Friday, May 30, 2014

Drowsy Drivers Die ...

… and other lessons learned from our solo road trips. Once you get out of a city in Australia, especially in the center of the country, towns are few and far between. Rest areas, on the other hand, are quite frequent, as are side-of-the-road messages urging you to take a break from driving every two hours. “Drowsy Drivers Die” is just one of these messages. Others include Rest If Tired; Take a Break; Stop Revive Survive; and Fatigue Is Fatal.

They also, at least along the A1 that we used to exit Adelaide, mark the sites of traffic accidents. A black metal stake signifies a death, while an orange metal stake signifies an injury. Of the ones we noticed, the record went to the one with one death and five injuries.

Both the husband and I are used to the double-trailer semis in the States especially along Interstate 81. Here, the road trains can be three trailers long. Until today, we had seen road trains with two or three containers or with two or three tanks. Leaving Coober Pedy for Uluru, we saw one semi pulling one container and one tank, the first mixed load we’ve seen.

As for the husband’s experience with driving on the left, he has performed exceptionally well. Today, his second full day of driving, he only signaled a turn with the windshield wipers once, and that was his last turn of the day, into the Outback Pioneer Motel at the Ayers Rock Resort. Leaving Adelaide was a bit hairy, but I don’t think that was due to the newness of driving on the left. Rather, the local map from the Hertz car rental stopped a bit before the country map we had started. I think we would have had the problems we did even driving at home. Once we got on the correct road, we were good to go.

One thing we are being alert about is watching for animals such as kangaroos or cattle that might venture onto the road in front of our car. So far, the only kangaroos or cattle we have encountered have already made the acquaintance of someone else’s car. We did see a dingo, but it was a good distance away from the road and ran off when we pulled over to look at it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Almost in Real Time

In the interest of saving time, I'm about to copy the notes I made yesterday and the day before whil riding the Indian Pacific from Perth to Adelaide. I'm going to try not to edit them extensively but just add the appropriate photos. This means that there will be times tenses might not agree, and I might have some less-than-complete sentences. That's why the post is titled "Almost in Real Time." So, here we go...

Two-person compartment small but charming. Nice to have bathroom even if the bathroom and shower stall are one and the same. Have not yet found towels, so might not be showering until Adelaide.

Scenery changes from hills with trees just north of Perth and through to Northam. Have been told that Northam area is correctly referred to as “bush.” The Outback comes later.  Not too far outside Northam, the land leveled and the trees got fewer and farther between. The husband likened the fields to those in Saskatchewan except on a much larger scale. Crop being grown in most appeared to be wheat but was too short to tell for sure. No roads going through the acreage.

Traveling in style. Lounge car features all the soda, coffee, beer, and wine one could want along with snacks, board games, and a variety of reading material. Must pass through to get to Queen Adelaide Restaurant car. Quickly became apparent that we might be the youngest folks traveling on our own in Gold class. The only people we saw who appear to be younger than we are were traveling with people who aren’t.

Lunch meal was more like dinner at the fancy restaurants we only go to with other people who are more used to going to such places. I had a medallion of beef, medium-rare, over mashed potatoes and with one of the most exquisite gravies I’ve ever had. The husband had chicken, and we both enjoyed lemon meringue pie for dessert. We also started our way through the list of local beers, though I might switch to wine for dinner. The wine list includes some Margaret River wines I have not seen for sale in Charlottesville. Given how fancy the lunch was, I’m thinking I’ll do the skirt thing for dinner and try to look as if I belong in Gold class. They did announce that staff had the option of not seating dinner guests who were not in appropriate attire.

We sat with a Danish couple who have lived in Australia for 30 years and who no longer feel neither Danish but don’t yet feel Australian. They have two sons each of whom has two sons. One son lived in Australia, and the other moved back to Denmark.

Besides all meals and most forms of drink (cocktails are not included), Gold class includes the off-train excursion in Kalgoorlie, hyped as Australia’s Gold Capital. On the Perth to Sydney route we’re taking, that excursion is at 10:00 tonight. What the heck. We’re getting coffee brought to our compartment 30 minutes before breakfast service starts.

