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Archive for April, 2005

April 30th, 2005: 6:47 pm

Its Saturday at about 11:30am, and here its 9 hours ahead (9:30pm).  We are currently in Cyprus [ http://www.mapquest.com/atlas/main.adp?region=cyprus ], an island nation in the Mediterranean Sea.  This country is home to some of the most incredible landscape I know, and also some family!

Given that the island is not very big, it can be crossed in a matter of hours.  The main industry here is tourism, which rings up about 1 Billion Cyprus Pounds in business a year (or about $2.7 Billion Canadian).  Fortunately, we are here about 1-2 weeks ahead of the tourist high season, and therefore enjoy some lower prices, and less crowded areas.

We took a day tour that went to some archaeological sites, including buildings and ruins dating back to a few centuries BC, and tile mozaics, which are pretty impressive to think that these were home decorations way back when, only were hand made with coloured rocks.  Also, we wandered around the capital city (Nicosia) for an afternoon just looking around and taking in the old city aura.  The ‘old city’ is where Nicosia originated, and is surrounded by city walls (which I forget how old they are), that take on a circular-star shape.  The intent was to keep invaders out way back when.  And last but not least, we have been enjoying the scenery provided by the sandy beaches alondside the Mediterranean.  The tones of blue in the water and sky are so vivid that photos and words cannot do it justice.

April 28th, 2005: 8:06 am

I cannot stand that airport!  Everytime I am through there, something is broken, or something goes wrong.  This time it was what was supposed to be a trivial phone call down to Cyprus to secure a ride from the airport.  Except the stupid payphone was broken, and probably charged 10 Pounds ($26) to my VISA, and I did not get a call placed in all that BS.

Other than that the marathon flight is over… I think our bodies got very confused with the meals and times through the 2 flights spanning 20 hours, but its all good now, and we are in sunny Mediteranean Cyprus!  Whee!!!!!

April 25th, 2005: 12:32 pm

Our four days in Singapore have been a fantastic experience. When we stepped out of the airplane the intense (and very humid) heat took a beating on us, as we still had to walk around with all our packs and stuff on. Heck, the backpacks were sweating, never mind us.  While it was enjoyably uncomfortable, the only escape from the heat was to go anywhere air conditioned… trains, stores, you name it. I think that any company manufacturing air conditioning units must use Singapore as the acid test.

We stayed at a quiet bed and breakfast which was out of the way of any major traffic and craziness, and was fairly cheap! Actually, quite a few things are a good price — you can get a dish of local fast food (ie: Steamed Chicken and Rice) for S$3 (Maybe CDN$2.25).

Given that chewing gum is prohibited (actually, sugar free gum can now be prescribed), and that there are heavy fines for many things (I think S$1000 – S$2000 for littering, spitting, etc), the city is very clean, and you are not walking on anything sticky on the sidewalks. We did find that sometimes finding a garbage can was a challenge, which was interesting…

There are markets for everything, and the main ones I was interested in were the electronics ones. They have entire malls dedicated to electronic gadgets, which is most certainly a part of my utopian world. Each floor is packed with vendors, mostly selling the same thing over, and depending on the mall, with varying degrees of aggressiveness, credibility, and ability to bargain.

All of the major sign-age is in English, so getting by is not much of a problem at all. We spent much time riding around on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) train system, which costs peanuts per ride. I think that under the entire city there must be at least three layers of transit tracks, and one level of shopping, as it seems there is always multiple levels when you descend, and it feels like you go a fair ways underground.

We are currently in the Singapore Changi Airport, which has been voted Top Airport in the World for a long time (maybe over 10 years). It has some pretty neat perks here, like free internet, movie lounges (its a TV in a lounge with a movie channel playing), free video game lounge, and other services. We indulged in some massage treatment at the spa. Think of it as thanking the ol’ back for carrying that overpacked backpack.

In just a few hours, we head out for the second long-haul flight on our trip. First its a 12 hour flight up to London, only to turn around and fly another 5 hours to Cyprus, in the Mediterranean.

April 21st, 2005: 3:27 pm

Perth is known as the "Worlds most isolated capital city" (its the capital of the Territory of Western Australia), and has a population around 1.4 Million.  We flew clear across the country here, since we had four flight segments we could use up in Australia.  Most of the way over there were no clouds, and I had the good fortune of sitting in a window seat.  I was able to see a great chunk of the interior country.  It is very red, and has a surreal Martian landscape like quality to it from 30,000 feet up.

I have to admit that I was the uneducated tourist on this one.  Many people think Canadians all live in igloos, and in the same fashion, I thought that all of Australia looked like this dusty barren red land.  In actuality, much of the coastline (except for the actual beach areas) looks like back home!  Makes sense, if way back when the Europeans brought over all their plants and animals to establish new territory.  So, in case any of you didn’t know, now you do.

In Perth, we have spent time walking along some of the park area and botanical gardens area.  Walking in a treed area is a great way to get some fresh air, and in King Park here in particular, it offers a great vantage over the city skyline.

