I spent the lion’s share of my day that I had for sightseeing at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, where I saw mummies:
including this mummified bull:
And these mummified cats (though some of the mummified cats didn’t actually contain any cat remains! (read the signs below the mummies)):
This lion that was shot by Theodore Roosevelt. Poor, sad looking lion:
I watched a movie about evolution at the Evolution Theatre:
Where I also took this selfie:
Over in the gem section, I took a picture of the supposedly cursed Hope Diamond:
After leaving the museum, I took a quick jaunt through the sculpture garden outside the Smithsonian National Art Gallery:
After that, I went to see the Lincoln Memorial, which involved about a half an hour walk along the national mall in the pouring rain. Walked by the Washington Monument:
The WWI Memorial:
The reflecting pool (you can see the Lincoln Memorial at the end):
Once I got there, I actually couldn’t get a good photo of Abe – it was too dark and gloomy out! I did, however, get this photo of what Abraham Lincoln would be looking at if he weren’t just a statue:
When I’d Google Mapped the directions to the Lincoln Memorial, I saw on the map that just up the street was an Albert Einstein Memorial, just outside the National Academies of Science. Despite the fact that I was cold and wet, I decided to tough it out and go see it, since it was my only day for sightseeing (as the conference that I was in Washington for was starting the next day):
And that was the extent of my sight-seeing, as the next day was conference time!
There were soooo many things that I didn’t see, so clearly I’m going to need to go back to see such things as:
Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday, so I thought it would be fun to show up unannounced for a surprise birthday visit! The conference I was at in Washington, DC ended today and, unbeknownst to my mom, I had to fly through Toronto to go back to Vancouver. So I decided that instead of having a 2 hour stopover in T.O., I would pay a few extra bucks to have a 1 day stopover so that I could spend my mom’s birthday with her! I recruited my sister to this subterfuge and had her invite my mother over tonight so that I could just take show up at my sister’s place – and she was so surprised!
The funny thing is, my sister and I came up with this awhile ago, back when I booked my flight to Washington. And wouldn’t you know it, but last month my mom tells me that she decided to go to Montreal to surprise her sister, my Aunt Maureen, for her birthday! Apparently the apple does not fall too far from the tree!
I’ll do a more complete recapping of my trip once I’m done with the trip, but here are a few, random, initial thoughts about Washington.
This city is pretty cool. It’s got a cool vibe and there are so many freaking things to see here! As much as I’m super excited about the conference I’m going to, I’m kinda sad that I can’t see more of the things in the city!
I spent a bunch of time at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. And every time I thought, “I’m going to head out. I’m musuemed out and I want to get to the Lincoln Memorial before it gets dark,” I’d see another thing I want to see and then I’d stay longer. There were dinosaurs! And mummies! And skeletons of everything you could imagine! And the Hope diamond1! And an evolution exhibit! And a lion that was shot by Teddy Roosevelt!
I wandered through the garden of sculptures outside the Smithsonian museum of art.
I walked to the Lincoln Memorial and on the way saw the Washington monument, the WWII monument, and the reflecting pool (with many, many ducks in it) that leads up to Lincoln.
When I google mapped the Lincoln, I saw there is an Albert Einstein monument nearby (just outside the National Academy of Science). So of course I went there because science.
All of this was in the pouring rain, so I was pretty drenched by this point (despite having an umbrella) and it was cold and dark and I discovered that I was nowhere near a metro station and the best way back to my hotel was on the bus. Something I learned today is that the buses aren’t very good at staying on schedule, at least according to all the people at the bus stop who were more than happy to tell me about how bad the buses are!
My hotel is pretty nice, but there aren’t nearly enough electrical outlets (you can tell it’s an old building) and there is no luxurious robe! This is my third hotel in less than a month (so much work travel!) and only one has had a robe. These other hotels need to step up their robe game, is what I’m saying.
While I was standing in line to get into the museum – the security line up there was worse than at the airport! – I heard someone say, “The Smithsonian owns the Hope diamond, but everything that the Smithsonian owns belongs to all Americans. Whoever owns the Hope diamond is cursed. I think that explains a lot.” [↩]
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m heading to Washington, DC. Currently sitting at the gate waiting for my red-eye flight. I like red-eye flights going east because I can sleep on the plane, then go about my day when I get there. By the time evening rolls around in Eastern time, because I only got a short sleep on the plane, I’m ready for sleep (as opposed to still feeling like I’m on Pacific time and not being able to fall asleep until 2 am).
Anyhoo, it’s my first trip to Washington, DC and though I’m going for a conference, I’ll have a wee bit of time for sight-seeing. I want to see the Lincoln monument and the Smithsonian. Anything else anyone recommends that I check out?
