Thursday, November 8, 2012 Alice – Uluru

After a hearty breakfast on The Ghan train, arrived in Alice Springs. We picked up our luggage from the platform and boarded the coaches, Kangaroo I & II. Glenn Sweet is the tour manager for II and I am on I.

Mining is big here too: Uraninum, Zinc, and Gold. The demand bigger than the production. You can figure out the buyer and it is not the USA. Is this why we have a new Marine base in Darwin?

Long and mostly flat, mostly iron rich drive to Uluru. Our dirver, John, gave a running commentary of the history and culture here.

Photo:  Michael Grazi

The Big Red Rock. There she is! Very big, very red. Sacred to the Aboriginals and photographers. After a guided base walk we gathered at the magic hour for champagne toasts to the kaleidoscope of colors on the rock.

As the Sun set directly facing Uluru cameras cliock and click! Hors d’oeuvres and champagne gave a little romance to the tour. Wonderful fun.

Dinner back at the hotel and late stargazing looking for the Magellanic Clouds and the Southern Cross. Only in the Southern Hemisphere.

Waiting……..  Melita

Australia: The Great DreamTime Total Solar Eclipse

Australia:  Saturday, November 3, 2012                                       Darwin, Australia

Left LAX on Wednesday at 11:55pm and awoke 9 hours later on Friday, headed Down Under for the Great Dreamtime Total Eclipse. This time I am flying across the Pacific to Darwin, 19 hours; on November 14 will get up at 1:30am and cruise to the outer banks of the Great Barrier Reef to Green island to stand for two minutes of totality and watch that “lucky ole Moon” slide in front of the Sun.  I say: yes, yes, yes, let’s do it again!

DARWIN.  Mining town at the Top End of Australia where the booming economy comes from underground:  Gold, oil and gas, among other favored minerals.  The bounty of the north and west is turning these otherwise peaceful towns into something of a Wild West.  There are eight men to one woman and prices for hotels and food inflated over the rest of the country.

Darwin was rebulit after it took nine times as many bombs as Pearl Harbor in 1942 and the residents evacuated to Adelaide River.

The highly prized Aboriginal art is plentiful here and by today’s art market, adding millions to the economy.

Australia is a good example of the currency wars. Having watched, with trepidation since 2009, the AUD blisteringly escalate from .98 USD to $1.10 then slide back to $1.03 as it is today.  Economy booming and prices so high on goods and services, even the locals are challenged.  Australia’s outside customer is the force behind this escalation leaving the minders of Darwin and the West struggling to meet their demands.

Still Australia is worth the long flights and dog sniffers in quarantine to arrive in this exquisitely beautiful country where each bend in the road is another spectacular photo, the people reach out to warmly welcome you, and the only thing bigger than the eclipse is a horse race on Tuesday:  The Melbourne Cup and a horse named, It’s another Dundeel, is favored to win.

Melita from Darwin Australia

Wednesday, November 7, 2012                      The Ghan

For those who love the train, the Australian trains are some of the best.   We boarded The Ghan at the Darwin Station at 9:30am and headed for Alice Springs.  Our cabins are roomy with en suite shower and toilet.  We proceeded to the dining room at appointed time for a delicious lunch on tables set with white linen and fresh flowers.

In the afternoon we took the Whistle Stop at Katherine; most took the cruise through the gorge.  High rocky cliffs, some vegetation and rock art.

Back on board and a quick shower before drinks with friends and rack of lamb dinner with a good Australian wine, long conversations, then off to bed.

Left my blinds open on my large picture window for the sunrise to awaken me and was greeted at 3am with lightening and thunder.  Awesome to look out at the scene as we rumbled along.

After another bountiful breakfast, off at Alice Springs and headed to Uluru.  Looking forward to being back on the rails Saturday, November 17, from Perth riding the Indian Pacific.  This time for three nights as we cross the continent back to Sydney.

Melita from the Northern Territory, Australia

Faroe Islands & Iceland

Thursday,  September 27, 2012                                            Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland.  After the five hour flight from New York, we arrived at 6:30am and transferred into the city.  The Arnarhavoll Hotel is located in the harbor area across the street from the new, magnificent Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center.

This afternoon we ventured over to the largest, outside swimming pool in Reykjavik; water set at 85 degrees with the “hot pots” at 98 to 111 degrees.  Iceland’s clean nature requires a shower, sans swimming suit, prior to entering.  This is the only way to relax, shed jet lag on arrival and meet the locals.

Refreshed we walked over to the Asmundur Sveinsson’s (1893-1932) sculpture garden before continuing into town for dinner for Caruso’s rack of Icelandic lamb.  Delicious.

Friday, September 28, 2012     Faroe Islands

Off to the Faroe Islands today.  The air arrival is spectacular with a view of the wind-swept, green slopes dotted with free range sheep.  In Torshavn’s old town section, we find ourselves admiring the black-tarred houses with green turfed roofs in Torshavn.

