Tuesday, December 28, 2010

25/12/10 - 28/12/10 New Caledonia Christmas, Generalised Shenanigans

Oook, so apparently I've spent too much time holidaying and not enough time blogging. Time to remedy this!


Christmas Day in New Caledonia was spent as any good Christmas should be spent: with great company, great food and all activities at a relaxed pace. We had delicious turkey, prawns and pork for lunch, and then lobster for dinner.

The lobster was very very tasty, but to be honest it tasted like a chunky chunk of meat, but made of prawns. Definitely not a bad thing, but I think my palate didn't appreciate the price tag.


Boxing day was another sightseeing day. We began by going out in Annette and Claude's boat to visit Ilot Maitre, one of the smaller islands off the coast of Noumea. The boat ride was very fun, with the speedboat bouncing up and down on the clear blue water.

When we moored just off the island, it was swimming time. The water was pleasantly cool - a relief from the constant New Caledonian heat.

I borrowed one of the snorkels from the boat and did some snorkeling over one of the coral reefs nearby. The view was fantastic, with thousands of fish and corals to be seen.

Unfortunately, it was soon time to go back to the mainland, as we had other exciting sightseeing things to do.

Later that day, we went for a drive to a river that snakes its way through a massive mountain range that divides New Caledonia into east and west.

The drive to the river was breathtaking. At every turn it seemed like one gigantic mountain gave way to another. The whole thing reminded me of the film "Jurassic Park", except without the killer dinosaurs, of course...

We were intending to go for a swim at one of the river's popular swimming spots, but due to the heat and the popularity of the boxing day holiday, it appeared that all of the really good spots were taken. Eventually the road turned from bitumen to gravel to red dust, and we found ourselves a spot.

Unfortunately, the spot which we had found was fairly shallow, and the river bottom was covered in very slippery rocks. Nevertheless, I still tried and swam, but it was more just lying still and letting the water wash over me. Still, the water was lovely and cool, and the setting was rather peaceful, so it was definitely worth the trip.

The rest of the day was spent lounging by the pool. All in all, a great boxing day - certainly better than a shift at The Big K.


On Monday we explored downtown Noumea. We had a look around their many shops, and also in one of their supermarkets.

The supermarket was an interesting experience. Some items were very expensive compared to Australia, such as junk food, but other items, such as cheese and alcohol were significantly cheaper.

The former can be explained by the fact that, well, the French love their freaking cheese, so much so that nearly a quarter of the shop was devoted to it. The latter can be explained by the fact that New Caledonia doesn't have all of the taxes that we do on alcohol.

Hot. Monday was hot. Boiling hot. Nearly 40 degrees hot. Walking around in the midday sun was not healthy, so we tried to go to the aquarium to cool off in their air conditioning.

Unfortunately, it was closed on Monday's. So, a short phonecall later, and we were picked up by Annette, and taken shopping with them at a much larger shopping center. This one was fairly similar to the last, except that it sold electronics and clothes as well. The electronics were super expensive - a single blu ray movie was well over $60 AUD.

After another browse around their extensive cheese section, we headed back to Annette's house.

That evening, we had a French dish called "raclette" for dinner. Essentially, it was various deli items such as salami, prosciutto, olives, onions, gherkins and what have you, smothered in melted cheese. As if this wasn't fun enough, the cooking procedure was very hands on, as you had a grill which you melted the cheese under, and grilled any other parts to your meal on the top. A very social and very tasty meal.


On tuesday we finally got to visit the aquarium. And it was definitely worth the wait. The aquarium took you through all of the various depths of water throughout New Caledonia's ecosystem, from mountain streams, all the way through to deep oceans.

My favourite area was the petting pool, which had a real baby sea turtle which you could touch, and other types of star fish and sea cucumbers. There was one fish in particular that looked like its whole body was its head, and then a tiny tail at the end. We nicknamed it "headfish", and he jetted around the tank with great speed, refusing to stay still long enough for an in-focus photograph.

Also impressive was the massive tanks filled with shallow sea life, such as leopard sharks and gropers.

After leaving the aquarium, we chilled at Annette's house for a short while, before heading to a local waterslide park. It was essentially a tiny wet n' wild, with two rather fun waterslides. One which was a solo slide, and the other that was a two-person toboggan ride through a pitch-black tube that twisted and turned. Great fun.

That night, we went to a local Pizza place for dinner. The pizza was very tasty, and it meant that I have now tried pizza in every country I have visited, with the possible exception of Singapore airport. But I will try and rectify that when I head to Japan in March.

Next up: More New Caledonia stuff and the journey home.

25/12/10 - 28/12/10 New Caledonia Christmas, Generalised Shenanigans

Ooook, so apparently I've spent too much time holidaying and not enough time blogging. Time to remedy this!


Christmas Day in New Caledonia was spent as any good Christmas should be spent: with great company, great food and all activities at a relaxed pace. We had delicious turkey, prawns and pork for lunch, and then lobster for dinner.

The lobster was very very tasty, but to be honest it tasted like a chunky chunk of meat, but made of prawns. Definitely not a bad thing, but I think my palate didn't appreciate the price tag.


Boxing day was another sightseeing day. We began by going out in Annette and Claude's boat to visit Ilot Maitre, one of the smaller islands off the coast of Noumea. The boat ride was very fun, with the speedboat bouncing up and down on the clear blue water.

When we moored just off the island, it was swimming time. The water was pleasantly cool - a relief from the constant New Caledonian heat.

I borrowed one of the snorkels from the boat and did some snorkeling over one of the coral reefs nearby. The view was fantastic, with thousands of fish and corals to be seen.

Unfortunately, it was soon time to go back to the mainland, as we had other exciting sightseeing things to do.

Later that day, we went for a drive to a river that snakes its way through a massive mountain range that divides New Caledonia into east and west.

The drive to the river was breathtaking. At every turn it seemed like one gigantic mountain gave way to another. The whole thing reminded me of the film "Jurassic Park", except without the killer dinosaurs, of course...

We were intending to go for a swim at one of the river's popular swimming spots, but due to the heat and the popularity of the boxing day holiday, it appeared that all of the really good spots were taken. Eventually the road turned from bitumen to gravel to red dust, and we found ourselves a spot.

Unfortunately, the spot which we had found was fairly shallow, and the river bottom was covered in very slippery rocks. Nevertheless, I still tried and swam, but it was more just lying still and letting the water wash over me. Still, the water was lovely and cool, and the setting was rather peaceful, so it was definitely worth the trip.

The rest of the day was spent lounging by the pool. All in all, a great boxing day - certainly better than a shift at The Big K.


On Monday we explored downtown Noumea. We had a look around their many shops, and also in one of their supermarkets.

The supermarket was an interesting experience. Some items were very expensive compared to Australia, such as junk food, but other items, such as cheese and alcohol were significantly cheaper.

The former can be explained by the fact that, well, the French love their freaking cheese, so much so that nearly a quarter of the shop was devoted to it. The latter can be explained by the fact that New Caledonia doesn't have all of the taxes that we do on alcohol.

Hot. Monday was hot. Boiling hot. Nearly 40 degrees hot. Walking around in the midday sun was not healthy, so we tried to go to the aquarium to cool off in their air conditioning.

Unfortunately, it was closed on Monday's. So, a short phonecall later, and we were picked up by Annette, and taken shopping with them at a much larger shopping center. This one was fairly similar to the last, except that it sold electronics and clothes as well. The electronics were super expensive - a single blu ray movie was well over $60 AUD.

After another browse around their extensive cheese section, we headed back to Annette's house.

That evening, we had a French dish called "raclette" for dinner. Essentially, it was various deli items such as salami, prosciutto, olives, onions, gherkins and what have you, smothered in melted cheese. As if this wasn't fun enough, the cooking procedure was very hands on, as you had a grill which you melted the cheese under, and grilled any other parts to your meal on the top. A very social and very tasty meal.


On tuesday we finally got to visit the aquarium. And it was definitely worth the wait. The aquarium took you through all of the various depths of water throughout New Caledonia's ecosystem, from mountain streams, all the way through to deep oceans.

My favourite area was the petting pool, which had a real baby sea turtle which you could touch, and other types of star fish and sea cucumbers. There was one fish in particular that looked like its whole body was its head, and then a tiny tail at the end. We nicknamed it "headfish", and he jetted around the tank with great speed, refusing to stay still long enough for an in-focus photograph.

Also impressive was the massive tanks filled with shallow sea life, such as leopard sharks and gropers.

After leaving the aquarium, we chilled at Annette's house for a short while, before heading to a local waterslide park. It was essentially a tiny wet n' wild, with two rather fun waterslides. One which was a solo slide, and the other that was a two-person toboggan ride through a pitch-black tube that twisted and turned. Great fun.

That night, we went to a local Pizza place for dinner. The pizza was very tasty, and it meant that I have now tried pizza in every country I have visited, with the possible exception of Singapore airport. But I will try and rectify that when I head to Japan in March.

Next up: More New Caledonia stuff and the journey home.

Friday, December 24, 2010

23/12/10 - 24/12/10 A Christmas Eve in Noumea

This Christmas, I was presented with the opportunity to spend the week over Christmas with Emma's family in New Caledonia. Essentially, that meant a holiday with great company on a french tropical island with free accommodation. I have a hard life, don't I?

So my trip began with me finishing my shift at the Big K, and taking the airtrain straight to the airport.

I arrived before Emma and her family, and decided to check-in on my own. Upon check-in, I discovered that unfortunately, I wouldn't be able to sit next to Emma on my flight, due to us being booked on separate tickets and it being a full load. Thankfully, it was going to be quite a short flight, so it didn't concern me too much.

Emma and her family had some luggage issues, and as such after arriving at the airport,
Gerry, Emma's Dad, had to turn around, go all the way back to Kenmore, and get back to the airport before check-in closed. Needless to say, it was a tense wait for us. Thankfully he did make it back in time.

After passing through immigration, and having a browse around the duty free shops, I did my usual plane spotting gig. I killed a good 15 minutes walking from one end of the international terminal to the other. It turned out that as I was walking around, I saw our plane land, barely 20 minutes before we were due to depart.

Naturally, 20 minutes isn't nearly long enough for a plane to be unloaded, cleaned, refuelled, reloaded, re-catered and boarded, so our flight was delayed by a good 30 minutes.

Air Calin Flight SB151 Brisbane - Noumea
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200 F-OJSE
Class: Economy
Seat: 31A, then 31F, then 30F
Pushback: 2119
Arrival: 0018

The flights. It's all about the flights for me. This flight was no different. I fiddled with the in flight entertainment, chatted to the person next to me, and tried out the recline on my seat. All were quite good, but I noticed fairly quickly into the flight that there were other sets of seats free. I asked one of the flight attendants if I could grab my girlfriend and sit in one of the other seats. The attendant said this was fine, so I jumped up and tried out some of the other seats. Eventually I settled on an empty exit row seat, and got Emma to come down and sit next to me. Legroom is awesome.

A little while later, I looked out the window, and the runway was only about 10 meters below us. Apparently we were landing.

The rest of the night was a very quick journey from the airport to Noumea, and a very good night's sleep.

Actually, that last bit is a lie. Probably the dodgiest night's sleep I've had in a while. As I found out pretty early on after arriving in New Caledonia, it is damn hot. And apparently we've come in their hottest December on record.

Christmas eve was a very enjoyable day. Compared to my last few Christmas eve's, this 24th of December has been wonderful. The past few years were made up of panicked customers trying to finish off their last bits of shopping and me being yelled at by said customers for being out of stock of a highly popular Christmas present which has been on sale for several weeks *before* Christmas.

