Australia 2001

I’ve always wanted to visit
Australia, both to see a new  continent, and to better
understand the market for audio, video, lighting and show control
products, there. So when I heard that our Australian distributor, EAV
Technology, would be exhibiting at the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture
and Television Engineers) Convention in July, and that David Geoghegan,
our Director of Sales had a conflict with another trade show, I decided to
make the trip and check things out.Researching airfares on the web, I stumbled upon a promotion that
seemed unbelievable. For less than the normal price of a round trip
airfare, Qantas was offering two weeks in Australia, including airfare
between Los Angeles and Sydney and connections to Cairns and Melbourne,
plus four nights of accommodations in each. Although they called it the
Australia Stop Dreaming “Tour”, it wasn’t really a tour because
we could leave any day that we wanted. But it was certainly priced like a
tour — lower, even. Just $1599 complete. This is less than the US to
Australia airfare alone. A $400 upgrade to the deluxe hotel category also
seemed a bargain.So that’s how Linda, Danielle and I came to be heading for Australia in
July.

Tuesday, July 3, 2001

Los Angeles

With Linda busy on projects at Disney, Danielle and I
took advantage of our first stop being Los Angeles to spend some time with
her grandparents. We caught the afternoon non-stop from Orlando, and
arrived in time to meet them for dinner at El Cholo.

But first we checked in to our hotel, the St. Regis
in Century City. In keeping with the bargain theme of this trip, I’d found
a deal on Expedia that offered this hotel at about $200 a night — a bit
of a discount from their normal $500-$5000 a night room rates.

The St. Regis is one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed
in, and has some of the best staff. It’s the top of the line for the
Starwood Resort company, and is positioned above their Westin chain.
There’s butler service, the valets remember your name, and the touchscreen
telephone controls the entire room, including the lighting.

Expedia also found us a deal on a rental car — my
first experience with Thrifty, and overall a good one.

So by 9:00 pm we were settled in for Nachos and a
Combination Number One at El Cholo. Danielle lasted pretty well
considering it was past midnight our time, but by the end of the meal she
was ready to sleepwalk back to the hotel.

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Our Independence Day started with room service breakfast on our balcony
overlooking the construction site next to the Century Plaza. Then Danielle
exercised some genes that she didn’t get from either parent by shopping
for jeans at Macy’s, across the street. They were on sale!

Actually the shopping served two purposes. It got Danielle some red
jeans to complete her red, white and blue Fourth of July outfit, and
killed a couple of hours until noon, when Grandpa and Grandma are up and
around. I brought them lunch from El Pollo Loco — the second in a long
line of west-coast-only foods that we had on our agenda.

In the afternoon I left Danielle to play with Marjorie and Dean and
headed out to the San Fernando Valley to Frye’s Electronics to pick up a
128MB Smart Media Card that they had on sale for an absurdly low price. I
was expecting them to be “just out”, but to my surprise, they
had plenty, at less than half the going rate, and with a free USB reader.
Frye’s is huge. No, it’s HUGE. I honestly found it somewhat overwhelming,
with row after row of everything from PCB making supplies to motherboards
to books to chips to stereos to adult DVDs to vacuum cleaners (these last
two were in separate sections). Note to Grace: we should check into Frye’s
as a wholesale source of PC-Card media.

On the way back to the McBrides’ house I stopped at several stores and
picked up a cooler, thermos, and food for a picnic dinner. Then we all
headed to the Hollywood Bowl, for an evening Pops concert in box seats
that Linda had bought for us.

It was a shame that Linda couldn’t join us. It’s always special being
under the stars on a balmy night, enjoying great music and the magic of
this historical venue. The fireworks that capped off the performance were
truly spectacular, the best-synchronized performance I’ve seen.

Thursday, July 5, 2001

More west-coast foods checked off the list. We made a breakfast stop at
Stan’s corner doughnut shop in Westwood for the world’s best blueberry
buttermilk doughnuts, then hit Shakey’s Pizza for Mojo potatoes. The
latter we catered to the McBride’s for lunch, then headed out for a short
day at Knott’s Berry Farm, arriving about 3pm.

