Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Last Day Down Under

Judy in a zen state of mind on Bondi BeachI keep mentioning Judy, but have never posted a photo. That's because I was waiting to use this one of Judy nestled in the sandstone cliffs that ring the walkway around the coastline. It is a perfect example of how we felt while walking the path around Bondi Beach. Judy warned us that we had to start early because of the heat, but we didn't get there until well after 9am, so yes, we broke out in a sweat, but it sure felt good, especially knowing that I was heading back to colder DC weather the next day. We trekked about a kilometer (1/2 mile) out to Mackenzies Point where the view was breathtaking and the water matched the color of my turquoise shirt.

nina joins the walking clubI think I mentioned how easily Nina strikes up a conversation with everyone. It is something I greatly admire about her and was once something I wished I could do as well, but I have come to realize that it's not because I am shy or disinterested - I just don't like to talk that much. I am a listener and a thinker. But I digress. So here we are on the Point, enjoying the view and taking a breather from the walk in the hot sun and here comes a group of Aussies. They take a seat to catch their own breath and wait for stragglers. They are a walking club. Nina strikes up a conversation with them, sharing her enthusiasm and her love of their country with them. When they are rested, they get up to continue their walk and there goes Nina, walking right alongside, now a part of the club. I love that about her.

Fairbairn shop window. Ruth (left) with a favorite customerWe had another amazing meal at another Thai restaurant (our favorite by far) and then Judy whisked us to the trendy shopping area because I wanted a top of some sort to take home as my souvenir, something that I could not get anywhere but Sydney, from a local designer perhaps. Fairbairn was the answer - Bohemian styling merged with authentic cottage craftsmanship, hand sewn by Ruth Fairbairn. One of her best customers was in the store and helped us decide on a frock. I chose a steel grey silk sleeveless top with brown silk ribbon hand stitching. Nina chose a red tomato linen one.

Ruby Slipper ~ moments with flowersWhile strolling on the same street we were drawn into Ruby Slipper a beautiful flower shop that spilled out onto the sidewalk. Every display in there was a work of art. "May we take photos?" Nina asked. Lucky for us the answer was yes. They are used to it and very proud of their talent and success. Fellow artists! They told us that they were written up in the current Australian Vogue Living magazine.a still life at every turn (I got a chance to read it at the airport the day I left.) There is something about flowers that puts a smile on your face. We wanted to take home everything in the store, but settled for some wonderful photographs. I don't know about you, but when I am away from home, I make all these commitments to myself of things I'll do when I get home. Always have fresh flowers in the house is one of those decisions.

Becoming one with the waterI have mentioned the color of the water before. It amazes me. I have been in the Caribbean where the water is so clear you can see through it to your feet, standing on the ocean floor. Every summer I spend a week on the Atlantic Ocean in Bethany Beach, DE, where the water is so dark and cloudy that whatever is down there below the water's top remains a mystery. I don't know why our water is so dark compared to the oceans we have seen Down Under, but a quick Google search here says one reason is the amount of chlorophyll. Fortunately, I don't have to understand it to enjoy it. In this photo I look like I'm standing next to a pool of water. In reality, I'm way high up standing at the edge of a cliff. A very steep cliff that I wanted to stand on the edge of, but am too chicken to actually place both feet close to the edge.on the edge, but not too close
where along the way I have lost any sense of invin-
cibility that I may have once had. OK, so I never had it. I am not an extreme sports kind of gal. I like to think I live on the edge, but really, I don't ~ I'm always just a smidge from the edge, a lot more comfortable taking mental and emotional risks, leaps of faith, not body.

be here now So here I am, almost on the edge, feet planted firmly on the ground with my heart and my hand to guide me through life's adventures. It has worked well for me so far, getting me here, to Bondi Beach, in Australia and other the other magical places I never imagined I'd see. Recounting this trip has been a sort of lifeline for me, keeping me tethered to the people, the feelings, the events and emotions.at the airport, waiting to board the flight homeward I don't want that to fade away but it is time to move on. There will be equally good and wondrous things to enchant my soul and put a sparkle in my eyes, this I know, but parting is such sweet sorrow.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sydney - Day 2

the harbour at The RocksOur next day in Sydney was spent on land, doing city things, and yes, shopping. We did have to bring home souvenirs and we wanted genuine Australian souvenirs, not something made in China. In particular, Nina wanted an opal. We started in The Rocks, located at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and one of the areas we had seen from the boat the day before. beautiful architecture of the area"The Rocks is the oldest area of Sydney and has recently under- gone an amazing metamorphosis, the old district being transformed into a vibrant pocket of cafes and restaurants and interesting tourist shops and stalls." It is also where members of the First Fleet stepped ashore on 26 January 1788 and British settlement of Australia was first established. It is very posh and touristy, and the perfect place to find a bit of Australia to take home.