I’m heading out on a trip to Washington, DC for a conference and since I’ll be there for a week, I decided that I’ll need to take my comically large suitcase and not just my carry-on, because I don’t travel light and I like shoes. The suitcase in question is the purple suitcase that I bought when I was in Ireland to fit the painting that I bought in Ireland – so it’s pretty big. It’s so big that I often get comments on how damn big it is when I travel with it. Plus, if I actually fill it all the way up, it goes over the 50 lb weight limit, so it’s a bit impractical in that sense. Anyway, I went down to my storage locker to get said suitcase and discovered that there was a blue suitcase in my storage locker, in addition to my purple one. It’s a more reasonable sized suitcase and all I could think where, “Where the hell did this suitcase come from?” It had my luggage scale in the front pocket, which I typically bring with me to make sure I don’t go over the 50 lb limit, so that, combined with the fact that it was in my storage locker made me reasonably sure it was mine, but why could I not recall where this suitcase came from?
Then it hit me! I bought it for my trip to Australia last year because my flight between Sydney and Byron Bay had a restriction on the size of checked bags and my comically large purple suitcase wasn’t allowed. Leave it to me to entirely forget that I bought a suitcase – a suitcase, mind you, that I would have looked at every day of my 19 trip to Australia and Hong Kong!
Note: any would-be robbers who had designs on robbing my place while I’m away: my big strong boyfriend will be housesitting and cat-sitting. And he’ll be backed up by my two fierce kitties and my three vicious attack frogs!
Scott and I went on a road trip1. He had met my mom and sister when they were here in May and now it was my turn to meet his family. Our two main destinations were Red Deer, where his mom lives, and Kelowna, where his dad lives.
On the way there, we went through Jasper. I’ve never been to Jasper before, but I remember my Aunt Wendy going there when I was little and bringing me back a silver dollar. I’d also heard that it’s absolutely gorgeous there and I was not disappointed!
Various wildlife, although not as much as I expected to see and no bears, which I wanted to see, but only from a distance and from inside the car. Because I don’t have a death wish. Bears are scary!
After Jasper we were off to Red Deer to visit Scott’s mom and spend some time on the family farm. At the farm I:
rode a horse named Cookie Monster and got bitten but eleventy billion mosquitoes.
met a lot of dogs. Every time I turned around, there was another dog! There was Rosie and Dudley and Puddles and Dakota and Flydog and Archie.
met Sylvester the cat, who is heard a lot about from Scott and who looks just like Sylvester from Bugs Bunny. He’s a farm cat through and through – I watched him eat a mouse2 – but he’s also a snuggly little guy who will curl up with you at bed time. He’d been in a bit of a scrap with another farm cat at a few days earlier and had a big gash just above one eye, so I was worried about him, but he’s all better now after some antibiotic ointment that Scott’s mom got from the vet. And I’m just realizing I didn’t get any photos of Sylvester. #fail
met three little kittens who recently arrived at the farm: Milkshake, Stripey Cat, and the Orange One. They were pretty freaking adorable!
The Orange One
met 2 other cats, but only from a distance because, while adorable, they were, let’s say very protective of their territory: Halo, and the aptly named Killer.
saw a bunch of cows. It is a cattle farm, after all. Most of the cows were out at pasture, but there were two calves that didn’t have moms to be out at pasture with – one was orphaned and the other was rejected by its mom – so they were hanging out in a pen with a dairy cow who was brought in to feed them. Sort of like a wet nurse for cows. The dairy cow had a tongue that was about 2 ft long and tried to eat my arm.
I really think my niece and nephew would like the farm. And my dad would have liked it too!
While in Alberta, we also made a trip to Eau Claire Distillery ((Here’s my usual disclaimer: no one paid me to talk about any of the business I talk about in this posting. I kind of wish they did, because most of the business I talk about in this posting make booze!)), the first craft distillery in Alberta, which opened in 2004. Scott had been there back when they first open for a fundraising event and wanted to show it to me. They make primarily barley-based booze, although they do have one vodka made from prickly pear cactus. They also hand harvest all the barley, which seems like a particularly crazy way to get your barley.
Scott had a Moscow mule and I had (if I recall correctly) an apricot whiskey sour.
After a few days of Red Deer, which included some family dinners with Scott’s mom and her boyfriend, and meeting Scott’s grandma3 we hit the road again, this time traveling through Banff on our way to visit Scott’s dad in Kelowna. We made a stop in Revelstoke to visit Monashee Spirits Distilling. Monashee opened about 4 months ago and makes some of the best craft booze around! Josh gave us a tour of where all the magic happens and we got to sample his wares. Incidentally, I have a bottle of Big Mountain Creamer and, since all of Monashee’s products are certified organic and don’t have preservatives, and the Big Mountain Creamer has, understandably, cream in it, this bottle has an expiry date – anyone who wants to come help me drink it should let me know!
While in Revelstoke, we also decided to try out the Pipe Mountain Coaster, a single person roller coaster down the mountain! It was a bit pricy, but pretty freaking fun!
