Sunday, February 10, 2013

Wisconsin Snow FUN!

We're back from our vacation!  As you've read- it was really fun.  But I love snow too so I was thrilled to come back and see snow in the forecast.  We got about 6 inches on Thursday which made for perfect conditions to play in the snow yesterday.  You have to pack in a lot of fun when it snows, because you never know how long it will last here.  And of course it's raining today, so it was short lived.

Lake Park at Lake Michigan
I hiked with a friend at Lake Park on Friday and it was so pretty.  All the trees were covered with what looked like frosting.  Lake Michigan looked blue-green in contrast.  You can also see the lighthouse all covered in snow.  Kind of white on white as you look at the photo.

Later that day, my son Omar and I went to a park with bridges in it to just play in the snow.  The sun was just going down and we caught a good photo of one of the bridges.  He was eating all the snow- at least it was fresh!

The next day we went dog sledding at  Whitnall park.  What fun!  All the dogs are rescues and so good at what they do.  They also have a pretty good sized hill on the golf course where you can sled or toboggan and it was a very busy place.  We went down a couple of times, but the climb up is the hard work!

Later that night my sister and I went snowshoeing at Pike Lake- a state forest area.  The park had lit 2 trails with luminaries and there was a roaring bonfire to enjoy afterwards.  I'd never done anything like that in the dark before.  It's a lot more challenging than you might think.  They had telescopes set up for star viewing and the weather was perfect for this kind of event.

This morning my son Omar reminded me we still had a snowman to decorate in the front yard.  We built it the other night when the snow was still falling and couldn't finish it before bedtime.  He wanted a spiderman, so we found some yarn to make webs and filled spray bottles with food coloring and water.  He seemed pleased with the result.

It's been the perfect weekend to enjoy the snow!

North Point Lighthouse, Milwaukee

Our spiderman snowman with Omar (Spiderman)
Sledding down the hill! Wheeeee!
The sun shining on the bridge over the frozen creek
Candlelight snowshoeing
Dog Sledding in the fresh snow

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sydney Bridge Climb!

When in Sydney, do as the locals...wait...I never met a local who had climbed Sydney bridge!  Sorry to say, it's in their own back yard, so most residents see people climbing the bridge but never experience it from the top as we were able to do.

When I booked this, I heard it was challenging with over 1400 steps and it was expensive.  The twilight climb was highly recommended at $275 for a 3+ hour encounter.  In spite of all that, we never knew if we'd be back or in good health in the future, so we made the reservation dreaming of sunsets over Sydney harbor.  You can read about the bridge at wiki.

What really happened that day was a mystery to me.  I heard crashing thunder in late afternoon, so I called to see if we were still on.  They assured me the bad weather would blow over and we'd have a wonderful twilight hike.  We met up with our group of 10 climbers and a guide at 6:00.  We actually arrived at the building 15 minutes earlier, but we failed the series of questions about health conditions when we admitted we'd had a late lunch but had not eaten in the past 3 hours so we had to eat a sandwich before we could participate.  Not a bad idea.  I suppose they prefer people who don't get dizzy from hunger pangs when at the top of such a large structure.

What happens next is completely well orchestrated.  We received blue jumpsuits to wear for the climb and only kept our own t-shirts and undies.  Everything else was put in a locker.  That was maybe the best thing that happened that day because we were soaked from the walk to the climb office and it felt great to get out of the wet clothing.  Our guide walked us through several stops where we could watch a video, got a belt full of equipment including radio, headset, caribiner, and extra goodies that attached to our suit.  There were clips for everything we received so nothing could come off us when we were outdoors.  We had gloves, hat, handkerchief, rain pants, rain jacket, and even a very cool headlamp to wear on the walk down.  It was pouring when we started up, but the first part of the walk was covered as we were walking underneath the cars.  You are actually attached by a caribiner to the bridge the entire time, so it isn't really as scary as you might imagine.  As we climbed, it began to clear for what should have been the 'beautiful sunset' but was instead fog and heavy clouds.  We were still able to see the city and of course the opera house.  The actual walk portion takes about 2 hours, so it's very slow and along the way you hear stories about how the bridge was built, and as a bonus- get to catch your breath!  I'm usually afraid of heights, but you are never really on the edge of anything.  There are railings to keep you from feeling like you'll fall.

