Photo Essay: Bird Watching on Italy’s Po River

Seeing flamingos in the wildDuring my time in the Emiliga Romana region a few months ago, I was fortunate to be able to take part in a bird watching tour on the Po River. With more than 350 species of birds having been sighted in the Po River Region, this is a territory that at first glance looks unvaried, but is actually quite surprising richness.

Indeed, the agricultural landscapes vary much more than the human eye can see. Birds can profit from this, finding what they need to feed themselves and, in some cases, to breed.

This is one of the best places in the world to watch herons, kites, kestrals, and of course, flamingos. I didn’t have the fancy bird-watching camera that many of the other passengers on the boat had, but I still managed to catch some images that I hope show how nice the day was.

In particular, there was a large group of senior citizens from Belgium who are part of an RV camping club, these folks with tattoos and piercings on wrinkled old arms are exactly the type of old person I hope to someday be.

While it was exciting to see the Peregrine Falcon, a red-footed falcon and the lesser kestrels, the highlight for me was just being on the water and seeing this unique landscape filled with pink flamingos!

In addition, the French speaking tour guide pointed out some fish smuggling camps. An interesting note was that there are always two doors in the smuggler cabins so that when they see the patrols coming they can run out the back and escape in their long fishing boats.

I’m very grateful to Emilia Romagna Tourism for setting up this trip.

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Sydney, Australia – Last Part – Sydney to the Airport

The best part of living in Hawaii is that when your trip is over, it’s time to go home – to Hawaii. Honestly, I miss my family and am ready to be back with them.

I’m super stoked to be going home to Hawaii where my wife and daughter have been silently suffering (and pretending to have a ball with me gone <wink>) because I’ve missed them – but I just want to say, I really love and appreciate Australia. It’s rainy and grey today – there’s not much I want to do in the several hours between hotel checkout (11am) and airport check-in (3pm) but I’ve bought and filled a bag with souvenir gifts and now am sitting in the remarkable library in Sydney’s Green Square, catching up on writing about my trip, organizing photos, and charging all of my devices before I head to the airport.

This is yet another example of how Aussies get it right. Beautiful underground library with garden in the center, glassed in, cafe at the entrance, beautiful glass pyramid shaped upper portions, plenty of seating, clean, nice, safe, adult and kids sections separated by just enough to allow all to have fun. Meeting rooms, power ports (USB and plugs) all over the place. Great design, functionality, and use. The kids can check out mini commodore 64s, music kits, and much more. Free wifi – it’s really what a library should be.

Sydney Pro Tip: On the way to the airport, hop off at Green Square, go to the Library and charge up all your devices, do your last minute emails, etc. Or, if you have need to work while you are in Sydney, this is better than a coworking space. 

Yes, I’m going to miss Australia – I know there are problems everywhere but the Aussies seem to have a better handle on how to live than Americans do.

I woke up this morning and drank some free coffee in the pod hotel before taking the tram to Circular Quay and then catching the ferry to Manly Beach. It’s a grey and rainy day again – great for Australia, not so great for travel. The ferry trip was nice but my shoes were still wet from yesterday and they’ve begun to smell to high heaven – and I’m about to get on a flight for ten hours where it’s nice to take the shoes off. I will have to fix this.

There’s really not much that I want to do and now I’ve got a backpack and a bag. I don’t particularly want to sit in the airport for six hours – nor do I feel like walking around with baggage. I suppose I could have paid to leave my bag in a locker – that would have been smart – but too late now. Plus, capsule hotels are  sort of depressing places to hang around – I just wanted to check out.

I spent nearly as much on souvenirs and presents as I spent on all of my Sydney accommodation.

I think all there is to do now is head to the airport, try some of that beautiful sparkling Tazzy wine I didn’t try while in Tasmania, enjoy the free upgrade to a Quantas flight instead of a Jetstar Flight – and get back home to my beautiful family. I’m grateful I had the chance to experience a little bit of Australia. I’d like a lot more – but next time I want to have longer and to have my family with me.

Cheers.

I’m Giving Away All the Books I’ve Written for Free – Please Enjoy While Social Distancing

(Scroll down for links to PDF files)

I wrote these books so people could read them – I’ve made a little bit of
money with them through the years (very little, but hey, that wasn’t the point) now and in the coming days – I think it’s very likely that people might find themselves with lots of time on their hands. So, I’ve decided to go ahead and gift my work to the world. Whether it’s a very good gift or not, I can’t really say for sure – but these books represent many hours of my life – and I hope you enjoy them.  I’ll post them here on Vagobond and elsewhere in time.

Christopher ‘Vago’ Damitio

 

Rough Living 2003 Edition (Link to PDF: http://www.vagobond.com/RoughLiving2003.pdf)

Slackville Road (2004 Here is the link: http://www.vagobond.com/SlackvilleRoad.pdf )

Fishing in the Puget Sound (2004 Link to PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/chum.pdf)

The Honolulu Waiter (1998, 2007 Screenplay) (Link to PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/waiterhonolulu.pdf)

The Princess and the Vagabond (2005 https://www.vagobond.com/princess2013pdf.pdf)

The Hu Factor (2006 Originally SHTF or Shit Hits the Fan) Link to PDF (http://www.vagobond.com/TheHufactor.pdf)

Lost in Transmediality (2008 Link to PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/LostinTrans.pdf)

Liminal Travel (2009 Link to PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/liminaltravelebook.pdf)

Feeding The Spirit – Spiritual Fasting (2010 Link to PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/feedingthespirit.pdf )

Not My Morocco (2011 Link to PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/notmymorocco.pdf )

Smooth Living( 2012 Link to PDF: http://www.vagobond.com/smoothliving.pdf)

DoucheBags, Fags, and Hags (2012 Link to the PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/DBH.pdf)

Meliptimous Taggle (2013 Link to PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/Meliptimoustaggle.pdf)

Rough Living 2013 Edition (Here is the first link: https://www.vagobond.com/RoughLiving2013formatted.pdf )

Around the World with 40 Lonely Planet Bloggers (Link to PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/40LPBloggers.pdf )

25 Travel Blogging Secrets (2013 Link to PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/25TravelBloggingSecrets.pdf )

Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point (2019 Link to PDF: http://www.vagobond.com/vagabonds.pdf)

Crypto Confidential (2019 Link to PDF: https://www.vagobond.com/cryptoconfidential.pdf)

More to come soon:

The Keys to the Riad (2013)

What Am I Doing Here (2012)

Blue Eyed Bastards (Incomplete)

The Invented God (2011)

The Silicon Boom in Unabomb Valley (2019)

 

 

Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost Is The Point

Staying in Capsule Hotels in Australia – Capsules Down Under

I’ve always been fascinated by capsule hotels – but never really had the chance to stay in one until I came to Australia about ten days ago – for some reason I always thought they were more expensive than they actually are – I booked all ten of my days in Australia in three different capsule hotels. Here is what I found:

Capsule Hotel #1: Space Q in Sydney – One Star – At Best

This was my first Sydney location and I came there straight from the airport. Went through customs, caught eat train to Central, walked to King Street and walked into the unlockable glass door between two massage parlors in Chinatown. The smell of mildew and dirt greeted me. I took the plywood lined elevator to the 1st floor where reception was. The capsule was tiny, no electronic gadgets like I’d seen on TV (TV with remote, etc) and to my surprise no climate controls and not sound proof. A keycard controlled the lockable pod and a separate locker. They gave you one towel for free but would charge if you wanted another one. Free coffee and tea provided. The common areas in Space Q were essentially 1-star hostel. Bathrooms were tiny and often broken. Showers were so small you couldn’t move in them and there was nowhere to get dressed or keep your things dry and secure while you showered. Staff was nice.