Then it was off the Okanagan! While there we checked out, in no particular order:
Old Order Distilling – they make a very cool black vodka – the only one made in North America, apparently
The People’s Crafthouse Soda Company – these guys make fantastic craft sodas: root beer, cream soda, tonic, ginger ale, elderflower, and they even have one called “seasonal fruit” that is made with whatever fruit happens to be in season. When we were there it was strawberry-cherry (the end of the strawberry season and the start of cherry season) and they said that the next week it would be just cherries, then later it would be blueberry, blackberry, peaches, etc. I just looked at their website and they currently have pear-ginger! We did a tasting of their sodas and then talked to them for nearly an hour about how they started their business and about their experience on the Dragon’s Den. They were super nice people and if you ever happen to be in Penticton, I highly recommend you check them out!
The Vibrant Vine winery – I was there last year, as the half marathon I ran in Kelowna started in their vineyard (and then I went back later to actually check out the winery) and I really wanted to show it to Scott. All of their packaging and the art in the winery is 3D and while you might think that gimmicky labels may signify poor quality wine, but you’d be wrong. Their wine is outstanding!
House of Rose – At the Canada Day festivities at the Kelowna waterfront, we’d gotten coupons for the “Fab 5” wineries – a group of wineries, including The Vibrant Vine, who co-market to try to get people to visit these wineries that are all in the same area (though they are quick to tell you that it’s just a marketing arrangement – they are all independent wineries). So we decided to check out some of the others, which we hadn’t heard of before. One of them was the House of Rose and while the grounds were pretty (I kind of felt like I was at House Tyrell with the rose theme), sadly their wines just weren’t very good.
Camelot Vineyards – Like House of Rose, Camelot sticks to its theme, with coats of armour and a sword stuck in a stone decorating the place, but I didn’t like their wines. After this, we decided to cut our losses on the “Fab 5” wineries, electing not to go to the remaining two.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery – This winery has a pyramid that they apparently store their wine in for some reason. Their sparkling wine is quite nice. Plus they have what looks like a weirwood tree.
Grizzli Winery – I discovered Grizzli Winery last year when I was in Kelowna – just saw it as we were driving by and went in on a whim and I really, really like their wines. So Scott and I went there so that he could check it out and also so I could see what was new since I was there last year, shortly after they opened. They had white wines this time (which they didn’t last year) and I liked them a lot!
When we weren’t tasting all the beverages, we spent some time walking the boardwalk in Kelowna and having family breakfasts and dinners with Scott’s dad and his girlfriend. And then before we knew it, our vacation was over! Will definitely have to go back – feels like we just scratched the surface of all the things we could do!
Like a month ago, but I’m only getting around to blogging about it now. Because there are too many exciting things going on this summer and I haven’t had time to sit down and write! [↩]
I realized that I’d never seen a cat eat a mouse before! We saw that Sylvester was sitting in the grass so we went over to see him and saw that he had a half eaten mouse corpse in front of him and one of the mouse legs, which he was slowly devouring, in his mouth. After eating the leg he started pulling the guts out to eat! [↩]
Who reminded me a lot of my Granny Snow. Incidentally, Scott’s grandma told her hair stylist that she approved of me (one of the times we went to visit her she was in the salon) and then Scott learned that women always tell their hair stylist everything! [↩]
I set a goal to knock 16 items off my 101 things to do in 1001 days list during 2016 and while I failed spectacularly at doing that, most of the 5 things that I did were pretty awesome. In level of increasing awesomeness, they were:
21. Get rid of the fake trees my condo’s previous owner left on my balcony
This one wasn’t awesome, but I am glad to have it done. When I bought my place, the previous owner left these gaudy fake trees in extremely heavy pots on my balcony, claiming they were part of the condo because they were tied with twine to the balcony railing. They were ugly and they took up valuable room on my balcony, but the aforementioned extremely heavy pots stopped me from getting rid of them until I got a message from my strata that they would be power washing all the balconies and everything had to be taking off our balconies during that time.
35. Go for a ride in a float plane
I spent some time on Salt Spring Island this year and on one of the trips, I took the float plane back so that I could spend one extra night there and then just fly into Vancouver for work in the morning. Super fun.
47. Go to Newfoundland
Visiting my 10th of 10 Canadian provinces was a milestone this year. Not that many people can say that! Plus I went to an awesome conference and got to hang out with my sister!
43. Go to NYC
I <3 NY. We had such a good time and now I want to go there again!
37. Present at a conference at an international location (not including USA)
Definitely the highlight of the year was my trip to Australia! The conference was fantastic and I really enjoyed all the places that I went!
So while I didn’t knock a large quantity of items off my list, I’d say that the quality of the ones I did do were A++.
My current 101 things to do in 1001 days is slated to end on April 9, 2017 and I’ve only achieved 34 (!). I should probably take a hard look at the remaining items to see which ones I can feasibly do in the next 3 months. Surely I can do better than 34/101!