The guide takes photos along the way, as they don't allow you to bring a camera.  I do have a few that I had taken that morning when our cruise ship came into Sydney harbor.  When we reached the top of the bridge the rain started in full force and the winds were gusting.  Now who could forget this memorable experience?!  Anyone can climb the bridge with sunsets and gorgeous weather, but very few 'special' visitors get to experience a good summer storm from the top of the bridge.  Lucky us!  Overall it was a fun time, but I probably wouldn't do it again.  I think in life there are some experiences where you can really say once is enough.
Sydney city lights - a photo provided to us

Survivors- here we are nearly at the top

this is a photo of how it was supposed to my mind

we were up at the top where you see flags flying straight out

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cruising through Dusky and Milford Sounds, New Zealand

The very best way to see the sounds of New Zealand is from a boat, so we felt lucky to cruise through a couple of the west side southern island sounds with our cruise ship. We had heard that other cruise lines have to bypass this as they are too big to turn around. We never saw another ship while we traveled through Dusky, but there were some smaller passenger ships and even kayaks in Milford sound.

I might mention that these are called sounds, but they are in fact fjords which were created by glaciers a very long time ago. We were very lucky with weather, as this is an area that sees a lot of rain, yet we had sunshine and mixed clouds all day. It took about 2 hours to travel through Dusky sound in the morning. Then we traveled up to Milford, about 6 hours sail, where the ship unfortunately had a passenger with a medical emergency, so we anchored there for several hours so the passenger could be removed. Milford does have road access and a small domestic airport nearby, as well as an underwater viewing station, however we never left the ship. Since the next 2 days would be spent crossing the turbulent Tasman Sea, I'd say it was a lucky place for the passenger to get sick.

The beauty of the area can be seen in the granite peaks and waterfalls, as well as the clear waters where we saw seals and dolphins. Have a look at the photos and see if you don't agree with me that this pristine natural reserve is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is reminiscent of the fjords in Alaska.

The water was so clear and green

Stunning waterfalls

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Roses, kangaroos, and beautiful beaches- all near Melbourne Australia

We had a hired car for our first day in port at Melbourne, Australia, compliments of our travel agent.  We thought we'd like to see the coast if it was possible, although we only had the driver for 6 hours and it takes at least 3 hours to get to the famous 12 apostles of the "Great Ocean Road", so we had to work with the driver to see what he'd suggest.  He had a few really great ideas so that we could see the port towns near the beginning of the ocean road as well as some nearby attractions.

Our first stop was at Werribee Park, which is a mansion that has been renovated with a new hotel attached to it.  You can tour the mansion for a price, but the gardens are free and there is a stunning rose garden that boasts 5,000+ rose bushes.  This was by far, the prettiest and the largest rose garden I've ever seen, and the bonus was that it was in full bloom.  As soon as you got near it, the air filled with such sweet smells I have never experienced before.  We enjoyed strolling the different plantings set up in various geometric designs to compliment the colors and heights of the bushes.

After the rose garden, we drove to the coast where we met surfers at several bays.  By the way, if you're interested in more photos of the great ocean road, there's an array of scenic photos of the Australian Grand Prix that was recently held there at the facebook page for Melbourne.  The waves really weren't that good for this day, but there were still plenty of them in the water.  The water is so clear and the rocks so high.  As you watch them, you're high on a cliff, and there are walkways down to the beach.  These surfers are extremely fit, regardless of age.  One we met was 49 and joked about how he'd have to give it all up when he has the big 50 birthday, since no one believes it's a sport for old people.  He suggested we go to Anglesea Golf course to have our lunch because it was a great local spot to find kangaroos and cockatoos.  We did indeed try this and weren't disappointed.  We watched 2 white cockatoos in a nest right outside the cafeteria, and saw several kangaroo hopping across the course.  Sure made for some interesting lunch conversation.
There were both white and black cockatoos- here's the white

typical of the Ocean Road scenery
These information signs are at every turn out point

