Fun Times Downunder

Our last major trip during our “gap year” was to Australia. We planned this to be soon after Grant returned from an overseas deployment and it was truly wonderful to see him safe and sound. We had a brilliant time including visiting with a number of relatives and friends as well as taking a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane via Canberra.

We started in Sydney after an uneventful flight during which both Alice and I managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep. Our hotel was right on the water almost directly under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This gave us great views down the harbor, including the Opera House and across to Luna Park.

We had arrived early in the morning, so after a shower, we headed over to the Ferry Wharf and took a ferry to one of our favorite places, Manley, which has the harbor on one side and the beach on the other. We were lucky to have such a wonderful, sunny day to help us acclimate to the new time zone.

That evening we had dinner with my sister and her family, which is expanding with new in-laws.

We were feeling quite refreshed the next day as we picked up a rental car and headed out of Sydney, dropping in to see some friends on the way. We made it to Canberra and spent some quality time with Grant and Luke. Canberra has certainly grown up since the time in the ’80s when Alice and I lived there. Some of the more seedy areas are now gentrified with bars, restaurants, coffee shops and chic stores. Alice lamented that she missed the “old” Canberra.

Canberra is one of the few fully-planned cities in the world

We also got away for a couple of days to Mollymook, where Alice saw the first of several kookaburras she would take great delight in during our visit.

After some more days in Canberra hanging out with Luke (Grant had returned to Brisbane), we headed out on our road trip to Brisbane. Our first stop was in Bathurst, where we stayed in the old police station which has been converted into a luxurious bed and breakfast. The next morning, I had to to take the opportunity to drive around the famous Mt Panorama racing circuit as I had taken a keen interest in the races held there when I was growing up. Unfortunately, Alice wouldn’t let me drive fast even though the hoon in me was telling me to floor the accelerator.

On the next leg of the trip, the Sat Nav in the rental car took us on a very interesting route which included a narrow dirt road which was full of curves and a one-way bridge.

Next on the itinerary was a couple of days in the Hunter Valley wine country, where we stayed in The Convent Resort, which had been a convent in the early 1900’s before being converted into a luxury resort in the late 1990’s. We’ve stayed here before and once again enjoyed it, made more special by the visit of Eric and Deb Schwantler. I had worked with Eric previously in Sydney, and we spent more time together when they moved to Denver when we lived in Boulder CO.

Our friends Deb and Eric in front of The Convent

While in the Hunter Valley, we went for a walk and came across a mob of kangaroos. Alice managed to video one as it jumped across the road.

Then it was off for an overnight stay in Coffs Harbour, before spending some time Coolangatta with my uncle and aunt, Lou and Meg. It was great to visit with them at their tremendous apartment on the Gold Coast, and share family stories as well as our experiences in various parts of the world.

Next on the agenda was a visit to the Sunshine Coast to visit with our friends Peter and Nereis Long. Peter and co-founded myDIALS, and we had all become close during that time as Peter had stayed with us quite a bit in Boulder and then Peter and Nereis moved to the USA to help grow the business there.

Obligatory “selfie” while hiking along the Noosa coast

Finally we made it to Brisbane and got to spend some more quality time with Grant. This also meant Alice spent time entertaining the “grand-kittens”. My nephew, Peter also came down to Brisbane to visit with us, which was very special.

Dinner with Grant and Peter overlooking the Brisbane River

We visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where Alice delighted in the koalas and we also saw platypus, Tasmanian Devils, dingoes and wombats as well as more kookaburras and cockatoos.

Of course no trip to Australia is complete without buying some goodies to bring back to the USA.

We had a great time in Australia and are now back in Seattle, making the final preparations for our next adventure, which is our upcoming move to Hawaii.

Amazing African Adventure

Continuing our “gap year”, Alice and I just returned from a wonderful, adventure-filled trip to Tanzania, which is not only a beautiful country with magnificent scenery and wildlife, but filled with the most friendly, charming and accommodating people.

