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.


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.


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.


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.

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

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.

Wuhan Virus and Your Travel Plans

I have to admit that this thing is starting to look pretty scary. The number of cases that have been reported in the past couple of days have grown from 7000-9000+. Delta and American airlines just shut down all of their flights to and from China. Wuhan Coronavirus has spread to India, Nepal, Dubai, and virtually every Asian country as well as France, Canada, Australia, and the USA. So far it has not spread to any country in Africa or Indonesia yet – but it’s really just a matter of time. If you are planning to travel internationally any time in the next few months – it is likely that this will affect your travel plans – if it hasn’t already.

We in Hawaii are further from everywhere than anywhere else in the world – but the entire world comes here – including multiple daily flights to and from China. The chances of Wuhan not being here – are probably lower than the chances of it being here. That’s a big worry – the Honolulu International Airport only started screening for the virus yesterday – and frankly, that’s too late. How many thousands of visitors have come and gone from our airport since this started? How many from China? From Wuhan?

And, in our airport, everyone from everywhere encounters everyone else from everywhere else.

But, let’s hope that I’m wrong about all of that. Let’s hope that they find a solution soon. Let’s hope that a vaccination and a cure are imminent.

Personally, I’ve got plans to go to Australia in late February. Given the rapid spread of this virus – I’m not sure what the situation will be like at that point. There are currently nine cases in Australia – in some of the cities I plan on going to. There is a possibility that the virus will grow over that amount of time. There is a possibility it will surface here. Flights to other places may be cancelled.

The thing with a pandemic is that it happens very fast – so we have to be ready for plans to change.

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