I was woke up by my neighbors moving around, opening and closing their capsule doors, and then at 5 am  the next day by a bunch of Sydney police who showed up because a man claimed a 72-year-old woman had stolen his Nike pants and they came to arrest her. They were both guests. It was that kind of place.

The room was supposed to be air conditioned so the fans in the pods could keep them cool, but two nights in a row guests who got cold just got up and unplugged the A/C and it became too hot for me to sleep. The common rooms (kitchen, study, etc) were closed from 11pm to 8am which meant that you had to either be out in the streets or in your pod – there was no other option. I asked about doing laundry and was told $8 for wash and $8 for dry – so $16 to do a load of clothes. I passed.

 

Capsule Hotel #2: Pod Inn in Launceston, Tasmania – Two Stars 

The Pod Inn is a newish venture in Launceston and essentially, it is a hostel with pods. The facilities are newish, the showers and bathrooms were big, they also issued a towel. Pods and lockers with a card key. No TV again – but that was okay. Had a nice restaurant attached, great, clean common areas. Located centrally. It was a really nice place. The only reason I give it two stars was that the pod areas get really loud. Light bleeds through from other pods, the voices and movements of other guests will wake you up, and there is no one there after a certain time at night to ask people to be quiet. There were four people staying in the pod next to me. No windows in the pod rooms and no real ambiance but clean, friendly, and affordable.

 

Capsule Hotel #3: The Capsule Hotel in Sydney – Two  1/2 Stars

This pod hotel suffered from the same issues as the other two, but was in a cool old building, had big bathrooms and showers, offered free coffee and tea in the morning, and from the pod rooms, offered a great view looking down at the city streets. I could open up my pod and look out at a cool view (which I’m doing as I write this). There are chairs throughout and they were the only pod to offer toiletries if you wanted them.  First towel free, $3 after that. Keycard worked on the locker but the pods don’t lock – which means that if you are there for multiple days and want your stuff secure, you can’t leave it on your bed – kind of a bummer. I asked if I could check out later than 10am and they told me 10:30am at the latest.

 

Bottom Line: Pod or Capsule Hotels kind of suck but they are useful.

The idea is good but essentially, you are staying in a hostel with the difference being that you have a door you can close for a sort of privacy. A bit like a micro pension. They are cheap – which means they are useful – I paid a grand total of something like $290 for ten nights in Australia – the same cost I would have paid for one night in a good 4-star hotel. In this case, I was traveling by myself and the bed I slept in was the least important part of my trip. I just needed a place to sleep, shower, and shit.And a place to charge my devices. I was traveling light and could have easily kept my kit with me through most of my days, but it made it nice to be able to leave my bag somewhere secure.

A four star pod would have internal climate control, block out most of the noise of other guests, and offer the best amenities of the capsule hotels above. 1) Clean 2) Common Areas where guests could hang out, cook, eat, or socialize 3) Free coffee and tea 4) Big and useful bathrooms, toilets, and showers 5) Affordable laundry facilities 6) secure pods and lockers 7) a manager or security person on site 24/7

I wrote about why I no longer stay in hostels many years ago – those reasons remain true. I’d hoped that Capsule Hotels might offer an alternative, but I’m afraid that they do not. Still, they are kind of cool and if you are on a budget and traveling solo – you might want to give one a shot.

 

A Personal Timeline of COVID-19 and the End of the World

I will update this as time goes on…I

My Experience with 2020, the year of COVID-19.

I’m not sure if I’ve just been waiting for a disaster or if I’m just more informed or if I tend to have a longer view of things than other people – but this pandemic has come as no surprise – though I must admit that the speed with which it is happening is mind blowing.

Late last year (December 31, 2019) I started reading about the outbreak in Wuhan, China. This was the official notice that China gave to the WHO that there might be a problem. I didn’t think much of it, but decided to keep an eye out.

This was going to be the year I started traveling again – so by the start of 2020, I already had several trips planned. The first to Australia in late February and early March – then a trip to the mainland USA in April, and then I was thinking Iceland over the summer and maybe Cuba before the year ended. In any event, I pay attention to the world. I’ve had more than a passing interest in epidemiology for more than a decade.

By January 3rd, China was reporting 44 cases. On January 7th, they identified it as a coronavirus. The first death came two days later. Thailand had it by January 13th. Another Chinese death on January 15th. Japan had it by the 16th. It jumped to 204 cases on January 19th. On the 21st, WHO revealed that it was passing from human to human. On the same day, Netflix released a series called Pandemic.

I made some snide social media comments about how callous Netflix was to release their mini-series ‘Pandemic’ right on the heels of the ‘Wuhan Coronavirus’ starting to spread in early January (They released it on January 21st) . A couple of days later the death toll was at 17. By January 23rd China had three cities on lockdown and had cancelled Chinese New Year Celebrations in the Forbidden City. Singapore and Vietnam now had it.

I didn’t really expect it to be ‘the one’ but apparently it is – at least so far. I began to feel alarmed when China began taking extraordinary measures to quarantine and contain the virus. China is far away – I’ve been there, I pay attention to China – and putting millions of people into a lockdown quarantine was not a normal thing for the Chinese government to do.

January 24th there were cases in the US as well. The next day Hong Kong suspended flights to and from Wuhan. France had it, Australia had it, Malaysia and Canada had it. January 26th more than 2800 cases and 80 deaths. January 29th the WHO finally declares it a world health emergency. The U.S. In the meantime was doing nothing, the president brushing it off as nothing. It kept spreading. Philippines, India, Nepal, UK, Russia, Spain, Sweden. February 1st 14,380 cases and over 300 deaths.

On Superbowl Sunday (Feb 2nd) – I had a tour with a couple off of a cruise ship. I was already feeling hesitant about cruise ship passengers – because cruise ships are notorious for norovirus and as virus incubators. Still, I took them to the North Shore where they sat on Sunset Beach and enjoyed the day. While they sat there, I had a conversation with a woman named Sally in the next car over – we were both watching the big waves from our cars. She was coughing – I joked – “Did you just come from China?” To my surprise she said yes. She and a friend had just come from a tai-chi retreat in Wuhan province and he was back at the hotel sick – she had come out to see the waves but was heading back to the Turtle Bay Resort and they were going to watch the Superbowl in the bar there…

I’m incredibly grateful that we didn’t get out of our cars or shake hands!

At this point, I knew that things were serious. I asked the app developer I work with to put aside all projects and build me a coronavirus app that showed where cases were, number of deaths, and the spread. I told him to build it fast. He told me he could have it ready in three days.

This was the day that the first death outside of China took place. A 44 year old man in the Philippines. Travel bans began and donations began to go to China where millions of people were under quarantine. 17,386 cases and 362 deaths at this point.

China was building hospitals in days and various anti-viral medications began to be tried. In early February stories began appearing on the mainstream media in the US though no one outside of the Gates Foundation, medical personnel, or geeks like me seemed to be taking things very seriously. February 5th was when 10 passengers on a cruise ship in Japan were identified as infected. 28000 cases and 565 deaths.

