Saturday, May 30, 2009

Vacation Is Done

We left Sydney at about 2pm Friday, and landed in LA at 9:30am Friday, 4½ hours before we left! We were unable to upgrade our return flight, but we did have exit row seats, so the 12½ hour flight was not so bad.

We stayed with the Shangri-La hotel chain our entire time in Australia and were very happy with the accomodations. I knew that Shangri-La is a common synonym for paradise, even though I had never read James Hilton's "Lost Horizon", nor seen the movie. Our room at the Shangri-La contained a complimentary copy of the 1933 novel in the bedside table, so I brought it home with me.

We checked in to our room at the LAX Marriott early yesterday and were hoping to spend some time enjoying the pool, but it was cloudy and cool here so we just relaxed in the room and enjoyed an early dinner at the hotel restaurant. We're having a little trouble re-adjusting to the time zone change.

This evening we board our last flight for home. We've been in 7 airplanes and 4 hotels in the last 10 days, but tonight we can sleep in our own bed. We had a great trip but we're looking forward to seeing everyone again.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The weather in Sydney was perfect today. Temperatures were mild, and the sun stayed out all day. We started the day with a walk over for a close look at the Opera House and then a stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens. Next we booked a harbor tour cruise with Captain Cook Cruises that offered narrated harbor tours with all day on/off privileges at each of the stops on their route. We rode the entire circuit and stopped at the Taronga Zoo and at Watson's Bay. The zoo had a nice collection of Australian wildlife as well as spectacular views of Sydney from across the harbor.

Watson's Bay is scenic area of natural beauty with views of the ocean from the top of high cliffs. The walk to up to the top of the cliffs was tiring, but the views were worth it.

When we finished our harbor cruise, we took a walk halfway across the harbor bridge before returning to the hotel for dinner and a drink at the bar.

Tomorrow we head back for home.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rainy Days

Tuesday was our last day in Cairns. We originally planned to take a driving tour of the tablelands that promised views of numerous waterfalls. But we awoke to rain on Tuesday and decided to pass on the driving tour and just hang out around the hotel instead. We had lunch and drinks at the pool bar, and did some window shopping in the hotel shops area. We also walked over to the Reef Casino where I managed to extend my current losing streak a little further. :( But I only played a little bit, mostly so I could say I've played blackjack in Australia. We did have a little good luck winning 2000 coins on a penny Wheel of Fortune machine.

Our flight out of Cairns got us into Sydney close to 10 pm, and it was after 11 by the time we got the car and drove to the Hotel. We enjoyed our stay at the Cairns Shangri-La so much that we cancelled our Sydney Marriott reservation and booked a room at the Sydney Shangri-La instead. We have a very nice room with a view of the Opera House. There is a festival called Vivid Sydney going on and the Opera House sails are lit up at night with changing colorful designs.

View from hotel room

Today we drove to the Blue Mountains area. The weather started out looking good, but it got foggy as we drove higher into the mountains. We stopped at Wentworth Falls and walked down 200+ stairs to an overlook to see the falls. They were visible as we arrived at the overlook, but within minutes they were completely covered over by fog. We waited for a while and eventually the fog cleared enough to get a good view again.

Wentworth Falls

From the falls we drove on to Katoomba where everyone goes to see the famous rock formation known as the "Three Sisters". Normally the Three Sisters are seen towering above a deep valley, but when we arrived the valley was filled with fog and the Three Sisters were seen floating in a cloud.

The Three Sisters

We left the three sisters area with plans to visit some more waterfalls in the area, but it began to rain so once again our waterfall tour was rained out. We took a scenic route back towards Sydney and along the way we made an 8km detour towards Mt. Wilson. Along that route we saw some amazing dense vegetation and giant trees that reminded me of the forest moon of Endor.

Giant Tree

When we got back to Sydney we had beer and dinner at the 160+ year old Customs House Bar. Tomorrow we may take a harbor cruise tour. Unless it rains.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Reefer Madness

Today we got up at 5:30 AM and drove more than an hour to Port Douglas to participate in a snorkeling excursion at the Great Barrier Reef. The tour was provided by Calypso Reef Cruises whose friendly and knowledgeable crew enabled this to be an awesome snorkeling experience.

