Sunday, December 31, 2006

This may be the last entry in Australia

UPDATE: So we have internet access in our hotel in Brisbane so we will try to update everything before we leave Brisbane!

This morning I went to plug in the battery charger for the computer and got some high pitched noise and it started to get hot really quick and the light on the charger never came on. So needless to say it looks like the charger is blown and once the computer battery dies then we may be done getting online while in Australia (I am going to try to find one today as there are LOTS of small electronic shops downtown). I just wanted to let everyone know in case everyone wonders what happened when there are no more blogs ... we are OK!

"How long you been standin' in the queue?"

What a day yesterday was. We got up at 9:00 a.m. got ready and headed to downtown Sydney. We ended up getting into Sydney around 11:00 or so and did a little walking around before we headed over to the park where we were going to sit and watch the fireworks. We thought we had plenty of time and it would be no big deal. Well once we finally found where to go, the entrance greeted us with a line further than we could see the end. We started walking down this street to try and find the end ... we kept walking and walking and finally found it wrapped around facing the real line (it had looped back, but we could see where the loop was ... or so we thought)! We started in the line at 12:00 p.m., and 30 minutes later realized that it loop of where the wrap around occurred was not where we thought, but rather around an entire city block! At that point I told Ashley I would go and get some food so I headed somewhere to get something to eat! 40 minutes later I came back with some Subway and Krispy Kreme donuts! When I returned the line was moving pretty good and Ashley was almost back to where the loop started. We stood in line and ate lunch and at 2:10 p.m. we actually got into the park. The reason for the line was they were checking all bags for alcohol, glass bottles, etc.

The next mission was to find the "perfect spot" for picture taking and sitting ... there weren't any left! We finally found a spot on a wall infront of a large tree that would force us to move, but I knew I would try to find a better view point for picture anyway come firework time. We got settled in and sat, and waited, and got stepped on, and waiting, and sat ... at 9:00 p.m. they do a mini show for the kids so families can go home early and not stay our late if they like. I headed down to the bottom walk way next to the water, found a spot ... well I was standing on the sidewalk, in someone's back, and blocking a bunch of other peoples' views (of the bridge and opera house that is). The fireworks started and there was a barge located right at the end of the park so most people watched those fireworks, but I was just clicking off pictures of the bridge and opera house with the fireworks. After that I left my tripod down to hold my spot as hundreds of other had and went to get Ashley. She was only 50 yards away up the hill, but we didn't get back down to the spot for an hour! The crowd was insane, pretty much like thunder only somehow different. There is lots of stuff that words don't justice so hopefully I have some good pictures that will explain it all!

We stood for 2-1/2 hours waiting for the midnight fireworks. After being pushed, pulled and everything else New Years finally came and the fireworks were nice! They had them off the bridge, on barges all along the harbour, off the buildings in the city ... all around, it was pretty spectacular. However, having gone to Thunder Over Louisville several times, I still have seen anything that touches that! All in all we had a good night and got to do the one thing that we planned on doing since we decided to go to Japan and that was be in Sydney on New Year's Eve and take pictures of the fireworks with the opera house in the foreground ... I think I have about 300 pictures from the night to hope that I got a GREAT shot!

Once the fireworks were over we just followed the crowd and shuffled out of the park and just kept walking with the crowd until we found a taxi not in use hopped in and said, "224 Glebe Point Road, please." We got in a 1;30 a.m., got ready for bed, typed one blog about the rest of yesterday and headed to bed at 2:12 a.m. Oh, yeah I almost forgot ...

(16 hours ahead of all you at home in Kentucky!)

Oh, about the title, they call standing in lines standing in the queue. It struck me a humorous because all day long be talked about the queue to come in, the restrooms (port-o-pots), for food, and beer.

The rest of Day 1 ...

After we got cleaned up at our B&B we hopped on a bus across the street and headed to Circular Quay (pronounced Key) to go on a Harbour Cruise. Well, since we didn't know where to get off we got off about 15 blocks early and walked the rest of the way. It wasn't a bad walk, there is lots of shopping and lots of people ... it reminded us of Victoria, British Columbia ... and me Toronto as well.

