January - February 2020
  • Day14

    Handsome Hobart

    February 3 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    We had a long time available ashore today - from 8am till 11pm. Tasmania’s capital city, Hobart, lies nestled between the peak of Mount Wellington and the River Derwent. A city of only 220,000, it is an attractive place with a dark history - apparently 80% of Hobartians are descended from the convicts sent here in the 19th century. Many of the warehouses around the port and Salamanca / Battery Point area have been gentrified, and there is now an abundance of coffee shops, restaurants and boutique hotels.

    We decided to take a hop-on, hop-off bus again to get an overview. The temperature had dropped to a cool 15 degrees (when we have been used to 30-40), and I needed my zipper for the first time. We were reminded that Hobart has strong connections with Antarctica (‘Oh, please!’ as the Drowsy Chaperone would say).

    We visited the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and enjoyed a pleasant walk around. Hobart is an interesting place to visit and spend some more time in.

    As we will be at sea / cruising fjords for the next 3 days it is unlikely I will be able to post any updates. Please be patient and normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. 😘
    Read more

  • Day12

    Life aboard the Noordam

    February 1 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Settling nicely into our cruise ship - Holland America’s Noordam. It has had a recent makeover and looks fresh and very comfortable with all new carpets and furnishings. We have a nice stateroom on the Upper Verandah Deck, with a large balcony. The bathroom even has a small bath as well as a shower, although I don’t know if I would get out of it once in! We have bathrobes and Elemis toiletries which is nice. Given the number of sea days, we decided to buy the Green House Spa Package, featuring hot mosaic-tiled beds, thalassotherapy pool, steam rooms and sauna - lovely to relax in with views of the ocean.

    The entertainment is not as varied as Royal Caribbean, and the emphasis is on more classical tastes, with musicians performing on the intimate Lincoln Center Stage or in BB Kings Blues Club. The Duelling Pianos are also very popular. There are a number of Coffee and Chat sessions with the personable Cruise Director Chris (beep!). He delivered a very interesting audio-visual presentation on the history and development of the Holland America Line, including its role during the war transporting troops. Interesting to note that the line’s first ship - the Rotterdam - was built in 1872 in Renfrew! All very different from our usual fare, but very enjoyable. The first full show in the World Stage Theatre featured the singers and dancers in a tribute to Billboard hits, and was of a very high standard.

    The food so far has been outstanding. We have a lovely table for two in the dining room (how anti-social!), but usually go to the Lido buffet for breakfast - great variety including excellent omelettes.

    Our Captain’s welcome toast was a poignant occasion as the the officers and representatives of all departments came on stage to pay tribute to Captain John Scott in this his final voyage after 45 years before disembarking in his home city of Auckland. The Captain delivered a heartfelt speech. He finished by saying that, as we will have noticed, the first day at sea had been quite rocky, and we can all claim to have sailed through a hurricane - defined as 64 knots, when we had experienced 64.5 knots.

    All in all a very relaxing and pleasant start to the cruise. Just arrived in Hobart, Tasmania. The ship has docked within walking distance of the town so we are looking forward to exploring it - hopefully no Devils! 👿
    Read more

  • Day12

    So Long Sydney

    February 1 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    After checking out of our Sydney Hotel, we made our way to the Overseas Passenger Terminal where we caught sight of our home for the next two weeks - Holland America’s Noordam cruise ship. What a fantastic berth she had, nestling in between two iconic monuments - the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. We were able to drop our cases off, although it was only 9am, which left the rest of the morning free to explore a bit more of Sydney.

    Decided take one of the local ferries from the adjacent Circular Quay to Manly - Sydney’s other famous beach. It was a pleasant 30 minute sail through the lovely harbour area. Manly was named by Captain Arthur Phillip for the indigenous people living there, stating that "their confidence and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place". Campbell and I thought therefore we would fit in well.