The following was written on a plane earlier today.
I’m on my way home from my whirlwind Christmas holidays and realized that I have to do 9 blog postings in the next 2.5 days to achieve my goal of publishing 116 blog postings in 2016. So I figure I better get writing! I have a few year-end blog postings that I typically do that will fill out a number of these, including:
Year in Review
Items I Knocked Off My List of 101 Things To Do List
Books I Read in 2016
New Foods and/or Drinks I Made in 2016
How Did I Do on My 2016 Goals?
Goals for 2017
Nerd Stats 2016
So I just have to write all of those, plus this one, and mission accomplished!
I guess before I get cracking on writing all of those, I can tell you about my whirlwind Christmas holidays! We arrived back at my sister’s after our four days in NYC on the night of Dec 23. Happily, we got in earlier than expected, as we had whizzed through security because we got TSA-Pre clearance so we made it to our gate before the previous fight to Toronto had left and we were able to get three seats on that flight. This meant that we got home before my niece and nephew had gone to bed, so I didn’t have to wait until the next morning to see them!
The next day was Christmas Eve and we woke to pancakes that were made by my nephew, Thomas. He got a cookbook from the school library on the last day of school specifically so he could make those for everyone and they were delicious (I should add that Thomas is 5 and a surprising good cook (and baker) for his age.. with a wee bit of assistance with the stove part). After that, we mostly just lounged around, though I did wrap my presents and about eleventy billion trips were made to the grocery store for various things that we remembered we needed (as the stores would be closed the next day!), each thing being remembered only after the last shopper had returned to the house. I should note that I didn’t make any of those trips because it was cold outside and I am a delicate west coast flower. Christmas Eve dinner was a cornucopia of appies – crackers and breads and spreads and jalapeño poppers and shrimp thingys and chicken fingers and various things wrapped in various pastries and we were all stuff to the gills will deliciousness.
Christmas Day was as Christmas Day should be – awaking early to see what Santa had brought for the kiddies and what everyone had gotten for each other and the biggest winners of the present getting were my niece’s three guinea pigs and my cats. That is not to say that the rest of us were deprived, as we spoiled each other rotten, but the fluffy members of our family got some pretty sweet gifts. My mom made fritattas and a hot potato salad for breakfast (I was supposed to help, but she got up at the crack of dawn while I was still in dreamland1, so my contribution consisted of the sophisticated work of toasting English muffins and crumpets.). My sister made an amazing turkey dinner and for dessert we had individual-sized banoffee pies made by my mother and I (I actually did help make those!) and they might now be on my list of top desserts ever2. There may also have been a PokéWalk3 before dinner for my niece, my nephew, and I, as I figured that I should probably leave the house at least every other day. It was cold, but worth it.
On Boxing Day, we were supposed to go to my Aunt Wendy’s place for an open house, but a combination of icy conditions and that fact that all of us had a pretty nasty cold (that we didn’t really want to give it to the various babies who would be there) kept us away. Boxing Day consisted of lounging, building Lego things, playing various games, and eating our weight in leftovers.
On Dec 27, my mom, sister, and I went to the spa for pedicures (a Christmas present to us from my mom), followed by lunch with my Aunty Eileen and Aunty Lynn. That evening me and Nancy met up with Dr. Dan, Rick, and Rob, another guy we’d all gone to high school with that Dan keeps in regular touch with but who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. We stuffed our faces with Mexican food, drank margaritas the size of our heads4, and then went to another restaurant and stuffed ourselves with more drinks and desserts.
Yesterday Nancy, Jeff, Madeline, Thomas and I went to see Rogue One. I won’t say any spoilers in case you haven’t seen it yet. My mom is not a Star Wars fan, so she stayed back at my sister’s house and made a trip to the bakery, because clearly we hadn’t food shopped enough! That evening, Sarah and Dave and their munchkins came over for dinner. Their munchkins seemed to have a pretty fun time playing with Madeline and Thomas and I had a pretty fun time catching up with Sarah and Dave!
At some point in all of that, Nancy, Jeff, my mom, and I found time to watch the first season (all 10 episodes) of The Man in the High Castle5. Or as we called it “The Man in the High Tower”, “The High Man in the Castle”, “The High Man in the Dark Castle Tower”, and “Professor Plum in the Library with the Candlestick Holder”6. If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out. I can’t wait to watch season 2, which I only just learned existed yesterday.
And now, it what feels like a blink of the eye from when I left, I’m on a plane back home! It’s always so sad to say good-bye to my family, but I am excited to see my kitties. I have a suitcase full of presents for them.