We got to Circular Quay, where all of the tourist boats and ferries depart, got our voucher traded in for tickets and ate lunch at Starbucks while we waited the cruise was very nice and the weather was great! I took lots of pictures of the harbour going out and coming back of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

After that we took a train close to the Sydney Aquarium and visited there. I just want to say that their Great Barrier Reef exhibit which they toute as being the best in the world was NOT GOOD. Denver's Aquarium had a better reef display, although I think Denver's has had the best I have ever seen ... I am digressing. After that we went to the Sydney Wildlife World which is a small "zoo" of Australia only animals. The exhibits were very nice and all of the animals were pretty active. They had a really large butterfly room with beautiful butterflies, lots of spider displays, wallabies, koalas, etc.

After the animals it was around 7:00 p.m. and we were starving. We ate at a nice restaurant called Cockle Bay San Marco. Ashley had pork chops and mashed sweet potatoes and I had their smoked salmon special on a bed of mashed potatoes ... it was AWESOME! After that we went and had desert at Lindt Chocolat Cafe ... let me just say this was a bit of self indulgence on our part and worth every pretty penny of it! We got a couple truffles and then we got dark and milk hot chocolate. They actually brought the hot chocolate out as a small cup of hot steamed milk and a small container of hot melted chocolate and you mixed it yourself ... simply unbelievable.

After that we caught a monorail over to a stop near the Hard Rock Cafe to find the HRC and get our Sydney Hard Rock souvenirs, the same ole' thing we do in any city with a Hard Rock. After we got them we caught a taxi and came back to our B&B and called it a day ... a long and tiring day.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Just getting to Australia ...

Let us tell you about our Day 1, getting to Australia adventure! What a time for it to snow for the first time this year in Nagoya! The forecast for Thursday night called for a chance of snow showers, but when we got up at our house there was nothing. We got up at 4:45 a.m. to get to the train station near our house to catch the 6:34 train. It was 32 degrees F this morning, but we didn't dress too warm because we are headed to where it's summer. We had to change train lines in Nagoya to the Meitetsu line to get to the airport. When we arrived in Nagoya and walked up to ground level it was snowing really hard, but nothing was sticking so we didn't thin much of it. As we rode the train and it got closer and closer to the airport we noticed it had snowed more and was still snowing towards the bay (where the airport is located). We got to the airport at 8:00 and proceeded to pickup our luggage from the luggage courier people who picked our two big suitcases up on Wednesday, headed to the ticket window and that is when things started to go downhill. Normally you get 20 kg per bag and 2 bags per person when traveling. Well, guess what the travel agent forgot to tell us ... for Sydney you get 23kg per person TOTAL, if you have 4 bags, that's okay, but you only get 23 kg total to check in! Well we had 3 bags that totaled 53.8kg. The lady politely told us that we needed to remove some items to get the weight down ... we needed to remove about 16 pounds of stuff and carry that with us. She was getting ready to hand us back our passports and asked us to remove some weight and come back to the counter when we were done to which I proceeded to ask, "How do we know when we get to the correct weight!" She was perplexed since the only scale was next to her at the check in counter! Ashley, quickly loosing her patience, asked if we could pay for an extra bag/extra weight ... usually $50. That lady did the calculations and proceeded to write down on a piece of paper 29300 yen! That's about $293 for 8 kg! I quickly ignored her (asking us to leave and rearrange our luggage) and proceeded to open our smallest check in to take out our toiletry bag because I know it was heavy and Ashley politely (not really) said you can't take that on the plane ... so I proceeded to just about take everything but our toiletry bag out and finally got the weight down to 46.9kg, and that weight was OK! We noticed a sign that mentioned that our flight had been delayed until 10:30 a.m. because the plane was still at Kansai airport and had not reach Nagoya yet ... okay, not big deal another 30 minutes.

We went upstairs to eat; it was now 8:30 so we had 2 hours before our flight. We ate at the very tasty Bagel & Bagel Co. shop for breakfast. Ashley had a BLT and I had a Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese bagel. At Centrair International Airport there is an observation deck on the roof where people can go out and watch the aircraft land and take off. We noticed it was closed due to the snow and wind, but didn't think anything of it. We finished and headed down to the security check in line ... it extended nearly half way through the airport check-in area! We thought we would definitely be waiting for 1 hour or so. However, being the efficient people that Japanese are, we were through in 10 minutes. It also helps that we were in Japan and not the United States to go through security ... no taking off of the shoes, etc.

