is calm, relaxed. A large number of joggers thread their way through the sightseers. And I am drawn to the Opera House with an invisible longing.

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As you move towards it, its shape changes. From modern snail shells, to sailing ships. As you approach it rears up in front of you like a praying mantis, or a cathedral. Impressive! Dwarfing, yet, perhaps because of its curves, nor alienating; many faceted. Paths below offer joggers a sea view, gleaming restaurants behind sheer glass windows protecting diners and their linen table cloths. The roof. The concert hall. The foyer. I go in.

I had tried to book opera tickets from England? Don’t! Take the tour, using a coupon from the airport literature. This entitles you to a $200 ticket for half price. We book to see Don Giovanni. We also buy a week ticket for all forms of transport and instantly tryout the many ferries. Randomly this takes us to Darling Harbour, under the bridge to the business sector.

We are still trying to fool our bodies about the time shift so we must eat lunch. We miss the obvious leisure section of Darling and head off to find the business section mostly without restaurant. However, a falafel and juice come our way and we make our way on the free 555 bus back to our flat, which is now ready for us to take up residency.

It’s lovely, modern, near a supermarket, clean and it has a comfy sofa and big bed. We are VERY tired and sleep peacefully after our first day.