My developer told me the app would be late – February 7th. On February 7th – he said it was delayed further. That day an article came out from some guys who built an app that launched that day and had 3 million users. They beat me to the punch, but I should have been two days earlier if my developer had done what he said he would. Who knows, maybe he built it for them instead. In any event, this should have been a bit of foresight that earned my family millions – but my mistake was trusting someone else to do it. No matter how you look at it – he royally fucked me, but given that hundreds of people were already dying – I tried to keep it in perspective.

February 7th the WHO announces that there is a severe global disruption taking place. Cases on the cruise ship explode upwards. Two days later deaths exceed the SARS epidemic from 2002-3. Over 800 dead.

I started thinking I might have to cancel my trip to Australia – but with only a few cases there and a few in the USA and none in Hawaii – I figured I was probably okay but I had a number of things to make sure were done before I left – health insurance, deferring my student loans, getting taxes done, paying the rent, getting the registration and safety inspection on my car up to date…I didn’t have time to agonize over my missed opportunity with the app – actually, I give myself credit for seeing it – and have mixed feelings about profiting from it – so maybe I got missed by a bullet there. On February 11ththe death toll passed 1000 and the virus was named COVID-19.

On Valentines Day, I took my wife and daughter on a whale watching cruise. Cruise ships were already a big problem in my mind, but this was on a smaller ship – still, I couldn’t stop looking at the other passengers to see if they were coughing or sweaty. Feb 16th, an American woman on another cruise ship tests positive.

At this point, it was already global and obviously going to be a big problem so I made sure that my friend would take care of my wife and daughter if I were stranded in Australia because flights were cancelled. He thought I was being paranoid to even think it a possibility.

On February 20th – Iran and South Korea announced that they were seeing spikes. On Feb 23rd it becomes a big problem in South Korea with over 340 cases. Italy begins to see a spike. On February 24th, the day before I flew out – I heard the first use of the word Pandemic – the WHO Director General warned that the world needed to get ready for a potential pandemic. US President Trump suggested that it was all a hoax.

I was in Australia for ten days during which Hawaii reported no cases and Australia’s cases grew from 8 to 12. In Tasmania, I was struck by the abundance of caution in airports and on a brewery tour where they said that anyone who had been to China, Japan, Iran, Italy, or South Korea would not be able to go on the tour. I watched and hoped that my flight back to Hawaii would not be cancelled. COVID-19 began to spread much faster outside of China than in it. Travel bans began cropping up. The US still was playing a game of poo-pooing the seriousness while the world began to take notice. Toilet paper shelves were stripped naked in Australia in the days before I left. I found it bizarre, especially since Aussies are much less prone to panic than Americans. I suggested to my wife on March 1st that she go buy toilet paper, bottled water, and some shelf stable food. She thought I was being a bit silly, to be honest, so did I.

I flew back to the USA on March 5th.On the very empty Quantas flight, I watched Mr. Rogers with Tom Hanks and thought to myself how he was the most iconic of baby boomers and how the shit would hit the fan if he contracted the disease. I have no way to prove it – but it’s true. As Forrest Gump, he pretty much represents the way every baby boomer thinks of themselves – as Vietnam Vets an protesting hippies both.

By that time, the US had started to take notice. The US Congress had approvedan emergency spending package. It wasn’t much, but it was something. March 7th, the number of COVID-19 cases passed 100k. It was pretty much everywhere by this time – over 100 countries had reported cases which meant it was probably everywhere. The U.S. Hadn’t even begun testing yet.

In Tasmania and Australia I had been rigourously tested and screened before my flights. Arriving in Hawaii, no one even bothered to ask if I had been to any hard-hit virus areas. No thermal scanning. Nothing. I was surprised to see that cruise ships and tourists were still operating.

On March 11th, the WHO finally declared COVID-19 a pandemic. President Trump continued to claim it was under control even as Seattle, the SF Bay Area, and New York began to to see a huge increase in cases. By this point – which seems a year ago but was less than a week ago – there were a couple of traveller cases reported here in Hawaii.

On March 12th – Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were diagnosed with COVID-19. I started having dreams that I was actually in some sort of artificial reality. I find it difficult to believe that I am not. The world has flipped on it’s head. I had one dream where I was told that I was in a coma and needed to wake up if I wanted to live. I saw similar social media posts.

In 2005, my girlfriend (a brilliant epidemiologist!) and I went to Burning Man – when we came out, we learned that Hurricane Katrina had happened. It was surreal. It was nothing compared to this reality.

I suppose I must summarize the past five days – The U.S. Cancelled flights to and from Europe, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York went into lockdown, and the state of Hawaii slowly moved to stem the tide of possibly infected tourists. Schools have been closed. A friend (also a tour guide) took a group of people from an infected  ship on a six hour tour – no word if he has it yet. My wife and daughter were going to go visit friends in Oregon on Spring Break but we cancelled the trip. I am so grateful we did. Spring break has been extended one week and then two weeks and probably will be more. All of us are being told to shelter in place and exercise social distancing. School has been cancelled in California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii – and probably everywhere else in the USA. Every hour there are new developments in the past two days we’ve gone from 1 case in Hawaii to three to eight to sixteen to twenty-six. And we’ve barely begun to test people.

The US and Hawaii governments seem to have finally woken up to the nightmare unfolding. Hawaii resisted shutting down tourism since we rely on it – but it is foolish to keep letting irresponsible vectors come here to enjoy paradise and bring the seeds of destruction with them. Wiser heads seem to be prevailing. Shut down the airports, put arrivals in quarantine, shut the hotels and restaurants, stop the fucking madness.

As for me, I have what I think is the flu. My wife has it. My daughter has it I think it is flu. Our noses are running. We don’t have fevers. We are all tired and grumpy. We have mostly been inside our little apartment together for almost a week.

I’ve bought a reasonable amount of food (but no toilet paper- yet) and my wife has slowly fallen into a depression that I am becoming fearful of. She’s a teacher, so her work has been stolen from her by this virus. All of my guide work has also been taken away, but I don’t really mind. The stock market has only begun to crash losing 33% so far, but I suspect it will go much further down. Still, I’ve been surprised by the resilience and recovery of hated capitalism before – so I keep buying quality stocks as the price goes down.

The truth is, I don’t know if any of us will survive what is happening. This may just be the end of us all. Or, maybe it’s the end of the world as we know it. I hope so.

I feel like this is a last ditch effort by our planet, Mother Nature, to get us to stop. It’s funny, but while we are freaking out about toilet paper, the air and water are clearing. Dolphins are re-appearing in Venice, Italy. People in Beijing can see the stars at night because the pollution that blocked them is gone. I have always felt like it’s ridiculous to think that my collection of cells and systems has consciousness but OUR entire collective collection of cells and systems does not. Our planet almost certainly has a consciousness – and if you think it does not – well, I urge you to rethink that. Why wouldn’t it? We are a part of that consciousness.

I may die in the coming days. You may die in the coming days. It is my hope that my daughter won’t die in the coming days and thus far – I can only express gratitude to whatever powers may exist that this disease is largely sparing children.

I love my child. I don’t want to see her grow up in the disgustingly ugly, dog-eat-dog, god-eat-god, capitalist monstrosity that has emerged from our collective history. I want to see us change the way we do things. I want to see us begin to take care of each other, take care of our planet, and take care of all the other inhabitants on it. If COVID-19 is what it takes to make that happen, I’m happy to welcome it, but I fear it may just make things worse – it may just bring out the worst in us.

But of course, it’s easy for me to say that. All I’ve lost from this is work that I didn’t particularly enjoy and money that I’ve never felt particularly in love with. It is so early – and there is no telling what I will think tomorrow.

