Monday, April 14, 2008

Bridge Climb

On Monday we reached the climax of our trip with the Sydney bridge climb. We started the day with moderate rain as we went into the city. We were scheduled for 8:15am. The program starts with fitting everyone with a weather resistant outfit and safety equipment. We also each had a radio, parkas, safety tether, and even a handkerchief tied to our wrist. We then had an orientation and practice on how we would attach ourselves safely to the bridge and make the climb. We were expecting potentially nasty weather but as we headed out to the bridge, the skies cleared and the rain stopped. Mina was quite concerned with her fear of heights but she kept going and finished the experience very well.

The views were phenomenal! The climb wasn’t overly taxing and was quite enjoyable. Our guide Ronan did a great job of keeping everyone going and pointing out all the sights of the Sydney harbor and the city itself. We could see all the way out to the Blue Mountains.

After the climb, we were met by Helen and Carole from the Concord club. They went with us and bought us lunch before heading to the Sydney opera house tour. As we were meeting for the tour, Pete recognized the voice of the tour guide who was his tour guide for a travel tour in Italy last year.

The story of the Sydney Opera House is pretty amazing. The architect whose design was selected had to overcome tremendous difficulties in structural design to build this iconic structure. The initial plan was $7million but it went over 100 million and many years. The architect had to resign before he could finish the project due to all the cost overruns and problems.

Monday finished with our GSE farewell dinner at the Strathfield country club. Members of the Strathfield and Concord Rotary Clubs heard our presentation along with many photos of our experience here. Many of our friends from the district were there for one more goodbye. Several people are planning to visit various members of the team in the states.

Tuesday morning we had our final scheduled event which was are debriefing with Paul Erickson and Ivan Fedor. We were able to offer a few suggestions to fine tune the program but it is hard to improve something that is run this well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


On Friday we packed up and traveled to Mudgee. I rode with 2 Rotarians, Peter Reynolds and Michael.Fisher. We stopped at an overlook over the Capertee valley. Someone said it was the largest valley 2nd to the Grand Canyon. It is supposed to be the largest living (with vegetation) valley. It was a beautiful view.

I stayed with Mark and Dianne Young in Mudgee. Mark is a principal at the school whose choir was performing Saturday morning. He also played at the service Sunday morning. They were excellent hosts and I really enjoyed my time with them.

The conference in Mudgee was great. It started with a “meet the growers” event where the local wine producers and some food producers showed up for a social wine tasting event. The Rotary district had over 500 people at the conference. We able to reunite with many of our previous hosts and friends from other clubs we had previously visited. It was great to spend time with them again. Friday night had a western theme (western Australia with a mix of our old west). There was some dancing, a folk comedian and a good dinner. Saturday morning we gave our presentation along with other speakers.

The evening was a Carnivale affair with almost everyone getting at least somewhat into colorful costumes. I was able to borrow a shirt from my host with pink birds and such. The outgoing GSE team got us some plumed hats and such. It was a great event with many young jugglers, stiltwalkers, dancers, etc. This was followed by a large jazz band with vocalists providing the entertainment late into the evening. The dance floor was packed for much of the night. The Rotarian group certainly needs to be complemented for a great event as well as having so many participate in the activities. Sunday morning we heard more speakers before heading back home with our hosts. I finished a great weekend with dinner at a Thai restaurant with my hosts Mike and Margaret Smith which was great.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Quick update

The team hasn't had much time for blog updates this past week. Some of have had minimal access to the Internet too. We have been very busy and having many wonderful experiences. We had a great day at the Featherdale Wildlife Farm with the Blacktown club along with a mayoral reception which was very nice. We joined the Liverpool area clubs on the 29th and had a great welcome barbeque at Joe and Helen Cauchi's house. The following day we had a cruise on the Georges River and Botany Bay. Lunch at the Boat Shed at the entrance to the bay. I also had a little birthday celebration which will go down as one of my most memorable. It was a georgeous day.

Monday and Tuesday we toured sites in the Liverpool area. Tuesday included the Crown Lodge Stable which was just sold for $500,000,000. Wednesday was a vocational day. Yesterday we went to the Taronga zoo and did a pub tour of the Rocks area which is a historical area. We are now ready to leave for a 4 hour trip to the district conference in Mudgee which will last through Sunday.

This update doesn't come close to describing our experiences the last few days but it explains why we haven't been able to keep up on our blog. We will try to do better next week.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Australian War Museum

We just returned from an exciting whirlwind tour of Canberra, Australia’s exquisitely designed capital. I’m no city girl, but this is one city that captured my imagination! A highlight of our visit was the Australian War Memorial, which commemorates the sacrifice of Australians who have died in war and helps us remember and understand the enduring impact of war on our lives.

I especially enjoyed the Special Exhibit Gallery which recounts—through artifacts, photographs, maps, and letters—the story of the legendary T.E. Lawrence. My high school history teacher introduced me to Lawrence when he gave me an old, broken-in copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom; this is the same teacher who ignited my passion for exploring life’s big questions and eventually my commitment to teaching the humanities. Imagine my surprise and delight when I stumbled across a copy of the extremely rare 1926 subscriber’s edition of Lawrence’s book!