You may notice a trend in this blog posting of my being a lazy SOB on my holidays. [↩]
Alongside chocolate amaretto cheesecake and espresso cupcakes with mascarpone cream. [↩]
Where one goes on a walk for the expressed purpose of catching Pokémon. Yes, I am still playing PokémonGO. [↩]
A TV show on Amazon Prime that is based on a Phillip K. Dick novel, in which the Nazis and Japan won WWII and the story is set in a post-war America in which Germany and Japan control the eastern and western parts of North America, respectively. [↩]
For some reason we kept screwing up the name of the show. It started with someone accidentally calling it “The Man in the High Tower”, and then we all started screwing it up like that and it escalated from there. [↩]
Hey, remember that time I said that my sister and I were going to take our mom to New York City for her birthday? Well, that trip was Dec 20-23 and we had a pretty amazing time! Of course, 4 days is really only enough time to scratch the surface of the Big Apple, so while we had an amazing time, we clearly have to go back because there were so many things we didn’t get to do!
We stayed at the Hudson Hotel, which was lovely and had a decor that I would characterize as lots of textures but barely any light.
On our first night, we had a bite to eat at the Hudson Common (their beer bar) and then went for a walk, whereupon we stumbled upon a Christmas market! Given the recent attack at the Berlin Christmas market, there was high security at the one we stumbled upon, include police vehicles lining the road in front of it and cops with assault rifles guarding the place.
On day 2 we set out to see a show. We’d been told when we got our tickets to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular that we had to arrive an hour in advance of our 11 am show to get through security so we grabbed coffee and a bite to eat on our way and headed to RCMH. We went through the security, which included one person who searched your purse and then another person who searched you with a metal detection wand, and then we got to the guy who scanned your tickets… and it turned out we were there on the wrong day! We actually had our Christmas Spectacular tickets for Dec 22 and for Dec 21 we had tickets to see Wicked at 2 pm2! So we went off for a walk and stumbled upon the Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree. I was less than impressed with the tree itself (though perhaps it looks better at night).
But I was impressed with the people soliciting donations for the Salvation Army3, especially these two guys who were really giving ‘er:
I had wanted to go skating at Rockefeller, but the lineup was too long, so I just took this picture instead:
I also saw this:
“Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times”
I felt like I should take a photo of that before it gets taken away, given recent events in US politics.
We stopped in at a pub for lunch:
Then went to see Wicked!
Wicked was fantastic! They had the understudy playing Elphaba (a.k.a., The Wicked Witch) and she was incredible! I didn’t know anything about the play other than that it was a re-telling of the Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch, who maybe isn’t so wicked after all. It had a cool story, fantastic performances, and the costumes and sets were amazing. Here’s what the stage looked liked before the show started (no photos allowed during the show):
And here we are waiting for the show to start:
That night we went for a pre-dinner drink at Ascent:
My sister had a Manhattan Mule, I had a Rossini Bellini, and my mom had The Trifecta.
and then the most amazing dinner at Porterhouse, where we started with the burrata (we may have dug right into that so fast we forgot to take a photo:
My mom had the Porterhouse Porkchop with a glass of Sancerre:
My sister had the filet mignon with a Malbec:
and I went for the chili rubbed rib eye, also with a Malbec:
On Day 3, we went to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular! We moved expertly through the security line, having done it all the day before, and got inside with plenty of time to spare4
The show was pretty spectacular. The precision with which those dancers dance is amazing! The music was fun and there were a variety of different acts, including, among other things, a very cool instrumental version of the 12 Days of Christmas where the number of Rockettes dancing represented the number of days of Christmas and We Three Kings with actual camels.
After the show, we walked to the MOMA, but the lineup was so long that we weren’t able to actually go in and had to make do with just checking out the gift shops. I bought myself this lovely necklace:
On our way, we passed by Trump Tower:
We were on the opposite side of the street, but anyone who wanted to go right in front of the building had to go through a security screening. And apparently Trump wasn’t even in town – I can’t imagine what it’s like when he’s there.
Next up was dinner at Bar Boulud, including delicious cocktails:
Salmon for my sister:
And my mom and I both had scallops:
After dinner my sister had an Elixir au Chocolate, which she declared the best drink she had ever had:
And we all shared profiteroles for dessert:
On our fourth and final day, we decided to walk to the High Line Park, and along the way we saw Times Square:
and my mom met her favourite snowman, Olaf:
and the New York Times:
and Madison Square Garden:
and the big post office:
and we may have stopped for a treat at Doughnut Plant:
And with that it was time to head back to the hotel to grab our bags and head out to the airport!
As you can see, while we saw quite a few things, there is a tonne of stuff that we didn’t see! Clearly, we need to go back!