Mystery Lodge, the world’s best Pepper’s Ghost effect, was the
highlight of the visit. The show, designed by BRC Imagination Arts, and
using Alcorn McBride control and audio equipment, is based upon a show
that Linda helped them do for the GM pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver. In
this improved version, a live-action Native American wanders about a long
house, summoning up images out of the smoking firepit, and disappearing
and reappearing at will. At the end of the show he slowly fades from view,
leaving only his walking stick, which finally falls to the ground. Neat.

At Knott’s Danielle got to pan for gold, we rode the old but still fun
Calico Mine train, and the log flume. We also lost money on many
redemption games.

Fortunately the chicken dinner restaurant was very crowded, so
afterward we headed up the freeway to Burbank, and The Smokehouse Restaurant.
Located directly across from the Burbank Studios, for fifty years this
otherwise average restaurant has been packing them in with the world’s
best garlic cheese bread. I grew up going with my folks to their
now-defunct location in Encino almost every weekend. It’s still as good as
ever.

Friday, July 6, 2001

A morning drive through Hollywood, and breakfast at Jack-in-the-Box
(another one of those west-coast places). Danielle was amazed at the
Hollywood Jack-in-the-Box, with its bullet-proof barrier between the
employees and the guests, and a double-doored box to pass the food
between. Welcome to Hollywood.

We spent a quiet day at the McBrides’. I think everyone was tired after
their outing to Knotts’. Lunch was from Carl’s Junior (you guessed it,
another one of those you-know-what). In the early evening Danielle and
Marjorie baked brownies while I went to the airport to pick up Linda.
After a brief stop at our hotel we all headed to Lawry’s, the time-honored
prime rib Mecca of Restaurant Row.

Lawry’s has moved across La Cienega Boulevard from its location of many
years. What’s really disconcerting is that the new building, inside,
anyway, is virtually identical to the old one — floor plan, decor,
everything. Weird. Prime rib is still served from what Ruth Riechl, the
restaurant critic, once described as “silver-plated rolling
coffins”. It’s still as good as ever, although I found the portions a
bit skimpy.

Danielle spent the night at the McBrides’, her last chance for a
sleep-over this trip.

Saturday, July 7, 2001

Linda and I stopped by El Cholo for lunch, since she’d missed her
opportunity for the world’s best Mexican food on Tuesday night. Then we
spent a quiet afternoon at the McBrides’. Very quiet for me, as I fell
asleep on the floor of the living room. It’s not that I hadn’t been
getting enough sleep, but the weather this trip was so hot and humid —
even more so than in Florida — that I found it really took the wind out
of my sails. I guess I’m just used to living in air-conditioning.

In the late afternoon we headed up the coast to Malibu, and Duke’s
restaurant. Now named after a Hawaiian surfer, the place started out in
the 1930s as The Sea Lion. In fact, at one time there was a pool in front
with live sea lions. When I was a child we used to drive up the coast on
Saturday afternoons for dinner. I remember watching the waves crash
against the plate glass windows, especially in the bar. A few winters ago
they did a bit too much crashing, and broke all the windows. So now
there’s a rocky barrier, and no more splashing.

Sunday, July 8, 2001

This will be a long day. Up early, packed, checked out, breakfast at
McDonald’s (certainly not a west-coast-only thing, but I can’t imagine a
large chorizo breakfast burrito with HOT jalapeno sauce in Florida) and
we’re off to the airport for our Qantas flight. Departing at 1:00 pm
aboard a 747 (in the fourth row from the rear, center, but not as bad as
it sounds) we spent fourteen and a half hours reading, doing word jumbles,
watching FIVE movies, and eating many meals. A few of them were called
lunch and dinner, I’m not sure about the rest. Danielle spent much of the
flight listening to the Bill Bryson tapes, “In A Sunburned
Country”, his wonderful tour of Australia. One thing’s certain: all
future plane flights will seem short! But Danielle held up well, and she
and Linda both got some sleep. There was a beautiful view of Sydney and
its harbor as we landed about 9pm… Monday night.

