Monday, August 21, 2017

Sun Spotters

We drove down to Nashville the weekend of Aug 19 to see the "Great American Total Eclipse of the Sun".  We stayed at the Gaylord Opryland Resort along with some friends and enjoyed a nice weekend getaway including a bar crawl on Broadway in downtown Nashville.

Of course the purpose and highlight of the trip was the solar eclipse on Aug 21. The sky stayed clear for the important parts of the eclipse, clouding up a little after totality. The total eclipse was as awesome as it was anticipated to be. I hope to do it again in 2024.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Singapore Farewell

Monday was an early riser in order to get checked in and clear security in time for our 6 AM flight. I'm writing this long after the fact so I don't remember the details as well. We had treated ourselves to a business class upgrade on this trip so the flight was very comfortable.  The route was the reverse of the one coming and so included a stop at Hong Kong a few hours after takeoff. At Hong Kong we had to exit the plane, make a loop through security, then head to the boarding gate to re-board the same plane. As we were clearing security I realized I left my souvenir Singapore hat on the plane. I notified the first United agent I encountered and they said they'd call the gate to see if it was turned in by the cleaning crew. Unfortunately when we arrived to the gate I was told it was not found or turned in. I searched for it myself after re-boarding but to no avail.

The rest of the return trip was uneventful until we arrived at the gate in O'Hare. As we were making our way down the aisle to the exit door I realized I didn't have my wallet.  I went back to my seat and began searching the area and discovered it had fallen behind the seat when it was reclined. I could see it but I couldn't reach it. A helpful flight attendant came to my aid and was able to retrieve it for me.

We had a great trip to Singapore and Malaysia with lots of pictures and no real mishaps except for a lost hat. 😡  We both liked the city and would consider returning someday so maybe I'll get a souvenir eventually.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Singapore Day 4

Sunday we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, then decided to take a look at the hotel pool. When we saw it we were kicking ourselves for not investigating it sooner. The pool is on the 18th floor and is in an open air setting that overlooks the Singapore skyline. There is a bar there and tables that are actually in the pool ( a flat section that is a few inches deep). We wished we had come up the night before.

We stayed around the hotel until checkout time, then made our way back to the airport via Singapore's excellent train system. Changi airport enjoys the reputation as being the #1 airport in the world, and it certainly deserves it. There are many interesting artworks to see as well as many floral exhibits. If you have a long layover, you can even take a free tour of Singapore. We wandered around a bit to make sure we had our bearings for the next day's departure, then checked in to our room at the airport Crowne Plaza hotel. Our flight home was scheduled for 6 am Monday, so we turned in early.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Singapore Days 2 & 3

Friday we woke to heavy rains falling in Kuala Lumpur. We checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to KL Sentral train station. From there we took the KLIA Express train to the airport. We had an 11:20 flight to Singapore but it was delayed by the heavy rain. We got back to Singapore about a half hour late but at least the weather was clear there. We stayed around the hotel until it began to get dark then walked to the Marina Bay area to visit the super tree groves and see the iLight exhibits.

The Supertrees are giant treelike metal structures that are covered by live growing vines and plants. At night they illuminate and glow with shifting colors. They were quite amazing to see.

iLight is an annual free exhibition of outdoor art using light in unusual and creative ways. The exhibits are located along the Marina Bay waterfront promenade and include special projected displays on the outer walls of the Art Science museum and on the Merlion fountain. We walked the entire promenade and enjoyed almost all of the exhibits. Then we walked back to the hotel. It was a more than 23000 steps day. We got back to our hotel room after midnight only to find the main circuit breaker for our room had tripped and our room was without lights or A/C. We called the desk and they sent maintenance to fix the problem.

Saturday we had breakfast at the hotel and took the MRT to Chinatown. We browsed through the crowded streets packed with shops and restaurants and found a few things to buy and take home. We also toured inside a Hindu temple that is located on the edge of Chinatown.  It started to rain so we headed back to the hotel.

Later on after the rain let up we returned to the Gardens by the Bay to visit the Cloud Forest exhibit. The Cloud Forest is an indoor 7 story botanical garden whose centerpiece is the worlds tallest indoor waterfall. It is all built on a mountain shaped structure that you ascend to the top of, then follow a walkway to the bottom. After the Cloud Forest we returned to the super tree grove to see them in daylight. We consider sticking around for an hour and a half to see a laser light show we read about but we were tired and decided to return to the hotel. Tomorrow we will check out of the Marriott and change to a hotel near the airport to facilitate our 6am departure flight Monday morning. Some pictures follow. Note, it's difficult to caption pictures when writing blog posts on my iPad so I'm leaving the pictures uncaptioned until I get back home.