Yesterday was a rather low-key day in terms of the gathering of quilters. The husband and I went for a short (3.3 km) run with one of the Aussie hostesses, running beside the Swan River. I was pleased to feel as if I (1) could have continued farther and (2) could have run faster. This working back into running thing is taking time. (More on that in a moment.) Mid-morning, we all left for Fremantle where we enjoyed fish and chips on the waterfront. We then agreed to meet back at the cars 90 minutes later, doing whatever we liked in the meantime. The husband and I went with the Aussie hostesses in search of caffeine as well as a cryptic crossword puzzle book, something I wanted for passing time on the train and planes to come.

We also wandered through the Fremantle market, about as crowded as a Vietnamese market but much less pressure in terms of merchants trying to lure you into their stalls. On the way back to Perth, we stopped at one of the surfing beaches. The wind was strong enough to send pine needles out sideways and sculpt hair into some pretty strange looking hats.

In terms of the running, it now appears that the Aussies want to run the Tinkerbell Half Marathon at Disney Land on May 10, 2015. That might be far enough out that the Charlottesville Track Club’s summer training program is too soon. It might be better to do the one for the Charlottesville 10 Miler which is about five or six weeks before the half marathon.

Things the husband has missed: a rainbow, a flock of what might have been Major Mitchell cockatoos lifting off from a field and flying away.

Second day. The husband almost missed the sun rising over the Outback, but I woke him up in time for him to see the end of it. But first, last evening. I did dress—skirt, nice top, sweater—for dinner but appeared to be the only one on the train to do so. That’s not happening tonight. Dinner was even swankier than lunch, with more distinct courses. The husband and I both had the kangaroo entrĂ©e and a Stella Bella merlot to go with it. Stella Bella is a Margaret River winery, and we don’t see Margaret River wines in Virginia, only ones from Southeastern Australia, around Melbourne. We came back to the compartment and, on hearing that the Kalgoorlie excursion would mean staying out until after midnight, decided to pass on it. We heard at breakfast this morning that we were not the only people to do that. We also heard that the mine was quite well lit and it was well worth the late bedtime. One cannot have it both ways, I guess. I actually woke up during the time the train was stopped in Kalgoorlie but fell back asleep without too much trouble.

I awoke before the husband, got dressed, and discovered the sun rising on the left side of the train rather than the right side, where the window in our compartment is. After taking several photos. I woke the husband. Photos were not easy to take given the motion of the train and the fact that there was no windowsill on which to rest my arms to steady the camera. I chose not to bring a tripod along, figuring that if I were going to bring a tripod I might as well bring the heavy DSLR, too.

We are now, after lunch, fell into the Outback. Most of the time, there are no trees or even bushes visible on the horizon. The husband noted that the terrain around us puts the flatness of Saskatchewan into question. Every so often there is some small building with no doors or windows visible, just an array of solar panels in front of it. It’s not clear just what those are, even as it is quite clear that they are not places of residence.

There are towns here, if one can call a building in which two people live a town. Before breakfast we went through the town of Rawlinna, which, despite the stated population of two, has a post office.

Around lunchtime, we made a scheduled stop in Cook. Word has it that Cook once had a population of five until three people died or otherwise left town. It even had a school at one point, though that building is no condemned. We got about 30 minutes to explore the town while the train took on a new supply of water. Unfortunately, the husband and I did not discover the gift shop, or we could have added a decorative spoon from Cook to our collection at home.

Lunch was the same menu as yesterday, with different desserts. I had the beef again, not being in the mood for chicken or salmon. Dessert was a fruit plate. We hope to dine this evening with a couple, the male of which we met this morning. One of the men in our M car, came trotting back hoping to get a photo of the post office sign. The train had already gone too far, but I told him I had taken one though I did not know how blurred it might be. It turned out that it was not very blurred at all, so when I saw him at breakfast I told him that if he wanted a copy to give me his email address. Another man asked if I would also send him one. No worries (that’s Aussie for “no problem”). He was waiting for his wife so he was going to have breakfast later. Come lunch, he passed our table and asked whether we wanted to share a table at dinner. Only problem was that we had the 6:00 sitting and they had the 6:30 one. The mistress of tables said for us to come at 6:30, and she would work something out though it might mean we would have to wait a bit to eat. Given that there’s no place elso to go, I doubt that will be an issue.