Monday, July 9, 2001

Hey, what happened to Monday? Eaten by the international date line.
We’ll get it back in two weeks.

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Sydney

We were supposed to be at the Sofitel, but the travel agent waited so
long to reserve it that it was full. Then they put us at the Rydges
Wentworth, a 5-star that looked like it had potential. Somehow it got
booked up, too. So at the last minute we ended up at the Premier Menzies,
four steps below the Sofitel in the Accor chain, and a 3-star at best. But
the rooms are clean, if small.

Breakfast buffet in the Clarrington Restaurant (why is there
spaghetti?) and then off to the Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbor. At
first the aquarium seemed somewhat run-down and modest, but the very first
exhibit — the platypus — captured our hearts, and everything else was
great, too. The pair of platypi(?) were like otters, in constant motion,
and we could see them above and below the water. If these things were in a
Sci-Fi movie you wouldn’t believe them. They look like otters wearing fake
duck beaks and paddle wheel flippers.

We had lunch in the rotating restaurant atop the Centrepoint Tower, the
tallest structure in New South Wales — in fact, the tallest in the Southern hemisphere. I’ve been to the top of the
CN Tower in Toronto, and the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, both of which are
taller, but they can’t come close to the view from Centrepont.

Syndney is simply the most beautiful city I’ve been in. Not necessarily
the neatest, funnest, or most intriguing, but from a pure photogenic
standpoint, it puts even Paris and San Francisco to shame. located on a
spur surrounded by harbors, inlets islands and mountains, there’s
something interesting  to look at in every direction. And from
Centrepoint there’s there’s nothing to block your view.

We walked back to the hotel, which afforded Danielle the opportunity to
add to her stuffed animal collection in the shops along the way —
wombats, koalas, echidnas, kangaroos and wallabies — the choices are a
bit different here.

We had a quiet afternoon, and a tasty dinner — chicken tandoori and
Thai chicken — in the hotel dining room.

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Another buffet breakfast (what the hell is it with this spaghetti,
anyway?) and then a visit to the Australia Museum, where they have a
fabulous collection of rocks and minerals, an interesting room full of
skeletons, and the good taste to use our audio/video equipment.

I skipped lunch and headed over to the SMPTE show for the afternoon,
while Linda and Danielle went to Xerts, a space-themed restaurant where
you order from a touchscreen at your table and watch cartoons while you
wait. Then they toured the Sydney Opera House, which they enjoyed.

At the show I had some productive conversations with Clive O’Brien and
Tony Hambling of EAV, and several customers from around Australia. The
show is very small, as is the market, and I’m not sure it’s worth the
expense of sending someone to Australia for it. I do think that if we had
a product that could displace some AMX equipment — and the key here is
touchscreen interfaces — that we could wedge our way into this market in
a bigger way. On the video player side, it’s cost-per-channel that’s the
key to selling against DVD players, as always.

For dinner we caught a cab up to The Rocks, the historic area where
Sydney was founded. It was reminiscent of Ghirardelli square in San
Francisco. In fact everything here in Sydney seems much more similar to
America than to England. Only the money, the side of the street they drive
on, and the accents are reminders that we’re not somewhere in the U.S.

We had dinner at Shiki Japanese Restaurant — there’s a strong Asian
influence here — where Danielle enjoyed the Tepanyaka (table-top grilling
of your own seafood) but not being spattered by hot butter.

Thursday, July 12, 2001

We were up early today for a three-part tour. A bus picked us up at the
hotel and took us to Star City, near the big new casino, where we transferred
to a different bus for a 45-minute trip to Featherdale Animal Park. Sydney
is a city of four million people and five million vehicles, and it shows
in the traffic.

At Featherdale got to stroll among kangaroos and emus, and pet koalas, wombats and
even an Echidna (careful of which direction you stroke those!) It was
quite wonderful. There were also hundreds of bird species, a dingo, and
some nasty looking crocs. Mingling with the kangaroos was a real highlight
of the trip.