The Faorese live close to nature and even closer to their food.  The green slopes and blue ocean provide its bounty.  Everyone here know or is a fisherman or farmer.  Most Faroese can dress a sheep carcass or filet a fish.  Needless to say, dining is a delicious affair wherever lamb or fish are served.  Everyone knows everyone here.  It can be compared to a small, country town, not unlike its beginning as a market town.  Still the Faroese Islands could be considered the last pristine bit of nature left unspoiled on our planet.

Saturday, September 29, 2012                                    Faroe Islands

Breakfast was a North Atlantic feast of salmon, herring, homemade yogurt and freshly baked breads.  The tables all offer a wide view of the harbor at Hotel Foroyar.  Today we were fitted by highly trained professionals for swimming  in the North Atlantic.  The thick, dry suits over our clothes covered us from head to feet.  We were driven to the harbor where we boarded a very fast, very small boat and cruised over crystal clear and a very cold Atlantic Ocean to Hestor Island.

At Hestor we slowed at a cave entrance and inched our way in between two high cliffs to the grotto entrance.  Continuing inside the grotto, we were given safety instructions and dove into the icy water.  Following the splash in front of us we swam a bit before seeing the light at the end.  Swimming on our backs was easier and the best part was seeing the vaulted, natural rock ceiling of the cave high above our heads.  As the waves were high when the water receded, the bright orange and gold seaweed below the waterline was beautiful.

As we swam out of the cave we joined together with feet under the arms of the one in front and continued back to our rescue boat.  Thrilling and safe being watched over by the highly trained experts from CoastZone.

If cave swimming isn’t enough for thrill seekers, one could either rapel down the cliff or step off into the sea.  The activities continued with body surfing onto the rocks and climbing to a higher plateau before jumping into the water.

The Wow Factor was our last activity:  helicopter rescue from the middle of the Atlantic, one at a time everyone was hoisted high into the helicopter via cable.  All very safe being watched over by the Faroese athletes.  A day long remembered.

Sunday, September 30, 2012                               Faroe Islands

Each morning the opened curtains revealed a view of the half moon harbor, fishing boats, and colorful houses, overlooked by green cliffs reaching the clouds.  Today we drove to six different islands, each scene more beautiful than the one before.  Tranquil sheep free to roam the steeped mountains, passing small villages with turf roof houses, and waterfalls one after the other.  A scene so peaceful it is unbelievably storybook.

Hard to leave this tranquility tomorrow but will return in 2015 for the total eclipse when thousands of eclipse chasers will crack this tranquility where crime is almost non-existent and a person’s handshake is his bond.

Monday, October 1, 2012                                                    Reykjavik, Iceland

Back in Iceland and an appetitie for some authentic Icelandic food.  Tonight off to Lakabrekka Restaurant in an 1834 timber house.  We were greeted by the new winner of Iceland’s top bar tender and Matre d’.  He promptly insisted on his winning Rose drink which began an evening of Icelandic merriment.  Icelandic tapas for starters before the favored Icelandic lobster for the main course.

The vaulting Church of Hallgrimur is atop the hill of Skolavordustigur.  It is the tallest building church and fourth tallest structure in Iceland.  From the tower you  can see all points of the city.  It has a 25-ton pipe organ.

Tuesday/Wednesday, October 2/3, 2012                           Reykjavik, Iceland

Meetings and speechs at the Harpa for two days from tourism representatives from Greenland, Faroe Islands and Iceland.  Last night we enjoyed an elegant reception at the Reykjavik Art Museum.

Wednesday Night’s Gala was at the upscale Broadway.  Ice sculptures and flashing lights throughout with elegant table settings for our delicious Icelandic lamb dinner.  Entertainment provided by recent contestants from Iceland Idol.  The dance floor rocked well into the morning.

Thursday, October 4, 2012                                                Reykjavik, Iceland

Early departure south through the moss covered lava fields of Reykanes Peninsula, sparkling under the sunshine.  A stop by the iconic Blue Lagoon for a hot soak in the mineral water always sends one homeward healthy, relaxed and looking forward to the next time in February and March 2013.

Melita Wade Thorpe

Australia: Back across the Pacific

AUSTRALIA – A Land with a Big Story
Back again across the blue Pacific to Cairns and Green Island then
north to Dundee country, Darwin. The flight was made sleep comfortable in Qantas’ s Premium Economy with fluffy blankets and strong pillows and a courteous staff offering dinner with a great wine list, snacks and plenty of water. Arriving early at LAX, was delighted that the Qantas Brisbane flight departed from American Airline’s Terminal. The Admiral’s Club was near the Qantas gate, which made waiting for a midnight flight a little easier.

December 3 – 4, 2011 – Cairns

Overnight at the historic Pacific International Hotel, Cairns, with its walls decorated with photos of era past. From WWII to gala occasions with movie stars. With the Pacific International GM we enjoyed a Brazilian inspired Australia style BBQ at the hote’s Bushfire Flame Grill. The final was a favored cinnamon pineapple and Churros.

Visited the popular Cairns Night Market: Aboriginal prints, beachwear, even massages for $15 AUD. Today the Sunday Market offers the same wares but has the fruit and vegetable stalls that bring the locals.

This afternoon will be crossing over the turquoise sea from Cairns to Green Island.