Thursday, November 1, 2007

P.S. It's a small world

We had so many coincidences on our trip that we want to share.

(1) One morning on the ship, we struck up a conversation with the couple standing behind us in line waiting for the tender to take us onshore in Bora Bora. They told us they were from Valley Springs, CA. I said, "Well, I don't know how big Valley Springs is, but do you happen to know Carol & Leonard Palomino? They moved to Valley Springs from Antioch and are friends of our friends (Peggy and Verne, our son-in-law Vernie's parents)." They do, very well! In fact the two men play golf together.

(2) This one woman and I had been noticing each other on the ship. I kept thinking she looked familiar, and later found out she thought the same thing when she looked at me. At one of the ship's get-togethers (they had all sorts, for current & retired law enforcement personnel (which Bill went to), for grandmothers (which I went to), for chess players, for Rotarians, etc.) anyway, one day they had a designated spot on the ship for people from different states to meet. At the California spot, we walked in and the cruise director asked what city we were from. When we said Antioch, he said, "Oh, there's someone else here from Antioch. I'll go get her." Sure enough, it was the woman who had looked so familiar to me. After asking each other all kinds of questions, we finally realized that we'd been in the same water aerobics class for years!

(3) On one of the winery tours in Australia, I struck up a conversation with the man next to me. It turned out he and his wife had lived in Antioch for 32 years. He had been a member of the Contra County Sheriff's Department and had worked with the husband of one of the women I worked with at Garin School!

(4) Eighteen days after we'd arrived in Australia, while we were on the Kuranda tour outside Cairns, we ran into a Canadian couple we'd met on the Regal Princess. It turns out they will be staying in Australia well into November and were also travelling all over the country, but it's a HUGE country (roughly same size as continental US) so it's amazing that we'd run into each other!

(5) This coincidence I'd already mentioned in the Melbourne posting, but it's so unbelievable to us. We still can't get over that we ran into Susie and Bob, from our dinner table on the ship, when we had dinner on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant in Melbourne. What are the chances? They didn't even know they'd be going on it; the friends that they were visiting took them there for a surprise for their final night of their visit with them. Even more of a fluke, we had been assigned to the same tramcar (there were 4 that night) and were seated diagonally across from them.

(6) The last coincidence happened Tuesday morning at the Brisbane airport. We were in the departure gate for our plane to Sydney when we noticed that the Regal Princess' captain was waiting at the same gate. This guy had been so entertaining for the entire cruise. We'd never had such a down-to-earth, approachable, friendly captain. You could tell he just loved his job. Everybody talked about it. So, when we saw him at the airport, we walked over to him, introduced ourselves, and told him just how much we'd enjoyed the cruise. It turns out he and his wife (who was also on the cruise and did the port talks for New Zealand and Australia) have an apartment on the Gold Coast, not far from where we had been staying, so that explains why he was in the Brisbane airport, but we still were surprised to see him again.

The End

We can't believe it -- our trip is over! Yesterday morning, we got up in Sydney and headed over to the Opera House for a tour. What a great way to end our time in Australia. It is such an impressive building in an incredible setting. We're sorry we didn't get to any performances there, but next time we'll be sure to do that. Many types of shows take place there in the different venues within the Opera House. When we finished the tour, we walked back to the hotel for the shuttle to the airport. The flight from Sydney to San Francisco was long (13+ hours) but the flight wasn't full so we had a little room to spread out. We left Sydney at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday (Oct. 31st) and landed in SF at 9:55 a.m. the same day. We couldn't believe how quickly we passed through baggage, immigration and customs. Heather and Niko surprised us by picking us up. Niko did a good job of making us feel like he remembered us, smiling and cooing the whole way home.
Niko, in his Eeyore Halloween costume, welcomes us home with a special sign

Later on, Melanie brought Maile and Mason over, so we had a great welcome home!
Alice in Wonderland and Donald Duck (Maile and Mason) made us feel glad to be home! (Note the date on these 2 photos -- the camera is still on Sydney time, just like our bodies!)

Back to Sydney

The purple blossoms of the jacaranda trees made Brisbane a beautiful sight. They were everywhere!

We couldn't believe the day had arrived that would start the end of our trip! On Tuesday, Oct. 30, we woke up to sunshine and drove to the Brisbane airport to return the rental car and catch our flight to Sydney. Once we arrived, the airport shuttle took forever before it even left the domestic terminal, then it went to the international terminal, and when every seat in the bus was full, began taking us to hotels all over the Darling Harbour/the Rocks/Sydney area, with our hotel being the final one! Good news at check-in, we were upgraded to the executive level which meant free drinks and appetizers. The flat ones insisted we go to the lounge even before our luggage was brought up to our room! They have been so agreeable this whole trip that we went along with their suggestion and took a little while to relax before heading out for an evening walk.