I am left pondering the following quote; to me, it captures the spirit of Rotary:

Peacekeepers may not solve problems, but that is not to say that they do not improve lives. Peace is an allusive goal constructed out of many small things. Peter Londey, Other People’s Wars (2004)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

All Aboard for Canberra ...

We're off - it is a special train
For capitals we're looking
For many days, through devious ways,
And variegated cooking ...
Each hill and dale, each stream and lake
Seems all the more alluring,
When sandwiches and bottled ale
Alleviate our touring.
- Table Talk, 1902

It didn't take many days - just three hours - and we didn't go by train, but to Australia's capital we did go ... After a 7 a.m. presentation to the Blacktown RC we all threw our backpacks into a 12-passenger van and climbed aboard for the drive to Canberra. Along with us were Pete's hosts Trevor and Gloria, Jito from Kerala, India, PDG Warwick Testor and Marie.
I couldn't tell you for sure how many of us fell asleep since I was one of those who did, but it was a pretty quiet trip until we stopped at Goulburn, the sheep capitol of Australia and home to the biggest sheep in the world, the 15 meter high Big Merino. The main street looked like we had somehow landed in the midwest, South Dakota (yes, MJS, even Down Under, you can still find SD). We had coffee and scones at the Paragon Cafe, then moved on to Canberra and our first views of Lake Burley Griffin. We went through Parliament House and saw the Senate and House of Representatives, both modeled after the UK Parliament but with the red and green chambers muted to eucalyptus green and Uluru rock red. The view from the rooftop was magnificent, and it was interesting to see the entire planned city, and to appreciate the vision that the founders had. The city is laid out on a large flat plain surrounded by Colorado-esque mountains, all lazing under a massive sky and clouds that Mina, especially, found beautiful.
After lunch, across the lake, we stopped to admire the Australian-American war memorial, a 258 foot column topped by a giant eagle of which I'm sure George Orwell would be very proud (very 1984/Brutalist looking).
We had an hour to take in the War Memorial, an impossible task as one could spend hours, even days, reading the information, watching the videos, and contemplating the bewildering things that people can do to each other. One side of the building was devoted to WWI, the other to WWII, and there was even more I didn't get to. In the WWII section, I saw a BMW motorcycle that must be like the one Grandpa talked about riding across North Africa (though this one had a sidecar, which would have cramped his style outrunning the Bedouins ... ) Anyway, it was a beautifully designed presentation, and an interesting, different perspective from which to view events.
Mina and I bunked together at the Heritage Hotel, and the whole group enjoyed an al fresco Italian dinner in town. Slept like a rock and in the morning we were off to see all the embassies before going up the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain and getting an even better aerial view of the city.
We had a quick visit to the Australian National Museum, where I saw a lot of great quotes that expressed the exotic nature of Australia that the first settlers grappled with, both in their own words and in others:
Trees retained their leaves and shed their bark instead, the swans were black, the eagles white, the bees were stingless, some mammals had pockets, others laid eggs, it was warmest on the hills and coolest in the valleys, even the blackberries were red.
Earth red with a million years of fire. - Mark O'Connor
They made a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. - Sir John Forrest, 1903
A man's life is a small gleam of time between two eternities. - Thomas Carlyle, 1857
I have a strange idea that there is a central sea and I should go fully prepared for a Voyage. - Charles Sturt, 1844, an optimistic but ultimately disappointed bloke who actually dragged a whaling ship into the Outback in search of an inland sea that does not exist ... ooops!
The imagination has its own geography which alters with the centuries. - Graham Greene, 1952

We had a noon presentation at the Canberra Yacht Club, then piled back in for the return drive to Sydney. We did an impressive job consuming the piles of yummy cookies that Gloria baked for us (dare I say, the shortbread was Gloria-ous), I almost learned how to knit (help, it's still a mystery), and naps did happen.
I am beginning to feel human again after a couple days of subpar existence, so watch out Australia, I'm back. How lucky to move in with a doctor just as I began to dissolve; Sushilla set me up with the right stuff and her warm hugs and "Of course, my darlings" are good cures. Also, the Indian dinner she prepared for me, Mina and Jito tonight was beyond compare, I may never be able to eat in an Indian restaurant again because she has spoiled me for life. "Eat shamelessly," she told us, and did we ever! Yum, yum, yum, we stuffed ourselves. Jito was ecstatic to have food from home, and was very talkative. Dad, you would have exploded from the spice level : ) It was fantastic. She's writing up the recipes for us, fingers crossed it comes out half as good at home! One can only hope. Where does one get curry leaves in NH?!?
And now I'm the last one standing in this house at half past midnight. Tomorrow's - or rather, today's -plans are made, the bottle of Hungarian red is empty, the mango that grew just outside the door consumed, and everyone else is asleep. Sounds like a good idea for me, too. G'night.