This Christmas eve was spent lounging by the pool, eating delicious french food and drinking delicious European soft drinks and alcohol. Guess which type of Christmas Eve I prefer?? Hint: it's the one with croissants.

In the afternoon, we went to a local patisserie and bought more bread for the evening meal. The smell of freshly baked bread makes your mouth water. Additionally, I got to see my third ever sunset over the water! We drove past one of Noumea's main beaches just on sunset, and we saw the orange sun dip beneath the waves, while eating a chocolate eclair. It was awesome. Easily the most beautiful, as it lacked Phuket's thousands of other tourists, and San Franisco's perma-fog.

For dinner, we had barbecued prawns. Now, being the true blue "shrimp on the barbie" Aussie that I am, one would think that this would be a common occurance for me, but actually this was my first ever barbecued seafood. I'll probably go home and eat some snails to balance the Aussie:French ratio.

Next up: Christmas! Other Shenanigans!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

21/08/10 - 24/08/10 Los Angeles, The Return Home, and the Beginning of a New Adventure!

Woah, so I kinda forgot to write up this last bit of the blog for a solid FOUR MONTHS. My bad. Excuse me if my memory is slightly sketchy on the details.

So my last morning in New York began quite subdued. We got up, took our bags downstairs, and Peta and I parted ways. I jumped in the supershuttle, while she took a traditional New York Taxi to the train station. Before my shuttle headed to the airport, we had to pick up several other passengers, so I got one final tour around Manhattan, and then I was off on my way to JFK airport.

Of course I arrived at the airport about two hours before my flight left, so I killed time spotting aircraft, and eating a very tasteless and partially frozen sandwich from some newsagent. It could've been worse.

Then, it was boarding time, and for the first flight of my life, I was actually sitting *in front* of the wing! For some reason, I always seem to be seated in the very back quarter of an aircraft. The advantage to sitting in front of the wing is that the flight is generally smoother, and quieter too. Was the difference noticeable? Slightly. I'd say it is worthwhile if you get the chance to, but expect for a fair bit of your window view to be taken up by a stonking great big engine.

Delta Airlines Flight DL2863 New York (JFK) - Los Angeles
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200 N706TW
Class: Economy
Seat: 23F
Pushback: 1200
Arrival: 1443

The flight was fairly uneventful, I managed to score the only empty seat next to me on the plane, and I actually managed to get some decent sleep. I also watched "Ratatouille" on my iPhone. God bless Pixar. It was also a fairly clear day of flying, so I got to see some of the various landscapes below me. I saw the farmlands of Kansas, and even the Grand Canyon! All in all, a decent tour of continental USA... although it makes me wish I could've done it from the ground level...

After arriving back at LAX, I caught the shuttle to the Hilton LAX, where I'd spend my last night before heading back home to Australia. As soon as I checked in at the hotel, I had some dinner, as while it was only really 5pm in Los Angeles, I was still on Eastern time, so it was more like 8pm - dinner time.

After a delicious buffet dinner, I headed up to my room, and skyped with Emma for several hours. It was easily the best phonecall of the trip.

My room had a direct view of one of LAX's runways, and it was interesting that there was always at least 8 aircraft lined up for arrival. Clearly the air traffic control have this whole "landing planes" business down to an art form.

The next day, I went to Santa Monica, to kill time between checkout and my flight home. I was recommended this by one of the hotel staff, and I found Santa Monica to be very enjoyable. I had a look along the famous Santa Monica pier, which appeared in the film "Iron Man", among others. I also ate Churros. Churros are awesome.

I also saw a woman load her pet dashund into a cannon. Hillarious photos were taken and enjoyed by all, except for the dog.

After killing some more time looking around Santa Monica's outdoor mall, I caught the bus back to my hotel, and the airport shuttle to LAX.

And with that, my USA adventure was over. After passing through security, I was airside, and technically no longer in the United States of America. But does my travel blog end here? Hell no! I'm a plane geek!

Qantas flight QF12 Los Angeles - Sydney
Aircraft: Airbus A380-800 VH-OQE "Lawrence Hargrave"
Class: Economy
Seat: 80K
Pushback: 2228
Arrival: 0621

This was by far the best flight of my life. Excellent quality food, excellent seat, excellent entertainment. Pro tip: if you ever get to fly on the Qantas A380 (and even with its recent safety issues, I still highly recommend it), try and get either seat 80A or 80K. They are window seats, one row behind the Exit row. The beauty of the seat is that there is no seat in front of you, so you have unlimited legroom, a window to look out of, and nobody to have to push past if you need to get up to go to the bathroom. In other words: awesomesauce.

Unfortunately, this awesomesauce seat was slightly less awesomesauce for me, because I discovered that the recline was broken on it for this flight. They offered to switch me to another seat, but obviously the legroom trumped the recline.

Seeing as this flight took off late at night, I actually managed to get quite a decent rest. Although I did watch a few movies when I was awake("Alice in Wonderland", "Forrest Gump" and "New York, I Love You").

After a tasty breakfast, we were descending into Sydney.

The rest of my trip was essentially getting waived through customs, patting a very friendly sniffer dog, and another flight to Brisbane, but I won't bore you with those details.

The one thing that I will say though, is that there is no better feeling in the world than meeting your loved ones at the airport after a long trip abroad. It felt great to be home.




So in roughly 20 hours, I will be off on my next jet-setting adventure. This time, I'm off to New Caledonia with Emma and her family for a tropical Christmas Vacation. I can't wait. It should be awesome! Now if only I could learn to speak French in less than 20 hours... Surely there's an iPhone app for that...

Up Next: New Caledonia!

Friday, August 20, 2010

19/8/10 - 20/8/10 - My Last Days in New York

So here I am, sitting on my bed. My bag is packed, my room is clean, and as soon as I've finished this blog, it is my last sleep in New York City. A certain feeling of sadness has washed over me. Of course I feel very lucky to have spent so much time in this amazing city, ecstatic, even. But when I leave, I will certainly miss this place...

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. What did I do over the past two days, I hear you say? Well, I'm glad you asked.

Thursday was another late start. Peta came with me for the day today, as we checked off the last few things on our "to see" list. Firstly, we headed to the Toy Shop "FAO Schwarz". It's the one from the movie "Big". It was a massive shop, with several levels worth of toys. Our main purpose was to see the famous Piano from "Big". You know, the one which is so massive that you step on the keys? Yeah, that one.

Unfortunately, there was a "line tax" involved to have a go on it, so Peta and I passed. Plus, there were four people on it at a time, so lots of kids, so it was basically a cocophany of clashing notes. No chance of belting out the good old "Heart and Soul" tune.

The store also had a great selection of Lego, including sets that you can only buy online. I was tempted to buy some, but then remembered that they wouldn't fit in my luggage, and that I haven't built the sets I have at the moment, and probably won't for some time, so there was not much point. Peta enjoyed looking at the barbies, apparently.

Our next stop was central park zoo, which was conveniently about two blocks away. The zoo itself was pretty cool, but because of the limited space, they didn't have as bigger range of animals as Melbourne Zoo, or Taronga Zoo. Apparently The Bronx Zoo is New York's proper zoo, but that will have to wait until next time.

They had a pretty decent range of animals there, such as Snow Leopards, Polar Bears and Snow Monkeys. Given the lack of snow though, these animals looked pretty sad - definitely hot! They did have some temperate and tropical animals, such as Macaws and other bird life, and they seemed to love New York's summer heat.

We then had a look through the Children's zoo, just for funsies. It was pretty average. Basically a petting zoo, except you could only pet the goats and alpacas. No spitting incidents occurred.

We then went for some Thai food, for a late lunch, early dinner... Thing... It was great. I think the ratio of American food to Thai food consumed on this trip has shifted in Thailand's favour.

We then had another look through Times Square, and went into the Hershey's store. Inside, the door greeter was a particularly colourful character.

Unlike, say, a Kmart customer greeter, where a nod and smile, or a quiet hello suffices in making the customer feel welcomed, the man at the entrance to the Hershey's store stood there, yelling at the top of his lungs, "HELLO! HI! WELCOME!" to every single person who walked through the entrance. And there was a constant stream of people entering. Peta and I theorised that he must get paid per greeting, because the noise pollution emanating from his mouth was just plain excessive.

To Hershey's credit though, the "shock and awe" greeting strategy did work. It made Peta and I laugh at his misfortune - Shadenfreude, if you will. I even ended up buying some chocolate, because I was in such a good mood after seeing how much it'd suck to be him.

That night, we went out to the East Village, to another couch surfing gig. This one was epic. Heaps and heaps of people, and plenty of cheap drinks made it a good night. Like San Francisco's meetup, everyone was very friendly, and there was that same "talk to anyone" dynamic going on, which was great.

It became apparent over the course of the night that the bartender quite liked Peta, and as such, strong and cheap drinks followed for her.

At about 2am, we left the bar, and because of the early dinner we had, we were quite hungry. The only place in the East Village that was open was a 24 hour Ukrainian diner - because at 2am in the morning, that's the first kind of food that's on my mind!

Still, to their credit, my food was quite nice, and the waiter knew exactly how to handle Peta's highly conversational drunkenness. They had free, no-fuss wifi as well, which is always a bonus.

Afterwards, we caught the subway home. The Subway's reputation for being unsafe after midnight is completely unfounded - it was just as crowded and just as safe as during the middle of the day. That being said, I can only speak for Manhattan. The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn is probably a different story.

Friday started quite late in the day. For me, midday. For Peta, about 3pm. Hangovers must suck.

In the meantime, while Peta was sleeping off the previous night, I went downtown to the New York library. As I mentioned in my Facebook update, the place is like a temple for books! A gigantic, marble building filled with quiet reading rooms, walls lined with books from another age. All in all, it was very impressive, and certainly puts Queensland's library to shame.

I then headed a few blocks uptown to Rockefeller plaza. To be honest, I didn't see what the fuss was about. I've heard all of these great stories about it, not to mention the excellent TV show set there, but it was really just a group of buildings.

That was, until I found THE NINTENDO STORE! Now that was all kinds of cool. They had exclusive Nintendo-ey merchandise, a Nintendo DS signed by Shigeru Miyamoto himself, as well as a whole floor devoted to the Pokemon franchise. I picked up a Suicune figurine for my computer desktop back home.

After my total geek-out, I headed back to the room, to see if Peta was alive. Nope. So I went across to one of the local takeout restaurants to get her a noodle soup, as her stomach was still recovering from last night.

We then watched Dexter for a few hours, and just hung out in the room. Then, it was time for our last dinner in New York. We headed to the Olive Garden in Times Square. We got the privilege of a wonderful window booth, just heading on sunset, so we got to see the brilliant transition from day to night in Times Square.

Our food was delicious, and we both really enjoyed ourselves. A great end to an awesome trip.

And so now, my bag is packed, and I'm lying on my bed, reminiscing on all of the fantastic times I've had on this trip. It has been a life-altering experience. I feel the travel bug flowing through my veins, even stronger than before.

I sound like my trip is over, when in reality, I've got a good 48 hours left before I leave for Australia. But, this is where it more or less ends for me. I'm sure I'll have fun in LA, but I'll be on my own, as Peta is off to London to live.

Thus I won't have anyone awesome to experience my travels with. And awesome Peta is. I admire her for moving to a whole new part of the world because she can, but I'd be lying if I said that I won't miss her company and friendship. She is great. And I will miss hanging out with her alot.

The upside to this, is now I have an excuse to travel to London soon! Now I just need the spare $2,500...

And so early tomorrow morning, I am bound for Los Angeles again, where I get to spend 36 hours entertaining myself before waiting to see that Kangaroo on the red-tailed plane...

New York, San Francisco, you have shown me your endless bounties, and I love you both for it, but Australia will always be my home...