We also had truffle and parmesan popcorn, which was amazing! [↩]
Thankfully we didn’t have it mixed up the other way around and show up for a 2 pm show to find out we’d missed an 11 am one! [↩]
I was conflicted about liking this, given that the Salvation Army is an anti-LGBT organization and I also hate that song (which I refer to as the “I love you because you have low self-esteem” song), but it was very entertaining how much they were into it. [↩]
In addition to all the security that we’d seen the previous day, on this day we also saw the bomb sniffing dogs walking through the venue. [↩]
So I’m *finally getting around to blogging about my trip to Australia and Hong Kong, a mere *77* days after returning from said trip. I’m trying to think of a way that (a) won’t take me eleventy billion years to write it all and (b) won’t bore everyone to tears. Oh and (c) I can piece together from the few notes I took down on my trip and my photos. And to add further complication to my writer’s dilemma, I went on this trip with my then-boyfriend, but after we got home, we split up (Long story short – a big trip together is a good test of a relationship and while he is a good guy, we discovered that we just aren’t compatible enough). So my blog postings will be full of “we did this” and “we did that” and it’s now a historical “we”. Ok, with all that out of the way, I guess I’ll just start with the writing and see what happens!
The genesis of the trip was that I had an amazing opportunity to attend a conference in Perth. And I figured that if I was going to fly for 18 hours to get somewhere, I wasn’t just going to come right home after a four day conference. Especially given that I hadn’t taken a proper vacation in 3 years and had a big chunk of vacation time to use. So I decided to extend the trip to include:
a few days post-conference to check out the area around Perth
a few days in Byron Bay to go surfing (booked *before* I got my hip injury that made me barely able to walk, much less surf!)
a few days in Sydney
a couple of days in Hong Kong on the way back (since we had to stopover in HK, it seemed like a good opportunity to check it out)
Shortly after booking all the flights and accommodations, I learned that my friend Tanya was moving from Toronto to Melbourne! If only I’d know, I’d have gone there; but it worked out because Tanya and her husband Greg made the trip up to Byron Bay to hang out, which was super fun!
This trip was by far the most flying I’ve ever done! It consisted of flights:
Vancouver to Hong Kong – 12.5 hours and 10,281 km
Hong Kong to Perth – 7.5 hours and 6,043 km
Perth to Sydney – 4.5 hours and 3,280 km
Sydney to Ballina – 1.25 hours and 612 km
Ballina to Sydeny – 1.25 hours and 612 km
Sydney to Hong Kong – 9.25 hours and 7,402 km
Hong Kong to Vancouver – 12.5 hours and 10,281 km
That makes a grand total of 48.5 hrs and 38,511 km of flying!
To make things even worse, I was severely debilitated by my hip injury. Like, I was limping so badly that at almost every airport we went to, when they saw me approaching the security line up they’d pull me aside with a “right this way, ma’am” and take me through the quick line up, because I was clearly too injured to be standing in any sort of line up. Fortunately, on the way there, the flights weren’t full so I was able to get up frequently to stretch.
Perth is the capital of Western Australia and with ~2 million people living in the Greater Perth area, it’s fairly similar in size to Vancouver. And though it’s a big city, it’s remote from other big cities, with the majority of the people being on the eastside of the continent. While in Perth, in addition to the conference, we did a bus tour to the Margaret River valley (a wine region), took a train out to nearby Fremantle (a port), and took a trip to Rottnest Island, which is off of Fremantle.
Cool Things in Perth
The Bell Tower at Elizabeth Quay:
This bar (we didn’t actually go there, but couldn’t resist taking a photo of it due to the name):
The fact that transit is FREE in the Central Business District of Perth. Seriously, you just get on and off the buses as you please.
King’s Park – a really big park (sort of like Stanley Park) and it has cool fauna that is native to western Australia. I went for a walk (er, a limp) around there and saw lots of cool plants and fortunately was not killed by any of the deadly animals I am told live in Australia.
All the trees in Australia are shaped like they should be in a haunted Disney forest
This plant is called Kangaroo’s Paw
Beer and Beef Festival. It would have been better if it hadn’t been unseasonably cold and rainy – and they didn’t have any heaters or covered areas, but there were some decent beers and tasty food.
I caught the Pokémon that you can only catch in Australia on my first day in Perth!
Things I Saw on the Margaret River Vally Bus Tour
Fiona Stanley Hospital – it just opened a couple of years ago and was named after the woman who discovered the link between insufficient amounts of folic acid during pregnancy and neural tube defects in babies (and thus is why we now fortify our grains with folate and see far fewer neural tube defects!)
Harvey Camp #11 – a World War II internment camp for Italians (I didn’t know that Italians were interned in Australia during WWII)
Bootleg Brewery – we had lunch and a flight of beer here. Craft brewing in Australia just doesn’t quite compare to the craft beer scene in Vancouver – but some of the beers were quite good and the food was great!
I was representin’ New West with my Steel & Oak Brewing hoodie on at Bootleg Brewing.
Sadly, there were no dog picnics:
Sandalford Winery – sampled some wine here.
Mammoth Cave – this place was awesome! Just an absolutely beautiful cave. Also, because we were on a bus tour with some older people, it could go up and down the stairs slowly (thanks injured hip!) but didn’t hold up the crowd.
A kangaroo. I only got a glimpse of it hopping along the side of the road as our bus whizzed by at dusk, but it was the only kangaroo I saw in all of Australia!