aboriginal street performers and the tourist geeksIn Australia, as everywhere in modern times, indigenous people blend seamlessly into modern society. We are not naive nor ignorant of that. But we do like to see signs of the indigenous culture, whether by visiting historical sites or cultural reenactments. While we strolled the streets of The Rocks, we spied this man. Of course we wanted a photo but did not want to invade his privacy or treat him with disrespect. But Judy encouraged us to ask, so we did. And we were so glad. He had just finished a street performance down by the water and was waiting for his friend. The body paint was for the performance. From an Internet site - "We never dance without ochre on... because that’s what we have been doing for a long time, like a thousand years. Body paint for us is really important for our culture, for sharing with other people too." Because they were performers, they were happy to pose for photos and even invited us to pose with them. We felt like tourist geeks on a city street, but it was an opportunity we were not about to pass up. This was as close as we were going to get to indigenous Australian culture on this trip.

typical funky rowhouse in NewtownNext stop, Newtown, a funky suburb with over 600 stores, 70 restaurants, 40 cafes, pubs, entertainment, graffiti and street art - so well known that it has a Wikipedia entry all its own. I loved the tiny rowhouses and the lively artsy feel, thanks to it's proximity to Sydney University and it's being the area where all the students, hippies, goths, and others from the fringes of society cluster. It's also home to button and trim stores, which is where we were headed. 1st stop was a tiny store that sold ribbons and trims and a few sari's from India.

button, button, who's got the button?Yes, I spent money there, but I did a lot more damage at the button store, the most beautiful array of buttons I had ever seen.Newtown window of opportunity We could have spent all day in Newtown, but we were getting the Sydney-in-3-days tour, because there was so much that Judy wanted to share with us and time was so short. Fortunately she knew exactly what would interest us and for the few days we were there we had the perfect balance of natural beauty and city excitement.

another dream come trueWe had to cut short our time in Newtown. We didn't mind at all, because we were headed for the opera! La Traviata, to be exact, at the Sydney Opera House. It was Nina's dream to see the opera in Sydney. I was ambivalent about it, but when Judy and Michael decided to go as well, I said count me in. I am so glad I did. No photos allowed inside of course and words will not describe, but the scenery, the costumes, the music ~ heaven. There were even fireworks at intermission, often done when cruise ships leave the harbour. We felt like they were just for us, like the city was conspiring with Judy to give Nina and I a most unforgettable experience. The perfect ending to another perfect day.we felt like they were just for us

Friday, March 23, 2007

Not a Care in the World

waiting for the flight to SydneyWhen they said "no-frills" I didn't think they meant no water - you even had to pay for water on this flight. Virgin Air from Perth to Sydney was chosen so that we could sneak in a sidetrip to Sydney - "We are traveling that far, and would be so close, it would be a shame to not see Sydney," Nina said, so I booked the cheapest flight I could find. We waited in a dismal terminal for a dismal 6+ hour flight. But we were excited just knowing that we were headed for Sydney. What we didn't know was what wonderful things Judy had in store for us.

boat peopleWhen we knew we were going to be able to include Sydney in our trip, I wrote to Michael deMeng to ask him to ask his girlfriend, Judy (who lives in Sydney), for some recommendations on where to stay. (Just in case you don't know, Michael is a US teacher and friend who was invited to teach with us in Perth, so that's how we all ended up there.) So, make a long story short, Judy offered her home to us. And a lovely one it is. We each got our own bedroom, with brand new comfy beds (not for us, they just happened to be new.)welcome to our home away from home

Here's Nina peeking through the gate at Judy's house. Judy was an amazing hostess and had a whole slew of things planned for us. We were expecting to navigate the city on our own, but there was no need. She made sure we saw all the cool places, ate at excellent restaurants and got a feel for the town she calls home. It was the city version of the countryside sightseeing and travels we did in New Zealand. What could be more perfect?