Next up: Los Angeles, and the journey home...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

18/8/10 - Two Pennies, a Girl, and a Pizza Place

I just noticed that I dated yesterday's blog with 18/8/10. It was meant to be 17/8/10. My bad. Although I'm guessing that nobody would have noticed if I didn't point it out.

Anyways, my body clock is getting all screwey, probably due to my jetlag having jetlag, so today started at midday. Naturally, my first port of call was breakfast, or in this case, lunch.

I was determined to try New York's pizza today, so that was what I settled on for lunch. After a quick subway ride down to the financial district, I found a suitable pizza joint, and indulged in a slice of "everything pizza". I don't know if that was its official name or not, but it had a lot of toppings, so that's what I called it.

Firstly, the singular slice of pizza that I ate was truly massive. Like, one slice was about half the size of your typical Dominos pizza from Australia. Secondly, it was damn cheap. About $3 for a slice. And, for a lunchtime meal, that's more than enough. Thirdly, it tasted quite good. I'd be lying if I said it was the best pizza I've ever eaten, but it was still quite nice. Definitely quantity over quality, but that wasn't a bad thing in this case...

I then took the subway out of Manhattan, to Brooklyn. My goal was to walk the Brooklyn bridge, so I got off at the stop closest to it.

When I got out of the subway, the first thing I was greeted with was a very pleasant park. Children playing on the swings, people walking their dogs, squirrels hoarding nuts for the winter, and a junkie furiously scratching the track-marks on his forearms...

Ok, so the park was great except for the junkie, and whilst I didn't go anywhere near him, as I think my Aussie accent would have given away that I wasn't from Brooklyn, and as such made me an exemplary mugging-target, I did feel very sorry for him.

Aside from his arms, he didn't seem all that seedy... Just a guy who had made some bad choices, and was now addicted to a life-destroying substance. I hope that he gets help soon...

I then made a bee-line for the Brooklyn Bridge. The walk across it was hot and sunny, but it did offer some very nice views of the Manhattan skyline, and the south street harbour. Lots of photos were taken. The walk itself took close to an hour, and you end up pretty much in the middle of the financial district when you can finally get off the bridge walkway.

I then made my way down to the boardwalk of the east river. It hugged the shore all the way around to Battery Park, at the very lower tip of Manhattan. My next destination was the ferry to the Statue of Liberty.

On my way, I stopped at the south street dock, and took some photos of the ships there, including one called the "Peking". It has some significance to my family's history, or so my Dad tells me. These ships were mainly sail boats - definitely relics from another age.

Another 30 minutes of walking later, and I was at Battery Park. I bought my ticket and audio tour, and proceeded onto the ferry.

Now a fun physics diversion. Ever heard of the term "positive reinforcement"? From my understanding, it has alot to do with waves, be them light, sound, electricity, or in this case, fluid. Positive reinforcement occurs when two waves add together to amplify eachother - ie make a bigger, singular wave. A practical example of this is someone pushing a child on a swing set - with every push, they swing higher. This happened when everybody got on the ferry. Everybody getting on the boat and moving to the other side caused the boat to rock in such a way that with each new passenger that got on, the boat rose higher and lower - almost to the point of the deck dipping into the water. They actually had to stop the people getting on the boat to let the waves calm down!

Liberty island was definitely impressive, as was the statue itself. The audio tour taught me several things that I would not have had a clue about otherwise, so it was definitely worth the extra $8. For example, the Statue of Liberty is hollow! It is made of copper, and is only as thick as two pennies! Furthermore, she was originally brown in colour, but the oxidation process caused her to turn the familiar green colour within 20 years of her construction.

She's also quite a large statue. I can't remember the exact measurements the tour gave me, but it was within the several hundred feet range.

The audio tour was somewhat patriotic, and being the Aussie tourist that I am, it was mainly lost on me. But, I did still feel like I was a traveller walking on very special ground.

After about an hour of sightseeing and reflection on the island, I caught the ferry back to Manhattan. It was going on 6pm by now, so I headed up to Times Square for some dinner.

I was still in the mood for pizza - so I was going to eat at Ray's pizza place. It's quite famous, apparently. I had seen the pizza in the film "Iron Man", and every time I saw it, I craved pizza, so I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to eat there.

I ended up spending close to 90 minutes trying to find the damn place. The problem with Times Square is that with all the over-saturation of advertisements, billboards and flashing lights, it becomes very difficult to find anything at all, because everything is screaming in your face.

I tried to use my phone on the various wifi networks to try and find the address online, but they wouldn't let me access the Internet, even though they were apparently "free". I eventually gave up, and used data roaming to find where the bloody place was. It gave me a street number. Two different ones on two different streets, apparently alluding to the same place. FFFFfffffff-

After several more frustrated walks in any which way but the right direction, I discovered that the two different streets (7th Avenue and Broadway) actually merge together on the walking street that is Times Square. Then I just had to find a street number so I could get my bearings. Eventually I did, and I finally found the damn place.

Thankfully, the pizza was very tasty, and also very cheap. So cheap that I ate two slices - even though they were massive. All in all, a good dinner, and under $10, too.

I noticed that most of the locals who eat at pizza shops tend to "fold" the pizza up so they could fit more of it in their mouth per bite. I found this strange. The slices are already so huge... Why do you need to fit even more of it in your mouth at once? Strange New Yorkers...

After that, nothing really interesting happened. I headed back to the hotel, watched some "Dexter" with Peta, and wrote this blog. All in all, another good day.

Tomorrow: Central Park Zoo! The Toy Store from "Big"! New York Public Library!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

18/8/10 - The Only Living Boy in New York

Please note, the title of this blog has little, if not anything to do with the actual blog. The male population of New York has not died, nor has it turned into a zombie plague, but the song *has* been stuck in my head. Besides, I thought it made for a catchy title.

I set out today to have another look around the city. And look I did. My first port of call was on the mid west region of Manhattan. It was a store called "B&H Audio and Video". It seemed like a typical Australian electronics store, except it had a massive high-end audio section as well. Sadly, everything in there was nearly half the price that it is in Australia. Worse yet, I had no money to buy any of the shiny, shiny goods from there, because I've spent it all on traveling. Irony, please stop following me, kthx.

I then headed downtown to the very lower end of Manhattan. I visited the Ground Zero site. It was mostly shielded from the public - and I can't blame them for that - but what I did see held a chilling resemblance to the photos of twisted wreckage I saw nine years ago. Admittedly most of it is now a construction site, as they are erecting a single new World Trade Centre tower, but the two scarred holes where the towers stood were still there.

These two holes are being transformed into large, cascading pools, surrounded by plaques bearing the names of all those who perished during the attacks. I found the whole thing quite moving.

I then looked into the memorial museum located close by. This almost brought me to tears. Reading the stories of love, loss and bravery was a very emotional experience for me. I began to listen to a recording of a man recounting the love he shared with his fiancé before she died during the attacks. I was hit with an overwhelming wave of sadness. I donated a sizable amount of money to the memorial fund, and then stood still for a moment, pondering the world that we currently live in.

Now I'm not going to go waving any American flags or scream patriotic messages from the rooftops, but the human life is a priceless thing, and it is truly a tragedy that so many lives were lost on that day.

Now, moving onto happier times, I caught the subway to Wall st, and the New York Stock Exchange. Wow. An impressive building, that's for sure, but little else. You can't go inside, and there's very little to be seen on the outside - none of which alludes to the world-changing financial shenanigans that happen in there every day.

I turned around to see another impressive building. One that I had seen many times before, but not on TV... It was Federal Hall. This building was where George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States of America.

Fair enough, it's famous and all that, but that still didn't explain why I knew the building so well, and why I had such a compelling urge to swing the right analogue stick in a circular motion...

Then, it came back to me in visions. Samurai Swords, Exoskeletons, Missiles, Girly-Man-Prancy-Boys and overly long, convoluted and bizarre codec conversations... If this doesn't make any sense at all to you, you're in the majority of the population who haven't seen the ending of "Metal Gear Sold 2: Sons of Liberty".

For me though, being the gaming geek that I am, this realization was an awesome moment of fanboyish glee... Being in the scene from a videogame is undeniably cool... I almost expected to see Vamp standing near a taxi in the distance... (if you don't get any of the previous few paragraphs, don't worry... Most people won't)

After finishing my nerdy moment, I headed uptown to the East Village district. My goal was to find my wonderful girlfriend Emma a hat, or at least something nice to bring back from New York for her. After exiting the subway, the first thing I was confronted with was a Kmart store. Now being an employee of "The Big K" in Australia, this made me die a little on the inside. Nevertheless, I had a look inside, an it was pretty much the same as the Aussie Kmarts, except everything was slightly cheaper due to the exchange rate. I bailed after about two minutes of being in the store.

I then had a browse around the independent stores of the East Village. They were very eclectic, stocking ranges of clothes and jewelry all the way from designer labels, to op shop treasure troves, to vintage everything.

I managed to track down a great hat shop for Emma. Finding the right size and style hat was another matter all together though. The shop clerks helped me make some decisions on purchases, so hopefully I made the right one...

My next stop was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Massive doesn't even come close to describing it. It was equally as massive as the Museum of Natural History, if not larger. It wasn't so much an art gallery as I was expecting, moreso a collection of various artifacts from the different cultures of the world. I mean, there were still paintings, but they were somewhat less prominent than the other things on display.

I managed to only look through three wings before the museum closed on me:

Firstly, The Egyptian wing, which contained mummified remains of Egyptian dignitaries from Tutankhamen's rule, as well sarcophaguses, tools, statues, and even a temple that had been transported from Egypt!

Next, I had a look through the American wing. It contained beautiful paintings, ornaments and sculptures, as well as entire period-based "rooms", that depicted how Americans once lived.

Finally, I had a quick look through the Japanese art wing. Various traditional paintings and sculptures from the Far East adorned the walls, as well as a Zen Garden. Zen Gardens rock. I want one. A full sized one. In my living room.

Then, the museum shut on me. I'll need to go back sometime soon, as I didn't even get to explore the Roman or European wings.

From there, I took another walk across central park. It was just as awesome as it was yesterday. The handiest thing to have on you through central park is a compass. The roads constantly interweave, so following them can get you lost pretty quickly. But having a compass at least gives you a general direction to head in.

I headed back to the room, and got ready to go out for the night. Peta and I were going to see a show at the Dangerfields comedy club.

The show was great. The range of comedians we saw did vary in quality (one guy was incredibly un-funny, but thankfully he was the odd one out), but on the whole their comedy was excellent. Next time I come to New York, I will re-visit the club for sure, even if the guy who runs the place is a grumpy old bastard.

And now it's 2AM, and I'm in the lobby, finishing this blog. Bed time methinks.

Tomorrow: More New York stuff!

Monday, August 16, 2010

15/8/10 - 16/8/10 - York of the New variety

Two days worth of blogging in one...

Sunday we spent most of the day checking out the various sights around times square and broadway. It was somewhat intense. Everything in times square is huge and very commercial. Each store is its own spectacle, and it is actually quite fatiguing.

We had breakfast/lunch at a deli in times square... To be honest, my food wasn't all that great. I had the bacon and eggs, but it seemed as if everything on my plate (and probably including the plate) was deep fried for about three minutes too long.

We then headed for the New York library, as apparently it's all pretty like on the inside. Unfortunately, we didn't know that it was closed on Sundays. Bummer.

We then had a look around Gran Central station. It was absolutely massive. Unfortunately, its 100+ platforms have been made somewhat obsolete in an era dominated by air travel, but the building's central hall is still impressive beyond words.

That night, we headed out and saw a broadway play. Technically, it was an "off-broadway" play because it was off the broadway street, but it was awesome nonetheless. We saw Avenue Q, and it was just as hilarious as all the posters said it was. Totally recommended.