The return bus ride dropped us off at Circular Quay where we caught the
Captain Cook luncheon cruise. In retrospect it would have been better to
take a different cruise, as the one before ours had 13 passengers, and
ours was packed. The views of Sydney from the water were pleasant,
including the classic view of the Opera House.

This whole part of the tour was very disorganized, and reconnecting
with our bus — or any other — after lunch seemed almost impossible. We
decided to skip the third part — a driving tour of the city — altogether
and instead took a walk through the shopping areas in The Rocks, then a
cab back to the hotel.

Internet connections here have been very difficult, but after many
attempts I finally managed to get online and process some email this
afternoon.

For dinner we went to The Summit, yet another rotating restaurant atop
a nearby building where the food was pretty good, and the service pretty absent.

Friday, July 13, 2001

Cairns

There seemed to be plenty of people willing to fly on Friday the
Thirteenth, but the weather wasn’t very cooperative. We were up at 5:30am
and at the airport by 7:15 for the flight to Cairns. The only problem was
that we couldn’t see the runway for the fog. With no planes coming in,
even once the fog lifted, there was no way to get out, so we spent six
hours waiting for our flight. This wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds,
though, since we had a nice table by the window, and plenty of things left
over from our previous flight to keep us occupied. Danielle made
productive use of the time by doing math problems in one of her workbooks,
for which she earned almost aus$60.

Speaking of money, Australia seems a real bargain at current exchange
rates. The ratio is almost two to one, and things here seem inexpensive
anyway (except for gas, which is close to US$4 a gallon).

Take wines, for example. Australian wines are really excellent, but
only the really big producers make it to the States; so I’ve been trying
to order wines that we can’t get at home. We’ve had some fabulous, intense
Cabernets at very nice restaurants, and paid only about US$20 for them.

Anyway, at about 2:00pm we finally took off for Cairns. Helped along by
our previous fourteen hour experience, and the very entertaining “Emperor’s
New Groove”, the flight seemed extremely quick, and by 6:00pm our cab
was pulling up to the Sofitel Reef Casino in Cairns.

What a difference from our previous hotel: marble bathroom, rare wood
furniture, and louvered sliding doors dividing up the tropical-style room.

Cairns is unlike any place I’ve been before (perhaps San Juan was like
this before they paved it). Lush mountains surround a tropical beach, with
a small grid of city streets lined with shops and hotels. The water is
that same intense blue as in the Caribbean, but since it’s winter here the
breeze is pleasant, but not hot and sticky.

Our balcony is on the south side of the building — the shady side(!)
— and affords us a 180 degree view from rainforest to reef. There is
a casino at the other end of the building. It is circular, ornate, and
reminiscent of a small Vegas casino. There are a few gaming tables which
seem to be completely ignored, and hundreds of slot machines. The machines
play a peculiar game called Poki. The stakes are very low — in some cases
as low as an Australian penny a point. Linda took a crack at it for a few
minutes, but never did figure out how it worked.

We dined downstairs at Anthias. Consistent with Australian attitudes,
the dress was fairly casual, even though it’s the hotel’s nicest
restaurant. The food was superb, and Danielle polished off both her own
scallop appetizer and my scallop entree. I inherited her stuffed quail,
which was also excellent, and a terrific match to the Rouge Homme Cabernet
Sauvignon (aus$41).

Saturday, July 14, 2001

I spent this morning creating this journal, getting caught up on almost
two weeks of traveling. We’ve done a lot. Linda has researched tour
options here in Cairns while Danielle has worked on her own journal. Room
service breakfast was excellent, and included a Mango-Peach Yogurt that
Danielle loved. They also made her pancakes, although that sort of food
isn’t on their breakfast menu (but baked beans are!) The pancakes were
great. Now we’re off to explore.

We spent the afternoon browsing Cairns, having lunch on the Pier. I
seems obligatory for visitors to Australia to buy an opal, so I did, but
preferred mine “on the hoof”: I bought a rock paper weight.

At the local mall Danielle added to her international collection of
Harry Potter books, buying the Australian edition of Harry Potter and
the Philosopher’s Stone
.