Kangaroo hopping on the green

Melbourne by Bike

Melbourne is a bike friendly city with rental bikes scattered all over town. For under $3, you can have access to a 3 speed bike all day, as long as you check it in every half hour. We used a credit card to purchase a ticket, and they give you a code which has to be pushed on the bike of your choosing. Every time you return and pick up a new bike, you swipe the same credit card and receive a new code. The bikes are durable and the seats incredibly adjustable. Even though my husband is almost a foot taller than me, we both could find bikes to fit us. As with most rental bikes, the seats are probably more comfortable for younger riders...but who can complain when it's such a great deal. It was a bit inconvenient finding a bike helmet. They are required by law, but they aren't readily available at the bike racks. Instead they have an address posted for a nearby store that sells a lovely blue Melbourne helmet for just $5. It's yours to keep, so if you have room in your luggage, you can take it home with you.  We had to walk the bikes about 3 blocks to a convenience store where we found the helmets by the cash register in a large bin.  They only had 2 sizes, but it was good for us.

Once we were outfitted with the proper gear, we found a local who pointed us in the direction of the bike trail to the city center. It was about 2 miles and an easy ride with few street crossings, which was a good thing because we were still having some trouble remembering to stay LEFT when riding. Abdul had a few near miss situations when he was looking the wrong way when crossing. We parked the bikes and walked along the river taking in the scenery before hopping on a free city tour bus. We only rode about halfway when we got off at the other side of town where we enjoyed Carlton gardens and the State library. The library had 2 floors of exhibits and a viewing deck that was well worth the visit...and it was FREE! We had sandwiches at their cafe and walked a bit down Swanston street before picking up bikes again and riding back to the harbor via the scenic botanic gardens and then through Albert park. The homes in the Albert park area were pretty- each house has a bit different decoration.

Along the way we passed city hall and found a lovely surprise- all the trees had been outfitted with knit or crochet panels!  This was a fun effort done by Yarn Corner.  You can read more about it and see more photos and videos at their link on facebook.

We managed to find our way back to the ship via the bike/pedestrian lane that runs the entire beach.  It's a great way to see the water and get some exercise, with the bonus that there aren't any cars crossing in your path.  We really enjoyed the day!

One of the many bike stations
The State Library as seen from the viewing deck
Loved these trees that were decorated with knits!

Look closely and you'll see the many trees with knitting

One of the many bike lanes- remember to ride LEFT!

a sample of homes in Albert Park neighborhood

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tasmania- cleanest air in the world and Cradle Mountain national park

The Silver Shadow sailed into Burnie harbor this morning on the island of Tasmania, Australia. The harbor is a working harbor so it isn't necessarily a beautiful place but the water was so clean and clear for an industrial port. They are working hard to keep the area pristine, and therefore limit industry. Tasmania is known for their extremely clean air and I was impressed. It sure smells pure.

It's a wallaby!  And she wants to have some lunch.

coastal Tasmania near Penguin, Australia

Gorgeous Cradle Mountain
We booked a tour with Cradle Coast tours, and met our tour guide and driver, Howard, at the fairly new 'Makers Workshop'. This is the place to find out what's happening in Burnie, grab a coffee, check e-mail with the free wifi service, meet local artisans, and book tours. He had 5 of us on his tour to see the Cradle Mountains national park. This was the official holiday to celebrate Australia Day, so all the other shops in town were closed.

We drove on smaller roadways through medicinal poppy fields, among other plants. I wasn't aware that Tasmania is one of the largest producers of opium poppy seeds, which are mainly used in American pharmaceuticals like codeine. There were also plenty of sheep, cows, and lots of green spaces. It took just over an hour, but we made a couple of stops to see an old tin mining town, and to enjoy a free cup of coffee and biscuits at a rest area for motorists because it was a holiday weekend.

You can see the peaks of the mountain from far away. We drove into the park, although visitors who aren't on tours have to park their cars and take the park provided buses. Howard parked by Dove Lake where we had some time to do a short hike around the lake and enjoy the view. It was magnificent! We saw lots of beautiful flowers. We had a picnic of sandwiches, fruits, and cookies that Howard brought along and ate by the visitor's center. We were greeted by a couple of curious wallaby. Of course we didn't feed them, so they didn't stay long.

On the return trip he took us along the beautiful coastal road where the rock formations stand tall in the incredibly blue water. There were penguins sunning themselves on the rocks. Lots of people were kayaking, swimming, and playing on the beach. Such an abundance of great scenery in one place- this is Tasmania!