It was an all day excursion visiting 3 different areas on the outer reef. Food and beverages were provided on the ride out to the reef, and between each snorkeling session. The snorkeling conditions were perfect with calm seas and warm air and water temperatures. We saw an amazing variety of coral, and some fascinating sea creatures including giant clams, sea turtles, and even anemones harboring little "Nemo" fish.

We finished the day with a nice steak dinner at yet another of the marina boardwalk restaurants. Tomorrow we plan to sleep in a little, and then do some more touring by automobile.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Driving Tour

We have a lovely marina view room at the Shangri-La here in Cairns.

Cairns is a wonderful tropical city. We spent some time exploring the hotel grounds, and then went out for a walk on the esplanade.

We booked a tour of the barrier reef for tomorrow, and then took a drive north to the Mossman Gorge National Park. Along the way we stopped at the Cairns Tropical Zoo where we saw dingoes, wallabies, kangaroo, wombats, crocodiles, and other assorted Australian critters. And where we were photographed cuddling a koala.

We also stopped for a bit in Palm Cove where there are lots of resort hotels and a beautiful sandy beach.

When we reached the Mossman Gorge we followed the walking paths through the rainforest and near the river.

Later back at the hotel we had dinner at a seafood restaurant where I ventured to try a local fish that was very good. Before dinner we had time to catch some of the final rays of sunset from the esplanade.

More after our reef tour tomorrow.

Aussie Update

It was a long flight from LA to Sydney, but we were very lucky because United honored my upgrade request and we got to make the 14 hour flight in business class. Janet had no problem adjusting to the additional level of comfort. She looked like when she used to set herself with pillows and blankets in the back of the van when we used to do long road trips.

After we got to Sydney we had about a 5 hour wait in the airport until our next flight to Brisbane. Then in Brisbane another hour or so wait for the flight to Cairns. We finally arrived at our hotel in Cairns around 5:30 pm Saturday. We enjoyed a nice dinner at a restaurant on the marina boardwalk and then headed to bed early. It had been a long trip.

More updates to follow soon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Slow Start

We took off on the first leg of our trip Wednesday evening. Thanks to Jennifer for driving us to the airport. Our flight to LA was overbooked and they were offering a free R/T ticket anywhere in the U.S., free overnight hotel accomodations, plus first class seats on the next day's 6:30 am flight to anyone volunteering to give up their seat. We were tempted by the offer, but decided to stick to our original itinerary which gave us an overnight in LA before embarking on the long flight to Sydney. They eventually got all the volunteers they needed.

After boarding, the pilot announced that there was a problem with closing the entry door, and mechanics were working on it. We had to sit in the completely full plane while they worked on the door. We finally took off nearly an hour after our scheduled departure. But don't feel too sorry for me. I had used upgrades on this flight so we were sitting in roomy seats with flight attendants serving us chilled drinks during the wait. The 14 hour leg to Sydney will not be so comfy.

We had nice accomodations at the Marriott here in LA. We extended our stay so we can relax and enjoy the hotel instead of sitting in LAX all day waiting for our evening flight to Sydney.

Bye for now. The next update will probably be after we've checked in at Cairns.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"He's Dead Jim"

No, I'm not dead yet. Like many others, I've allowed my blog to go dormant for a while. Even though I haven't posted anything new since April 3rd, I was surprised to find out that there are still some readers checking it from time to time. And according to, I'm still getting somewhere around 150 hits per week. So I'm hoping to bring it back to life with some more frequent posting.

Apparently there is a tradition of doing a "101 things about me" post on your 1st blog anniversary. My Blog anniversary was February 6th, and I did not do a 101 post. So to kick off my blog's return I am posting my 101 things list. It's more a "101 lines" about me, rather than 101 things. I didn't try to group it in categories but just added things as I thought of them.