    Although most of the passengers on the ferry were your typical families and teenagers heading to the beach to have fun, there was one rough and ready family whom Australians would definitely call ‘bogan’. Mother and daughter were both shoeless, bra-less and toothless and covered in tattoos. Mother in fact reminded me of Susie B’s character Shirley in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Strewth! The son looked as if he hadn’t had a shower in quite some time, and father had a huge cooler crate in tow. ‘We’re gonna have a barbie on the beach’ he announced with a huge grin that revealed he attended the same dentist. From a peek inside his crate there was enough food and drink to feed a small army.

    Manly Beach was similar to Bondi - with even bigger crashing waves, and I enjoyed my swim. We returned in time to board our ship just after 1pm. The check-in process was quite slow as everyone had been told to come at the same time, and was delayed further when it was announced that all non Australian passengers required a Visa to enter New Zealand. This was news to most of us Brits and Americans, and it seems this change just came in in October. An hour later and $47 each lighter we had our NZ Visas and headed on board.

    Initial impressions of the ship were very favourable - and although a bit older than some we have been on - it has recently been updated and was clean and comfortable with a friendly Steward. Enjoyed a lovely lunch on board in the shadow of the Opera House - amazing!

    And now time for sail away to Tasmania!
    Read more

  • Day11

    Capital Canberra

    January 31 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    Yet another 6am rise to catch the 07.12 train from Sydney Central to Canberra. We were going to visit my Aunt Jean and cousin Stuart who ironically only recently moved from Sydney to Canberra. Our 1st Class journey was pleasant enough, although not on a par with the wonderful Spirit of Queensland service. (Train nerd note: I noticed that the New South Wales trains run on the Standard Gauge Track of 4’6”, like the UK, as opposed to Queensland’s smaller 3’6” Gauge).

    The train passed through Campbelltown on the way, (but no sign of the Loch (or the whisky). Again there was only minimal sightings of bush fire damage on the 4 hour train trip, although generally everything looked hot and dried up, including some of the small rivers. The air conditioned carriage belied the fact that it was 41 degrees Celsius outside! No need for my sweater then today!

    We arrived bang on time in the nation’s capital city, Canberra, located in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory), separate from the rest of the State of New South Wales, just as Washington DC is a separate entity from other US States. Stuart and Aunt Jean met us at the station and it was good to see them again. Aunt Jean has recently turned 90 and is looking good.

    Stuart gave us a tour of Canberra - the planned capital city of what was the new Australian federation. The excellent visitor centre gave an overview of the planning of the city, and then we had a tour of the impressive Parliament Building. A trip up to Black Mountain Telstra Tower afforded wonderful views over the city and Lake Burley Griffin including, rather worryingly, a thick pall of smoke from bush fires just over the hills! We finished our tour with a trip to the National Arboretum, home to more than 44,000 trees from all over the world, including many endangered species.

    A visit back to Aunt Jean’s house for tea ended a lovely visit. Although Stuart offered to drive us back to Sydney (distance is no object here in Oz, he declared), we insisted on getting the train back as we had bought return tickets anyway. The 4 hour journey back was slightly delayed as the train was required to slow down due to excessive outside heat which was affecting the rails!

    We enjoyed an airline-style meal on the train back to Sydney. As we were eating, we heard a rather loud conversation from the elderly gentleman behind us, on the phone to his daughter: ‘Yes, I know honey that your new stepmother and I have been on another trip, and I can tell you here and now that there will be a lot more. What difference does age make? I’m not 80 yet and I know she still finds me attractive. I don’t care how much our trips cost, I’ll be damned if I am leaving anything for you to squander’. Still not sure if he was joking, but the call ended abruptly thereafter.
    Read more

  • Day10

    Stunning Sydney - Day 2

    January 30 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Our time clock still not fully adjusted, we were up again at 6am. Another lovely but hot day, we decided due to our limited time, to go on a Hop-on Hop-off city bus tour. The first part took us round the extensive Sydney city centre with its notable Victorian buildings - very British. In the afternoon we went to the famous Bondi Beach on the outskirts of the city. I had feared it might be a bit like Saltcoats with sunshine, but was impressed by the beautiful, spotlessly clean beach and crystal clear ocean. Excellent free changing areas and showers were provided, so I took advantage of a swim in the lovely waters. Had great fun splashing about in the crashing waves, ignoring the fact that I was a bit of a great white whale amongst all the svelte, tanned physiques. Ah, well it’s nice to be different.