Art & Science Museum

Helix Bridge
Supertree Grove

Supertree Selfie

Supertrees with elevated walkway

Metal Dragonfly Sculpture

Supertree reflections
iLight exhibit
iLight exhibit "Northern Lights"
iLight exhibit made from Evian bottles

iLight Butterflies

iLight Giant Flowers
Illuminated Merlion

Merlion and Singapore Flyer

Chinatown - Year of the Rooster
Chinatown Shopping
Hindu Temple

Temple Entrance

Inside the Cloud Forest
Cloud Forest indoor waterfall

Orchid sculpture

Botanical gardens in the Cloud Forest
View from above
Supertrees in daylight

Dinosaur exhibit

Supertree sunset
Supertrees, Flower Dome (left) and Cloud Forest (right)
Supertree grove
Cloud Forest dome

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 1 continued

We returned to the hotel to cool off (did I mention how hot it is here?) and then headed to the airport by train. We allowed plenty of time for travel mistakes but didn't make any so we arrived with time to spare. We finally boarded our Jetstar Asia plane for the 65 minute flight to Kuala Lumpur. In KL we took trains to our hotel near City Center. After getting checked in we walked to the Petronas Towers and signed up for our tour. The tour takes you to the sky bridge and also to the 86th floor observation level. After the tour we stayed around a while waiting for the tower lights to come on. Then we headed back to the hotel for the night. Tomorrow we go back to Singapore.

Petronas Towers
View from the sky bridge

Top of the tower

Towers are lit up at night

Bottom of the Towers

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 1 in Singapore

We had some time after breakfast before we needed to go to the airport so we explored the area near the hotel. It is a short walk to Merlion Park so we went there. It is HOT and humid here. Here's a few pictures from our morning walk. 

This is actually Hong Kong airport from our stopover last night. 

The JW Marriott 

Singapore skyline
The MerLion at MerLion Park

MerLion Park

MerLion selfie

Singapore Sling

Singapore Trip 3/21/2017
Our flight to Singapore scheduled for 2:15 pm was delayed until 4 pm. We used miles to treat ourselves to a business class upgrade on this trip so we used the extra time to enjoy the new Polaris lounge at O'Hare. It was quiet and comfortable, and uncrowded which was a nice change from our recent experiences in the United Clubs at O'Hare. After boarding we learned there would be an additional delay but fortunately it was brief. We took off about 4:30 pm. Janet and I each watched a movie before dinner then after dinner settled in to sleep. After 16 hours of flying we landed for an hour and a half scheduled stop in Hong Kong then re-boarded for the continuing flight to Singapore. Customs and immigration were a breeze at 2:30 am, and the 20 minute taxi ride to the hotel was traffic free. We checked in to a nice JW Marriott with a very reasonable rate thanks to Jennifer and Paul. Tomorrow we are making a day trip to Kuala Lumpur to check the Petronas Towers off my bucket list. 😄 I'll try to have some pictures for the next post.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

New Zealand - Nov 2016


I played at the 10am Marist remembrance Mass with Carl and several St Linus choir members Saturday morning before leaving for the airport around noon. We got to the airport with time to spare and tried the new United Club near B6. It's bigger and offers a lot of power outlets for charging up all your devices. Our gate was C23 so we had to allow time to get to the C concourse before boarding. The flight to San Francisco actually felt short compared to some of our recent travel. 

After collecting our luggage we took the shuttle to the Waterfront Marriott and checked in to a nice bay view room. We had dinner in the lobby lounge, accompanied by wine and Caipirinhas. On a sour note, the Magikarp in San Francisco bay have apparently been overfished. I was looking forward to catching enough to evolve a Gyarados, but I only saw two the whole time I was there. 😉


We had breakfast in the M Club, then returned to our room to relax until our 4 pm late checkout. Then we moved back to the M Club lounge and hung out there till about 7:30 when we took the shuttle to the airport. We had about an hour to spend in the United club before making our way to the gate for boarding. The flight left on time and was long but uneventful. I was able to sleep enough to be comfortable with our drive on arrival.