Day Trip from Sydney, Australia – The Blue Mountains on a Rainy Day

cassarowy bird Australia This was the only organized tour I did – and I made sure that it was an active tour so I wouldn’t be trapped in a bus with the cruise ship / baby boomer crowd.

The tour was good – our guide, Gaz was a cool guy and had a good tour with equal parts beauty, history, culture, and message – but the downside (just for the tour, not for Australia) was that it rained all day and the fog obstructed most of the views. Our stop at the wildlife refuge was interesting but wet and most of the animals were huddling away from the rain. There were some nice waterfalls and some great views of cloud filled valleys below us (but obstructed) along with lots of information about aboriginal culture and a lot of wet hiking Lots and lots of steps, muddy trails, and elevation ascent and descent.

It was about 8 miles total with the equivalent of about 65 floors climbed. So, elevation wise it was a better workout than I’ve been getting but not quite as much as I’ve been averaging in terms of distance.

I’m glad it rained – it put out the last of the bush fires – but if you can avoid doing this particular trip in the rain and fog – it’s probably better.

Tasmania – Part 2 – Cradle Mountain, Tasmanian Honey, Beauty Point

Tasmania AustraliaMy initial thought on Tasmania and Australia since I have just a short amount of time here was to walk as much as possible and stick pretty close to where I was staying – my explorations would be as far as walking would carry me.

The only problem with that method was that Launceston isn’t that big of a place and I’d already walked the riverfront, walked the Gorge, explored the museums, gone on a brewery tour, and generally seen what I wanted to see. There were attractions I didn’t hit – like a pretty cool looking amusement park called Penny Royal which seemed like a sort of zipline pirates adventure park, there were wine tours and wine cruises on the river, there were monkeys in enclosures in the park – but none of that really hit me where I wanted. My flight didn’t leave from the Launceston airport until 8pm which meant that I had a full day of exploration and I had to arrange getting to the airport. Just about every tour/experience was in the 80-90 Aussie dollar range. It would cost me $15 to get to the airport.

Tasmania AustraliaI knew I should rent a car – but I’ll be honest, I was terrified of driving on the other side of the car and the other side of the road – but finally, I realized it was the most fun, coolest, most exciting, and least expensive way to spend my day. A full day car rental cost me $74, I bought lunch at a grocery store for $5, and filling up the tank at the end cost me another $30.

Getting in the car and driving was akin to the time I went skydiving  or my first bungee jump – a total sense of panic. Within a minute I had made a tight right turn into the oncoming lane – which was mostly empty with a distant police car coming at me – I changed lanes and he gave me a wave. It wasn’t as hard as I had feared, but odd – the oddest part being that the turn signals were where the wipers usually are and vice versa – so every time I signaled, I turned on the wipers.

Tasmanian VagobondI did a lot of driving. I drove to Mole Creek and the Tasmanian devil wildlife sanctuary there – I spent another $30 AUD to meet the devils, scratch a wombat, and feed and get nuzzled by a kangaroo – they are so soft!

Next I went to a honey farm with a glass beehive where the queen died because of the climate change and fires this year. Still, the honey was amazing and the ice cream delicious. I drove the long, treacherous and windy road to Cradle Mountain – and when I got there realized I didn’t really want to go for a hike, so I drove back down. I made my way to Devonport where I sat by the beach and then drove to Beauty Point where I had a little picnic and called my family. Tazzies and Aussies know how to make bread, by the way, the rolls and loafs are crusty and perfect. I had a little cheese, a roll, some Vegemite, and ginger beer.

Tasmania AustraliaAnd that was about all the time I had – I drove back up the Esk River to Launceston and thence to Launceston Airport which has one of the more beautiful and affordable airport restaurants I’ve been in. I had a Wizard Smith’s Beer (James Boag) and a Tasmanian sampler plate with smoked salmon, blue cheese, brie, pickles, and a jelly I can’t remember…

After that I boarded the plane where I was sandwiched between a husband and wife – she likes the window and he likes the aisle – and I was between them as he helped her get Netflix on her tablet etc, but they barely talked to each other and were quite nice.

Cradle Mountain, TasmaniaAfter my day of driving around, I was able to confirm my suspicion that Northern Tasmania (and possibly all of Taz) is the Australian version of Oregon. Great rivers, farms, logging, sheep, cows, farming, mining, great beer, honey, and more. I was just glad that I didn’t see any chainsaw carved statues of Donald Trump during my day.

If I were to compare Launceston to any city it would probably be either to Coos Bay. I’m guessing that Hobart would be more like Astoria or a smaller version of Portland.

Launceston, Tasmania, Australia – Part 1

Launceston, Tasmania, AustraliaJetstar, which is the airline I’ve been using to get around Australia runs these cheap Friday Fare Frenzy sales – you have to be able to match the times they offer for, but my trip to Tasmania only cost me $39 Australian – and I had two nights in a different Pod Inn booked in the town of Launceston. My seat mate on the plane provided me with plenty of recommendations of what to see and do while I was there.

One of the key things he let me know was that everything closes at 3pm in Launceston on a Sunday. After catching a hotel shuttle from the airport, I confirmed this. It felt like a ghost town. The Pod Inn in Launceston was an upgrade from the Space Q pods in Sydney, but I think I will avoid pods in the future none the less – I’ll write about that in my ‘Aussie Pod Review’ though.

In any event, my arrival in Launceston was easy – although there was a Launceston, Tasmania, Australiamoment of panic when just after I filled up my water bottle in the airport, the flight attendants came around weighing bags – I abandoned my water bottle for a bit and came in under the 7 kg after putting on my coat and putting everything heavy into my pockets like chargers licorice, and spare battery.

The weather was cold-ish upon arrival. My walk around the town showed me plenty of empty streets and with the weather grey, a sort of depressing but pretty town with everything closed and no one out of doors. I went back to the pod and went to bed – more than 15 miles walked and feeling a little bit tired.

Launceston, Tasmania, AustraliaThe next day, I woke up to grey and a light rain – I hiked a loop up the streets and through neighborhoods and then to the beautiful Cascade Gorge where I saw my first wild wallaby and a whole bunch of pademelons – and maybe a wombat, but I’m not sure of that one. The sun came out and the day turned glorious. My hike down through the gorge was beautiful. Next a walk along the riverfront and then a trip to the Victoria Art Museum – which was free and very cool. Next a walk through town and a cheap sandwich.

Launceston, Tasmania, AustraliaTrying to figure out what to do with my day, I stopped in the tourist info spot and the very nice hostess suggested I go to the James Boag Brewery Tour. It was a good idea. The tour didn’t start until 3pm so I had some time to kill so I went to the other Queen Victoria museum where I was surprised to find a lot of dinosaur skeletons as well as one of only a few stuffed Tasmanian tigers and a very descriptive display about the loss of the Tasmanian tiger.

Jame Boag & Son The brewery tour was a sort of typical such thing with mostly boomer age Aussies. We walked through the brewery and then drank a few very nice beers accompanied by some very nice Tasmanian cheeses. After this, I was hungry and not feeling cheap due to the alcohol so I decided I would take myself out for a nice seafood meal. I found a beautiful hipster restaurant called Cataract on Paterson which sounds like a medical problem in American English but in Australian means more of a cascade. I had a Waldorf salad and a whole Australian Snapper in a spicy Asian sauce – which came with another salad that I will eat for breakfast tomorrow. Delicious meal – grand total $63 AUS – which seems pretty reasonable for a nice seafood dinner with a beer (about $43 US)

I was curious about the fish and googled it and found the following – according to wikipedia, it isn’t a member of the snapper family at all. One thing for sure – this was one delicious fish!