Dinner was across the street, at a small sushi restaurant
called Kamome. The Toro sashimi was very fresh.

Wandering around town today we passed a number of Aborigines. A small
group of men were very drunk, and laughing among themselves, but most
wandered the streets somewhat aimlessly. It’s quite strange; almost as if
they were ghost people, no one pays any attention to them. In turn, they
seem almost oblivious to their surroundings. It’s almost as if they are
looking beyond the buildings and traffic, to the land that was here
before. It’s eerie.

 

Sunday, July 15, 2001

Wow. Today we went to the
rainforest. A van picked us up at the hotel at 8:30am and drove us north
about 20km to Tjapukai, an aboriginal cultural park. Tjapukai has won the
award for best attraction from the Australian Tourism Commission several
years running, with good reason. After a preshow of historic artifacts, we
saw a live and video production that details some of the aboriginal
creation myths, what they call their dream time. The presentation was
similar to Mystery Lodge, although the script wasn’t as strong. This was
followed by a show in a second theater, with large screen video history of
the exploitation of the aborigines, and the Tjapukai in particular. This
film was excellent. Then we went outside, and had the unique opportunity
to try throwing spears using a primitive spearthrower — what we would
call an “atlatl”. We also got to try our hand at boomerang
throwing; they really do come back!

After a snack at the snack bar (where it was funny to see the native
dancers queueing at the coke machine) we went next door to the Skyrail
station.

The Skyrail is a 4.7 mile gondola ride — the world’s longest — that
carries you over the mountain range, just above the treetops of the rainforest.
The 36 towers — up to 133 feet tall —  were lifted into place by helicopter
to avoid disturbing the rainforest. It’s breathtaking as you rise over
1700 feet, nearly kissing the top of the canopy. Temperate breezes wafted
through the gondola as we ascended, and the sound of birds was everywhere.

There are two stations along the way, where you disembark and explore.
At the first, we went on a ranger-guided walk among the trees. The giant
tree pictured at the left was one of the few with no clinging vines, due
to its unique defense mechanism: it bark falls off at the slightest
provocation. One stinging bush was particularly impressive. If you rub
against it, you will itch and burn for months — possibly years —
whenever the area gets wet. Its fruit is edible, but who would pick it? At
the second stop, we got a spectacular view of Barron Falls, and visited
the interpretive center.

At the end of the Skyrail is Kuranda Village, where we shopped for
opals and had a late lunch in an open air cafe. Then we boarded the
Kuranda Scenic Railway, which wound its way down Barron Gorge, through
fifteen tunnels and across many bridges until we reached the alluvial
plain. At the end of the 90-minuite trip we were back in Cairns at the
railway station just a few blocks from our hotel.

Of the many scenic tours we’ve taken, this was unquestionably the most
dramatic and beautiful. It’s not to be missed.

We had dinner on the lawn outside the Hilton, overlooking the pier.
While we waited we watched the stars circle the Southern Cross. It seemed
strange to not recognize any constellations. The night was gorgeous, warm
and balmy. At one point two very large bats briefly perched upside-down in
a nearby palm tree. When they swooped away, their wing spans were easily
two feet.

Monday, July 16, 2001

Another spectacular day. After an early room service breakfast we
walked to the pier and caught the Quicksilver 5, a high speed catamaran.
We went up the coast about an hour, first to Port Douglas and then out to
Agincourt Reef, one of the 2900 individual reefs that comprise the 2300
km-long Great Barrier Reef. The Quicksilver is appropriately named: it
does 60 km/hr. By noon we were tied up along a giant “pontoon”,
a multi-level structure with picnic tables, sun bathing area, undersea
viewing windows, snorkeling deck, and a dock for a semi-submersible. We
violated everything your mother taught you by having a buffet lunch and
then snorkeling — well, Danielle and I did, anyway. But Linda got to ride
the semi-submersible while we went looking for great white sharks.