Today (Monday), I spent the day on my own, as Peta went off to do her own thing. I went to the Seinfeld Diner and had some breakfast there. Obviously the interior is different to in the show as the restaurant was filmed on a soundstage, but the diner itself was actually very nice. The people were friendly and the food was tasty and cheap. Cant complain about that.

I then caught the subway to the Museum of Natural History. It was freaking massive. I spent several hours exploring it, only to realize that I had only explored one of the four floors. It has virtually every animal and culture, both living and extinct on display. Add to that a massive section on geology, astronomy, and a section devoted to the general scale of the universe, and it makes for a very impressive look at our tiny planet of Earth. The dinosaur skeletons were especially cool.

I then went for a walk across to the eastern side of town through Central Park. Whoever thought of Central Park is a genius. It is a great way to escape from the hustle and bustle of the massive city around you, and wherever you look, there's a picture perfect shot just waiting to be snapped. Totally awesome. I need to spend a few hours just chilling there...

I then headed for the Empire State Building. Everybody that I've talked to about it, said that it had massive lines. I think the IRS will be after me soon, because I didn't pay "The Line Tax" at all. Obviously the observation deck was a bit crowded, but the views were still amazing. I was meant to meet up with Peta there, but there was a miscommunication and we didn't end up meeting. Oh well, I got to see the city transition from day to night, so that was pretty special.

And now I'm back at the hotel, writing my blog in a lobby crowded with people because the wifi is out in the rooms. I hope they fix it soon...

Tomorrow: More New York stuff!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

13/8/10-14/8/10 From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Here's a pro tip: if you're going to be on a 5 hour, overnight flight from one side of a country to another, it is not advisable, to go for a 30km bike ride on the day of departure.How do I know this? Well, I speak from experience.

After checking out of our hotel, Peta and I began Friday with a bus ride down to Fisherman's Wharf. The bus ride was devoid of interesting characters, for better or for worse.

We had decided that today would be the day to tackle the Golden Gate Bridge. We decided to bike ride it. The ride was great, I totally recommend it. It is the best way of seeing the bridge by far, but be prepared for a sore arse.

The bike track begins at Pier 39, in the very heart of the tourist area. It then follows the bay around to the headland near the Golden Gate Bridge. The views are spectacular, and it really makes it apparent what an amazing engineering achievement the bridge is.

That being said, the wind that blows at you as you travel along the harbour really slows you down. Still, it could be worse, and the views more than make up for the battering winds.

We stopped at the last pier before we began the long, uphill climb to the bridge. Just off the pier, there were Sea Lions playing in the water, watching the fishermen on the pier, waiting for them to throw some scraps their way. One of the Sea Lions even rolled onto its back and stuck its fin out of the water, in an attempt to gain more attention... I swear every performer in SF is after tips...

After a brief photo stop, we began the ascent to the bridge. Even though the bridge was a good 100 meters above sea level, the incline wasn't all that steep, and while you were still puffed when you got to the top, you weren't about to keel over and die.

Like the previous day in SF, the weather was actually fairly nice. The sun was out, and the weather was a pleasant temperature. BUT, the bridge was still shrouded in fog, like the elusive monster it is. Cycling across the bridge was no exception. You couldn't see the very top of the struts due to the perma-fog, but the views of the rest of the bridge and the surrounding bay were spectacular.

The bridge itself is long. Longcat long. Seriously, it was at least 2km long. Maybe it's shorter, but I can't be bothered to go on wikipedia and check right now, so there.

Riding across it was lots of fun, and definitely the smart option, as it would've taken a good hour to walk on foot. The walkway is certainly crowded, but as you get towards the middle of the bridge, the number of pedestrians decline, as they realise just how damn long it is.

On the other side of the bridge, there is a fantastic viewpoint. A great place to stop and take photos. So great in fact, that I got asked at least three times to take photos of other people! Of course I was more than happy to oblige, being the friendly Aussie that I am.

Our bike ride then took an exciting steep descent into the quiet (and very, VERY upmarket) town of Sausolito. I would love to live there, as the views are fantastic. I don't think that the houses would be within the "uni student" income range, though.

We stopped off at a small Italian restaurant for some lunch/dinner. I had a massive cheeseburger, and Peta had some spaghetti bolognaise. Their food was really tasty, and the lady who served us was very kind and caring - we left her a big tip :p

After our food, we waited down at the marina for our ferry to take us back to the mainland. Clearly we weren't the only people who thought the bike riding thing was a good idea, as there were at least 200 cyclists on our ferry back.

Our cycling adventure was over. It was a really memorable experience. It wasn't without its pain though. I mean yes, the views, the ride and the bridge were all fantastic, but it wasn't without the drawback of major backside pain. I suppose this is god's way of telling me to exercise more often, I suppose.

Anyways, after returning our bikes, we went back to the hotel, picked up our bags, and caught a transfer to the airport. It was with a very heavy heart that I left San Francisco. When funds permit, I intend to return there. Soon.

Delta Airlines Flight DL2340 San Francisco - New York (JFK).
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Seat: 37B
Class: Economy
Pushback: 2235
Arrival: 0705

Remember that butthurt I was talking about a paragraph or two ago? The 5 hour flight sure didn't help. Peta, being the narcolept that she is, fell asleep before the safety video had finished playing. I however, got the privilege of staying awake for the whole time, trying to get even a few moments shut-eye. I think I scraped through with maybe 10 minutes of unconsciousness.

I will say this though: on this trip, I brought a pair of ear plugs with me. Best idea ever. If you can't sleep on flights, this will help you somewhat. They're the only reason I was able to get so much sleep on my flight to America.

We touched down at some ungodly hour... About 4am SF time, or 7am New York time. We drearily made our way to the airport transfer shuttle, and took in what we could of our journey from JFK to Manhattan.

Manhattan is massive. No other real way of describing it. It is overwhelmingly huge - every block has skyscrapers stretching off in every direction as far as the eye can see. It is somewhat intimidating.

Unfortunately, check in at our hotel doesn't open until 3pm, and we are desperate for some sleep. Peta has managed to grab a few hours sleep in the lobby, but once again, I wasn't so lucky. So now we're just chilling in Central Park, waiting for time to pass.

I think I'm going to leave it there for this entry. I can spoil the ending of today for you if you'd like... We'll go to the hotel and sleep. Fascinating stuff.

Tomorrow: New York! Not under sleep deprivation! Broadway play! Avenue Q!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

12/8/10 - Alcatraz and some interesting bus rides.

Before I begin the daily blog (I'm seeing a pattern here...), Peta has reminded me to mention that yesterday in the lake by the Exploratorium, we saw a duck which was missing a duck, no wait, it's bill. It was missing its bill! It was eating cookies without a bill! It was quite possibly the freakiest thing ever! Seriously, it was like seeing a man without a face. An elephant without a nose. A ninja without a sword. I hope that it was removed by a park ranger to stop a disease or something, because if it lost it in an accident, that'd be terrible.

Anyways, today started later than usual. As we actually knew the date and time for our Alcatraz tour, we didn't really need to leave the room until later in the day. We still managed to grab our sub-par breakfast, though. Shredded potatoes has never tasted so bland...

The first thing I noticed today when we were outside was that the sun was actually out! This shocked Peta and I, as we were expecting everything to be covered in the nigh-prerequisite layer of fog. Turns out there is the occasional sunny day in SF.

Our bus trip took us to Fisherman's Wharf, right where the Alcatraz tour departed from. Seeing as this is pretty much the tourist center of the city, there are buskers and performers everywhere. We saw one such performer riding the bus with us this morning. He was a human statue, covered from head to toe in silver. Seriously, that was almost as bizarre as a duck without a - stop me if you've heard this one...

We had another look around Pier 39. It is essentially a massive tourist spot, but it has a very lively carnival feel to it, and has lots of great stores. Hot dogs were had for lunch. My first hot dog of the trip, and I'm not even in New York yet!

Afterwards, we double checked the date. After confirming 100% that today was in fact the 12th of August, the day that our tour was on, we went to the pier to board our ferry.

I've noticed a disturbing trend in American tourism - the fake photo. They get you to stand against a blue screen or a photo backdrop, and they take your photo as if you were actually in front of that attraction. Then they charge you $22 for the photo. The scary thing is is that people actually buy them! Heaps and heaps of tourists buy them, especially the American tourists. Seriously people, haven't you ever heard of Photoshop? It isn't that hard to superimpose yourself over any old background, and it looks just as fake...

This photo thing was out in force at the Alcatraz tour today, so Peta and I pulled highly un-enthused smiles when it was our turn to have our photo taken.

The boat trip over to Alcatraz was great. It offered amazing views of the SF skyline. I'm actually kind of glad that we didn't go yesterday, as all we would have seen is fog. Of course, the Golden Gate bridge was still shrouded in fog. I swear that nobody has actually seen the top of the bridge before and that all of the post cards are actually an "artists rendition" of it...

Alcatraz itself is actually very different to how it appears in the photos. Aside from the obvious huge, imposing prison, the island has some really nice gardens and plenty of bird life. But, let's face it, the main event was the prison, and it definitely didn't disappoint.

Upon entering the prison, you were given an audio guide to the facility. At first, I was like most people would be, and was under the impression that this was a cheap cop-out way of guiding you as opposed to an actual guide. However, the audio guide itself was highly informative, very well written and produced, and definitely captured your imagination about the lives of the prisoners. As an added bonus, the guide was completely narrated by prison guards and inmates, making it a very authentic experience.

Given the volume of people moving through the prison, I think that an audio tour is by far the best option for the experience. It allows you to go at your own pace, and you can always hear exactly what is being said.

The prison itself was very interesting. It had a real sense of history about it. I found it fascinating that these prisoners, the worst of the worst, were kept under 3km away from the pinnacle of society, yet due to the freezing cold waters and vicious currents that surround Alcatraz, they would never be able to reach there safely. Like a donkey with the tastiest carrot ever dangled over its head, these prisoners had no chance of ever eating the tasty, tasty carrot packed full of delicious freedom.

The various prison cells were also very eerie to look inside. To have your whole life in a space about the size of a wardrobe would be very difficult. Hell, imagine solitary confinement! Nothing but a square room, a bucket, and complete darkness. Definitely not fun.

I could talk for pages upon pages about Alcatraz and all of its many intricacies. But I won't. Instead, I'll just say that if you come to SF, make sure you go there. It is an essential experience. And book early, as it sells out weeks in advance. Also, turning up on the right day helps, too...

After browsing through Alcatraz's extensive (and actually pretty good) gift shop, we caught the boat back to the mainland. It was dinnertime, so being the creatures of habit that we are, we ate at Bubba Gump's shrimp restaurant again. We even ordered the same dishes! It was just as good the second time as the first.

Then, we caught another bus home, and we were privy to another interesting character on the bus. This time, it was a homeless person, who was yelling quite loudly at the back of the bus that he (and I quote) "got on the bus to take a shit, but now can only fart". Fun times were had by all, except the people in close proximity to him, to which I can only assume they gave him ample personal space.

Right, now I'm just going to check with Peta to see if there's anything that I've missed............................................. Nope! Oh wait, we watched a youtube video with talking cats in it. Funniest shit ever.

Tomorrow: Golden Gate Bridge! Bike Riding! Goodbye SF!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

11/8/10 - Alcatraz... Or is it!?!??

So before I start the usual blog, Peta has reminded me to talk about a lady which we saw at universal studios on the first day of my trip. In the line waiting for the studio tour, there was a lady who was wearing a scrunchie. She managed to sneak past EIGHT PEOPLE in the queue. Seriously, that's a good effort. Although now we believe that she is probably pure evil.