I have been passing time today alternating between watching the landscape pass, hoping to see the elusive wild camel or kangaroo, doing cryptic crossword puzzles, and re-reading Clash of Kings, the second in the Game of Thrones series, on my Kindle.

Tonight will be an early night given that our breakfast time is at 6:00 given our 7:20 arrival in Adelaide. There, we plan to leave our bags at the hotel and head to the zoo, which is supposed to be but a 15-minute walk from the hotel. Among the animals there are the only giant pandas in the Southern Hemisphere.

The pleasant-sounding voice from above who has kept us informed throughout the trip has just informed us that we are almost to the eastern fringes of the Nullarbor Plain. The husband has been very impressed with the scenery, and now says that Saskatchewan is actually quite hilly.

This also means that we have finished the longest straight stretch of rail in the world, some 478 km long, from Rawlinna to Ooldea. And, indeed, the train just curved for the first time in several hours.

And that's all that I wrote on the train. We are now in Adelaide which is, curiously, a 1.5 hour time change from Perth and a 0.5 time change from Sydney. Hotel rooms are rarely ready for new guests at 8:00 a.m., so we dropped off the luggage and went, where else, for coffee and then to the zoo. We're now situated in a very posh hotel. Tomorrow, we pick up a rental vehicle and head north to Coober Pedy, an underground opal mining town. Because our one full day there will be taken up by a 12-hour shift with the mail man, I may not blog again until the weekend, when we have two days at Uluru with only one thing scheduled for each day.

In the meantime, here are one of the morning coffees, two signs from a store window, and proof that it is, indeed, autumn here right now.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wildlife and Not-So-Wild Life, Too

In Sydney, we paid $52 (Australian) each or a ferry ride and admission to the Taronga Zoo. If we had wanted to meet a koala up close and personal and have a photo taken with one, there would have been an extra charge. Thursday in Perth, we went to Caversham Wildlife Park, paid $25 (Australian) each to get in, and, well getting up close and personal with koalas, kangaroos, wombats, and more was not only included but encouraged.

When we visited two years ago, the wombat encounter was with one 15-year-old, 30-kilo wombat named Bub. You can read about that visit here. I got to see Bub again on this visit, and she was every bit adorable as she was two years ago.

The joke two years ago was that I pushed several elderly people out of my way to get to Bub. I don't remember doing that, but I know I didn't do that this year, though I did make a beeline for Bub after I'd entered the barn.

According to the keeper, wombats are the largest burrowing herbivores in the animal world. The fact that Bub is 15 means that she would likely be dead in the wild. Due in no small part to motor vehicles, wombats tend to live from 10 to 15 years. In captivity, they can get to as old as 25.

After re-establishing myself with Bub, I visited a few other native animals. Younger son will probably say that I should have been holding the entire python, but the keeper did not seem too eager to release his control of the head.

We also got up close and personal with koalas and kangaroos. You can get extremely popular with kangaroos if you have a handful of kangaroo food.

Here are a few more shots of one very comfortable kangaroo, a joey inside its mother, a possum, and one bird very intent on something I may not want to know about.

Yesterday was the Western Australia quilt and craft show. While it was a very good show, people who know me well know that I have a serious aversion to being in a crowd of people. After 90 minutes, I knew that if I didn't get out within about two minutes I would have a very real meltdown. Fortunately, I was on my way to the exit when this knowledge came. Unfortunately, that left me two hours to kill before the time we were all supposed to meet. I passed an hour of that with a flat white and scone before sending 30 minutes sitting and taking playful photo shots, some of which are below.

Last night, we had a raucous dinner at Miss Maud's Swedish Hotel. Today is lunch in Fremantle and a quiet evening. Tomorrow, the husband and I get on the Indian Pacific to Adelaide. Off one our own, with no native host or hostesses, our real adventure begins.

Here are some random shots of a street statue, a yarn bombing, a quilt or three, and several of those playful photos. Since I don't expect there will be wireless on the train, the next post will likely be from Adelaide on Tuesday (here). Stay tuned for photos of the Nullarbor Plain.