Actually, despite Australia’s reputation for things that can kill you,
it was the easiest — and easily the most spectacular — snorkeling trip
we’ve been on. The snorkeling deck, a grating submerged about a half meter
and lined with benches, made it trivial to don our gear and get in and out
of the water. And the presence of the reef all around us completely broke
up what would otherwise have been two-foot swells; the surface was almost
completely calm.

The coral was beyond anything we’d imagined — a bit less colorful than
on TV (since we didn’t have bright lights to illuminate it) but infinitely
varied. There were hundreds of different kinds on every surface. Myriad
colorful fish darted in and out of the crannies, or schooled together in
groups of a thousand or more. One fascinating behavior that we observed
was that of “cleaner fish” who perform a dance to advertise
their availability to the larger fish. These larger fish then literally
queue up and wait their turn to be cleaned. They open their mouths and
gills, and let the smaller fish remove all of the algae and leftover bits
of dinner. Amazing.

After snorkeling, Danielle and I caught the 20-minute ride in the sem-submersible,
where picture windows give you a very close view — two feet, at times —
of more distant sections of reef. We saw a Whitetip Reef Shark (harmless)
sleeping on the bottom. There was also a ray, and dozens of vibrant green
parrot fish.

At 3pm we headed back to Port Douglas. The staff was fabulous the
entire trip, even handing out cool, lemony towels on the way back. At the
Port Douglas Marina we boarded a bus back to
Cairns. Port Douglas is a very charming town, with many small bistros and
open-air cafes. We wished we’d had time to explore.

The drive down the coast was spectacular, reminiscent of Big Sur. The
road hugs the rocky shoreline, squeezed between the rainforest and the
narrow, meandering beach. In places it’s barely above sea-level. In the
first ten miles we saw only two people. Heaven.

Further along, we passed through a crocodile farm where we crossed a
river positively crowded with crocodiles. Later I saw a solitary kangaroo
grazing in a clearing. At one turnout two hang-gliders using parasails
slowly circled at eye-level just above the rocky coast. This part of Queensland is definitely worth a
return trip.

Tuesday, July 17, 2001

This morning I rose early and strolled down the Esplanade to drop off
the underwater camera for processing of the reef photos. While I waited I
had breakfast and espresso at one of the many sidewalk cafes that line the
street. The morning was still quiet, as the shop keepers were still
cleaning their facades, and the tourists hadn’t arrived yet. The tide was
ebbing, and hundreds of shore birds swooped over the mud flats. The soft
reggae music of the cafe was the perfect accompaniment.

After I picked up the photos I went back to pack, and we had lunch on
the lawn outside the Hilton, overlooking the pier. They have a great menu:
fajitas, curries, and Thai salads.

Then it was off to the airport, where Danielle spent the time earning
extra spending money by solving math problems in one of her workbooks, and
I continued working my way through the 97-cent jumble book Linda gave me
on the first leg of the trip. It’s been a great way to occupy myself in
the airports and on the long plane flights, but I don’t care if I ever see
another jumble!

We had two flights of about two hours each, with a one-hour layover in
Brisbane. I’m afraid it will have to remain one of those cities where I’ve
only seen the airport. We arrived in Melbourne a bit after 9:00 pm and by
10:00 pm  were settled into our room on the 42nd floor of the lovely
Melbourne Sofitel.

Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Melbourne

We all slept soundly after our long travel day, and awoke to a
beautiful view of Fitzroy Gardens from our 42nd floor room. While Linda
and Danielle slept in, I spent the morning transferring this journal and
photos to the web using the hotel’s T1 line (they call it E1).

Here’s a bit of business advice: If, like Royal Doulton, you make a
luxury product — for example, fine porcelain —  you might want to
resist the temptation to put your name on other porcelain products — for
example, hotel toilets.

In the
afternoon I visited with Clive and Tony at EAV’s new office. It was quite
productive. I demonstrated WinScript 2.0, talked about some selling
opportunities against AMX and Crestron equipment, and detailed plans for
upcoming products. There was a lot of interest in all four major products
we have in development. They each clearly represent good opportunities
here in Australia, fitting in better than our existing products.