Ok, so today started with our usual breakfast of fail. My bagel was cream cheeselicious and Peta's toast and shredded potaoes was apparently slightly better today. At least she got butter with it, and I actually got milk with my tea!

We headed off for a day of adventuring down towards the Exploratorium and our Alcatraz tour. We caught a series of buses to the exploratorium, wherein we had to change buses several times. The first bus driver was vomiting rage all over his bus packed full passengers, including shaking a newspaper menacingly at passengers who got on his already obviously full bus. We waited for the next one, as we didn't want to get newspaper'd. The next bus driver was a quiet and helpful lady who whilst wasn't running the full length of the route we were on, she did manage to drop us at a bus stop that was along the right track. The next bus driver insisted us on taking us closer to our destination, but not to it. Our last bus driver was the nicest bus driver I've ever met. Seriously, he was like a guided tour, except without the tips.

We then walked around the park near the Palace of Fine Arts and the Exploratorium. It is really amazing. The architecture of the palace is similar to a huge dome supported by massive Greek pillars. Unfortunately, it was closed, and due to the large amount of bus changes from earlier, we were running out of time before we needed to be at pier for Alcatraz. The exploratorium would have to wait for another day. Therefore, we had a quick look around the lovely park and lake, and then dashed for the bus to take us back to Fisherman's Wharf.

We grabbed a pretty average lunch of eatery-grade fish and chips, and then headed for Pier 33, where our Alcatraz tour departed from.

Arriving at the pier, we went to claim our tickets. As the lady printed them off, she said "These tickets are for tomorrow." fffffffFFFFFFFF-

So yeah, we didn't end up going to Alcatraz today because neither of us bothered to check the booking date, and just assumed that it'd be on a Wednesday for some reason.

So with the day partially wasted, we decided to head back to the Exploratorium. A bus ride later, we were back in the wonderful park, with ample time to spare.

The exploratorium is like Queensland Museum's "Science Centre", but multiplied by ten. It had every single thing you would ever want to look, touch, smell, listen and, most importantly, learn about. It was great fun, and really indulged the kids inside of us. And there were alot of kids there. Thankfully they seemed to only be interested in the things that made bright lights and loud noises, so they stayed away from the more intellectual mind-benders on offer.

We had spent over two and a half hours in there, and then the damn place closed on us, with us not having seen almost half of the upper floor. Next time I come to SF, I'll have to come back.

All of this learning was making us very tired, so we caught a bus back to the city and to the hotel. As we were deciding what to do for the night, Peta discovered there was a couch surfing meetup happening at a bar a few blocks away from us, so we decided to check it out after dinner.

For dinner we went to a place called "Thai Stick", that, contrary to the name, did not serve sticks made out of Thailand, or Thai people on sticks. It did however serve some nice Thai food, and cheap too. We ate there, both getting some tasty duck dishes.

On a side note, I find it ironic that when I was in Thailand, I ate lots of American food, yet here I am in America, eating Thai food!

Anyways, after the tasty dinner, we headed out to the couch surfing meetup. It was great fun. I had a nice German beer, and met people from all over the world. Lots of local people from SF, too. It is nice to be able to go to a party where nobody knows nobody - everyone is on equal footing, nobody is hosting. It makes it alot easier to mingle and meet new people, mainly because everyone else is there to do the same thing, I suppose.

After a few hours, Peta and I headed back to the room for some well earned rest. A fun night all in all.

Tomorrow: Alcatraz! Fo' real this time!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

10/8/10 "The coldest winter I ever spent was a Summer in San Francisco" - Mark Twain

I learned two fascinating things today about SF. Firstly, it's damn foggy, like, nearly every day. Part of SF bay is called "fog bay", and in various souvenir stores, you can buy "canned fog". I'm guessing that's a joke product. Seriously though, ever see that Steven King movie "The Mist"? Well I haven't, but I reckon that SF would kick that movies arse for sure, even if "The Mist" did have killer monsters lurking in its fog, whereas SF just has hobos.

Secondly, it is damn cold, even in summer. The wind chills you to the bone, and whilst it isn't really all that humid once the icy wind blows away the damp fog, you still feel like your face is covered in a thin layer of frost at all times. If you ever come to SF, and I recommend you do as it is a great city, rug up people! You'll need it!

Today was another 10 hour epic day. We saw so many things it makes my tired brain cringe just trying to recall them all. But, I'll give it a shot.

Breakfast can only be described with one word: Fail. I suppose we only paid $7 extra each per night with our hotel booking, but boy did it suck. We basically had the choice between Scrambled eggs on toast with shredded potatoes, or a cream cheese bagel. Peta chose the former, albeit without the eggs as she is allergic to them, and I chose the latter.

My bagel was nice, but needing something else aside from a 1.5cm thick slab of cream cheese to go on it. Peta's shredded potatoes with toast however, was where the true failing was at. Also, the service was awful, and the name of the diner is "David's Deli"! That reflects badly on me and the army of Davids around the globe. Next time, I'll skip the breakfast payment, and just get maccas instead.

Our first destination was the Westfield shopping town a few blocks down from our hotel. It is massive on the inside, and quite expensive too. I looked with Peta at several different stores, including a Bloomingdales, which I recognised the name from "Friends".

We then went for a stroll into Chinatown. This name is a bit of an understatement however. It should really be called "Chinacity". There was literally about 15 blocks worth of Chinese shops, selling everything from groceries to herbal remedies, to cheap Chinese souvenirs.

Our two favorite stores we visited were a Tea store, where you could try various types of Chinese tea (our favorite was the green lychee tea), and the pet store.

The pet store was awesome. They had a Macaw for sale in there for $2000. If I lived in SF, and had a spare $2000, I would've bought it then and there. They also sold chinchillas. They're like a cross between a rabbit and a giant mouse. They're also nocturnal, as Magical Trevor attests ( http://www.weebls-stuff.com/songs/magical+trevor+3/ ), so all the ones we saw were sound asleep. That didn't mean they weren't as cute as an otter wearing a bib though.

After browsing around Chinatown some more, we headed down to SF's financial district, where we saw the world's pointiest pointy point point of a building this side of that pointy thing in Paris. It was called the Transamerica Pyramid or something. It sure was pointy.

We then had a look in the "Welles and Fargo" bank. It was amazing. The foyer's roof was about 15 meters high, and seemed to be covered in something very ornate and shiny - possibly gold. Glad to see that they're spending their customers' money wisely. I took a photo of the foyer, but then one of the staff spat molten rage at me, so I quickly deleted it.

After about an hour of generalised wandering in any old direction, we made it back to Union Square, which is right next to the Westfield.

We had some lunch in Westfield's "Food Emporium", which is essentially a fancy food court full of non-fast food joints, including a vegan restaurant! Given her allergies to dairy and egg, Peta was impressed.

After Peta did a quick shop through another one of those massive "21" stores (three entire levels of women's clothes, one tiny corner of Texan styled clothes for men), we lined up for the cable car to take us to Fisherman's Wharf.

Lines. There's always lines in America. If there's anything good, convenient, cheap, or interesting, expect a "line tax" of at least 30 minutes to come with it - even for public transport!

The cable car itself was fun. Being dragged up the hill by this cable train and then semi-freefall rolling down the other side was great, until you stopped at every single intersection. Still, before long we were at Fisherman's Wharf.

Now remember how I said SF is a cold place? Well down by the water it is even colder. You get the fog, the spray from the ocean, and the rain, all to keep your (rapidly diminishing) core body temperature company.

Still, the wharf itself is quite nice, although it definitely was touristy. It reminded me of Koh Samui, except without the stinking hot weather, constant smell of running sewage, and taxis honking their horns at you because you're white.

We had a brisk walk along the wharf to Pier 39, where we had a look through the SF bay aquarium. The exhibit was quite cool - it had only species from their bay, which means whilst it wasn't as colorful as a coral reef, it was very authentic. There were also jellyfish. Lots and lots of jellyfish. They just swim around aimlessly, looking more like a screensaver than conscious beings.

We then went through the obligatory underwater tunnel, which had lots of interesting fish, including rock fish, that apparently find a territorial spot, and stay there for the rest of their lives. Which is a HUNDRED YEARS. Seriously, if I were a fish, I'd hate to stare at the same scenery for that long.

Upstairs, the aquarium had a touch pool, where you could touch various rays, sharks, sea cucumbers and starfish. Rays are slimy, and sharks have really rough skin - almost like sandstone! The exhibit also had other examples of land-based wildlife that live near the bay, including snakes, spiders, hedgehogs and chinchillas. These chinchillas were asleep too.

Afterwards, Peta and I went and ate at "Bubba Gump's Shrimp" restaurant, which is themed off of the movie "Forrest Gump". The restaurant had a real American feel to it - definitely a family spot. However, the food was excellent, and the restaurant was at the end of the pier, so it offered a 180 degree view of SF bay. I had something with a lot of shrimp in it. I was essentially immolated by a firewall of shrimp. Tasty, tasty shrimp. Peta had a salmon steak with vegetables. She said it was great.

After dinner, we headed back to the cable car and paid "The Line Tax". The ride was just as fun as our trip out to the wharf, and before long, we were walking back home to our hotel, in the freezing cold.

That's all for tonight folks... I think this will actually be the first time I sleep in summer WITH THE HEATER ON! So much for "sunny California"!

Up next: Alcatraz! The contiki holiday for prisoners!

Monday, August 9, 2010

9/8/10 San Francisco: City of Heavy Bags, Hobos and Awesomeness

Today I learnt my first lesson about America: NEVER bite into a candy apple! They do NOT make a viable Los Angeles breakfast, and there is a 99% chance that when you do eventually manage to pry the toffee off of your teeth, at least one tooth will no longer be attached to your gums. So save yourself the $1, and go buy a donut - a much better Los Angeles breakfast, and alot cheaper than the inevitable dentist bill.

Anyway, we began the day by me biting into a candy apple - it was painful. Actually, wait, no. Today started at 12:01am, where upon finishing my previous blog, I put away Peta's laptop. Peta, still asleep, had a strange conversation with me. It was something to do with the "difference between the two pills". I told her that I had no idea what she was talking about, to which she replied "well just letting you know, it makes sense in my head". I don't think I'll let her live her sleep talking shenanigans this one down any time soon...

ANYWAYS, today started with me biting into the aforementioned candy apple. Not recommended. We then cleaned up our room, checked out of our hotel, and then walked down towards Hollywood boulevard. I got to see inside a clothes shop called "XXI", whilst Peta looked at various clothes. I had a look at the tiny men's section, but all of the clothes were either quite expensive, or looked like they were aimed solely at the Texan market.

I finally got to see some famous things in Hollywood today - Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood star walk, and the Kodak Theatre. The interesting part is that all of these places are more or less connected to the Hollywood/Highland shopping centre. It was somewhat disappointing I guess, but I suppose that the TV cameras are very selective with their camera angles, to lessen this effect.

Speaking of the Kodak theatre, Peta and I then spontaneously decided to go on a tour of it. For those of you who don't recognise the name, it is the theatre where the Academy Awards has been held for the last ten years.

Our tour guide showed us the various levels of the theatre, the private rooms, the "walk of fame" - where Oscar winners go after accepting their awards, as well as the theatre itself. It was all awesome, yet, as Peta noted, it was somewhat diminished by the fact that this illustrious ceremony is more or less held in a shopping centre each year. Hopefully one day, I'll get to go back in there for other reasons aside from a tour... Unfortunately, nobody is allowed to take any photos of inside the theatre, so don't expect pictures any time soon...

We then grabbed a pretzel, took some happy snaps of us with the Hollywood sign in the background, and then we headed back to the hotel, awaiting our transfer to the airport.