Once we got through immigration we headed for our gate. It was really snowing now, but still didn't think anything of it; it didn't look bad enough to cause any problems. We got to our gate and found some seats to sit down and wait. Around 10:15 a.m. and a few announcements in Japanese (where we could at least understand the flight number they were talking about was ours) I went up to the counter to ask about our flight. This was kind of funny because several people were headed up to the counter and got to it before me to ask the gentleman making the announcement for more information and when he saw me he immediately stopped talking to them and said to me, "I'm sorry the announcement was only in Japanese, please let me explain what is going on," to which he did. Well let's just say inclement weather, mixed with the plane not are the airport, and whatever else ... we finally left Nagoya 6-1/2 hours later at 4:30 p.m.! Let's just say it was good that we had 10 hours to spare in Taipei where our flight to Sydney wasn't leaving until 10:20 p.m.

We finally arrive in Taipei at 7:00 p.m. The flight was very uneventful, but the plane and service with China Airlines was very nice. The flight was only 3 hours, and no food was scheduled to be served, but because of the delay they served dinner, which I can easily say was the best airplane food I had ever had, and all of the economy (coach) class seats all had personal video screens AND you were free to choose what movies you wanted to watch and there were actually several new movies to choose from. Of course, being in Japan for 4 months and not seeing any movies makes it very easy to think the list of movies was good. We proceeded to walk through Taipei airport since we had 3 hours and look for some food. Now yesterday, I checked the internet to see what shops, restaurants, etc. they had in the airport (in particular a Starbuck's as Ashley has been collecting the city mugs), but the website mentioned no Starbuck's and the only Western restaurant to be a Burger King, not bad. After taking a train ride, walking to our gate, seeing there was nothing around it, we proceeded to go back to where we had been ushered to our gate in the first place. After walking through a series of tunnels we finally found some shops and there in all its glory on the 2nd floor stood a, you guessed it, Starbuck's AND a Subway! It was the first time Ashley had smiled all day Friday! We went upstairs, saw that they had a city and country mug (which we will get on our way back through Taipei when we come home) and then went to get some subway sandwiches for supper. We both agreed that a Subway sandwich has never tasted so good! After that we walked around a little more and are now waiting at the gate for our flight, which is where I have typed this first blog.

We are now in Sydney at the place we are staying and Ashley is taking a shower while I am getting things settled down and typing this blog. First impression of Australia is it looks very much like Florida! The weather is nice, not too hot and not too humid. We had a good flight and no problems at the airport. We walked out the airport towards the taxis and some guy asked us if we needed a taxi, we said yes and off we went. However, in reflection I don't think this guy was legit because there was no meter, no taxi sign, etc., but we got here safe and no problems so we can't complain! Ashley is now out of the shower and wants everyone to know that she is in a much better mood and is happy to be on vacation ... I told her my vacation started when we were at the airport the other morning and waiting to leave!

Well, we are headed off to a Harbour Cruise and just get acquainted with downtown as that is where we are going to try and go tomorrow for the New Year's Eve celebration and fireworks.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas, Winter, Summer, Australia

Christmas this year is will be unlike any other we have had or will have ... duh, your in Japan! Since Christmas falls on a Monday this year I am going to be working. In Japan, Toyota gets the following week off because New Years is a much bigger holiday. To celebrate this Christmas, Ashley and I are going to Takayama on Saturday and Sunday and are staying in a Japanese inn and onsen. Takayama is an older city in the mountains. It is supposed to be a high of freezing, so we are looking forward to seeing the snow and maybe it will then, finally feel like winter and Christmas!

So that is what we are doing for Christmas, now for the reason I am not taking off Christmas Day is because on December 29th we are going to Australia for 13 days so I am taking 6 days off from work for that. We will be staying in Sydney for 5 nights, Brisbane for 5, Sydney for 1, and Taipei for 1 on the way back to Japan! It will be Summer time in Australia so it will be weird for it to be Summer weather in January. New Years Eve in shorts should be fun! We will be celebrating New Year's 16 hours before all of our friends in Kentucky. Of course, we will be putting pictures and stuff on the web page so stay tuned.

