Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My New Zealand Friend Will Love This

Somebody from Christchurch, New Zealand has been following my blog this week. I hope you find this one interesting.

We had an excursion from our cruise ship that took us to a working farm outside Christchurch. The farm has sheep and cows. Sheep raising has not been a profitable business lately, so they are gradually selling off the sheep for meat, and increasing the herd of cows. Meanwhile they are a popular stop for tourists who want to see sheep being sheared and herded by dogs. We watched a border collie lead the sheep from high up in the hills down to their pen.

The video shows the shearing.

Living in an Alternate Universe

Having a vacation "Down Under" was an adventure. The experience of seeing indigenous people performing their native customs is always enlightening. We saw the major tourist attractions, and we tasted the local critter cuisine. We logged a lot of air miles, and had another piece of luggage mangled.

But we realized early in the trip that there were other adjustments we had to make, being so far away from home and in the other hemisphere.

Signal number one: We left home on a Tuesday morning, flew for about 28 hours and arrived Thursday night. What happened to Wednesday? We got the missing day back when we came home. Fortunately we only had to call back to the US one time, and had to figure out what day and time it was back home. I did some text messaging to family, and didn't have to think about whether they were awake or not.

Signal number two: They drive on the "wrong" side of the street. We knew that!! We've been to countries in the UK or formerly in the UK before, but it's always an adjustment. There's that feeling of panic if you sit in the front of the van or taxi, and it's careening around the round-about and you can't anticipate where it's going.

Signal number three: We boarded our cruise ship on Sunday, February 1. On Monday, February 2, we went on an excursion, and when we returned to the ship, people were watching the Superbowl...LIVE.

Signal number four: The television in our cruise ship cabin had a weird green color on the left side. At first we thought it was just a problem in our cabin, and since we don't spend a lot of time in the cabin, we weren't going to complain. But about the third day on the cruise we were standing in line at the Guest Relation's desk, and we heard the couple ahead of us complain about the green TV. They were told that it was because the TV was manufactured in the northern hemisphere, and it doesn't adjust to the southern hemisphere. Tinker and I looked at each other with a look that said, "what kind of BS is that?"

The next day there was a notice in the daily cruise news that said:

Many television sets have been affected by the crossing of the equator.
please note that the transportation of many color television sets from the hemisphere in which they were manufactured to the opposite, is known to have purity problems because of the local magnetic fields.
As our television sets are from the northern hemisphere, many are currently experiencing challenges related to the southern hemisphere's magnetic field.

Signal number five: This was totally unexpected. Tinker was flipping through the dial on the TV, and came to a horse race in Australia. The horses were running right to left around the track.


When we came back home, and landed at LAX, we spent the night to give us a break on the jet lag. It was such a relief to see cars moving on the right side of the road again.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Loving Sydney

Some cities just capture my heart. New York, Paris, and now Sydney, Australia.

We arrived in Sydney on January 31 after a round of surprises in our itinerary. Our flight from LAX to Sydney was canceled and we were put on a flight to Brisbane instead. Since we had intended to proceed to Cairns from Sydney, we went on to Cairns from Brisbane. I won't even talk about our luggage that went on a separate vacation without us. We went to the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns without the swimwear that was in our luggage. We did get to Sydney with all our luggage a day before we were due to board our cruise ship, the Celebrity Millennium. The previous cruise of Millennium had started from Auckland, NZ and was docked in Sydney for the final two days of that itinerary.

Even as tired as we were, still jet-lagged, in a time warp (it was still January 30 back home), the sight of our ship in the Sydney harbor between the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House was reason enough for immediate exhilaration, love at first sight. We had a day to explore the city, and tour the Opera House before we were due to board.

There were no operas scheduled for the time we were there, but we did have the tour with the fascinating history of the design and construction. The design was chosen from a competition even without architectural drawings to support the design. It took at least six years and several iterations of design plans to find an architectural solution to support the shell design.

The Opera House is more than an opera house, rather a multi-venue performing arts center. It has spaces for symphony, theater, ballet, and even has space for wedding receptions and book-signings.

We finally checked in for our cruise on Sunday, Feb 1, had lunch in view of the Opera House,

and called our Australian friend "Frangipani." We have known her online for more than six years, and she came to the port to meet us. How cool was that!

We had a city tour on Monday, and said goodbye to Sydney on Monday afternoon, just about the time that the US was watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Food, Glorious Food

We returned last week from another cruise. This one was aboard the Celebrity Millennium to Australia and New Zealand. Those of you who follow our blogs know to expect a lot of photos...coming in another day or so. This was my 26th cruise. I don't know Tinker's count. We take advantage of all the bonuses and perks we get for being frequent cruisers. Tinker searches for the best deals and gets us great accomodations, onboard credit, and assorted other goodies as we travel.

Even if you have never cruised you know that the food is abundant on a cruise ship. You can find something to eat (included in the price of your trip) any time day or night. After 26 cruises, the food is not as big an attraction as it used to be. Most of our cruises have been on Royal Caribbean, and we know what to expect from them. We get lots of perks as Diamond Members. Since we cruise two - three times a year, if two of those are RC, we're likely to see the same menu. When an RC cruise lasts two weeks, the second week's menu is likely to be the same as the first week. Of course, you have lots of choices. The dinner menu will have a choice of a vegetarian, pasta, fish, poultry or "meat." And there is a daily alternate menu that gvies you a choice of salmon, New York Steak, or chicken breast.

This was our second Celebrity cruise. Celebrity was bought by Royal Caribbean a couple of years ago, so we get the same level of frequent traveler benefits on Celebrity. The service on Celebrity is a cut above the service on Royal Caribbean. More personalized service in the stateroom, buffet dining, main dining room, and room service. On a two week cruise, there is no repeating on the menu.

I always use a cruise as an opportunity to try foods I wouldn't likely order in a restaurant. If it turns out I don't like it, I can order something else, no charge. I got Escargot out of the way years ago. Don't need to do that again.

This time I had Osso Buco, braised veal shanks. You can't find that in our local grocery store. It was tasty, but I don't feel like I was deprived all these years not having it.

And Sweetbreads. I knew enough to know that it's not sweet or bread. I knew it was some kind of organ meat, but couldn't remember which organ. It was rather fatty, lightly battered and fried, and tasted like fried chitlins. Then I found out I had eaten a thymus gland. EH, ECH, PHFT!

Of course we had to try the Australian critter fare. Crocodile, Kangaroo, Emu were cooked up at lunchtime, and I had to taste. The crocodile tasted like chicken, the kangaroo was like tough beef, but the emu was tender and delicious. Yes, I tasted roo!!

There used to always be a Lobster night. The rising cost of Lobster has eliminated Lobster night on a lot of cruse ships. Royal Caribbean has a lobster night on the 14-day or longer cruises. On this cruise we had lobster with shrimp and scallops. The tail was smaller than what we used to get.

And the desserts. I always look forward to the cherries jubilee, bananas foster, and baked Alaska. This time the Baked Alaska was all meringue and ice cream...no cake. But it was good all the same.

We gained only 2 pounds this cruise. I'll walk it off at the Bobcat's Arena in Charlotte at the CIAA Basketball Tournament later this week.