Australasian snapper (Pagrus auratus) or silver seabream, is a species of porgie found in coastal waters of Australia.

My friend Gaye had told me there was a casino here and I was surprised to realize I didn’t have much interest. I used to love gambling – but I seem to have lost my taste for it. Just to make sure I popped into a game room and played $5 AUD until I lost it – I just really didn’t have much desire to do it. Which is pretty cool, actually – but surprising that something like that could change.

Launceston, Tasmania, AustraliaLaunceston is a nice place when the sun is shining. Tazzies are a friendly people – although, perhaps like a lot of small American townspeople – they tend to be pretty chatty and seem willing to engage you in conversation until you break it off – no matter where you go – shop, restaurant, on the street, in a cafe. When I left the casino, I happened upon a group of Launceston poets doing an open mic reading. I was at the tail end of it, but it was cool – really gave me an insight into the inner nature of these folks.

Sydney, Australia Part 3

Glebe, Sydney, AustraliaI suppose my travel mantra has become ‘wake early and walk a lot.’ In some cases I’m strolling 16 miles per day – which means that I am seeing a lot that others are missing, not spending a lot, and generally feeling pretty good and seeing attractions, neighborhoods, and sites before most people wake up or get out of the house on their way to work!

Yesterday, my day in Sydney was a travel day, so I didn’t really expect to do or see much – but in Sydney, that’s a lot no matter what you do.

My first walk was across the Sydney Harbor Bridge – so, I left Chinatown and began moving towards the bridge. My wanders the day before had brought me to the other side of the Sydney Opera House and through the Botanical Gardens. Now I went into the neighborhood called ‘The Rocks’ – which is Sydney’s oldest. I wasn’t there to stroll the markets, have a meal, drink coffee, or have a beer though, I was there to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Sydney, AustraliaA walk up a hill and then three flights of old brick and stone stairs and I was on the causeway.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a heritage-listed steel through arch bridge across Sydney Harbour that carries rail, vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic between the Sydney central business district (CBD) and the North Shore. The view of the bridge, the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera House is widely regarded as an iconic image of Sydney, and of Australia itself. The bridge is nicknamed “The Coathanger” because of its arch-based design.
It is the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world and the tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 134 m (440 ft) from top to water level.[6] It was also the world’s widest long-span bridge, at 48.8 m (160 ft) wide, until construction of the new Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver was completed in 2012.

The views were magnificent. With my morning exercise done, I set out on my next task – Exploring a bit of The Rocks. There was a weekend street market where I bought licorice from a gentleman who has been making and selling licorice in Sydney for 40 years! Licorice is one of my favorite sweets and I thought Dutch Licorice was my favorite, but his blew the Dutch stuff out of the water. Another win for Australia!

In The Rocks, I browsed the bakeries until I found  the one that appealed to me and bought a sausage roll to go- then I went and sat on the rocks looking at the famed Circlular Quay and enjoyed my budget brekkie. It was nearly time to check out which meant it was nearly time for lunch so I figured getting a small gelato wasn’t going to do any harm – plus, it was starting to get hot.

I got back to my pod just in time to check out. Then I faced a dilemma – should I push the limits of airport check in time and try to see a little more or should I be my usual very early check-in guy. This time I threw caution to the winds – I checked out and grabbed my 7 kilo pack and set off for Circular Quay again. Once there I caught a ferry across Sydney Harbor to Luna Park – which is a magnificent art-deco themed amusement park. Sort of like the pier at Santa Cruz.

I was really pushing it but I caught the ferry back, caught a train to the airport, and actually made it on time. The only thing I missed was my usual sitting in the airport for three hours – which, to be honest, is usually time I enjoy and use well – but in this case, I was happy to have had a nice ferry trip and some site seeing instead.

 

Sydney, Australia Part 2 – Sydney Eye, Glebe, and LGBTQ Mardi Gras Sydney

Sydney, AustraliaMy flight from Melbourne was a little bit delayed but I got back just before sunset. It was nice that I had the capsule hotel waiting for me – and it was worth the roughly $30 to have had it the night I was in Melbourne.

I met a new friend, Sally from Waga Waga – a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and we joined forces to go to dinner in Chinatown. Like me, it was her first time staying in a capsule hotel and we both laughed about how strange it was. Dinner was great conversation and an okay meal of Chinese food and then back to our capsules for what turned out to be a not very comfortable night of sleep for me – someone in my capsule room had gotten cold and turned off the air conditioning by unplugging it – this person more or less was just thinking of themselves since the AC is shared by all. When I complained about the temperature in the morning the desk person complained about people unplugging it.

Anyway, up early for another 15000 step walk. As usual, I set off in a random direction with no plan. After a long time of wandering up and down byways, I ended up in what is now my favorite neighborhood anywhere – Glebe. Mellow, leafy, lots of cafes and restaurants – and lots of super yachts parked nearby in Blackwattle Bay.

I walked to the Fisherman’s Wharf, checked out the fish markets, then crossed a crazy pedestrian bridge to Darling Harbor before crossing a more tourist oriented bridge back to downtown where I went straight to the Sydney Eye tower and paid too much to go to the observation deck – it was cool, but even though it is the tallest building in Sydney – it’s like the 35th tallest in the world – so I’m not sure it was worth $29 to go up there and take a few photos – but I think I would have regretted not going – so, I suppose it was worth it.

Sydney, AustraliaMy old iPhone 6s is ready to be upgraded. The batteries die far too quickly and it is getting harder to charge. Since the battery was at 1%, I went back to the old capsule and plugged in for an hour or so to charge up. My plan for the rest of the day is to head down to the Rocks, maybe book a show at the Sydney Opera House for Tuesday night when I get back from Tasmania, and then head to the big LGBTQ Mardi Gras Parade. Everyone tells me it’s going to be an amazing parade and show – since I’m here, there is no way I’m going to miss it.

Tomorrow I fly out to Tazzy for a couple of days – then back here where I’ll most likely catch an opera house show, take a day trip to the Blue Mountains, and then head back to Honolulu. Time is going far too fast here.

Sydney Eye Just after I finished writing the above, a bizarre old American woman in her 70s walked into the common areas of the hostel and started tearing through her bags. She said she had been arrested after being falsely accused of stealing some Englishman’s Nike pants – and now she had to move to another accommodation. It was her who was being arrested when the police woke me up the other morning.I tried to ignore her. She went behind me and said loudly, “I’m going to dress up as a dominatrix and go to the parade, do you wanna be my dog?” I declined the offer. The she came over and began giving me a head massage – which I resisted but then said “Fuck it, this feels pretty good” She had been a masseuse at some point, and a slumlord landlord, and a Santa Clara train operator and now her kids had moved in with her so she was on her way around the world. She noticed an odd bump on my head that I noticed recently as well and said – “You might want to get the doctor to check that out – it could  be a tumor.”

Maybe it is, I hope not, but I will get it checked out.

I saved my work and went on my way.