all aboardThe Aussies were as generous and welcoming as New Zealanders. Judy's brother owns a newly renovated wooden boat, The Poppy, which he lent to us for the day, complete with skipper and mate.seaside amusement at Luna Park - love the clown

We got a royal tour of the Sydney Harbour, from quiet coves to waterside views of the Opera House. For once, we were the people cruising around on a boat, sipping champagne, and acting like we didn't have a care in the world. And we didn't have a care. Again, we were being treated like royalty - what did we do to deserve this? Dreams do come true.Luna Park entrance, photo from their websiteAhoy Mates!

The threat of rain disappeared. It was sweater weather, but only because the wind blowing from the cruising speed. We made a nice loop around the quiet side of harbour, Luna Park on the right, past the Opera House on the left, under the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Bridge and Opera House in the backgroundThe bridge is considered one of the most recognizable symbols of Sydney. It is the world’s largest (but not longest) steel-arch Bridge. If you watch the 1st New Year's celebration while we wait for our clocks to strike 12, or if you saw the 2000 Olympics, you saw that bridge. It is celebrating its 75th year and there are bridge banners all over the city. For $189 AU, you can climb the bridge, $249 on the weekends or for $295, you can take an exclusive climb at dawn the first Saturday of each month.
It's so expensive because it is not your typical stroll. You must first pass a breathalyzer test, wear a bridge suit, safety harness and radio headset, and spend time on the bridge simulator. This is serious business. "Challenging weather conditions add an extra sense of adventure and exhilaration." An extreme sport, and probably a most memorable experience, but not for us. We were content with going under the bridge that day.

docking at the Fish MarketWe boated to the dock at the Sydney Fish Market. "The Market has more species of seafood on offer than any other market in the world except Japan, with over 100 species of familiar and exotic varieties available on any day to satisfy all tastes and requirements and to cater for Sydney's cultural and culinary diversity." It was a visually stimulating experience. While Judy and Michael shopped for our lunch of lobster, prawns, calamari, oysters and sushi, I strolled a small area nearby (didn't want to get lost, mind you) and took some interesting crustacean and fish photos. I had never seen crabs so large, nor with blue legs. We have our famous blue crabs here in Maryland, but their legs are small and nowhere near as blue.

big and blue
We stopped and anchored in a quiet cove for a while after our large and satisfying lunch. With Nina, Michael and Judy sprawled out on the stern, I went up to the bow (front) of the boat to lie in the sun and just be quiet and alone so I could absorb the fact that I was here on a boat, in the Sydney harbour, in Australia, on a trip more idyllic that I could have ever imagined. Before I left, someone told me that while I am on the trip, just stop and let it all sink in. I did that often, but to wrap my mind around the afternoon I was experiencing was almost overwhelming. Except for the time I was teaching, for this whole trip I didn't have a care in the world. No one to please but myself, nothing to schedule, no meal to plan, bill to pay, traffic to weave through or child to appease. I have never been so relaxed nor felt so at peace as I was that afternoon ~ a feeling that cannot be shown in a photograph.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Just Photos Today

I'll be back tomorrow with another post. In the meantime, enjoy the view.relaxing in the Sydney Harbour

breathtaking rock formations, Bondi Beach

Fremantle harbour

blue starfish in aquarium in Fremantle restaurant

Trees lit up in red in Kings Park, Perth

Asian schoolgirls on Bondi Beach, Sydney
Another view of the South Pacific, from the New Zealand side