We arrived in Auckland Tuesday morning about a half hour earlier than scheduled. We had some concerns about New Zealand customs, having heard they may require doctor's notes for prescription medicines, and have strict control on food imports. But we found it to be no worse than entering Australia. We got through to the arrivals hall and picked up our rental car. Once again we relied on Google's offline maps and Janet's navigation skill to get around without a GPS. We had intended to stop at an airport ATM for some local currency but were about halfway to our first destination when we realized we forgot that part. We stopped to ask at a small cafe in Kopu and were advised that a we would be likely to find a bank ATM with a short detour to the nearby town of Thames. We did indeed find a bank there and after picking up some cash we also went to a nearby McDonalds for some lunch.
Welcome to New Zealand

We continued on to our destination in the small resort town of Hahei. The road across the Coromandel peninsula was curvy and winding through forest covered hills. It was reminiscent of the road to Hana. The logging industry is big in this area and we encountered many logging trucks making their way along the narrow roads with a full load of logs. We found our way to our hotel and checked in. The proprietors were pleasant people and our garden cottage was nice. It was close to Hahei beach, and a very short drive to the Cathedral Cove car park.

Tatahi Lodge Cottage
We relaxed a bit before setting out to see Cathedral Cove. We drove to the car park and found a space close to the walking track entry point. Then we began the walk to Cathedral Cove. Here is where Google directions failed us. The Google Maps Directions claim it is a winding 26 minute walk, but fail to note that the trail winds up and down some difficult hills, and actually takes about 45 minutes. We made it nonetheless and it was entirely worth it. The beach and water and stone features at Cathedral Cove are beautiful. After staying at the beach for a while we started back on the same track. We had perfect weather the whole day. It was sunny and mild. The temperature during our walk to and from the cove was just cool enough to keep us from overheating. Note to self, if we ever go back we'll skip the walk and book a Cathedral Cove scenic cruise.
Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove
We were hungry after our hiking and chose to have dinner at a nearby accommodation and restaurant called The Church. Janet had their fish of the day special and I had a steak. The food was mostly good, though my steak (a scotch fillet) was tough and gristly. The pacing of the meal was very slow. Perhaps that's just the New Zealand beach resort way. Janet had a New Zealand Gewurtztraminer that was very good.
"The Church" Restaurant


Wednesday we checked out of our hotel and had breakfast at the Hahei Beach Cafe. I had coffee and some delicious pancakes served with bananas and Janet had scrambled eggs. After breakfast we drove to Hahei Beach and walked out to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean. Hahei beach is a beautiful beach with soft sand that has a pink cast to it. While there we saw a kayak tour setting out for Cathedral Cove. We left Hahei beach and drove to Hot Water Beach. We arrived too late after low tide to try the traditional spa digging, but we enjoyed a walk on the beach and picked up a few shells to bring home (which we unfortunately forgot in the rental car).
Hahei Beach
Hot Water Beach
We left the Coromandel peninsula along the same winding route we followed in and headed to the Hobbiton movie set tour. We stopped in Matamata at the visitor center that looks like a hobbit house. We got to Hobbiton in time to take the 3:15 tour. We spent two hours guided around the preserved movie set followed by snacks and beer at the Green Dragon.
Green Dragon Inn
We drove from Hobbiton to Tauranga where our next accommodations were. We also had booked a Glowworm Kayak Tour for Wednesday night and needed to be at the hotel for our pick up at 6:30 pm. We arrived just in time for our pickup with just barely enough time to get checked in at the hotel.
Tauranga Trinity Wharf Hotel
Our glowworm tour guide Tom drove us to the site on McLaren lake and set up a table of wine and snacks for us to enjoy while he prepared for the tour. We were the only participants on this evening's tour although we were told there are sometimes more than 20. We were happy to have a personal tour and our guide Tom was a genuinely friendly and laid back guy whose language mannerisms reminded me of Crush the sea turtle. But he was completely knowledgeable about kayaking and glowworms. He guided us on a trip across lake McLaren and allowed us to row at a comfortable pace. As the sky darkened he led us into a narrow canyon where both sides sparkled with tiny blue white glowworm lights that looked like an array of led christmas lights. Tom explained the life cycle of the Arachnocampa Luminosa, and why they were there. It was an incredible experience to be out on a lake in a kayak surrounded by nothing but nature. There wasn't a human sound to be heard. As we left the canyon and rowed back to the lake our dark adjusted eyes could pick out hundreds more glowworm lights in the trees along the shore. We finished up the tour enjoying the moonlit starry sky as Tom packed up the kayaks. Then we were returned to our hotel, getting back around 10 pm.