In the van, we took a fairly direct route to the airport. Unfortunately, we did pick up two other Australian guys en route. They were the epitome of "bogan", and I actually felt embarrassed that they could be giving Americans a false representation of the Australian people. The way they leered at women like predators was very un-cool.

At the airport, we had some McDonalds while waiting for our flight. I managed to make it painfully obvious to the cashier that I was Australian, when I asked for "Tomato Sauce", instead of "Ketchup". Also, the serving sizes are huge. A "medium" is Australia's large, and there is no "small" size. I'd hate to see a supersize!

Delta Flight DL1134 Los Angeles - San Francisco
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800 N390DA
Class: Economy
Seat: 23A
Pushback: 1645
Arrival: 1755

Our flight on Delta was basic. I feel glad that I get to fly in Australia, as it is far more comfortable than what I've experienced so far. There was no legroom on the flight. My knees were glued to the seat in front of me. Thankfully, the seats weren't able to recline. I'd they were, my knees would've broken the seat in front of me.

The window view on the way to San Francisco was amazing - heaps of mountains and beaches - it looked like a very nice place to live from 30,000 feet in the sky.

After touchdown, we made our way to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport), and took it to Union Square. The train itself was longcat-long, over 9 cars in length!

We then had the job of dragging 60-odd kilos of luggage to our hotel. The first thing that is noticeable about San Francisco is the amazing architecture of the buildings - there is definitely a sense of history that is sorely lacking from LA.

The next most noticeable thing about San Francisco (hereafter referred to as SF when I can't be bothered to type the whole word) is the large amount of homeless people on the street. Most ask for change, others offer to give you directions, and then ask for money afterwards. Thankfully I had people tell me of this strategy before I arrived, so I didn't fall for the tricks. The iPhone gave me adequate directions to the hotel anyways.

After finally lugging our massive bags to the hotel, we checked in, and then realised it was 8:30pm! Apparently it doesn't get dark in SF until roughly 9pm.

So, we went out for some dinner at the most awesome Japanese restaurant I've ever been to. For those kmart people reading, yes, I had the teriyaki chicken, and yes, it was delicious. I also tried hot sake, which tasted like vinegar and salt, warmed in a microwave. I'm sure one of these days I'll find an alcohol I like...

So far Peta and I really like SF. It seems to be a much more exciting place than LA, and more importantly, it seems to be dripping in culture.

Well, once again it is late, and I need sleep. I'll be sure to let you all know about any more conversations I have with Peta great detail...

Tomorrow: Moar San Francisco!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

August 8th: Brisbane to Sydney to Los Angeles to Universal Studios - The Longest Day Of My Life

Ok, so today was literally the longest day of my life. My day started at 5am on August 8th, and finished at 11:00pm on August 8th. Sounds pretty normal? Well, after timezones are considered, my day has lasted for 35 hours - and I've only slept for a few of them.

My day started by getting a lift to the Brisbane Domestic Airport. After checking in, making my way through security, and eating salty toast, I headed to my departure gate. This was my first solo flight, and as such, I was slightly nervous. It was soon time for boarding, and I had to say goodbye to my family and Emma. This was alot more difficult and emotional than I thought it would be. Yes, I'm only away for two weeks, but it did choke me up quite a bit.

Qantas Flight QF509 Brisbane - Sydney
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300ER VH-OGM "Bundaberg"
Class: Economy
Seat: 52A
Pushback (intended): 0845 (0815)
Arrival (indtended): 1021 (0950)

My flight started off by being delayed. Apparently the fuel truck that was refuelling our aircraft had a malfunction, and sprayed fuel over the tarmac. This lead to a lengthy cleanup period, and a replacement fuel truck having to be brought out to refuel the plane. All in all, this caused a delay upwards of twenty minutes. This made me very glad that I decided to take an early flight down to Sydney, as if I was on the closest flight to my international connection, this delay would've caused me to miss my flight to LA!

The flight itself started like the other 767 takeoffs I've experienced - a very powerful takeoff, smooth flight, tasty breakfast and a rough landing. Our flight path flew down the coast of Australia, so I got to see all of the various coastal regions on my short flight. Our approach was over the lovely Botany Bay, so it was very photo-worthy. Photos will hopefully follow soon!

After landing, I took the cross tarmac transfer to the international terminal. It. Was. Awesome. I took a bunch of photos of the various aircraft of all shapes and sizes. The last aircraft we drove past (and under the nose of,) was the A380 I'd be catching later that day. It is a massive plane, and I couldn't wait to fly on it!

I exited the transfer bus, and immediately made my way through immigration. The hall was deserted. Unlike in Brisbane, I wasn't asked any strange questions such as "Are you taking any bee-keeping equipment with you? Live animals? etc.?", but I did manage to have a semi-friendly chat to the somewhat grumpy lady who served me, so that was something, I guess.

I then spent the next two hours aimlessley wandering around the airside of the international terminal. In my honest opinion, it is a mess. You can't actually reach any gates without going through a duty free shop, and some gates can only be accessed by going through a newsagent! Not cool.

After watching various aircraft movements, and eating my final meal in Australia for a few weeks, I headed on up to my gate. I was there about 20 minutes early, but boarding commenced shortly after I arrived, so I guess they were trying to accommodate for the 550 odd people on this fully booked flight.

Qantas flight QF11 Sydney - Los Angeles
Aircraft: Airbus A380-800 VH-OQD "Fergus McMaster"
Class: Economy
Seat: 82A
Pushback (intended): 1315 (1305)
Arrival (intended): 0947 (0945)

The A380 is massive on the inside. At 10 seats across, the width of the plane is hard to get your head around, let alone the wingspan. I was one of the first passengers on, so I got to play around with my seat and the various features without aggravating the person behind me. The recline is good. Very good for economy. The headrest is adjustable, and most importantly, the seats are damn comfy. I mean, by the end of the flight, my butt was hurting, but I can guarantee that if you sit on anything for 14 hours straight, you'll get sore.

We soon taxied out onto the runway. I switched on my "SkyCam" and watched the giant plane begin its takeoff roll. Being such a large aircraft, its takeoff is incredibly slow. It looks like it is lethargically rolling down the runway, before it magically lifts off into the air. The physics behind it baffle the mind.

About an hour into the flight, dinner was served. I had the beef. It was good, but nothing special. Then, sunset was upon us. Thankfully, I was on the left side of the plane, and as such, was able to snap some awesome sunset photos. As I said, photos will come soon. After that I settled down to watch some movies (Iron Man 2 and Kick-Ass). The A380's in-flight entertainment system is great, but unfortunately the flight path map was broken for this flight, so I had no idea where we were, except for "over the pacific ocean".

To be honest, aside from the odd bathroom break or trip to the snack bars, not that much happened on the flight. I actually managed to get a decent amount of sleep (albeit light), too.

I awoke at about 8:00am Los Angeles time - apparently I had slept right through the breakfast service. Damn! I began to watch another movie, but then realised that I didn't physically have enough time on the plane to finish it, so I soon gave up on that, and instead admired the view out the window. Before long, we began our descent. I caught my first glimpse of Los Angeles as we passed under the cloud layer. Huge, flat, and meticulously layed out blocks of land. Not really all that inviting. I looked on SkyCam, and could see that we were lining up for our runway approach. Our landing was very smooth, so no complaints there!

Here's the kicker though - due to timezone differences, I actually arrived BEFORE I LEFT SYDNEY. Yes, this does screw with your body clock.

After de-planing, and making my way through the strict but fairly appropriate immigration control, I got into my transfer shuttle. I was the first in the van, and my Hotel was the last stop out of the other eight people in the van with me. Two hours later, I made it to my hotel, where I met up with Peta, my travel buddy for this trip.

Feeling somewhat jetlagged, and definitely exhausted, we did what every seasoned traveller does on their first day in Los Angeles - we went to UNIVERSAL STUDIOS!

This theme park was interesting. The lines were epic. Like, you'd queue for 50 - 70 minutes for one ride. Or, you'd think you've finally reached the end of the queue, only to go up some stairs and find a whole other queue at the top.

The rides themselves were pretty awesome - especially The Simpsons ride. Very good sense of motion and depth - it was essentially a virtual rollercoaster, just without the track.

The next ride we went on was the Jurassic Park boat ride. Some of the animatronics were a bit silly looking, whereas others looked like they were straight out of the movie. The ride ended with a gut-wrenching almost vertical drop, and the compulsory splash down soaking at the end of the ride. All in all, good fun.

After grabbing some food at "Doc Brown's Fried Chicken", we then began the 70 minute queue for the studio tour. The tour itself was a mix of interesting sights, such as the various backlot streets and sets they shoot films on, amazing rides, such as the king kong 3D experience, and downright lame, such as the endless montages they showed us of Universal films, and the stupid animatronic dancing cars. Don't ask.

Peta and I were both feeling pretty exhausted by this stage, so we quickly caught one of the last showings of the Terminator 2 3D ride thing (not really recommended - ancient CGI, live action actors who look nothing like their celluloid counterparts and a goofy plot line), and then made a bee-line for the exit.

Upon exiting, we were confronted by another queue. Yes, there is a twenty minute queue to exit the damn park.

All in all, expect about 10% of your day to be rides, the other 90% to be waiting in queues and walking around.

We then caught the Metro to our Hotel, grabbed some pizza from a local pizza shop, and then collapsed on our beds. Well, this is true for Peta at least. She went to bed an hour ago - I've been up writing this damn blog! Time for a well earned sleep methinks.

Up Next: More LA! San Francisco - where Daddy started out, tooting on his trumpet in a loud and mean manner.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Melbourne and Sydney - A sobering reminder of how much Brisbane sucks.

Back in the early 20th century, Australia was a nation which had, well, only just become a nation. There was one problem though - the two biggest cities in Australia were Sydney and Melbourne. The issue with that was that both cities wanted to be Australia's "capital" city. This initially started out as a fairly small feud, but eventually grew out of control and lead to the biggest war that Australia had ever seen.

The war was bleak and unrelenting - neither side backed down for well over a hundred years. The conflict led to such extreme tactics as Drop Bear assassin squads, suicide bomber kangaroos, and even dreaded Baby-eating Dingoes, that can still be found in parts of the Outback today.

 There seemed to be no end to the war in sight. Eventually, after Sydney's covert Tasmanian Tiger paradrop into Melbourne's parliamentary building ended in a boomerang-induced extinction of the species, a truce was called - both sides were on the verge of defeat. They were both evenly matched.

The  Australian political parties and general public decided that they would decide the position through a game of Knifey-spooney. But, on the day of the tussle, the all-important silverware had been stolen due to the rampant amount of convicts running around the country.

So, instead of, oh, I don't know, flipping a coin to decide the outcome, they instead decided to BUILD AN ENTIRELY NEW CITY to be our capital. It was called Canberra or something, but nobody has ever really heard of it. Asking an Australian the question "What is the capital of Australia?" often leads to bouts of dramatic wartime flashbacks, followed by several hours of violent shaking fits, huddled over in a foetal position - so it is generally best not to ask.

Besides, there's only like three people who live in Canberra, and two of them are politicians anyways, so it's pretty much a non-city.

So where do I live that is so much better than this Canberra place? I live in a city called Brisbane. The locals call it Bris-vegas. Every time I hear that, I die a little on the inside.

The truth of the matter is is that Brisbane isn't all that badder place - it just isn't great. It is a functional city that is a great place to raise kids. Plus, if you drive two hours in pretty much any direction *away* from Brisbane, you come across something which is exponentially better than Brisbane.


Now because I'm an idiot and don't have my licence, I couldn't drive anywhere. So instead, it was with great joy that in late June, I got the chance to fly to both Melbourne and Sydney. This would be the ultimate test of which city was more awesome. My result? Read on to find out.