    An over enthusiastic tour guide try to tempt a posh English lady with a trip to Tarunga Zoo - ‘you will see koala’ he promised. ‘I’ve seen plenty of koalas’ she replied dismissively. ‘What about Cockatoo Island?’ he persisted, ‘You can see a cockatoo’. ‘I’ve seen plenty of them too’ she retorted with a saucy laugh. It reminded us of the gag in ‘Allo, ‘Allo’.

    This being Campbell’s birthday, we changed and made our way to the Opera House. What a stunning building in such a fabulous location, with folk enjoying the harbour views from the surrounding walkway. A masterpiece of architecture, the Sydney Opera House is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We enjoyed a Prosecco and a tasty, but nouvelle-cuisine sized, pre performance meal inside, before enjoying a performance of La Bohème in the Joan Sutherland Theatre. We enjoyed the lovely singing and sweeping music, but didn’t really see the point of the 1930s Nazi setting. This beautiful 1500 seat theatre is just one of the performance venues at the Opera House, with the even bigger 2000 seat concert hall next door.

    After the opera, we enjoyed the walk back to Circular Quay admiring the illuminated Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Manhattan-like skyline. This time we did pay our tram fare, though jumped off at Woolworths for some cold drinks and another packet of Tim Tams (very popular Penguin-like biscuits), for our bedtime cuppa. Smashing! ☕️ We know how to live it up!
    Read more

  • Day9

    Stunning Sydney

    January 29 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 25 °C

    Enjoyed an early morning pre breakfast dip in the lovely deserted hotel pool, before catching an Über to the airport (cheaper than the train). We were sorry to leave Brisbane - what a lovely, friendly, easy-to-find-your-way-about city. Our Virgin Australia flight to Sydney was quick and comfortable, and included complimentary refreshments. Getting into the centre of the city was easy, with a direct train from the airport to Sydney Central in 15 minutes (Glasgow Airport please take note!). Our hotel - the Rendezvous Central - was close to the station at a busy traffic junction, and more of a business type than the the more tourist-friendly ones we have enjoyed so far. With a cloudy sky and very British brick-like buildings around the enormous Central Station, it resembled a North of England town and, until the sun came out, I could have sworn we were in Wigan! Still it was handy for local transport.

    Following the advice in our guide book, we took the local train over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Milson’s Point, from where we walked back to the city over this iconic, world famous bridge. We had fabulous views over Sydney harbour and the iconic Sydney Opera House. Thereafter we had a walk around the now trendy Rocks area and Circular Quay, busy with numerous ferries plying their way back and forth to surrounding areas.

    After an early supper, we took the tram back to our hotel. We thought we could use our contactless cards on the tram, but discovered they had to be activated before boarding. I enjoyed the thrill of ‘dogging it’, (skipping my fare), although Campbell was convinced we would thrown into the Sydney equivalent of Sing Sing!
    Read more

  • Day8

    Beautiful Brisbane - Day 2

    January 28 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    Before our tasty breakfast we did a big washing in the hotel laundry - how can we have got through so many clothes in a few days? We were then joined by my former social work colleague, Kylie, who had offered to meet up with us and show us around. It was great to see her again, and since I worked with her In Glasgow, she has returned to live on the Sunshine Coast with her husband Tam from Govan and their three children. Kylie took us on a trip to Mount Coot-tha, a favourite scenic point, which had fabulous views over the city of Brisbane. We then visited the beautiful Botanic Gardens, enjoying the shade offered by the huge variety of trees in view of the heat. On return to the city, we enjoyed a late tasty Greek lunch, before bidding farewell to Kylie after a most enjoyable day.