We started the day with a buffet breakfast in the hotel, then started out on a drive to Taupo to see Huka Falls. The falls are on the Waikato river at a point where it narrows and drops in elevation. It's much like a white water rapids with occasional small drops until it ultimately falls 35 feet at the end. There is a foot bridge over the middle of the falls gorge that offers a great view and selfie spot. There are several walking trails in the area as well and we spent a little time walking on one that followed the river upstream.
Huka Falls
After we left Huka Falls we went to the nearby Craters of the Moon geothermal walk where for a small fee you can walk a laid out track on a geothermal field among large craters, mud pools, and steaming fumaroles. It's a little unnerving to think of the volcanic activity going on around you and probably under your feet.
Craters of the Moon
We left Taupo and headed for Rotorua which has some of the best geothermal sites in the area. We arrived in time to tour the "Thermal Wonderland" at Wai-O-Tapu, and we were suitably impressed. We walked among steaming craters, large colorful pools of bubbling steaming water and bubbling mud pots. After leaving the Thermal Wonderland, we stopped to see what is claimed to be the largest mud pool in the southern hemisphere. We returned to our hotel in Tauranga and had dinner in the hotel restaurant.
"Artist's Palatte"
Mud Pool


After morning breakfast in the hotel restaurant we checked out of the hotel and packed up the car to drive back to Rotorua. We parked in the government gardens and walked around for a bit admiring some of the trees and flowers, statuary, and even a hot spring pool named Rachel. Next we visited the Rotorua museum which occupies a building once used as a bath house where people from all over the world would go to soak in the thermal water as a cure for chronic disorders. The museum has an entire wing devoted to Maori history in New Zealand, and also some art exhibits and a preserved section of the old bath house. After the museum we drove about 3 hours to Auckland, passing through Hamilton on the way. Most of the drive was pleasant but the traffic backed up on the motorway near Auckland. Janet identified a better route on the map and got us to the hotel straightaway. We had dinner in the hotel lobby bar where a guitarist was playing and singing.
Government Gardens
Bath House / Rotorua Museum


Saturday morning we enjoyed a buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant and after a bit we went out for some sightseeing on foot. A short walk from the hotel we visited Auckland's St. Patrick Cathedral. It wasn't very 'cathedral like' by European cathedral standards, but it was a pretty church. We went inside and snapped a few pictures, then moved on since people appeared to be gathering in the narthex for some event, perhaps a wedding.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
Not far from St. Patrick's is the Auckland Sky Tower which we had plans to visit. We walked there and bought tickets to visit the observation deck. It is a swift elevator ride to the top with glass doors that allow you to see out on the way up. We took some pictures of the city panorama and a couple looking down while standing on the glass floor too. There was a cafe restaurant near the top level too but we didn't eat there. When we returned to the bottom we bought a few things in the souvenir shop.
Sky Tower
Glass Floor
The building adjacent to the Sky Tower contained a casino so we went inside and played 20 $NZ on a roulette game but didn't win anything. On our way out there was a street fair of some kind going on with music and food booths set up. One booth had a person making huge bubbles.
Bubble Man
We walked back towards the hotel and stopped in a few shops to do a little more souvenir shopping. We also took a walk along the harbor which was a little nicer looking area than the city streets we were on prior. When we got back to the hotel we repeated the lobby bar dining experience since the food there was pretty good.
Auckland Hilton


Sunday was our travel home day. I had breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then returned to the room to get repacked. At checkout time we collected the car and loaded up to go to the airport. The drive to the airport was only about 30 minutes but surprisingly did not take an expressway route, instead following a zig-zag path along secondary highways. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to return the car and get checked in, then spent some time in the Air New Zealand airport lounge before heading to the gate to board. After the plane left the gate and was taxiing to the runway, the pilot came on and said there was a mechanical problem and we had to return to have it investigated. It took a while for the problem to be corrected and we ended up taking off more than 2 hours late.

We had scheduled a 3 hour connection time in San Francisco but when we landed 2 hours late we knew it would be tight to get through customs and immigration as well as re-check our bags and clear TSA before getting to our next flight. A delay at any step would mean we'd probably miss our flight. Fortunately everything went smoothly and we made it to the gate just as boarding started. It wasn't until then that we had time to check our phones and learned about the New Zealand earthquake that had occurred about 7 hours after we left. We fired off a couple of messages to let people know we were fine then took off for Chicago. The New Zealand trip had been amazing but we were happy to get home.