We started our journey with a few days in Amsterdam which I’ve always enjoyed visiting but Alice had never been there. This was a great way to break the trip over and we visited a number of the museums while also enjoying the magnificent summer weather.

A beautiful day for a canal cruise in Amsterdam

Then off to Tanzania where we began our adventure in Arusha. We spent time in Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Lake Eyasi, Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti reserves. At each location we had many close encounters with the various animals and bird life, thanks to the capability of our wonderful guide/driver, Iddy, who escorted us for over a week until we flew to Serengeti where we enjoyed another great guide, Yuana.

Just a small part of the great migration – wildebeests, buffalo, antelope, zebras and more

We stayed in a variety of excellent lodges and camps, which were all luxurious and provided different experiences. While each was special in its own way, the Tarangire Treetops and Grumeti Serengti Camp (where we were serenaded by hippos) were our favorites although the Ngorongoro Crate Lodge was simply spectacular (“where Maasai meets Versailles”) and Ziwani at Lake Eyasi also had a very different feel.

Opulence at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

The highlights for us were not only the quantity and diversity of the wildlife, but we participated in some very memorable cultural activities. We visited a school where we spent time with a grade 7 class and dropped off school supplies, spent time at a local market that happens once a month and visited with the Datoga tribe who continue to practice traditional blacksmithing as well as the Hadzabe bushmen, a truly fascinating people who continue to live they way have for centuries by hunting and gathering. Their language is very interesting and both Alice and I had unique experiences – Alice went with the women to gather root vegetables while I spent time at bow hunting practice with the young men.

One of our favorite memories – dancing with Grade 7 class
Alice and I were the only non-locals among a crowd of thousands at the market

Another highlight was the balloon ride over the Serengeti – a bucket list item for Alice although she was a little nervous about the “astronaut” position for the launch.

Balloon view provides a sense of the vastness

After we finished the safari portion of the trip, we flew to Zanzibar which has a truly fascinating cultural mix and a very interesting and sometimes sad history including being a major center for the African slave trade. We spent one day touring Stone Town where we again we had a very knowledgeable guide, Talib, who made the information come to life. During this tour we visited another school – this time a grade 1 class which was also very interesting and fun. We also saw the house where Freddie Mercury of Queen lived as a boy.

We finished our Tanzania adventure with a few days at Baraza beach resort (named the best boutique hotel in Africa) for some rest and relaxation.

On the way home we stopped in Dubai for a couple days (I’ve transited the airport before but never stopped). This was very interesting for us to experience a very interesting culture – 1.4M Emeratis and 8M expats – as well as the spectacular architecture, modern buildings, roads and infrastructure and of course the obvious wealth. We also managed to have two high teas in two days – at the Burj Al Arab and the Burj Khalifa.

We very much enjoyed our African adventure and it was a bucket list item that met all expectations. Now on to more adventures!

The sun sets on our African Adventure

Road Trip!

Alice and I made our way to Denver to spend some time with Kaitlin and Adam and to pick up the Holden Ute and drive it back to Seattle. We’d been looking forward to this – Alice mostly as she got to attend Kate’s Kindergarten class graduation and me mostly because I finally get to drive the Ute and take a special road trip.

We had fun hanging out with Adam and Kate. Denver always seems to have something happening. In this case it was the Chalk Art festival downtown. This was a much bigger event than I expected and some of the artwork was very impressive – even more so as they had to repair the works each afternoon following the inevitable rain shower and thunder storm.

I also managed to catch up a couple of former colleagues from myDIALS – always great to share stories and hear what people are up to now.

Catching up with Mark and Jeff from myDIALS

The Ute was ready and it truly was a very impressive job from Randy and John. Below are some before/after photos to show the amount of work that went into the conversion.

After a long weekend and a couple of quick runs to Wyoming and Rocky Mountain Park to ensure everything was working fine, Alice and I took off on our road trip.

The first stop was Albuquerque New Mexico, via Taos and Sante Fe. This is a nice drive and we stopped at Taos to enjoy lunch and check out a mission. Albuquerque is always fun and we stayed near old town so we could look around there. We also managed to have some great Mexican food and of course a good sampling of margaritas.