Things I Learned on the Margaret River Vally Bus Tour
First of all, the tour guide told us a few things that I looked up later and found out weren’t true. So I’ve looked up stuff that I wrote down on this tour to see how much of it was true:
The Noongar people, who are the indigenous people of the south western part of Western Australia, have an origin story where the Swan and Canning Rivers and other features of the land were created by The Wagyl, a giant snake-like creature that slithered around, creating the shape of the land.
The “coat of arms sausage“, which we ate at the Bootleg Brewery pub, is so called because it’s made of the meat of kangaroo and emu, the two animals on the Australia coat of arms.
Fremantle is a port city at the mouth of the Swan River. We took a train there, mostly because I wanted to visit the prison! The prison is a museum now and my friend Martha had told me it was well worth checking out.
Fremantle Prison was originally a prison for, and built by, convicts shipped over from England. At first England just shipped over petty criminals – like bread thieves – but over time they started slipping more dangerous criminals – like rapists and murders – onto the convict ships. Once England stopped shipping its criminals to Australia, it became a regular prison (i.e., for local prisoners).
Entrance to the prison grounds
The prison yard
The cells were really, really tiny and convicts/prisoners stayed in them for much of the day. In later years, they knocked down walls to make the cells double this size, but they it got crowded again and so they put in bunk beds and made two prisoners share the double sized cells.
In later years, they let some of the prisoners paint in their cells:
The only place that wasn’t tiny and dark was the chapel, which had big windows and a high ceiling so as to feel open and bright. Threatening to revoke one’s time in the chapel was a good way to keep prisoners in line.
We got to try out going into a solitary confinement cells, with the tiny window closed up and all the lights off. Prisoners would be placed in there for 23 hours a day, with 1 hour of exercise which consisted of running back and forth across a small yard. The walls on each side of the yard had placards with numbers and the guards would yell out a number and you’d have to run to that number on the opposite wall. And repeat. For an hour. And then back to your cell!
Behind that second door is a solitary confinement cell.
Here’s where you’d get flogged, if you were given a flogging as punishment:
And if you were sentenced to death, here’s the gallows where they would hang you:
There was a big riot in 1988 and the prison closed in 1991, and shortly thereafter became a museum. What you see in the prison is pretty much what it would have been like right before it closed – very bleak.
Other fun facts about Fremantle (the city, not the prison):
The Noongar name for Fremantle is Walyallup.
The locals call it Freo.
Little Creatures Brewery is there – they make pretty good beer.
Wearing my Steel & Oak hoodie at a brewery again. It was unseasonably cold in Western Australia and that was the only hoodie I brought!
Here I am breaking the law in Fremantle. #ThugLife
Rottnest Island is 18 km west of Fremantle and is home to the cutest animal in the world: the quokka! Quokkas are small marsupials – about the size of a small house cat. They live almost exclusively on Rottnest (there is a very small population (~400) on the mainland), where there are between 8,000-12,000 living on the 19 km2 island. Having no predators, these adorable little guys are super friendly and will come right up to you (mostly hoping you will feed them, which you shouldn’t because they can’t digest people food and it makes them sick). They are considered a vulnerable species and it’s against the law to even touch them1, unless you are Cookie Monster. I really, really wanted to bring one home as a pet but (a) it’s illegal and (b) I think the cats might try to eat a quokka if we had one.
Getting a selfie with a quokka is a trendy thing to do. Here’s some lady doing so with a selfie stick.
I’m too cool for a selfie stick, but I got an amazing quokka selfie2 the old fashion way (i.e., holding the camera):
This little quokka showed up in the restaurant we had lunch in and was tugging on my pant leg as if so say “spare a french fry for a hungry quokka?”
Other fun facts about Rottnest Island:
It was named by a Dutchman who mistook the quokkas for giant rats – it means “rat nest island”.
The locals refer to Rottnest Island as “Rotto”.
The original Noongar name for Rottnest Island is Wadjemup.
No one is allowed to live on Rottnest unless they have a job that requires them to work on the island outside of the hours that the ferries run. For example, if you were a baker at a bakery, you could live on the island because you’d need to do your baking very early in the morning, but if you were a cashier i that bakery, you’d be required to ride the ferry to and from the island every day to get to work.
The island was at one point used as a prison for indigenous people. It was also used as a location for a reformatory for boys.
A large part of the island was de-forested as people who settled there were unable to farm, due to the poor soil, so they made their living by harvesting salt from the salt lakes, which required fire, which require cutting down trees. They are now trying to re-forest it3.
The tour guide on the Rottnest Island ferry, like the Margaret River bus tour guide, told us a few things that were just not true. Notably, she said that the government of Western Australia spent $26 billion developing Elizabeth Quay in Perth. According to Wikipedia, the government spent $440 million and then got back $134 million from selling property to developers. The tour guide on the bus told us that “quokka” is the Noongar word for “food”, but I have been unable to verify this through my extensive Googling4.