    Campbell and I then attended a small exhibition called Bittersweet, about the development of musical theatre in Australia. Although mostly obscure works we had never heard of, it included memorabilia and costumes from shows including The Boy From Oz and, of course, Priscilla. There was also mention of the latest hit musical, Muriel’s Wedding. Although it seems to have had great success here, I am not aware of any proposed productions on Broadway or the West End. The next Runway premiere perhaps? We then visited the much lauded Gallery of Modern Art, and on the way in we saw a pair of old boots on the steps outside. We wondered initially if these were actually one of the art exhibits, I have to say that the contents of the gallery were very highbrow, and we much preferred the architecture of the building to the art works themselves. Bring back Kelvingrove!

    We were planning on going to see the big show in town - The Book of Mormon - but as we both had seen the show before (Campbell twice!), and the fact that our body clock has still not quite adjusted to Australian time, we were worried we would fall asleep at the interval. Instead we settled for a walk round the old, historic quarter, viewing Parliament House, the Old Government Building and the City Botanic Gardens. By the time we walked over the pedestrian bridge over the river and caught the ferry back, it was certainly nearing our bedtime of 9pm.
    Read more

  • Day7

    Beautiful Brisbane

    January 27 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 30 °C

    Our train arrived at Brisbane’s Roma Street Station at 0950 - only 30 minutes late, which wasn’t too bad after such a long journey. We walked up through a beautiful though very steep park to our hotel - The Pacific. Hoping just to leave our luggage, we were pleasantly surprised to be allowed access to our room, even although it was only 10am. After showering and changing, we set off to explore Brisbane. Today (Monday) was a public holiday in respect of yesterday’s Australia Day. We took a pleasant (but hot) 5 minute walk down to the city centre, and visited the small city museum. We noted that the City of Brisbane was named after Sir Thomas Brisbane who was born in Largs, Ayrshire in 1773. (I remember now that we stayed at the Brisbane Hotel in Largs not so long ago). We then joined the excellent free tour of Brisbane City Hall, the main auditorium of which houses the magnificent Father Henry Willis organ which has more than 4300 pipes. To round off, we took the lift for the Clock Tower Tour, and enjoyed panoramic views of the city.

    Feeling the need to cool off, we then took advantage of the free City Hopper Ferry along the Brisbane River (so far today’s activities have cost us zero!). Seeing this beautiful city from the river was a great way to get your bearings. Visited the South Bank - an amazing complex of cultural buildings - theatres, galleries, museums, as well as beautiful riverside landscaped gardens and an extensive city beach with man-made lagoon. The place was thronged with families swimming, having picnics and generally enjoying themselves. A high quality of life does seem very important to Australians, and Brisbane seems to be a very family-friendly city. I remember our family almost emigrated here in the 1960s under the £10 scheme, and I wonder what life would have been like had we done so.

    We enjoyed a tasty dinner and cold cider at the Plough Inn on the South Bank, busy with locals celebrating Australia Day weekend. My half portion of barbecue ribs could easily have fed half a dozen and even Campbell couldn’t help me finish them off. Back to the hotel for an early night after a lovely day in this most attractive city.
    Read more

  • Day6

    Spirit of Queensland

    January 26 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Well, what a great time we had in Cairns, and we were sorry to leave this lovely city. However our adventure continues, and this morning we headed to Cairns Central Railway Station to catch the 0835 Sprit of Queensland train all the way to Brisbane - a journey of 25 hours - and still in the same state!