On our last night in Australia, Flat Mary Ann & Flat John enjoy a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the executive lounge

Flat Mary Ann and I agree that next time in Sydney, we'll make reservations for the High Tea at the Opera House

Rained out

Our planned trip to Brisbane with Michael and Sue was rained out on Monday 10/29. Throughout the night there had been thunderstorms, and by morning the rain was still with us. We took a raincheck on going to Brisbane because most of the things we were going to do (river boat ride, botanical gardens, scenic overlook at One Tree Hill) would be hampered by the weather. We told Sue and Michael that this gave us another excuse for a trip back! We enjoyed dinner at their house that night, and made plans for them to visit us in December when they will be in San Francisco.
During a break in the showers, Flat John checks out one of the surfboards that are part of a sculpture on the Surfers Paradise beachfront

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Snorkeling the wrecks and bobbing with the Aussies

Wow what a cool thing we did today, 10/28! We went drift snorkeling through a reef of fifteen scuttled ships, called the Tangalooma Wrecks. This was the first time that Cindy or I have ever snorkeled over wrecks. The ships were sunk on purpose to create a safe harbor at Moreton Island. They were sunk in the early 1960's and they now have all kinds of coral growing on them and they are teeming with fish and other sea life.
Part of the Tangalooma Wrecks off Moreton Island
We snorkeled with the current. You leave the boat at the top end of the current and drift along snorkeling through the wrecks. When you reach the end of the wrecks the boat is there to pick you up. So if Verne does this, if he misses the boat he will end up in New Guinea! I know you are wondering two things; well the answers are yes and no. Yes we had morning tea on board and learned a new Aussie word "bicky". We had tea, cakes and bicky (biscuits/cookies). No we did not see Nemo. We dove down to the bottom of the wrecks looking through the coral for the clown fish but no luck. I think Disney just made up those fish! We did see plenty of green sea turtles. These were just like the ones in the Nemo movie. We also saw an eagle ray, starfish and a dugong, which looks a lot like and is in the same family as the manatee.

a dugong (Google photo)
Moreton Island is about 14 miles off the Gold Coast. We caught a catamaran at the town of Redcliffe. The seas were choppy on the way to and from the island but out at the island the seas leveled off nicely. We snorkeled for a few hours then had lunch on the boat. After lunch they did a strange thing. They put a net off the back of the boat and several people got into the net and they drug them through the water bouncing up and down. They call it boomnetting. I guess this is an Aussie thing. Cindy wanted to do it until she watched the first group go and she quickly changed her mind. After that fun was done the boat pulled on to the beach and we all piled off and went beach combing, sand dune climbing and swimming. The whole island is made of sand washed north from the sandstone that is being washed out of the rivers further south. One dune is over 300 meters high and covered with trees.
This is the catamaran from today's trip. If you were on the Na Pali coast catamaran trip the week of Heather & Taki's wedding, you'll recognize this boat. The only difference was the way the inside was configured. The ride was pretty much the same. Good thing Cindy had her sea bands!
Almost forgot to mention that Cindy and I were the only ones on the boat from the USA and the Aussies had a good time with that. They had special life jackets just for us (water wings), vegemite sandwiches for our lunch (instead of the buffet), and if the ship sunk everyone was supposed to form a tight circle in the water to avoid the sharks and we were assigned the perimeter. Oh it feels so good to be loved!! One good thing when we got back on the boat they always made sure the two Americans were onboard.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

No worries, we have our own tour guides

This morning Michael & Sue picked us up for a drive down the coast. Their personal knowledge of the area (they've lived here for 40+ years) is appreciated by Bill & I. They showed us the Life Savers' (lifeguards) Club that Michael was a member of in his youth and explained that the volunteer life savers clubs are very competitive with each other and pride themselves in their training and readiness. They are very well respected.

Bill, Sue, & Michael
We stopped in several spots to take pictures and admire the views of the lush coastline. Being a Saturday with beautiful weather, the beaches were crowded with people of all ages. (Every child I'd see, I'd say to myself "She's about Maile's age." or "That one's running around just like Mason." or "Niko must be about that size by now.")

One of the many beautiful Gold Coast beaches

Cindy standing in Queensland, Bill in New South Wales
We crossed over the state line from Queensland to New South Wales, then continued down to Byron Bay, the eastern most point of Australia. At the Byron Lighthouse, we were thrilled to see a mother humpback whale with her baby swimming by on their migration from New Guinea to Antarctica, plus a group of about 8 dolphins frolicking in the waves. One dolphin in particular seemed to 'surf' a wave before jumping high in the air over it. He did this a few times, almost as if he was showing off for us. We certainly enjoyed the show!

Byron Bay, the eastern most point of Australia
I guess you are wondering about the flat people since we didn't mention them in the above adventures here on the Gold Coast. Well the photo below tells the whole story. . .

We found a great restaurant here in Surfers Paradise called Baritalia. It is run by a gentleman named Francis who is from Italy but he is part French and part
Croatian and I might add a great chef.
Flat John & Flat Mary Ann seem ready to go when wine is on the agenda (go figure)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Brisbane & the Gold Coast

Well, you can probably tell by the unimaginative title that this is Cindy writing again! Bill wore himself out posting so he's taking a little break out on the balcony, discussing sightseeing plans with the flat ones.

We flew from Cairns to Brisbane on the 24th, and for the first time this whole trip, rented a car to drive ourselves to our hotel in Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. Bill didn't have any problems switching to right-hand drive, other than putting on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal the first couple of times. He stayed on the correct side of the road, and that's the main thing!

Driving into Surfers Paradise

We are looking forward to getting together with Sue and Michael, a couple we met while we were on the Regal Princess, who live here. They have graciously volunteered to show us around the area, and we'll be hooking up with them this afternoon.

Taking a morning walk on the Surfers Paradise beach