While I was at EAV, Linda and Danielle walked down to the river, had
some sushi at a Japanese restaurant, and did some shopping.

For dinner we went across Flinders Lane to Langston’s Restaurant and
Wine Bar, where we had French and English cheeses and an absolutely
stunning 1999 Jasper Hill Shiraz that was brimming with flavors — in part
due to its amazing 15.5% alcohol content — including plums, wood smoke
and vanilla. My opinion of Shiraz has definitely gone up.

Thursday, July 19, 2001

Today we rose early to catch a tour to the area surrounding Melbourne,
including the Yarra Valley wine region.

While we waited for the luxurious Mercedes Benz tour bus we had a
chance to examine some of the unusual flowers at the flower market near
the hotel. Some of them were strange, to say the least.

Our tour started by climbing the foothills of the Dandenong Range. A
hundred varieties of Eucalyptus (“gum”) and other trees strethed
high above, forming a dense canopy. The landscape was like what one might
imagine Southern California being like if the climate were more tropical.
The giants ferns sprouting from the forest floor reached above our heads
in some places.

We stopped at a small teahouse in Ferntree Gully where we had great fun
feeding King Parrots, Gullahs and Crimson Rosellas that flew out of the
thick Eucalyptus forest and landed on our hands and heads.

Our next stop was a short way up the road in Belgrave. This is the
departure point for the historic Puffing Billy steam train which was used
to move logs from the forest starting in 1900, and became a tourist
attraction soon after. The train and 24 km of track have been completely
restored, and are operated entirely by volunteers from all over the world.
We took the thirty minute (10 km) ride through the forest to Menzies
Creek, where we caught up with our bus for the drive to the Yarra Valley.

Lunch was at Fergusson’s Winery. Danielle had their specialty, the spit
roast, but Linda and I selected main courses that didn’t involve any spit.

We stopped for wine tasting at Yering Station, and then a snack and
sparkling wine tasting at Domaine Chandon. Linda and I both liked the
still wines that Domaine Chandon was selling under the Green Hill label
better than their sparklers.

Our final stop was at Eyton  (pronounced Eye-ton) on Yarra, where
we tasted a range of wines and toured the cellar.

At each of the wineries we visited, we saw magpies, large black and
white birds with an elaborate melody. There were also sheep grazing on the
cuttings lying between the rows of just pruned vines.

At all three stops, most of the wines were quite good, and a few were
excellent. We bought six to bring back with us. I’d love to visit Clive’s
wine shop and track down some of the really fabulous Connawara wines we’ve
had with dinners, but we just can’t carry any more. I guess we’ll just
have to come back on a wine tasting expedition to some of the many other
Autralian viticultural regions.

Today’s tour was the best of all the day tours we’ve taken. This was
due in large part to our driver, Nemo, who was very friendly, interesting
and well-informed. Also, we dropped most of the group off at an animal
park for the entire afternoon, so the three of us and one other fellow had
a nearly private wine-tasting tour on our lovely tour bus!

We had dinner
at Kenzan, the Japanese restaurant in the bottom of the hotel, where we
sat in a Tatami room with paper walls and a sliding door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out this nighttime photo of Melbourne, It was
shot on the 3 Megapixel setting in Night mode with fill flash.

Friday, July 20, 2001

Today we had a relatively quiet last day in Australia. We walked
through Chinatown and then on up to Queen Victoria Market, passing through
many blocks of interconnected department stores and malls on the way. We
had lunch on the patio of an old brick building (with a sign on its tower
saying “Shot Factory”)  that has been completely absorbed
into the mall, with a conical glass structure enclosing its entire
six-story tower.

Queen Victoria Market was a bit of a disappointment. Originally an
open-air produce market next to a cemetery, it became so popular that they
dug up the cemetery and expanded into it. Now it’s little more than a flea
market.