San Felipe de Neri Church in old town Albuquerque

From Albuquerque we traveled along the historic Route 66 across New Mexico and Arizona. I love the many stops and quaint / historic / weird artifacts that dot the landscape along the way. Alice got her wish to stay overnight in the Wigwam Motel. I’ve done this trip before and enjoy visiting Seligman, the birthplace of the Route 66 revival. Here we had breakfast at the Roadkill Cafe and was surprised to see both an Aussie flag and New Zealand flag taking pride of place (?) between the restrooms.

Aussie and New Zealand flags and some road signs – autographed!

We entered California and headed south to go through Joshua Tree National Park before staying in Palm Springs for a couple nights. It was hot here – above 100F – for early June. The air conditioning in the Ute worked like a charm and the temperature gauge never moved – thank you Randy! We stayed in a funky, historic hotel and enjoyed the pool, a local festival and the aerial tramway – it was 40F colder at the top than at the bottom, which was a great relief. At the hotel we were told we should smell the trees at the top and sure enough, they smelled like butterscotch.

Alice loved the Joshua trees
View from the top shows Palm Springs and the fault line

From Palm Springs we headed to the coast and up Highway 1 to San Simeon where we visited Hearst Castle. This is an amazing place full of artwork from all over the world, all with a rich history.

Hearst Castle is simply huge and amazing

Next up was continuing up Highway 1 and 101 along the coast through California and Oregon. This is a tremendous road, mostly two lanes, but a great driving experience with beautiful scenery. The Ute handled beautifully, and for the most part the slower drivers were very courteous and moved out of the way to let us pass.

Taking a break overlooking the Golden Gate

We spent the last night in Newport Oregon, and were entertained at dinner by a few sea lions who hadn’t yet departed to spend summer in San Francisco.

Pretty but sad as it’s our last day on the road

We finally made our way home to Seattle after a very satisfying road trip – the Ute ran flawlessly, we saw plenty of great sights, we stayed in nice places and we had several memorable meals.

Thanks again to John and Randy at Left Hand Utes for converting the Ute so well with such great attention to detail.

A Royal Scotland Adventure

Continuing on with our “gap year” of travel, Alice and I spent the last couple of weeks in Scotland. We started our adventure in Edinburgh with a couple of days to explore the tourist attractions along the Royal Mile including St Giles Cathedral, the Edinburgh Castle and Holyroodhouse Palace.

Alice in front of “her” Cathedral

We were most impressed with Edinburgh – clean, friendly people and heaps of history to explore and appreciate. Of course the icing for Alice was that JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book here. We had to make the pilgrimage to Elephant House, where she spent a lot of time writing as well as Greyfriars Kirkyard where she took inspiration from a number of the gravestones for names of people in her books as well as Victoria Street which was the inspiration for Diagon Alley.

Then it was time to board the Royal Scotsman train for a terrific 7 day trip around many locations across Scotland. This was a truly great experience with exemplary service, great food, wine and whiskey and very comfortable accommodation. We were piped on board by a piper (the first of a number of such experiences) and welcomed with champagne (again the first of many times we would be welcomed back to the train with an alcoholic beverage).

Piper welcoming us to the Royal Scotsman – our home for a week

Each day of the trip we had multiple excursions to visit historic sites, enjoy the tremendous Scottish scenery, learn more about Scotland and it’s people, and to simply “take the air”.

“Taking the air” with champagne of course!

We visited many castles and impressive homes including Mount Stuart (completely over the top with the carvings, paintings and decor), Ballindaloch, Inverlochy Castle (where multiple royal weddings have been held), Eilean Donan (one of the most authentic medieval castles and the location for a number of movies including ‘Highlander’), and Glamis Castle (the childhood home of the Queen Mother). Most impressively we were met and personally escorted by the Laird or Countess in multiple of these – very special indeed!

Inverlochy Castle
Mount Stuart – the following photos show the stunning interior
Ballindaloch where we were met by the Earl
Glamis Castle – probably our favorite!