Friday, 18th of June 2010 - Wednesday, 23rd of June 2010: Melbourne

Our adventure began bright and early with Emma, my partner, and I getting a lift to the airport from Emma's Mother. The domestic terminal was fairly busy for this early in the morning, although on the Friday before the start of School Holidays, this was to be expected.

We checked in with very little difficulties, and the ground staff were very polite and courteous. Emma and I made our way up to the foodcourt to kill some time before our flight.

Every time I catch a morning domestic flight, I visit the "Wok on Air" shop for a hearty (and expensive) breakfast. The bacon and eggs is always tasty from there, and the toast is strangely salty. For some reason that appeals to me... I must be lacking salt in my diet or something...

Unfortunately, the grand master dojo sensei chef dude took forever to make my breakfast, and as such, when I finally did get it, our flight was in it's "final boarding call" stage. This was not good. I scoffed down my ultrasalt toast and we bolted for our gate.

Upon arrival to the gate, we were at the end of a very large queue, so this meant that either they were just trying to get the plane filled early, or everyone really loves salty toast. My money is on the second one.

Flight Details:

Qantas Flight QF 611


Aircraft: Boeing 737-800

Registration: VH-VXH

Class: Economy

Seat: 25F

Departure: 0755

Arrival: 1020

Boarding Passes are fun.

I'm not sure if I like 737's yet. Sure, they'll get the job done as well as any other jet, but I feel really claustrophobic in them. Maybe it is because I'm a tall bastard, (as shown in the legroom shot below) but I generally prefer larger aircraft. I guess it is because you feel less like you're stuck in a tiny flying tube of people, and more like you're stuck in a slightly larger flying tube of people. Load was 100% on the flight, which certainly did no favours as to dispelling this feeling.

Emma once again graciously offered me the window seat, because she knows I love them so.


Pushback was on time, and then the safety video played. Now, I'm all for airline safety, and I genuinely think that it is a 100% necessity for air travel, but has anybody ever noticed the kid at the very start of the Qantas safety video who throws the paper aeroplane? Firstly, it has got to be the most limp-wristed throw I've ever seen. Seriously, couldn't they have gotten a better take than that? It looks like the kid trips and falls halfway through the throw! Secondly, what is that implying? That our plane is piloted by a kid who can't throw for shit? Qantas, as much as I enjoy flying with you, your safety video worries me, and for all the wrong reasons.

That gripe aside, we soon found ourselves taxiing out to takeoff. The 737's takeoff wasn't as powerful as a larger jets, but it certainly was as loud. I think that is my main problem with the 737 - it's a noisy bastard.



About 20 minutes into the flight, the Breakfast service was served. Out of all of Qantas' meals that I have had, breakfast is my favourite. That's probably because it is safe - just cereal, fruit, and a nice hot fruit bun. Can't complain about that.

The flight progressed quickly, and I watched the morning news on the overhead IFE. Before I knew it, we were descending into Melbourne.

Approaching Melbourne

Ice Crystals on the window...

Touchdown was fairly uneventful. The usual jolt and then roar of the engines as they slow us down to a more taxiway-friendly speed.

Qantas A380, Singapore Air 777-300, Emirates 777-300ER. My next trip will be on the Qantas A380 to Los Angeles!

Baggage Handler handling... my baggage!

After deplaning, we made our way through baggage collection, and waited outside for our lift. The first thing that hits you about Melbourne is how freaking cold it is compared to Brisbane! I loved that. Every time the wind blew, it felt like your face was covered in a thin layer of listerine. Great stuff.

One of Emma's Aunties, Jackie, soon arrived and gave us a lift to her house, where we would be staying for a couple of nights. Free accommodation is awesome. But, free accommodation with friendly and genuine people is even better. Having no family in Sydney to speak of, I definitely felt that Melbourne was a more personal experience - we felt less like tourists and more like citizens.

After a highly delicious (and high calorie) lunch with Emma's Auntie, Emma and I took a train and headed out into Melbourne. Apparently Melbournites absolutely loathe their public transport - I fail to see how though. Compared to Brisbane's, it is highly efficient, and cheap, too.

Our first port of call was at Flinders Street Station - The churro shop. Seriously, whoever thought of donuts in stick form should be king. Here's a photo of me eating a churro:

Emma and I then headed across the road to ACMI - the Australian Centre for Moving Image. If you ever get the chance to have a look in here, do so. It is a great look back on the history and inner workings of Australia's Film and Television industry. They even have Academy awards there!

Adam Elliot's Oscar - Best Animated Short "Harvie Krumpet" (2003)... One day I hope to have one of these myself...

Tv's sure have come a long way...

Playschool - Best kids show in the forever.

Aside from a nostalgic look back on the history of Australian film and television, the exhibition also had some awesome technology, and interesting ways of explaining basic concepts - The 3D section was particularly impressive. They had 3D TV's that didn't require glasses, a revolving animated-strobe effect diorama thing and star-wars like holographic projections into thin air.

One thing that I found disappointing though was the lack of documentation covering the Melbourne-Sydney war, but I guess that was too scarring to include in the exhibit.

After leaving the exhibit, we were confronted by THIS:

Now you can't tell from this picture, but that is a massive balloon. After several moments of confused looking, we decided to read the sign below it:

Apparently it was some big work of art. Apparently it only worked at night time. It sounded interesting, so we waited around until after dark. 

Yes, that's right. It turns into the sun at night. That's pretty damn cool, if I might say so myself. What's more, you can control the patterns that appeared on it using your iPhone. Now that was awesomesauce.

Flinders Street at Night. Giant sun was behind us.

Saturday, 19th June 2010

The next day was a meetup between all of Emma's family, to which we were the special guests. It was nice to see so much love in a family - something too rare these days.

That night, we headed out into Melbourne again, and decided to have a look around China Town. Now, the more avid readers may know that my last big adventure was to Thailand. In Thailand, we discovered a drink called "Manao Soda". If you ever go to Thailand, try this drink. It is like liquid Jesus.

As we were looking around one of the shops in Chinatown, we found something very similar to Manao Soda. I showed one of the shop assistants a picture of the drink, and he said that he usually stocks it, and that they've ran out. Tragedy! Emma and I then took it upon ourselves to try and find the drink in either Melbourne or Sydney. The search had begun.

The rest of the night was spent trying to find a nice asian place to have some food. We eventually settled on a nice Vietnamese joint. Most of the food was pretty average, but the Satay Chicken was incredible. I don't know what they did to it, but I have never tasted any Satay even close to that good in the past.

Sunday, 20th June 2010

Sunday was spent exploring two very iconic streets of Melbourne. The first, was Fitzroy Street, and we explored it with Emma's Auntie, Kaarie. It was great fun. Emma got a new vintage hat, and I got a new... vintage... Pizza... for lunch. I did see a subwoofer which I was tempted to buy, but then I remembered how much speakers weigh and how large the magnets are in a subwoofer - both are very bad for flying.

New... Vintage... Pizza.

New Vintage Hat. Stylised by me. It reminds me of the Imperial Officer hats out of Star Wars, but don't tell Emma I said that...

That night, we moved to one of Emma's other Auntie's houses for the remainder of our stay in Melbourne. Robbie, Emma's Auntie is very fortunate, as she lives in the middle of St Kilda, one of Melbourne's most expensive districts. She and her husband also have two adorable dogs, called Harry and Millie. They're awesome.


Puppies charging their lazuhs!

The other street we explored was Acland St. It is a very nice district with excellent clothes shopping (apparently), and has some really awesome cake shops. I'm surprised there weren't any signs saying "please do not drool on windows", as it sure was tempting.

Yes, everything was as tasty (and expensive) as it looks.

Emma and I had fish and chips for dinner that evening. Delicious, but Byron Bay's "Fish Mongers" still takes the gold star for me.

Monday, 21st June 2010

Monday was spent exploring Chapel St, one of Melbourne's other shopping streets. Emma spent lots of time in an antique shop along the street which was positively massive. I'd be lying if I said that most of the stuff in there interested me, but I preferred it to the likes of a chain clothing store, as at least there was thousands of interesting things to look at, as opposed to rows upon rows of boring clothes.

Apparently, whilst we were blissfully browsing through this store, there was a crazed gunman with a shotgun only a few blocks away. Meh! I guess that ignorance can be a good thing?

We stopped at a Greek Bakery for some morning tea... I had a sausage roll, or though it was more about the size of a lincoln log. Absolutely huge.

After morning tea, and another short browse through the local shops, we caught a Tram north to Victoria Parade. We had it on good authority that this street is famous for its Asian groceries, and that if we were to find Manao Soda anywhere, it'd be in this street. Two hours of searching later, we were unable to find it. Whenever we asked a shopkeep, we were met by puzzled looks, and that they had never heard of it. We'd have to search for it in Sydney...

We then caught another tram into the middle of the city. 

A nice photo of us taken near the Yarra River.

The Yarra River, near National Gallery of Victoria

From there, we went to the National Gallery of Victoria to have a look at what I like to call "The Art". You see, I will be the first to admit that I am not a very artistically inclined person (visually at least), although I do enjoy looking at pretty paintings and what have you. Emma, on the other hand, knows her shit. She works as an art technician. She lives art. She breathes art. I was in for an interesting visit...

So with my cultural awareness of a four year old, and Emma's encyclopaedic knowledge of every "ism" this side of cave paintings, we looked around National Gallery of Victoria's "European Masters" exhibit.

We saw works from Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso, among others. I found my favourite painting early on. Part of the painting was an old man, draped in a hooded cloak, starting out on a long journey, wooden staff in hand.

I made the mistake of telling Emma that I liked the picture. She enquired:

"Why do you like the picture?"

"I don't know, I just do..." I said.

"No, why do you like it? What about it? Is it the colours? The textures? The composition? The usage of Positive and Negative space? Th-"

"He looks like Gandalf."


"He looks like Gandalf. The guy, setting off on his journey. He looks like Gandalf."

I've never seen Emma facepalm until that moment. There's a first time for everything I guess...

Tuesday 22nd June, 2010

On Tuesday we went and visited Patsy, Emma's grandmother. She lives on the coast, about 40 mintues drive out of Melbourne. Seeing Patsy's house was an experience. Virtually every surface was covered in shades of Blue, Green, Pink or Purple. And Mermaids. Mermaids e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. Still, for all of the visual busy-ness of the place, it was still a very nice house, and definitely one filled with fond memories.

One thing that I admired about Patsy was that she kept quotes of all of her family members throughout the various stages of their lives. She read me some of the things Emma said when she was a child. It is nice to have such sweet memories transcribed for future generations to hear. When I have children, I will make sure that I do this.

After a nice sushi lunch with Patsy, we got on a train and went to Melbourne Zoo. By the time we got there, it was around 3pm, so we didn't have too many hours left before it closed. Emma and I had visited the zoo last time we were down in Melbourne, but this time we didn't go to see the animals - we went to hear them. Or, rather, I went to record them for my sound effects library. TAX DEDUCTION!

I'll let the photos do the talking about the zoo:

Sad Pig is Sad.

Steve Irwin's worst nightmare.

Seal! (Not the singer)

Penguins - They used to be used as Tunnel Ninjas during the Melbourne - Sydney war.

Otters! Caution: May self combust due to own cuteness.

Butterflies - Surprisingly not good for sound recording.

Emma, wanting a butterfly to land on her...


Me with a butterfly.

Red Pandas are the cutest things in the forever.


<3 Macaws.

That night, we attended Emma's Grandfather's birthday celebration. We were leaving the next morning for Sydney, so it was a nice way to see the rest of Emma's family one last time on the trip.