We walked back past the hotel to the tiny opal shop that Linda and
Danielle discovered on Wednesday. The German couple that owns it is
charming. He is a true enthusiast, who spends most of his time carefully
polishing opal sections out of the raw boulders. He showed us one piece
that was about 1.5 inches by 3 inches that looked like trees and ferns
when you held it one way, and dancing women wearing white when you held it
upside down. The colors and depths of that one and other special stones he
showed us were phenomenal — and phenomenally priced, at about $60,000
Aus. We bought a few small pieces that can only be considered trinkets in
comparison.

Back at the hotel we relaxed for a while. Danielle finally finished
“Curse of Monkey Island”. And I bought some candies for the crew
at Alcorn McBride which should prove amusing.

For dinner we went to the restaurant complex on the other side
of the river, called Southgate. We had a lovely dinner at Blake’s, a place
that serves “New Australian” cuisine. The service was great, and
we had an excellent Wynn’s “Michael” Shiraz. It was very noisy
though, due in large part to the table seated next to us: ten 16-year-old
girls dressed like Britney Spears — in other words, like hookers. Worst
of all, they were behind me.

We were originally going to pack Friday night, but when we got back to
the hotel there was quite a good singer/pianist playing in the lounge of
the atrium that the hotel surrounds, so Linda and I decided to spend a
quiet hour enjoying the music. As Bill Bryson noted in his wildly
entertaining “In A Sunburned Country”, music in Australia seems
to be caught in a time warp. But it was fine with us that all of the songs
were thirty years old.

Danielle went to bed, but stayed up late reading Harry Potter and the
Philosopher’s Stone. This is a t least her fifth time through it, but the
first time with the English edition, which she bought on the trip. She’s
enjoying spotting all of the differences in the text: jumpers for
sweaters, and no “bloody” noses.

Saturday, July 21, 2001

Up early, lots of packing, then off to the airport and a quick bit
ebefore the flight. We’re getting to be old hands at these long flights.
Five movies, three meals, and a very short night, and we were touching
down in L.A. The sunset in the vicinity of Hawaii was the most beautiful
I’ve ever seen — layers of streaky white clouds, pierced by roiling
thunderheads far, far below us, and the whole horizon turning orange, then
green, then indigo.

Saturday, July 21, 2001

Los Angeles

Yes, there are two July 21sts this month. In fact we landed three hours
before we took off! Our room at the Westin wasn’t quite ready, so we had
another breakfast while we waited — our fifth meal for Saturday, but not
our last. Then we settled in for a nap — six hours worth — before
renting a car downstairs and meeting Grampa and Grandma for dinner. We
went to Cafe del Rey at Marina del Rey. When Linda made the reservation,
she didn’t realize that it’s part of the California Cafe chain, which we
like a lot. Dinner was superb — frankly, the best meal of the trip — and
we had two terrific wines: Gainey Reserve Unfiltered Chardonnay, and
Morgan Reserve Unfiltered Pinot Noir. We settled into bed at about 11:00
pm, and were, of course, wide awake at 3:00 am.

Have I mentioned that Westins suck? For a supposedly high-end hotel,
the service seems consistently abysmal. It took two calls to get our bags
delivered, two more to get them picked up, and they couldn’t even manage
to print an invoice when we checked out. Next time we’ll go back to the
Marriott, or Embassy Suites.

Sunday, July 22, 2001

Orlando

Our take-off was slightly delayed because the heating and AC unit
failed when the disconnected from the terminal power, but we got off
before 8:00 AM, and touched down in Orlando shortly before the start of
our quarterly Wine Syndicate dinner, on the other side of town. A quick
stop at home, and then Danielle was off to spend the night with Nicole,
and Linda and I headed out to meet the group at Emeril’s in City Walk.

In retrospect, Australia was probably our best trip ever. The package
we got was certainly the best deal ever. The bottom line for all three of
us for two weeks was $5800 — not including food and side tours — a
terrific bargain. We had excellent flights and a nice leisurely schedule;
it was great to have a day to relax after each travel day. Even the long
overseas flights weren’t that bad.

Most of the accommodations were also top-notch, especially in Cairns.
The people couldn’t have been friendlier, nor the scenery more beautiful.
I highly recommend this trip to everyone. Go while the exchange rate is
still two for one!

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