0. I'm a C programmer. Lists begin with zero.
1. I was born at 5:59AM June 10th, 1951.
2. I am the oldest of 4.
3. I have 1 brother and 2 sisters.
4. I lived on Chicago's south side until age 10.
5. From kindergarten to 8th grade, I attended 5 different schools.
6. I WALKED to all but one. :)
7. In 1961 my parents bought a 'starter' house in Oak Lawn.
8. My mother STILL lives there.
9. In 1976 I bought a 'starter' house in Oak Lawn.
10. I still live there.
11. As a child, I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up.
12. Today I work at an innovation research and development lab!
13. As a computer programmer.
14. For a clown. :)
15. I married my high school sweetheart in 1970.
16. Together we parented 5 children.
17. All 5 have since married and moved out.
18. I am a grandfather 10 times.
19. Soon to be 11.
20. I fell in love with the Toyota MR2 in 1985 when they first appeared in the U.S.
21. I finally bought one 19 years later.
22. I have a lot of patience.
23. I've always had an interest in music.
24. My musical tastes are eclectic.
25. When I was in 5th grade our music teacher told us we could bring our favorite record to school.
26. Most kids brought early 60's pop music.
27. I brought the William Tell Overture.
28. When I was in 7th grade my parents offered me guitar lessons.
29. I quit after 9 months.
30. But I kept learning guitar on my own.
31. By 8th grade I had formed my first garage band with my brother and cousins.
32. I've played guitar in musical groups of one kind or another ever since.
33. In 7th grade I joined the school chorus.
34. I sang Alto.
35. I've been singing in choral groups of one kind or another ever since.
36. But somewhere around 10th grade I finally graduated to Bass.
38. Pretty much since I left high school, I've struggled with my weight.
39. It's a continuous battle of gaining weight and trying to lose it.
40. The gaining is winning.
41. I've gone through several job/career changes.
42. My first job after high school was Telephone Company Lineman.
43. That meant climbing telephone poles.
44. I'm afraid of heights.
45. Fortunately most suburban telephone lines are buried.
46. That meant digging ditches, but it was better than climbing poles.
47. I followed the phone company with 6 years as a full time National Guard employee.
48. 2 as an air defense radar technician.
49. And 4 as a supply 'technician'.
50. I left the National Guard to become a diesel engine mechanic.
51. I did that for nearly 8 years.
52. In the interim I went back to school to get a college degree.
53. I started as a math major at a community college.
54. I transferred to IIT for engineering.
55. A physics teacher showed me how to solve problems using FORTRAN.
56. I returned to the community college to study computer science.
57. I taught myself to write computer games on a home computer.
58. In 1984 I got hired as a computer programmer.
59. My college degree gave me the necessary credibility.
60. But my self taught ability to write and sell computer games gave the necessary experience.
61. I've been working in the computer/IT field ever since.
62. I love to travel.
63. I've slept under the stars in Canada.
64. I've stood inside the Taj Mahal.
65. I've been to the top of the Bavarian Alps in Germany.
66. I've driven over the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia.
67. I've sunned on the beach in St. Tropez.
68. I've played blackjack in the casino at Monte Carlo.
69. I've climbed to the top of the bell tower at Chartres,
70. And the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
71. I've taken a ride on the London Eye.
72. I've seen the Royal Baths in Warsaw.
73. I've toured the temples in Kyoto, and fed the bowing deer in Nara.
74. I've slept in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora.
75. And experienced the peaceful quiet of Tikehau.
76. I've sipped wine in Austria.
77. I've consumed Caipirinhas in Brazil.
78. I've overindulged in Rum in the Caribbean.
79. I've had a few beers on a beach in Mexico.
80. I've downed a few Mai Tais in Maui.
81. I like to take a drink now and then. :)
82. I've seen a good bit of the U.S., but I'd have to start another 101 list.
83. But I have to mention Las Vegas, which I've seen quite a few times.
84. I like to play Poker and Blackjack but I lose more than I win.
85. I enjoy eating in nice restaurants.
86. I like most foods, but I don't generally like seafood.
87. Except in Hawaii where I've had some really good seafood.
88. I like single malt scotch.
89. But when I'm feeling tropical, I love a boat drink.
90. My favorite candy is jelly beans.
91. Or candy corn in the fall.
92. I'm not particularly fond of chocolate, but I have been seen eating it.
93. I am a coffee aficionado, and have my own espresso machine.
94. According to family and friends, I make the world's best chocolate chip cookies.
95. I've never been very athletic, but I ran a half marathon when I was in my 30's.
96. I was nearly electrocuted once.
97. But I survived with only scars from electrical burns.
98. And a healthy respect for electricity.
99. My favorite television show was Dr. Who.
100. My favorite movie is Casablanca.