Ulva and Stewart island, New Zealand- birder's paradise

We arrived at Stewart island, the southernmost island of New Zealand, and were immediately immersed in nature. This is a pristine wonderland, with rare birds and plentiful greenery. You can hike all over the 17 miles of island, or take a scenic bus tour. It was quite hilly, so it can be challenging. The beaches are nice but with cold water, so you probably wouldn't want to swim there. There were kayaks, motor scooters, and bikes for rent at Stewart Island Experience. We took a walk into the center of town, which only had about 20 buildings. We found a great little grocery store and a merino wool shop where we found a few sweaters.  Abdul was sold on the fact that this was 'the southernmost shop in the whole world', which I have to admit...was pretty cool.

The highlight of the day was a trip by boat to nearby Ulva island. You can take a boat taxi there for $20 round trip. It's a wildlife refuge and people go here just to enjoy nature for a few hours. They've had a project to eradicate rats from the island and now there are no predators. Some of the birds are so used to seeing humans, they sit on the ground and sing for you. We had a guide take us for 2 hours on well marked trails, and she explained a bit of the history as we walked. When we heard a bird sing out, she would look for it and tell us the names and habits. The air was so fresh and energizing, with a sweet smell. We thoroughly enjoyed getting out in nature for the day.

tiny orchids growing in a tree

Lush forestation and green all around us

Gorgeous parrot
This little bird came right up to us

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Galley Lunch on the Silver Shadow Cruise Ship

No one ever takes a cruise and loses weight. Or if they do, I don't understand it.  Food is plentiful, delicious, and available everywhere, 24 hours of the day. Sometimes when there's a day at sea, the staff plan a special meal for the guests. On our current cruise ship, it's galley lunch and it's quite amazing!

On this day, the galley where meals are prepared is open to the public and you get to see everyone at work, as well as having a multitude of different foods served buffet style. The dining room and galley area are also decorated with colorful paper lanterns, ice sculptures, and other fanciful decorations made out of food. It's quite impressive and very different than most of us do in our own homes.

You begin with the salad and fruit bar, then on to seafood including an ice sculpture of a moose head filled with shrimp, as well as a huge pan of mussels. If you still have room, there are curries, biryani dishes including one with goat meat that Abdul enjoyed. Maybe you want to try stir fry? Then roast fish, pork, and beef. Of course there are at least a dozen varieties of bread and plenty of cheeses from around the world. And dessert is placed on an immense table out in the dining room in front of the musical group which plays throughout the meal. And take a look at the chocolate sculpted dragon head at the center of desserts! Whew! Plenty of choices! Then maybe a nap for the rest of the afternoon.

Salmon in so many varieties

Seafood stew and it was all fresh caught

Really?  It's a chocolate sculptured dragon!

Much too pretty to eat!

Not just cheesecake...chocolate sails on it!

These guys were very talented and played every day.  The staff on the cruise ship never have a free day.

Abdul loved all the curry selections- even goat meat!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Giant's house- the most beautiful yard art and gardens

While in Akaroa, we walked through the town and up a steep road to find the Giant's House, one of the most amazing gardens I've ever experienced. For $20 per person, you are allowed in to enjoy the many concrete mosaic sculptures and to smell the sweet smell of summer flowers and fruit trees. There are even vegetables growing among the flowers and sculptures.

The 1880 house was purchased by an artist, Josie Martin, who has spent the past 18 years living there and 14 of those creating the masterpieces we saw. It's difficult to choose just a few photos, because the yard is built in tiers and each stairway leads to a new discovery. She has such a passion for the house and gardens, and incorporates her love of other places into the works she designs. There were a few projects ongoing, so it's obviously a work in progress. There were no gardens at the house when she started. The artwork is done with broken tiles, mirrors, and glass.

The house is run as a bed and breakfast, but it isn't part of the tour. It's also a private home. I read that the house was built of hardwoods, totara and kauri, and it took 5 years to build. There is a mahogany staircase imported from France. Josie has her paintings hanging throughout. She also has her earlier mosaic works in the front steps and conservatory. Some of the china in those was found in the garden.

We bought a few ice cream drinks and lavender shortbread cookies to enjoy in the shade trees where several tables are set up. A nice young lady clad in apron served us and told us about working there. You can check out the website at It truly was an unforgettable place!

Surprise!  Even the toilet is tiled!