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Australia, We Have Arrived

We have arrivedWe had an un-
eventful flight from Auckland to Perth, another long one though. I forget that Australia is as large as the US and that flying from one side to another will take over 6 hours. Jacky (1/2 of the Art Journey Retreat) met us at the airport shortly after 6 pm, whisked us to the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle, where we settled in and then met up with Jo, Michael Demeng and a few of the students at a little Mexican restaurant for a late dinner. I knew I wasn't in the US when the waitress brought me a Corona beer with a lemon wedge on top. It is always hard arriving at a location the night before teaching - so much to do to get oriented and prepared for class, but even more so after our carefree days in New Zealand. We skipped the $21 hotel breakfast buffet and took a short walk to the corner where we found Angel's Cafe for brekkie. Then it was back to the hotel for a day of teaching. We had lovely large classrooms with balcony access and a view of the harbour beyond, but there was no time for gazing.a few of my lovely students Students are wonderful everywhere, but particularly so in Australia. Of course there is the delightful accent that makes every conversation a joy, but they were also grateful for the chance to spend time with American teachers. So many said they were so thankful that we had come all that way. We were thankful that they would have us! I am not sure who benefited more, but I know everyone had a blast. It was so successful that Jo has already made plans for another Art Journey Retreat, next year in Melbourne, with more wonderful American teachers. Lucky gals (teachers and students)!
Nina, Jacky, Kirstie (hidden), Phillipa, Robyn, Jaslyn, Jo, Sam (Jo's daughter & able asst.) and MandyHere's a photo of us holding court in the hotel lobby on Saturday night. We were all kept very well entertained watching guests arrive for 3 different weddings taking place in the hotel.

The downside of teaching is that the 3 days of classes and activities did not allow for the leisurely pace to enjoy our surroundings the way we had in New Zealand.Robyn & Jaslyn, tour guides Photos were snapped in a hurry or not at all. We didn't have the same kind of time to absorb and explore our surroundings that we did in New Zealand.....except for one magic night when two lovely women wisked us off for a glimpse of Perth and the Indian Ocean. Robyn and Nina became friends when Nina taught in Italy. Jaslyn is a good and beautiful friend of Robyn's. That evening, we all became fast friends. They drove us out of downtown Fremantle up the coast to Cottesloe Beach. Little did they know how like children we would be, dipping our toes into the Indian Ocean, simply amazed that we were indeed, standing in the Indian Ocean.

Cottesloe Beach, FremantleI'll spare you another feet photo, but rest assure that we took them. The beach was very, very clean but we managed to find a few shells and sea glass. Kite-surfers were enjoying the end of the day's wind. The water was so clear and sparkled blue and green in the light. It's just not that color here on the east coast. Is it the latitude and longitude that creates the color, or is our water just not as clean and clear? The beach is located along a shipping route and we saw large vessels along the horizon making their way into the Fremantle harbour. The weather was perfect and we could have spent the night there digesting the fact that we were at the Indian Ocean. But there was dinner to be had.

choice table at the Blue DuckMarie Otero, a teacher who splits her time between Australia and the US, had recommended a restaurant to us where we could watch the sun set over the ocean, the Blue Duck, table 105 on the deck, to be exact. I was able to capture the sunset from our prime location, but once it was over, we moved inside to dine where it was a bit warmer.

the sun sets on the Indian Ocean, Friday, March 2, 2007So I'll leave you with this view of the setting sun for now. It's the first day of Spring and here in DC it is chilly (only a high of 49 today), and cloudy. Tomorrow promises sunshine and warmth...and more tales from Down Under.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Happy Spring

Last Day in NeverNever Land

reflecting on the beach in RuakakaWe left the Bay of Islands and headed back to Lea's house for the night. She lives closer to the airport than Wendy and tomorrow was the day we had to leave the land of the long white clouds for Australia. On the drive home, Wendy said, "If you see anyplace you would like to stop, just holler." Well I am not sure she said 'holler', because Wendy doesn't talk like that, but you get my drift. And so holler we did. There was the sweet church by the side of the road, the grapevines draped in netting that looked like bridal veils (that's on nina's camera, my battery had died), the little farm stand, and the places Wendy already planned on - the Hundertwasser Kawakawa toilets and Ruakaka beach where Graeme spent his summers as a child. WAIT! Toilets, yes, I did say toilets.

the art of the toiletLet me give you some background first. New Zealand is full of public toilets. No need to stop at McDonalds, gas stations or public libraries (my usual spots). This country understands basic human needs. They are easy to spot and 9 out of 10 times, very clean. Hundertwasser, an internationally famous architect, was born in Austria and retired to NZ in 1975, eventually becoming a NZ citizen. The town of Kawakawa asked him to design a new public toilet. Tiles were made by students in the local school, bricks came from local buildings and the glass bottle window wall was all recycled. Tourist buses come from all over to both use and admire.