Wednesday, 23rd June, 2010

Wednesday was our last few hours in Melbourne. Emma and I started our day by making a mad dash to Acland street - we needed to do a pie run. The Pecan and Macadamia pies from one of the cake shops were our pie-ority.

After several bad puns, and another mad dash back to Robbi's house, we were off to the Titanic exhibition that was on at the Melbourne Museum. The only problem was that we had to take our luggage with us *to* the museum to be able to make the flight out of Melbourne on time. The coatroom clerk looked like he was going to kill us.

The exhibit itself was a very interesting, albeit incredibly busy affair. As we shuffled along, perpetually shunted forwards by the people behind us, we saw identical mock-ups of various sections of the Titanic, as well as actual artefacts from the sunken wreck of the ship. At the end of the exhibit, I bought a piece of coal recovered from the sea floor as a souvenir. I suppose that it's just coal, but it is the history attached to it that makes it interesting.

Overall, I thought that the exhibit swung wildly between fascinating and terribly sad. It's amazing that a ship of that size would have so ill-equipped lifeboats. Very sad that the human life wasn't as valued as the cost of a few more lifeboats...

After being death stared by the coatroom clerk upon picking up our luggage, we made a bee-line for the bumblebee tram. It took us to Southern Cross, where we boarded a bus to take us to the Airport. On the way to the Airport, they showed a short promotional video about the other things that are happening around Australia. Queensland's video didn't have a single shot of Brisbane in it, proving once again how much of a hole Brisbane is...

Before we knew it, we were at the airport, through check-in, security, and were eating under-cooked onion rings at a sad-looking Hungry Jacks (Burger King). Being the plane geek that I am, I spent most of my time photographing various movements of the aircraft on the Tarmac:

Our Boeing 767-300, VH-ZXB, arriving.

Taxiing to our gate.

Qantas Boeing 747-400, VH-OJM, probably resting there until a long haul service to London later that night.

Soon, we were boarding. This time, we proceeded to the gate in a timely manner, and found our seats with ease. Once again, Emma gave me the window seat.

Flight Details:

Qantas Flight QF 438


Aircraft: Boeing 767-300/ER

Registration: VH-ZXB

Class: Economy

Seat: 51B

Departure: 1400

Arrival: 1520

Boarding Pass AND Legroom Shot!

Window shot. Another 767 (VH-OGQ), just chillin'

A short time after boarding, we taxied out to the runway. The same pathetic kid threw the same pathetic paper aeroplane during the safety video. Then, we were soon hurtling down the runway at a much more impressive speed than our last flight. I definitely prefer the 767 to the 737.

Qantas' 767's are significantly older than their fleet of 737's, but this means that they aren't nearly as cramped, as they weren't built during an age where every square inch of cabin space has to be taken up by a ticket-buying person.

Zoom! Takeoff!

Making a sharp turn, pointing us Sydney-bound.

767 Cabin shot. Slightly larger tube of people flying.

A refreshment was served during the flight. It was the sugariest cupcake to ever be sugarified. I think I almost contracted diabetes looking at the thing, let alone eating it. Complaints aside, it was quite tasty. Just very very sweet.

The rest of the flight was fairly uneventful. Emma fell asleep on my shoulder, even though it was quite a short flight.

High above a sea of clouds. I love photos like these...

Below that sea of clouds... Sydney not looking its best... Rainy and dreary...

Touchdown was interesting... The flaps on the aircraft were fully extended, and after the wheels made contact with the tarmac, the thrust reversers were engaged. All of this was normal, until I noticed that the flap located behind the engine was flailing around wildly, as if it was only attached by some duct tape. I'm sure this is well within the design specifications of the aircraft, but boy does it not look good to a passenger!

After touchdown, we made our way through luggage collection quickly, and were soon on the train to our Hotel. We stayed at the Sebel Pier One, which is in The Rocks district. The hotel was fantastic. So fantastic that I forgot to take any pictures of it, except for the one shot of the view from our room:

Having had such an epic day, we spent the rest of the day in our room. We ordered Room Service, which was awesome, and watched Masterchef. That TV show is at least twice as enjoyable when you're eating good food.

Thursday, 24th June, 2010

Our day started quite serenely. We went down to the buffet for breakfast, sampled some delicious food, read the newspaper, looked at the view, drank tea, and discovered that our Prime Minister had been kicked out of a job by his underlings during the night!

Wow, it isn't every day that something like this happens! I mean, given the history of the Melbourne-Sydney war, we clearly are a rowdy job, but this was the first time that something this dramatic had ever happened in the history of Australian politics... Meh! Emma and I continued to eat our breakfast, unphased.

Our first port of call in Sydney was to see Toy Story 3 on the IMAX screen. Apparently it is the world's biggest IMAX screen, therefore making it the world's biggest movie screen. And yes, it was big. Mind-bogglingly big. Gargantuan, Massive, inescapably huge. We were in the back row, and every frame of the picture seared itself into our skulls like the blinding light of a thousand suns.

Ok, so it wasn't that bad, but the screen was big, OK?

Emma eating popcorn in the theatre.

Toy Story 3 itself was brilliant. Totally encapsulating, emotive, and very well written. But then again, I expect no less from a Pixar film.

After our movie ended, we went for a walk around Darling Harbour

Emma down by the water.

Darling Harbour. The ugly yellow and black chequered building in the background is the IMAX theatre. It's essentially just a great big screen with a movie theatre built around it.

After our brief stroll around Darling Harbour, we set out on our mission to find the legendary Manao Soda once again. So, we did what all savvy tourists do, and caught the Monorail to Chinatown.


Remember that episode of The Simpsons wherein they build a Monorail as a viable form of public transport around the city? Remember how it turns out to be expensive, nasty and gimmicky? Well, that's how I felt about Sydney's monorail. Somewhat pointless. Sure, it gets you places slighty quicker than walking, but it definitely felt like a tourist attraction and nothing particularly practical...

Still, it did it's job, and we were soon in Chinatown, in search once again of the elusive Manao Soda...

China Town, in all its glory. Not pictured: Manao Soda.

Hatsune Miku. Posted for Peter!

After strolling around various asian stores, we decided to look in the supermarket strip for the Manao Soda. Alas, our endeavours were fruitless. Every store we went into, we were met with the same puzzled look. Emma and I ended our search, concluding that this legendary drink was only available in Thailand, and was too awesome for Australia.

We then made our way to Circular Quay, where we took a ferry across to Mosman. This is definitely one thing that Sydney has over Melbourne. Sydney's harbour is fantastic. Everywhere you look, you're encapsulated by the amazing views. The views were so amazing that I forced Emma to do the typical touristy thing, and have her photo taken with various landmarks in the background:

Emma and I... Facebook photo!

A boat called Emma.

After de-boating, we went for a long walk through the incredibly opulent suburbs of North Sydney. Our destination was a fantastic restaurant called The Bather's Pavillion. Along the way, we saw an awesome house, which Emma insisted that I buy her for a "holiday house". I begrudgingly agreed to, whenever I become a multi-millionaire.

The best house ever.

Shortly afterwards, my camera battery died. Rest assured though, the meals that Emma and I had at the Bather's Pavillion were fantastic. Especially my Cheesecake desert. The only thing that could've made my meal better was if it was served with a glass of Manao Soda *single tear*.

Wednesday, 23rd June, 2010

Our last day in Sydney began quite late in the day - our late checkout of the Hotel was awesome. We spent most of the day exploring the shops around The Rocks district, and we actually found a decent souvenir shop! The store had many wooden and stone carvings of native wildlife, authentic indigenous products, and locally made jewellery. Everything was very expensive, but if I were a foreign tourist, that is where I would've gotten my Australian memorabilia from. Ironically, the store was run by an American lady. Go figure.

Emma and I also explored an auction which was being held in the overseas passenger terminal at Circular Quay. It appeared as if a very rich person's entire estate was under the hammer. The walls were lined with antique furniture, taxidermied animals, and various fine art works. It was very, VERY, upper class. I didn't hear a single item sell for less than $15,000. Emma and I decided to leave quickly and quietly, as we didn't want to accidentally be mistaken for a bidder.

We then took a ferry over to Neutral Bay, where we had hot chocolate at a local cafe.

The view from the cafe.

Seagulls at the cafe, eagerly eyeing off our hot chocolates...

We were hoping to actually eat food, but we had come too late in the day. Instead, we walked up the road and waited for a Thai restaurant to open for the dinner service so we could get take away food. To fill in the time, we watched WALL-E on my iPhone. God bless technology.

After getting our Thai food, we realised that we were running out of time before we needed to go to the airport for our flight home. So, with a certain sense of urgency, we fled back to the ferry, back to Circular Quay, and back to our Hotel to collect our bags. We then caught a taxi to the train station, and before I knew it, my time in Sydney was drawing to an end.

Circular Quay Train Station

Upon arrival to the airport, the check-in desks were fairly busy. The process didn't take too long however, and we were soon safely through security and were FINALLY able to actually eat our Thai dinner we had bought. I then did some looking around the terminals, as Emma waited patiently for her plane geek boyfriend to return.

I found a bunch of Qantas model aircraft, from their old and new fleets alike.

After I returned to the waiting Emma, we made our way to the gate. 

Our 767, VH-ZXB, waiting patiently to take us home.

Flight Details:

Qantas Flight QF 552


Aircraft: Boeing 767-300

Registration: VH-ZXB

Class: Economy

Seat: 48K

Departure: 2015

Arrival: 2140

Obligatory boarding pass shot.

View From windo- Hey wait a second! That's the plane that took us to Melbourne! VH-VXH. clearly she gets around alot.

Legroom shot.

We soon taxied out onto the runway. It was a long taxi. A veeeery long taxi. Seriously, I think we taxied half way to Brisbane before we took off. This lengthy roll was made all the more taxing by the large group of Irish football fans sitting directly behind us. These passengers certainly made for some entertaining eavesdropping, but on the whole, their ability to have a long running conversation about EVERYTHING THAT WAS GOING ON (including the piss-poor paper aeroplane throw of the boy in the safety video)  proved tiresome. Then, because it was an evening flight, Qantas broke out the free alcohol. These Irish passengers certainly did their nation's stereotype proud. They drank all the free alcohol they were given. And as there was a particularly lax flight attendant serving them, it was a lot of free alcohol.

Aside from the drunken rowdiness behind us, our flight progressed quickly. I didn't bother to take any window shots, as all you could see was darkness. I did manage one cabin shot though:

Cabin shot. Complete with blur and out-of-focusness.

Before long, we began to descend into Brisbane. Our touchdown was smooth, and no flailing wing flaps were observed. The Irish passengers behind us then proceeded to ask whether or not we were in a different time zone. After being told that they weren't, they insisted that they were, because Brisbane is further east than Sydney. There was a collective smack amongst the passengers, as we all simultaneously facepalmed.

After a quick de-planing, I took one last photo of our plane, and one last photo of Emma, before we made our way to be picked up by my dad.

Our 767, safe and sound in Brisbane.

Emma, sick of me taking photos of planes. :P


So, this travel blog didn't really tell you which city is better, did it? Well, something to agree on first: They're both better than Brisbane. But which city is better? They both have their charms. Melbourne has great people, amazing architecture, and seems like a more liveable place than Sydney. Sydney on the other hand is an amazing city with a fantastic harbour, great restaurants, and a very lively feel to it. From the other Brisbaneites I've spoken to about the two cities, the opinions are divided down the middle 50/50.  As for my opinion though? I'd have to say that they're both even. I'll have to get a game of Knifey-Spooney going to decide my final opinion. But don't tell too many people that... I don't want to alert any drop-bear attack squads to my location...

Next up: David's Great American Adventure! Los Angeles! San Francisco! New York!