Mardi Gras Sydney LGBTQThe Sydney LGBTQ Mardi Gras was a huge parade and party – without a doubt the biggest party I’ve ever been to. I bought a $10 stool to stand on and watched with a group around me that quickly became a sort of street family as we were all pushed and shoved by the massive crowds struggling to get from one point to another. There was a sweet couple of Persian girls, a bunch of binary locals, and a couple of middle aged gay dudes in our ‘fam’ and it was cool how we all took care to watch out for one another. Crowds like that, not my favorite. It was my first time at a Gay Pride event and I have to admit, LGBTQ people know how to have fun and enjoy life much more than most people. I’m glad that our world is changing and becoming more acceptable of people being and loving whomever they choose. It was inspiring to see the surviving marchers from the first parade in Sydney back in 1978 – they were met by police back then, beaten, and arrested. Today, the Sydney police had a section in the parade as well – there were gay and lesbian cops, footballers, rugby players, firefighters, and lots of unicorns, rainbows, fairies, and leather/bondage men as well. I don’t know what percentage of the tens of thousands in the crowd were LGBTQ, my guess is that most of them were not, but it was amazing to see the support, the spirit of fun, and the camaraderie of the event. I feel very fortunate to have been here during this event. It must be interesting to be coming of age during this time of greater acceptance – when I was in my teens and twenties there Mardi Gras Sydney LGBTQ was no acceptance, in fact, a person coming out was more likely to be beaten or fired or mocked or even killed for their sexual or gender identity choices if they didn’t conform to the binary ‘norm’. Then being in the hyper-macho Marine Corps during the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ period – there were no gay people around me. I’m sure some of my friends and colleagues must have been queer through the years, but I was never aware of it because it was a hazardous time for anyone brave enough to come out. Add to that the stigma of AIDS/HIV in the 80s and 90s and it’s no surprise that the first gay men or lesbian women I met were after I got out of the Marine Corps. I worked as a waiter and bartender at a hotel bar in Raleigh, North Carolina that was notorious for queer clientele – and a strange cross category – conservative southern politicians. This was where I made my first gay friends, but I never let them become close friends because 20+ years of anti-gay indoctrination had made me Mardi Gras Sydney LGBTQ
prejudiced and scared. I look back now and I realize how terribly brave they all were and recognize how much I lost by not having them in my life. By the time I left that job, I was somewhat comfortable with gay culture but I still recognize that there is some part of me that retains those old learned fears – which is so silly. Last night was a great step towards actually getting over it.

I didn’t party the night away like many did – once the walkway was navigable, I walked back to Chinatown, grabbed a beer in Charlie Chan’s Bar, watched the fascinating crowds, and then made my way back to my pod.

Melbourne, Australia – Ned Kelly’s Armor and 15,000 Steps

Melbourne, AustraliaI’m loving these many miles of walking early each morning. The neighborhood we live in, in Hawaii isn’t a great walking neighborhood. It’s surrounded by freeways and military bases as well as military housing so there isn’t anything in the way of interesting people watching, architecture, or even natural beauty around us.

Melbourne, on the other hand, this city is made for walking. I walked along the river and through the narrow alleyways and shop corridors of Little Collins – I found a closet that had been turned into a cafe and an alley that was turned into a micro-gallery.

I walked through Chinatown and through several shopping malls that ran between streets. I walked through the gardens, around the Melbourne Museum and along the streets with great delight. Melbourne has a busy cafe culture and I’m amazed that every other city doesn’t. Why is this so hard? In America we are forced to drink burnt Starbucks in paper cups and no one has a chance to sit down – but the same space we use for two parking stalls in the USA is used for two cafes and seating for fifty.

I went into the beautiful Victoria Library and saw the bullet ridden armor of Ned Kelly.

Ned Kelly (December 1854 – 11 November 1880) was an Australian bushranger, outlaw, gang leader and convicted police murderer. One of the last bushrangers, and by far the most famous, he is best known for wearing a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with the police.

I was led to it by a beautiful Sri Lankan librarian who greeted me when I walked in, asked what I was there for, and then offered to walk me to it. Australia is far more multi-cultural than the USA, both Melbourne and Sydney are even more multi-cultural than Hawaii or San Francisco. I know there are problems here, just as there are in every country – but I freely admit that Australians do life better than Americans do. If we lived in a world where you could simply pack up and go where you want regardless of visas, working permits, or nationality – I feel fairly certain that I would pack my family up and bring us here. Alas, nation states don’t allow humans to move so freely, it’s a wonder they don’t make birds get passports.

Ned Kelly's ArmorI took the free trolley tour around the city – it was crowded with tourists, most of whom seemed to have come off of cruise ships – in any event, they were remarkably like the tourists we have in Hawaii who come off of cruise ships. Several of them complained about the crowd on the bus – I reminded them it was free with a laugh and said “You really do get what you pay for”. One older woman turned to me and said “Have you been to the jail here?” I was a bit taken aback – she saw the surprise on my face and clarified ‘The Old Melbourne Gaol’ – I laughed and admitted that I had not been there. I knew I looked a bit rough in my black t-shirt and two days of beard growth, but I hadn’t expected that.

My friend Gaye let me know that she was driving out towards Avalon Airport (which is about an hour outside of Melbourne) and offered me a ride with she and her friend Pete. This was a way better option than catching the Skybus again and having to ride it for an hour and a half. I’m one of those people who likes to be three hours early though.

I took the free tram down to South Melbourne where Gaye suggested I grab some quick Turkish food from the market there. Again, Australians do things better than we do in the states. The market wasn’t dirty old food trucks, it was great fresh food. Gaye suggested we grab a pint at the pub before we left. I liked the idea, but it made me nervous because I’m one of those people that likes to be very early for flights.

Melbourne, AustraliaWhen Pete mentioned there was some traffic – I suggested we skip getting the beer Gaye had suggested – which, in hindsight was a mistake – but to be fair, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it because I would have been sitting there thinking that I was going to be late – so skipping it was the right move after all.

The traffic was light and so I find myself here at Avalon with nearly three hours before my flight. The check in took about a minute and though there is an earlier flight, the agent told me it would be $50 to change my fare to the earlier flight – frankly I can use the time here to use the internet and catch up on my planning…

Also, my bag was definitely weighed this time so I’m glad I kept it under 7 kilos. The first internal flight where they didn’t weigh the bag may have just been an anomoly.

 

Melbourne, Australia – First Impressions and a Tiki-Bar!

Melbourne, AustraliaI flew from Sydney into Melbourne, Avalon – which is about an hour outside of Melbourne. I didn’t know that. In any event, I took the SkyBus for $23 AUD and made my way into the city. Melbourne has an impressive skyline. That was the first thing that struck me.

The next thing that struck me was the amount of graffiti – and not just the amount, but the size of the tags. Guys here are tagging their tag with 20 foot tall letters. The tags were everywhere on the drive in but as I got closer to the center, it started to feel much more like the wealthy urban capital that it is.

The next thing that struck me was that it was significantly cooler than Sydney – and by cooler, I mean that I was cold. I’m from Hawaii which can sometimes feel too hot – Sydney in February felt perfect to me, but Melbourne feels a bit chilly.Melbourne, Australia

There was free wifi on the Skybus, so I found the best deal available on Priceline for that night – this is my trip hotel splurge night – Sheraton Melbourne. In hindsight, I think I could have done better with something a little more boutique-ish but the big soft bed, duvet, feather pillows and odd clear glass wall between the bed and bathtub feel pretty good. The drunk guys yelling in the alley outside – not so much but eventually they wandered to another alleyway.

I holed up in the room for a few hours, recharged my phone and laptop – connected with my wife and daughter back in Hawaii and did a little bit of reading up on where I am, where I’m going, and what I should consider doing – not much mind you, but a bit. I’d picked up a tourist guide at the airport.