beauty at every stopWe stopped for tea (lunch really, but they seem to call every- thing tea, except for brekkie, of course), at a lovely cafe near Lea's home. One of the things I most enjoyed about the trip was that we never really knew what surprises lay ahead of us. And there was another in store - Lea's friend, Christine Peek and her garden. We were expecting a lovely backyard full of flowers and we got, a five-acre, perfectly manicured and maintained country stroll garden, full of flowers, trees, hedges, walkways, and vistas beyond compare.welcome to the garden
Christine and her husband, Tony, were gracious and informative hosts and let us stroll the grounds while they prepared for a busload of garden club members arriving the next day.simple beautyWe finished our stroll just as it was beginning to sprinkle, so we headed back to Lea's to snuggle in and pack for the next day's journey. It was bittersweet. Nina and I were gifted with greenstone necklaces - good luck, but only when given as a gift. a quiet momentThere was dinner of Vegetable Pie, I recipe I came right home and fixed for my family. I worked a bit in my journal, already beginning to be confused about what happened when, and where we went on which day. Wendy had the bright idea of writing out the itinerary for each of us so we would know when and where we had been over the last 6 days, even marking maps with all the places we had traveled. It has proved invaluable to me in writing this blog.

And speaking of writing... Our last morning in Paihia, the alarm clock in Wendy's room went off at 6 am. She could not fall back asleep, so she sat and wrote poetry in the dark, so as not to disturb Lea. A poem for nina and one for me. As we sat in Lea's home that last evening, she copied it it into my journal, along with some parting words - May life bring to you...Surprises that delight you, Laughter that is shared, Happiness that grows and memories to keep.

My time in New Zealand has brought me enough laughter, happiness, and memories to last a lifetime. Hāere ra, New Zealand, ka kite ano (goodbye NZ, see you again).

Monday, March 19, 2007

Perhaps a Bit of Magic

I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning. ~Joseph Priestly

KeriKeri Mission HouseAfternoon - Day 5 of our adventure. We traveled to the Northland, to KeriKeri. Wendy had been talking about the Stone Store since we got to NZ, so I was eager to see it. We just squeaked in before everything closed, and as the adjacent Mission House closed first, we started there. First step - remove your shoes. Normally this is an easy request. In fact, I love going barefoot. But I am the victim of too many Sex and the City episodes,Don't take my shoes! and if you've ever seen the one where Carrie has to take off her shoes at a friend's party and her Manolo's go missing, you understand. (Season 6, "A Woman's Right to Shoes"). Needless to say, I took a picture.

Once inside, we walked upon the silkiest, smoothest woven mats - an unexpected pleasure. The Mission House is New Zealand's oldest standing building, built in 1821. Young by European standards and even here in the US, where I have spent many weekends in Colonial Williamsburg, circa 1700s.a welcome alternative to shoes There were many photo ops for, as my sister had to explain to her husband, "art shots." Fortunately they allowed photographs. So Nina and I had at it. Her camera was better at focusing and mine was better at capturing light (as in night shots). Together we have a pretty impressive record of our travels.

The adjacent Stone Store was built 1832-36. It is a 3-story structure that has been preserved much as it has been since construction and over the ensuing years when it served as a general store.Stone Store window It still functions as a store, selling such things as hand-cut nails, Spode china, fabric and even penny candy. I enjoyed traveling up the winding staircases to see what surprises the next levels held. There is something awe-inspiring about treading where so many others have stepped so long ago ~ a walk through history, yes, but also a communion of the spirits. I grew up steeped in history, living in the Nation's Capital, with trips to Mount Vernon, Monticello, Gettysburg and the like. I am well schooled in the importance of history and preservation of the past. Lucky for me I am now old enough to really appreciate time spent at historical sites. Kids love to go, but they bore easily and always want to get to the gift shop. I know. I once was one and now I have many.scenes from KeriKeri
We went for tea at the Landing Bar & Restaurant across the street and shared our finds. Here is a picture of Nina taking a picture of a picture postcard of a hand that Wendy found at the store.look at the color of the KeriKeri River

Save for the company, dinner was nothing to write home, I mean, blog about. We were worn out from our busy day and had yet another day of sights and surprises ahead of us. We were delighted at the prospect of a new day, but wistfulness was beginning to set in. We knew our New Zealand days were numbered. Fortunately we had all of Australia ahead of us. Tomorrow brings you one more day of our New Zealand travels, then I hope you will travel with us to Australia!