On the train, we had some formal dinners as well as entertainment most evenings. Highland outfits were optional for the formal dinners, and while the French and English passengers dressed in kilts, I declined as I figured my legs weren’t made for such an outfit.

We also had a great visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was very well done.

We also visited the Glen Ord distillery where we saw the process and sampled multiple whiskeys.

It was sad to say goodbye to the train, but eventually we had to and then we spent another few days in Edinburgh.

Saying goodbye to a great crew!

This time we stayed in the West End and enjoyed being a little further from the tourist throng around the Royal Mile but still with plenty of history, bars and restaurants within a short walk of our hotel. There was a great walk along the waters of Leith which was very tranquil in the midst of the city.

We also toured the old underground at Real Mary King’s Close and of course Alice had to do a Ghouls and Ghosts tour one night.

We truly enjoyed our time in Scotland and were very lucky with the weather for May – relatively warm and sunny most days. Now another adventure awaits!

Starting our Third-Phase Adventure

We have just arrived back in Seattle after the first of a number of adventures we’re taking this year as we transition from full-time employment (I refer to it as “graduating”) to something new when we move to Hawaii later this year – our “third-phase”. During this trip we also celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary which is a milestone in itself.

We chose a cruise on Wind Star, a sailing vessel that had about 130 guests and 100 crew, which is manageable and much more enjoyable for me than a large cruise ship. We started with a couple days in San Jose, Costa Rica before we joined the ship to sail to Panama, through the Panama Canal and then visit a number of the Caribbean islands before finishing with a couple days at a resort in Barbados.

This is Wind Star, which was our home for 18 days.

Alice was a huge fan of Captain Belinda who was the first female captain in the Windstar fleet, so of course we had to go to the bridge to meet her with the obligatory photo.

The Panama Canal was fascinating for me and it has a very interesting history. Seeing the magnitude of the project, you have to admire the ambition of first the French in starting the project and the tenacity and “get the job done” approach of the US to finish it. It also cost the lives of around 30,000 of the construction workers so it came at a very large cost.

We managed to visit some of the historic sites in San Jose and in Panama City including the original town that was destroyed by Captain Morgan and the old town, which is now a UNESCO heritage site and very well preserved.


We took a boat ride in the lake at Panama and got up close with some monkeys who were mostly interested in if we had any food.







We enjoyed our time in the Caribbean and it seemed each island was better than the last. We snorkeled, kayaked, hiked, took boat rides and generally had a great time mixed with some genuine attempts at complete relaxation along with great food and adult drinks.

The kayaking in Grenada was fascinating as we used a clear-bottom kayak and saw some great underwater sculptures.

We saw some fascinating sites including the various towns and small villages, the stone houses on Bequia and of course wonderful vistas with fabulous water colors of the ocean.

The vista from the hill at Mayreau, Grenadines

We saw some wonderful sunsets along the way…

I’m not sure how we are going to cope now with having to make our own meals and we will certainly miss afternoon tea with scones and sandwiches as we were spoiled on the ship and at the resort.

This was a wonderful adventure and a great way to start our “gap year”. I’m now looking forward to our next adventures starting with an upcoming road trip.

Changes and Celebrations

This week marked a special time in our lives. Thursday was Alice’s last day working as a therapist in the counseling practice and on the same time I turned in my company laptop, access card, credit card and parking pass. It was a little bit emotional for both as we move onto our next phase of life, which I’m referring to as having “graduated from full-time employment.


That evening we celebrated with some champagne, and just for grins watched an episode of “Miss Fisher” and a couple of “Bondi Rescue” to get an Aussie fix.


The celebration continued on Friday with a special “Pig Day Out” in Pike’s Place Market to celebrate the lunar new year and the year of the pig. The funniest activity was the pig races – I didn’t know they had racing pigs in Alaska. Of course as we are in Seattle, there was also a small protest about animal cruelty with signs such as “Race cars, not pigs”. I think they were serious but it seemed a little ridiculous to me as the pigs certainly seemed to know exactly what they were doing and well looked after with their own “star” trailer to hang out in.