Aussie tourist guides are much better than most places – in particular Hawaii’s tourist guides and magazines are really heavy on ads and throw in some information to keep you looking. The Aussie guides I picked up on Sydney and Melbourne didn’t feel like ad books at all. The ads were more subtle and the information was heavy.

MelbourneI resisted the temptations of the mini-bar, knowing that anything from there was at least double the price of the same items at the 7-11 down the road. I’d arranged to meet up with my dear friend Gaye. She had given me the opportunity to work at and manage her beautiful hotel in Istanbul, back in 2011. Gaye is a Melbourne native but loved Turkey and stayed there for as long as she could after the chaos of the Syrian civil war and the subsequent destruction of the Turkish tourist economy. I was pleased as punch to be able to meet up with her. We set a time and since I had a few hours, I decided to wander around the neighborhood, maybe pick up a cheap sweater, and see what I could see.

Melbourne has some beautiful old architecture – both religious and civic. Very nice green spaces and my quest for a shop to buy a cheap sweater led me to exactly where I wouldn’t find what I was looking for – the Rodeo Drive of Melbourne – nothing but Fendi, Gucci, Feragamo – I finally found a cheap clothing shop and was debating a red cardigan that said Los Bandileros on the back of it, when Gaye called and saved me – she had turned up a bit early. We agreed to meet at the Victoria Hotel on Little Collins Street that was right between our locations – I got there first and while I was standing there, I noticed that right across the Lu Wowstreet was a tiki-bar.

LuWow
Decked out in true Tiki style, LuWow offers an amazing adventure through the islands of the Pacific. You can sit back in individual huts and take in the exotic atmosphere.
62-70 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9417 5447
www.theluwow.com

It turns out there are quite a few tiki-bars in Melbourne!

There has never been a Hawaii that was like tiki-bar culture, but if I’m honest, it was probably tiki-bar culture that got me to Hawaii in the first place. One of my favorite bars in the world is the last surviving tiki-bar in Hawaii, La Mariana – so, there was no way I was going to miss this. Gaye, it turned out, has never been to Hawaii, had never been in a tiki-bar, and had never had a mai-tai – she hadn’t even known this bar existed! It was the universe speaking – I’d wanted to bring her something from Hawaii but due to my light baggage restriction – hadn’t, so instead I was able to introduce her to tiki-bar culture, the mai-tai, and all that is connected. LuWow is an excellent tiki-bar.

After the mai-tai, Gaye introduced me to just a wonderful taste of what Melbourne has to offer. We caught the free tram down to the river walk, shared some seafood and sliders in one of the waterside restaurants, and then walked up the river to see some of the major sporting areas. Watching the river boats slowly cruising up and down the river, I was reminded of the Seine.

Gaye showed me where she had watched the Beatles play on a balcony at Melbourne City Hall back in the early 60s – and oddly, at that moment, a street performer began a very good rendition of ‘Come Together’.

Melbourne is a beautiful city. We didn’t make it a late night but the night time culture here truly shines. Walking back to my hotel, I passed a small dive bar that had amazing jazz coming out of it – I was tempted, but three drinks in an evening was enough -which never would have been the case a decade ago.

Back to my room where I was asleep in my big kingsize bed before 10pm. As usual, I woke up around 5 am, made some coffee and knowing that this would be my last opportunity for who knows how long – I drew a big hot bath and soaked for an hour before donning my fancy Sheraton robe and taking a bit of time to write this. What a way to start the day!

Arriving in Sydney, Australia – My New Favorite City

Sydney Harbor BridgeI used to tell people that my ideal city was if you could take Vancouver, British Columbia and combine it with Quebec City – then put it in Hawaii. That’s pretty much what Sydney, Australia is. I can’t believe no one ever told me.

I’ve only spent less than 24 hours in Sydney so far – but I love it. It has everything – ferries, boats, skyscrapers, surfing, beaches, museums, big green parks and botanical gardens, and every type of restaurant you can imagine. In many ways, it feels more like an Asian City than a European or North American one – which makes sense, but it feels clean, safe, fun, technologically advanced, and easy to get around. Everyone speaks English (obviously) and even though I changed money, I could easily have just used my credit cards and Apple Pay for everything. Okay, I didn’t actually physically change money, I just used an ATM to withdraw some cash in Aussie dollars.

Wise Monkey Pub SydneyCustoms was a breeze. I caught the train to the city and walked to my hotel. Okay, I’ve said before that I was doing this trip on the cheap – the thing is, I’m 48 years old and hostels aren’t as fun as they were when I was in my twenties – so I didn’t want to do that. Plus, they were more expensive than I remembered – so I was looking at options and I found something cheaper – and it was something I’ve wanted to experience for a long time – capsule hotels. I thought I would have to go to Japan to experience capsule hotels (when I was in Japan, I stayed in hotels because money wasn’t so tight at that point).

On this trip I’m in Sydney, then to Melbourne for a day, then back to Sydney for three days, then to Launceston in Tasmania for a couple of days, and back to Sydney for a couple more days. With the exception of Melbourne – I booked my whole trip in capsules. I’ll review capsule hotels later – for now suffice to say they were a super cheap way to make sure I had a private bed, a bathroom, and a place to stash my gear if I needed. Total expenditure for capsules was less than $250 for ten days.

Anzac MemorialIt was evening when I arrived and the train was mostly underground until just before my stop at Central Station. I grabbed a kebab (because you can’t get a good kebab in Hawaii) and walked around Sydney in the dark – went to Chinatown, wandered some streets, and saw that I was staying in the district that could easily be called the massage district. Thai massage, Japanese massage, etc. It was incredibly windy and the temperature was perfect. I didn’t get hit by any cars or trams – but the other side of the road is hard to get used to.  After a 10-hour flight and days without sleep, I wasn’t up for getting a meal, going out, or anything else – so I crawled in my capsule and went to sleep.

I woke at 5am fully refreshed and decided to take a walk through Sydney before I went to the airport to catch my flight to Melbourne – a 10:40am flight.  I wanted to see the Sydney Opera House and as usual, instead of looking at maps or reading a guidebook, or checking the distance – I just set off on a wander and figured I would go in the right direction. I grabbed a lovely cappuccino from a Georgy Boy’s, a local  chain, and set off walking.

Somehow, I managed to wander to the Anzac Memorial, Hyde Park, the Botanical Gardens, and after about an hour was at the Sydney Opera House looking at the Sydney Harbor Bridge and marveling at how much bigger things are in real life (except the Mona Lisa and the Sphinx) than they look in pictures. The skyscrapers, the towers, the colonial buildings, churches and more. Australia isn’t an old civilization – but there are areas in Sydney that certainly have some history.

It was amazing to walk back to my capsule and be among the amazingly good looking people in dresses and suits on their way to work. It sort of felt like maybe you aren’t allowed to live and work in Sydney unless you are very good looking – but of course, that can’t be true – but none the less – I was struck by the fashion and fitness of the majority of the people I passed and walked with.

I was back at the capsule by 8am, had a quick shower, grabbed the train to the airport and was ready for American style department of homeland security – nope. This was a domestic flight and in Australia – that means that I checked in online, got texted my boarding pass, walked through security without having to show it or my ID to anyone, and went to the gate. The only question the X-ray people asked was “Do you have any aerosols?” to which I honestly replied nope.