    The train was clean and comfortable with reclining seats and screen entertainment. It was fairly quiet until just before departure when a young, scruffily dressed, tousled-hair boy of about 10 came on ushering his parent on board. Initially I thought the parent, shoeless and wearing a dirty vest and covered in tattoos, was his father, but it emerged it was in fact his mother. From her demeanour she would appear to suffer from addiction and / or mental health issues, and in between devouring sachets of sugar, was constantly telling off and correcting her son. He wanted to watch Aladdin on the movie screen, and asked her what it was all about. ‘Just a riff-raff boy’ she replied ‘but people don’t realise he’s a Prince’. He suggested she watch it with him too, but she kept interrupting: ‘Anyway, I don’t like musicals, even though I used to be queer’ she declared. She continued to rant ‘Flesh, flesh , flesh, desire, desire, desire’ before flicking through her well-thumbed book ‘God’s Word’ and searching on the music channels for ‘Christian Music’. Campbell felt so sorry for the wee boy and, ditching his plan to take home yesterday’s koala, hatched a plan to take the boy home and adopt him, enrol him at Hutchie and give him the chance to become a real Prince.

    We had already been thinking of asking if it was possible to get an upgrade to Rail Bed accommodation - and our travelling companions made up our mind. The helpful on board steward made enquires and, for a reasonable fee, we were soon relaxing in our upgraded carriage, with spacious, comfy seats (which later folded down into beds), with all meals with drinks and toiletries included. Smashing!

    The train journey was memorable, with scenery changing from the lush rainforest of North Queensland to banana and sugar cane plantations, and prairie landscapes where eagle-eyed Campbell even spotted a few kangaroos hopping about the bush. We passed through Ayr station, but didn’t have time to stop at the Wellington for a fish supper. Surprisingly there was not much evidence of the bush fire damage which has devastated so much of Australia.

    The food and service on board was very good, and the Steward’s conversion of our comfy chairs into even comfier beds was amazing to watch - what a clever design. I managed to watch two movies (Yesterday / Red Joan) and enjoyed them both. Campbell’s choice was Galaxy Quest, which he claims is one of the best films ever made!

    Our cosy bed cubicles looked similar to the ones found on Business Class flights (not that I’d know), only with more space. Our complimentary toiletries were put to good use in the large shower room at the end of the carriage. The train itself was quiet and ran smoothly, resulting in a fairly good night’s sleep. We awoke to another sunny morning and a nice cooked breakfast served at our seat - one could get used to this!
    Read more

  • Day5

    Kuranda and Koalas

    January 25 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 29 °C

    Today’s trip was one we were looking forward to - a journey on the Kuranda Scenic Railway - and it did not disappoint. The construction of the Cairns - Kuranda Railway was an engineering feat of tremendous magnitude. In 1873 the cry of ‘gold’ echoed through the mountains, and a reliable route had to be found, resulting in one of the most ambitious railway projects ever undertaken. Leaving Cairns aboard one of the original early 1900s carriages, we experienced the full jaw-dropping rainforest, gorges and waterfall experience. Highlights included the 180-degree Horseshoe Bend, the Stoney Creek Falls Bridge, and a photo stop at the spectacular Barron Falls.

    Kuranda itself was, as expected, very touristy, with markets, Aboriginal crafts and art works, rainforest walks and wildlife experiences. A must for us was the Kuranda Koala Gardens, where we were thrilled to meet a variety of marsupials, and even got to hold a koala 🐨 - how cute are they! So sad to hear of the huge numbers lost in the recent devastating bush fires. The adjacent Bird World was also amazing, with a plethora of exotic, brightly coloured birds, one of whom was determined to peck its way into my backpack - despite the fact that the only food contained therein was a half melted Fry’s Chocolate Cream, and the remains of a tin of M&S mints (courtesy of Ken).

    We opted to return via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. What an experience - floating above the canopy of the rainforest, with fabulous views over the mountains and down to the coast - breathtaking and so peaceful. This is a trip highly recommended to anyone visiting the Cairns / Queensland area.
    Read more