In Australia alone is to be found the Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribbling of nature learning how to write. Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers without perfume, our birds who cannot fly, and our beasts who have not yet learned to walk on all fours. But the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities. He becomes familiar with the beauty of loneliness. Whispered to by the myriad tongues of the wilderness, he learns the language of the barren and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphs of the haggard gum trees, blown into odd shapes, distorted with fierce hot winds, or cramped with cold nights, when the Southern Cross freezes in a cloudless sky of icy blue. The phantasmagoria of that wild dreamland termed the Bush interprets itself, and the Poet of our desolation begins to comprehend why free Esau loved his heritage of desert sand better than the bountiful richness of Egypt. - Marcus Clarke

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An Awesome Weekend

Our weekend began as you may have read at The Royal Sydney Easter Show held at Olympic park, home of the 2000 summer games. What a great day for all of us. We members box tickets which allowed us great seats for all of the events held in the NAB arena throughout the day. We began with a bit of lunch and watch Xtreme Xcitement put on a spectacular show. The v-6 toyota Hilux drill team was spectacular putting their machines to the test all around the track. An appearance by dangerman and dangerwoman riding a motorcycle some 30 meters above the ground while performing graceful acrobatics was enjoyable as well. The highlight for sure was the motocross riders and their amazing aerial stunt spectacular. These riders have little fear and performed high flying tricks as seen on the x-games. Certainly enjoyed and marveled at by all.

We then split up and each checked out various parts of the show on our own. It is a much larger version of the the Big E held in Massachusettes every year. Good Friday drew over 150,000 people to the event. The food is very different and no fried bread dough! Oh well, I did find some pizza so all was well. I particuarly enjoyed the woodsmans games being held in one of the venues. It was the world championships and countries from all over the world were represented. I did get to view the finals of the "standing chop handicapped" event. Pretty interesting and certainly the contestants were quite beat before they fininished.

Before the day was out we rejoined for show jumping and bull riding at the arena. WE caught the Xtreme show again due to its popularity and were treated to a large firework and laser light show to end the evening.

On saturday we went white water rafting at the olypmic rafting center. I have never been before and throughly enjoyed it. After some quick traing we set out on the course with our guide and learned how to fall out "safely." Kate and Amy Beth made it into the drink, but despite our guides best efforts I managed to stay in the boat. A very wet experience but very fun.

From there we whisked off to the local National Rugby League game between the Penrith Panthers and the Canberra Raiders. For those of you who don't know there is also rugby union, the original form of rugby. Union is also very popular. We are very indebted to Murray of Penrith Rotary for getting us the tickets and treating us to a great night. It is a different sort of game with plenty of hard hits. I will be interested to see how it compares to the AFL which I will see in Melbourne. A special treat for us was John Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora arriving in a helicopter during the pregame to promote their concert later that evening. They landed right in the middle of the field and hopped out before we could even register what was really happening. They sang dead or the crowd going and headed of to their main venue. Sweet!!!

Unfortunately Penrith lost but I did pick up a nice home Jersey to remember the night. Evan our host rotarty member then boarded Steve, Amy Beth and I into his car and we headed for the Avoca Beach....located about 1.5 hours north of Sydney. We got there in time for a moonlight stroll with our host John Duckworth. It was a beautiful night....I stood under a completely different set of stars then I am used to and enjoyed every moment. After a great nights sleep I awoke early for a morning swim and again strolled the beach. JOhn's house is right on the beach literally walking off the porch out onto the nice for us!

John dropped me off at the train station in Gosford where I caught a train to Central station in Sydney and then transferred to Bondi Junction. I was spending Easter with a friend of mine who lives just a few blocks from Bondi beach. After catching up we had a nice lunch and headed out to the Taronga zoo. I learned quite a bit about the native animals of Australia and despite the walking had a good afternoon. The zoo is quite unique as it sits on a hill side overlooking the harbor and the beautiful Sydney skyline. I found it quite interesting to be looking out over the giraffes and see the skyskrapers in the back ground.

Emma and I rested up a bit before dinner. We eventually headed to the Opera House for dinner at a restaurant there and spent the night at the Opera House Bar. What a nice sits literally below ground level of the opera house and is open to the air. It is just above the waterline which affords beautiful views of the lit up harbor at night. Really and truely beautiful. There were fireworks over the harbor bridge for Easter and that capped our evening off just nicely.

I had a nice pancake breakfast on the Beach at Bondi. It is similar to California Beaches with the similar hustle and bustle of a touristy area. We took to the beach for a bit to get some sun and swim before I headed back to the train station. The trains were very easy to use and worked out just fine. I got back to blaxland in the late afternoon in time for dinner. I finished the night by walking my host families dog Buddy.

All is well here and I am loving the Australian sights and people.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Another beautiful day in Australia, which Mina and I spent with our hosts Phil and Nerrie in Sydney. We went on a 3-hour coffee cruise around Sydney Harbour, enjoying gorgeous views of the harbour, Opera House, and the rather astounding real estate ringing the shore.

After the cruise, we took the ferry to Darling Harbour and walked around there before returning to Nerrie's office building and enjoying the views from her 58th floor office.

What a weekend! Tomorrow we move on, and more adventures await.