As previously mentioned, the Byron Bay portion of the trip was booked with the intention of going surfing, but due to my injured hip, I was barely able to walk and so surfing, along with its required jumping up and balancing on a surfboard, was not a thing I could do. Byron Bay was beautiful though and I had a great time hanging out with Tanya and Greg.
Highlights of Byron Bay:
The beaches. So lovely.
I found a giant dead jellyfish on the beach. Until I found it, I had forgotten that I should be worried about getting stung by a jellyfish!
Although I couldn’t go surfing, I decided to go body boarding instead. I figured since I’d be lying down on the board, my hip would not be required. What I didn’t think about was how powerful the currents would be and just trying to walk out, and then swim out, to catch a wave was really, really not pleasant on my hip. On the plus side, the water was very cold, so it helped numb the pain!
Here I am after body boarding. I look like a drowned rat.
Here’s a sign I saw *after* I spent a day and the following morning body boarding. It warns you that you’ll probably die from the rip current unless you follow their instructions5.
Speaking of the dangers of the ocean, we found out after a day of playing in the ocean that a surfer was attacked by a great white shark at the next beach over from our beach right at the time we were in the ocean. The next beach over was ~20 km away, but that’s really not that far for a shark.
Cape Byron Lighthouse. Visiting lighthouses was starting to become a thing for me, so of course we had to check out the big one in Byron, the aptly named Cape Byron Lighthouse6.
The Opera House, of course. It’s really beautiful. Didn’t get a chance to see an opera, but did go check out the building.
Mad Spuds was a lovely place for breakfast. The owner was super friendly!
While out at a pub, we had a lovely chat with some locals who sat at our table, since we were just two and were at a table for four. They were a mother and son and, if I recall correctly, her other son lives in Whistler.
There were a few different option for touring around Sydney Harbour: you could take the public transit ferry, which is less expensive, or you could take one of the private guide tour ferries. We chose the latter because we were told that the tour guides would provide commentary, so we could learn about all the stuff we see. Big mistake. The tour guides barely said anything, so we totally wasted our money. Also, as seemed to be a trend, the tour guides (when they did bother to talk) just make stuff up. For example, they told us that Shark Island got its name because it was used as a quarantine island for animals, and any of the animals that didn’t make it, they just threw in the water and it attracted sharks. Wikipedia tells me that it got its name because the island is kind of shaped like a shark.
While on the harbour tour, we passed a few different locations – Fort Dennison (they had a lighthouse) and Shark Island, but we decided to check out Watson’s Bay, mostly because it shares a name with my cat. But I was really glad, because it was beautiful there. There was a cool cliff walk and I got to see Signal Hill (my second Signal Hill of 2016) and another lighthouse (I’d lost count of lighthouses by this point). There was actually a second lighthouse at Watson’s Bay that we could have gone and seen, but my limp made for slow walking and to get to the other lighthouse would have taken so long that we’d have to catch for a later ferry, so we decided to skip it to head back to the city.
Cliff walk. It made me think of the Cliffs of Moher, but way smaller.
Signal Hill at Watson’s Bay.
Luna Park has the creepiest freaking entranceway of any location ever.
We walked over the Harbour Bridge – we didn’t do the walk where you actually go up top – that costs tonnes of money and also ever since the Edgewalk I’m kind of afraid of heights. Even just walking at bridge deck level freaked me out a bit.
The Rocks is an old area of Sydney – we did a walking tour so as to learn some history of the area. The Rocks was the original area of colonization in Sydney. It’s only been recently that Australia has come to accept its history of convictism (they didn’t even used to teach it in schools) and didn’t always persevere historical site. The Rocks is now, however, heritage protected7
The only spider I saw in all of Australia was in a restaurant called Il Barretto. It was large… not larger than the largest ones I’ve seen in BC, but that’s still big enough. I started to freak out a bit and a waitress asked me what was wrong. I said, “There a giant spider on the ceiling!” She glanced at it and said, “Meh. That’s not a giant spider” and then walked away. We had just finished dinner, so I just got the hell out of there.
After Sydney, we headed to Hong Kong for a couple of days, but that’s going to be another blog posting!
Plus, they are wild animals so you could actually catch diseases from them! [↩]
Fun fact: My selfie, which I posted to Flickr, was included in a Buzzfeed article! Props to Cath for bringing that to my attention! I decided to take it a step further and put it the Wikipedia page for quokka [↩]
The tour guide told us a story about how a bunch of volunteers spent a weekend planting 200 tree seedlings but they didn’t realize that when they put up the fencing to protect the seedlings from hungry quokkas, they accidentally fenced in two hungry quokkas, who proceeded to eat all 200 seedlings. And now the put individual fencing around each individual seedling! [↩]
Where by “extensive” I mean I scanned the first page of Google results and didn’t see anything. [↩]