With that, I drank a coffee and boarded the aircraft. Next stop, Melbourne, which I know nothing about except that my friend Gaye lives there.

Travel in the Time of Covid-19 – Vagobond in Australia – Back on the Road in 2020

It seems like the only times I really travel are when the world is in turmoil. September 11th, H1N1, Arab Spring, the Great Recession, and now – coronavirus. I don’t plan it that way, but it’s what happens. Also, for some strange reason, the world resists my attempts to see it – so there is always a bit of a personal struggle.

I’ve always wanted to come to Australia. It’s been a dream since I was a child. When I was in high school, I lost faith in the system I was in and my father motivated me by offering a trip to Australia if I got straight A’s. I was up to the challenge, but he, unfortunately, was not. It wasn’t the first nor the last disappointment I felt in my life – but it was certainly formative. I’m not sure why I waited this long to come here, maybe I was waiting for him to make good on his promise – but I think after 32 years, he’s unlikely to fulfill it. I sometimes joke that I am so sure that Australia will be the place I want to stay that I avoided going there so I could see everywhere else first. So far, it hasn’t disappointed, but unless the pandemic blossoms and flights are cut off – there is nothing besides death that would keep me from getting back to Hawaii because my wife and daughter are there.

I bought myself this trip in December when I saw an incredibly low fare from Honolulu to Sydney. My wife had work, my daughter had school, but there was nothing I needed to be doing in Hawaii – so I went for it. My mantra has been ultra-budget because this is a luxury – I’m not a rich person by any means – at least not in the sense of money.

I’ve been getting excited about this trip and knowing that I would be taking it has helped me through some minor depression and anxiety about life in general. One week before takeoff – I was munching on some macadamia nuts and suddenly felt what might be the most excruciating pain of my life. I cracked a tooth and for the next three nights didn’t sleep a wink but lay hunched up in a little ball of pain, hoping the pain would go away. I’m American and I don’t have dental insurance, I can’t afford it. It’s either after school care for my daughter so my wife and I can work, or dental insurance. This was too much to bear though – I went to the dentist and had an emergency procedure done that should have helped – it was $1000, but after a few more days, the pain was still there, though not as bad as it had been – now it only hurt when I ate or drank anything. A second trip to the dentist confirmed that I would need to see a specialist but that doctor wouldn’t be available for nearly two weeks – not until after I had returned from Australia – at least there was no reason to cancel my trip.

So with less money and chronic pain, I went to Honolulu International Airport which was a scary place to be with nearly every Asian person there (which seemed to be the majority) wearing coronavirus masks. The good news is that we don’t have any COVID-19 cases yet in Hawaii and Australia is also on the low end of things – but still, one can’t help wondering if one of those many people might be a carrier.

My budget flight (Less than $200 each way! Less than a trip to the USA) which was a JetStar flight – here’s a measure of how I travel without doing much in the way of research – I didn’t realize that I had to have a visa for Australia. Luckily for me, the flight was delayed and the very nice desk agent arranged my visa for me (a $70 value) and gave me a free meal voucher ($12) for the inconvenience of the delayed flight. She also, very kindly upgraded me to a window seat with an empty seat next to me which enabled me to sleep for a large part of the flight. Sleep that I desperately needed.

The flight was uneventful until just before landing. I had tooth pain, but in general, the meal before the flight carried me through and between reading and sleep, it passed without much event. As we got close to Sydney, the clouds looked like nothing I have ever seen before. I was struck by a dark cloud that looked like a devil and a light cloud that looked remarkably like an angel. As we made our final turn and descent into Sydney, we suddenly entered the dark cloud and hit turbulence like I’ve never felt before – the lights went on and off, the engines made some very strained sounds and the plane was thrown around like a toy. Some passengers screamed – I didn’t but in my head I said “I guess this is it. I’m not ready to die, but please look out for my little girl.” I’m not religious, but I guess I was praying to the universe. The plane shook again and then came out of the clouds. The small white cloud that looked like an angel was there. I said a mental thank you as we landed. For a moment there, I thought my time had come and it was a similar feeling to when they told us that nuclear missiles had been launched at Hawaii from North Korea a few years ago – I looked around at the people around me and thought “Huh, this is it.” A mixture of sadness and disappointment, but no regret.

Australian customs and security is much more civilized and easy than U.S. – I was through in a breeze with my 6.5kg of baggage (the free allowance) which consisted of a small backpack, a laptop, cords, phone, kindle, water bottle, toiletries, and a few changes of clothes.

Next post I’ll write about my first  impressions of Sydney.

Jazz in Paris – Paris Jazz Bars and One Swinging Town

There's no jazz like Paris JazzThe legend says jazz was born in the New Orleans at the end of the 19th century. Very fast, this new music expands to Europe, where many black American jazzmen decide to stay, because they are more recognized and accepted than in the US. Many of them stay in Paris after the war and will contribute to the success of Jazz in Paris from 1918 onwards. Music historians say that without Paris, jazz would not have known such a great success all over the world.

Asking a Frenchman what the best jazz bar in Paris is like asking him to find the best croissant in Paris: it’s impossible. Every jazz club has a certain flavor that makes it unique. Every club has its specialty and has a different characteristic. And there are so many jazz clubs in Paris that you can find every different flavor you want.

If you want to be in an little club that is not crowded with tourists and where you can discover young talents, then the Caveau des oubliettes is the place to be. It is one of the few jazz clubs in Paris to be free, and many celebrities like Keziah Jones enjoy spending the evening there, so maybe you’ll get lucky! And, if you do get lucky, it might be good if you’ve found your own jazz crashpad – there are plenty of Paris apartment rentals to choose from, so no reason to deal with the hotel scene.

 

There's no jazz like Paris JazzAnother one of my favorite bars is the Swan Bar. There, you can drink some delicious cocktails prepared by the lovely waitress Isla in the historic jazz district of Paris. The lineups are very different, there are a number of different “styles”, from great fusion jazz trios to gipsy music. The ambiance is also very friendly and the drinks are relatively cheap. A great place to finish the evening!

 

The Duc des Lombards has been one of the most popular clubs in Paris for 25 years. The atmosphere is quite intimate and many great jazz musicians come to play there, and contribute to its great success. Lots of free jazz on the lineups, it will bring you back straight to the 50’s.

 

There's no jazz like Paris JazzThe New Morning is considered to be the sanctuary of jazz in Paris. It is one of the largest jazz bars (up to 300 people can fit in) with great artists on the program all year long (Lucky Peterson Band, Pat Cohen Blues Band, Mo Rodgers, etc.). But before you go, make sure you have a ticket to avoid the queuing for hours.

 

If you are a real jazz addict and you want to come to Paris this summer, a great event is the Paris Jazz festival, which takes place in the Parc Floral. There are over 1500 seats available, but you will certainly enjoy this open air festival a lot more just sitting on the grass with some friends, a bottle of good wine and a picnic. The festival takes place every Saturday and Sunday at 3pm from mid-june until the end of July.

There's no jazz like Paris JazzThere is so much choice it becomes overwhelming and you can spend hours trying to decide which bar you want to go to and you generally end up walking all night from one bar to another.

To avoid this, you should try one of my personal favorites: the Balle Au Boat. It’s a boat/restaurant that is permanently moored alongside the “Ile Saint Louis” What better evening can you think of than listening to Jazz in Paris on a boat, sipping on a good glass of wine in good company? I can’t! However, the schedule is quite unpredictable and jazz nights are relatively rare but definitely worth it.

 

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