On Saturday I took the Jag to Tacoma to attend “Caffeine and Gasoline” a monthly event for car enthusiasts held at Griot’s Garage. An wide range of vehicles attend from Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Cobras, older Amercian muscle cars and hot rods through to VW bugs and a couple of vintage vehicles. The theme for this month was Ferrari so there were quite a number there and they were given pride of place at the store entrance. Inside they had a Ferrari F1 car that had been raced by Niki Lauda – one of my heroes.

As they say, “if you’re there at 8 you’re late”, as they start to serve coffee and donuts at 8am. I’m amazed at how many people and cars attend and how they manage to have enough coffee and donuts to cater for everyone.

The next change comes on Monday when I take the Jag back to dealer as they want to buy it and the timing seems right given we start our major travel at the end of next week and pick up the Ute when we return. I keep repeating “old life, new life” to remind myself that change is a good thing!

Universal Celebrations

The birthday girls!

Each year, Kaitlin and Alice try to get together to celebrate their birthdays and sometimes I get to tag along. This year, they decided they wanted to celebrate at Harry Potter World / Universal Studios in California and both Adam and I went as well.

Adam and Kaitlin, happy to be in California in the sunshine
Part of the team!

We had a grand time and managed to hit all the major rides in the first day by using the Express pass to get to the front of the lines. When we returned later in the day, Adam and Kate dressed in the best Hogwarts outfits and brought their wands – they has must have looked authentic as Adam was asked if he worked there , which I think was the highlight of the trip for him!

The next day, we took a more leisurely approach and watched the shows and shopped.

We also met some characters who were available for photos.

Making more friends…

We also took the studio tour, something we had not done previously which was very worthwhile. And of course, we had to go to beer garden because we can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff!

What a whacky crew on the studio tour.

Thirty years ago today…

Our timing coincided with Alice and my 30 year wedding anniversary and it was both fun and appropriate that we celebrated with Adam and Kate. When we were married, after the celebration which came a little later, we had a “family-moon” with Grant and my parents at Disneyland.

As Alice and I had some extra time, we went to Catalina Island for a couple of days after Adam and Kate went back to Denver. We had a very relaxing time there and took in all the sites. It had been maybe 20 years since we had last visited and nothing seemed to have changed much and the island still has a very relaxed, cool vibe.

We visited the museum and also took a “behind the scenes” tour of the Casino which was very interesting. The building was very well done and amazing given how quickly it was built those many years ago.

The end of another wonderful “island” day.

Now it’s back to the reality of a colder, gray Seattle for a couple of weeks before we’re off on our next adventure.

Australia Day in Denver

Alice and I were fortunate enough to spend a long weekend in Denver catching up with Kaitlin and Adam. Saturday was Australia Day and we flew in just in time to make our way to the “Great Australian Bight”, an Australian cafe to have lunch with Kate and Adam. We had to indulge in pies, lamingtons, custard tarts, caramel slices and of course Aussie beer!

Nothing like a good meat pie and real Aussie beer!

Afterwards we made our way to the Oxford hotel – started in 1891 and with a great bar that opened the day after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. We enjoyed chilling in the lounge, particularly when they had the Bourbon tasting in the evenings.

On Monday we had planned to see my new vehicle and then go to the school where Kate teaches kindergarten, but a much larger snow storm than expected changed our plans. We still managed to make it to the school later that day and Alice had lots of fun telling the students about Hawaii, reading a book, delivering snacks and teaching them how to hula dance.

Yes, that’s hula dancing…

Fortunately we stayed over another day and with the snow finished and the sun shining, we made our way to Left Hand Utes to check on progress with the Holden Ute I bought in Melbourne and had shipped over for conversion to left hand drive and compliance with US regulations. This is quite an involved process that utilizes a US-compliant donor vehicle for the components – in our case a police pursuit vehicle from Louisville CO what had been crashed and written off by the police.