We are scheduled to get home on Thursday, January 11th at 7:55 p.m. Two hours before we arrive back in Nagoya, David, Amy, and Mary Nell will be arriving in Nagoya to visit us! So really, they will be welcoming us to Japan! On Friday morning we will catch a bullet train in Nagoya at 9 a.m. and head off to Tokyo for the weekend to go to Tokyo Disney and Tokyo Sea. So there will be no rest for the weary!

That's all for now!


Monday, December 11, 2006

Officially Winter and the Christmas season in Japan

According to me it was officially winter this weekend on Saturday. I made a big pot of chili, curtousy of the ingredients that Kendall brought us! It tasted so good! I know is sounds crazy, but it really made it feel like winter time, plus the temperatures finally got pretty low last week, there was even frost on the windshield of the car one morning. Then yesterday on Sunday is was around 60 degrees and felt really nice outside. We went down to Nagoya to do a little random shopping and then Laguna Gamagori to Lagunasia for their Christmas Illumination show, check the pictures out in the Japan pictures.

As for Christmas in Japan. It is actually pretty Westernized, much like everything else. Retail stores go all out with lights and decorations. Even lots of areas, like Nagoya Station and the main streets in Sakae are all lit up with lights and decorations. Actually most every place have signs that say Christmas and not X-Mas ... they are there, but it seems like there are more here than at home, but then again it's been a year since Christmas and maybe I forgot! As far as a nativity or anything like that ... haven't seen one, but that would be expected since the religion is Shinto and Buddhism. However, retail stores play all kinds of Christmas music and actually they play LOTS of very religious Christmas music, not just the secular jingle bells and stuff like that so it is nice to listen to the Christmas music in the stores. Of course you can also be in a store during the rest of the year and hear some song with explicit lyrics and of course no one gives it a second guess cause they can't understand it so you get the good and the bad.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

NETS Christmas Camp

This past weekend we (and several other foreigners) worked at an English camp for kids 6-12 years old. I heard about the camp from a friend from Yukata class who was organizing the foreign teachers. The theme was Christmas and we played all kinds of games and did skits all based on Christmas. Each group was named after one of Santa's reindeer. My group were the youngest ones 6-8 years old (Cupid), and Jonathan had the oldest 12 year olds(Vixen). There was a skit competition between the groups and my little guys did Deck the Halls. The other foreign teacher plays the guitar and sang the main part while me, the Japanese teacher and the kids sang the "Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la" part. We all had a bell on elastic around our wrists that we rang while we sang it then the very last note they held it was really quite cute. Jonathan's kids did the 12 days of Christmas skit, it was hilarious!! The way that they 'judged' the skits was that each foreign teacher (2 per group) got 2 suckers, and one kid in each group got to hold a Santa hat upside down and we put the suckers in which ever hat that we liked or thought should win. Jonathan's group won of course with 11 suckers! My little guys tied for 2nd with 2 other groups with 4 suckers. Overall we had a great time and it was good just spending time with kids again...and making a little money too. :)


So, I thought that I would update everyone on what is going on with me during the day while Jonathan is at work. Starting in January I will be the treasurer of the CCEA! What does that entail you might ask. Well, I will be going to the general meeting once a month and sitting at the membership table as people come in and collecting member's dues and the dues of the guests. Also, if we have a guest speaker I have to make sure that they get paid after the meeting! I also have a board meeting once a month the week after the general meeting where we'll discuss future plans for meetings and things like that. At first I was a little apprehensive jumping in so much so early but mow I'm really excited! Last Friday was the annual Christmas luncheon at the Hilton in downtown Nagoya. The food was GREAT! There was a great music group from the college that played traditional Balinese music for use that was awesome! We also had a raffle where the proceeds went to 2 different organizations, HOPE International and The Chubu Guide Dog Association. I ended up winning 2 prizes in the raffle, a 5 piece tea cup and saucer set and a cute little jewelry box. Everyone had such a good time!