Since it was supposed to rain today, we didn’t get to check out the west coast beach along the Indian Ocean.  Its suppsed to be very scenic, but we opted to stay in town instead, and did more walking around.  We went to the Perth Mint [ http://perthmint.com.au/ ] which was built in 1899 to facilitate handling the gold that was found "nearby" (600km east) during the great Gold Rush.  Gold bars were made right up until 1990.  And then they pulled the 12 furnaces out, melted the gold that was fused into it over that couse of time, and reclaimed $500,000 worth of gold!  Good call on their part.  In the daily tours, they have a demonstration on how gold is melted and poured into the gold bar form.  While cooling from 1300°C it glows bright yellow, but 30 seconds in water, and its that bright shiny, cool to the touch form of metal we’d all love to have.  This was pretty cool stuff.

Tomorrow we are headed out to Singapore, and thats all she wrote on the Australia trip.  Some may wonder why we didn’t see the Great Barrier Reef, and Ayers Rock.  Unfortunately we did not get the chance (time/money) to see those areas, but did still see a nice selection of Australia.  I think if I was to ever come back, that trip would specifically include those places.

Here are some things that I have forgotten to mention in prior entries:

  • while in the Hunter Valley area, I tried Vegemite!  It looks like chocolate, but it doesn’t smell or taste like it!  Curious?  Its a must taste… but only in small portions
  • the Gold Coast (Surfers Paradise) public transit bus drivers are extremely polite.  Much better than the Sydney bus drivers.

ObZervations from Down Under:

  • Tire is spelled Tyre here
  • There are Burger King restaurants in New Zealand (and they look like 50’s diners), but there are none in Australia.  Instead a restaurant called Hungry Jacks has bought the licensing rights to the Whopper, and sells them.  I didn’t try one though.
  • We heard more UK accents in Sydney than we did Australian accents.
  • Crossing roads in the cities is more often like Frogger.
  • The hot water faucets deliver scalding hot water in seconds!  Watch out!!!
  • Here they greet you with "How are you going?"  This just doesn’t sound like a proper sentence to me.

C-OZ-sts: (all are per person and in Australian Dollars)

  • Sydney Public Transit 1-Day Pass: $15
  • Sydney Opera House Tour (didn’t do this): $12-24
  • Medium Slurpee from 7-11: $2
  • Internet Access: On Average $4/hour
  • Hostels: Around $25/night for a dorm of 4-8 people
  • Lion King Theatrical: $42.50
  • Blue Mountains Day Tour: $74
  • Sand Safari 4WD Adventure: $99
  • Sydney Harbour Bridge climb (didn’t do this): $139
  • Sea World Gold Coast: $56
  • Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary: $14
  • AirTrain Round Trip between Brisbane and the Gold Coast: $20
  • XBox games: $99 new, ~$60 used
April 16th, 2005: 12:00 pm

The Gold Coast is an extremely popular tourist destination on the Pacific Coast of Australia.  There are cranes in the skyline everywhere, all racing to build rediculously tall buildings offering instant walks to the beach, and impressive views.  Apparently the world’s tallest residential building is being built here?  You can own an apartment in it for somewhere between $2-9 Million Australian, and move in, in 2009!

Anyways, we have spent the last two days doing the tourist thing injecting theme park fun into our systems.  Yesterday was spent at Sea World Gold Coast, and today at the Wet ‘n Wild waterpark.  The Sea World offers a sampling of amusement park, aquarium, dolphin/sealion shows, and aquatic animals among other things.  It was an enjoyable day in the sun.  The waterpark was an offering of most waterslide types you could want, and includes an 8-person mat race slide, that gives you your race results on a scoreboard.  Pretty neat.

Oh yeah, I forgot to say that last weekend we didn’t win the $19 Million Powerball lottery.  But we did apparently match enough numbers to win $26.50!  Yay!

April 14th, 2005: 1:56 am

A friend of mine that I went to school form Kindergarten through to Grade 12 with, Jolene Ninness (Bond), had moved to Australia, and we had the good fortune to meet up and visit!  So, the last few days were spent a little more in-land and getting a good firsthand look at the countryside, Hunter Valley region.

It was a rather busy set of days, with various sightseeing events jammed in together.  Here were some of them:

  • Maitland Gaol (Jail) — a Jail tour led by an ex-inmate.  We were given a firsthand account of prison life and conditions as of his 1976-78 term in the slammer.  Some of the rooms are haunted!  This was a pretty interesting tour, and we went on the evening tour, which was a BYO Flashlight.
  • Dolphin Cruise — An afternoon cruise out on the waters to look at dolphins.  There were quite a few to see, so that was pretty lucky!
  • Day at the beach!  Everyone loves a day at the beach, even if its "almost winter" here (20°C isnt cold!)  Out at Crowdy Head Beach was a calm bay with constant and manageable waves that were loads of fun diving into.  Uh oh, someone forgot to let the sunscreen set in and got a small sun burn!!!

We have now flown up to Brisbane on JetStar, (a discount carrier that even puts WestJet to shame!) and have taken a train down to the City of Surfers Paradise, which is Australia’s theme park answer to Orlando and LA.  More details when time permits…