The Ute with engine, transmission etc all stripped out
All that remains of the donor vehicle after stripping it
Engine and transmission almost ready to be installed in the Ute
Ute interior still in right hand drive, but not for long…
Prep work done to remove left hand drive components from donor vehicle

I’m very excited by the work being done on my new Ute, and it seemed appropriate that we were looking at the progress so close to Australia Day. We’ll now start making arrangements for picking it up and driving it back to Seattle after we come back from our trip to Costa Rica, Panama and Barbados in early April – it should be very fun!

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing…

This Christmas we spent a couple of weeks in our Hawaii property enjoying the sun, sea and most importantly Kaitlin and Adam and Luke. Unfortunately we missed Grant who is currently deployed but he was certainly in our thoughts and we felt his spirit was with us.

The first of many sunsets to be enjoyed from our back yard

Of course when our wonderful children showed up at the airport, Alice was there to greet them in her usual regalia.

We spent a lot of time in and around the pool, but still managed to have many adventures.

Water played a large part in our fun times of course.

Ready to head out on the outrigger canoe from King Kamehemea’s bay.

We saw a lot of wildlife including many dolphins, which were very cool and put on quite a show for us.

We were also fortunate to see a few whales from a distance, including from our back yard.

Kayaking was also among our favorite early-morning activities.

We also had to try our hand at surfing, although it seemed I was more “wipe-out” than “hang-ten” although both Luke and Adam managed to get up a few times.

On Christmas eve we continued a tradition of eating out at a restaurant. This year we went to Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill – which seemed appropriate as Ohana is Hawaiian for family.

Our family with the Hawaiian King Kamehameha and Queen in the background

We also went for a great helicopter ride over the Kilauea volcano – it is now much larger than when we took the same ride in February.

The devastation from the lava flows is very evident
Back from a wonderful sightseeing trip
Uncle Ski conducting a traditional Hawaiian house blessing

We followed the blessing with awa drinking, but of course making sure we first gave the spirits some.

It was a truly great time for us and we were all sad to depart our Hawaiian home. But we know we will return – Alice and I will move over in October and we’ve already decided our new tradition will be Christmas in Kona.

For now, we move on and Hau’oli Makahiki Hou to everyone!

Thanksgiving in Canada

Alice and I decided that rather than getting too caught up in Thanksgiving, we’d escape to a mini-vacation in Victoria, British Columbia.  We’ve gone to Victoria a couple of times previously and always enjoyed our stays there.  We took the Victoria Clipper up – a catamaran that runs at 30 knots which makes for a very pleasant 2 hours 45 minute journey and we love staying at the Fairmont Empress.

Empress at night

We splurged and take a harbor view Gold room which provides access to the lounge and a variety of food and drink throughout the day and evening.

 

Of course, you can’t go to the Empress and not partake in “High Tea”.  This is one of our favorite things to do and the spread never fails to satisfy, particularly with a glass of bubbly!

 

The town does a great job with their holiday lights and the government buildings look particularly impressive.

The ever-present totem pole in front of the BC government building

Alice also wanted to get into the holiday spirit so in addition to spending quite some time in a local holiday market (I figured out part way through that I would have enjoyed it better if I sampled each of the many craft wineries, distilleries and breweries represented there!), we also had to go to a ginger bread house display.

 

 

 

Not finished yet as we also went to a Christmas tree display in a shopping center, where I met an interesting bear.

 

 

 

I also thought it was interesting that they showed various cities where the British empire had expanded to including Brisbane, Australia – I felt right at home as I attended University there.

 

 

To cap off quite the tour of attractions, Alice insisted we visit Miniature World.  This actually turned out to be more interesting than I thought it would be as they had a wide variety of exhibits from medieval times through to Star Trek and many times in between including the American Civil War, both world wars and various depictions of pioneer times.

Alice checks out an exhibit in Miniature World

It was a great break for us and after another pleasant ride back on the Clipper and a schlep up the hill with our bags we were reunited with Josie the cat and glad to be home after an enjoyable time.