Friday, January 25, 2013

Day 21 - Rainy Brisbane

There were storms in the area last night, so we had a rocky ride last night and not much sleep.  The pilot had a hard time getting out to our ship this morning, so between that and the storm delay, we docked 2 hours late this morning.  We were supposed to go on a "Crocs & Wildlife" tour this afternoon, but the forecast is for rain all day.  We turned the tickets in so maybe someone whose tour was cancelled will want them.  There have been enough opportunities to see the wildlife without having to go to a zoo in the rain.

The cruise director announced that because of the weather, we will be staying here in Brisbane overnight and leaving at 6am tomorrow instead of tonight.  The captain wants to give us a decent night's sleep and wait for the bad weather to move on.  That means adjustments to the itinerary for the next few days.  We will be at sea tomorrow and get to Whitsunday Island a day late.  They are supposed to give us a revised schedule in writing later today, so we'll see what else is affected.

We could have taken a shuttle into Brisbane today, but decided against that as well.  Today is Australia Day,  commemorating the founding of the first colony here.  It will probably be crowded as well as rainy in town.  Better to just take another R&R (reading and relaxing) day.  Ray used a little of the time this morning to go get a haircut.

One interesting sighting today - there was a huge school of jelly fish swimming in the water between the stern of our ship and the bow of a P&O cruise ship docked behind us.
Thousands of Jelly Fish
Jellies up close

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Day 20 - Sailing North to Brisbane

We sailed away from Sidney last night and are now headed north in the Pacific ocean, along the east coast of Australia.   Here are a few photos we took on our way out of the harbor.
Luna Park, on north side of Sydney Harbor

Harbor Bridge at Sunset
Fort in Sydney Harbor

Sailing away from Sydney

Sea days are always welcome breaks between ports.  They provide time to rest, attend lectures, and pamper ourselves.   This morning we attended another lecture on Australia by Sandra Bowren.  It sounds like she plans to repeat a lot of the material we heard her talk about on the last cruise segment, so we may skip the next few.  

I left the lecture a little early to go to the spa and get my hair cut and styled.  Many people like to use sea days for massages, facials and other spa treatment, but I have never really enjoyed these.  I guess I'm just not the pampered type. :-)   The stylist did a really good job on my hair though.  So good, I had Ray take a picture so I can show it to my stylist back home as an example of what I want.

This afternoon I went to an art seminar on "The Art of Collecting."   I've heard most of the information before, but sometimes it's good to hear things a few times to make sure it sinks in.   Things like the difference between an etching, a lithograph, and a serigraph, and the fact that all art created by these methods are considered "original" art, not "prints," the same as if the work had been painted on canvas or paper.   The only difference is that there may be multiple copies of a work done using one of the first three methods.  Due to various factors, each one is still unique and they are always created in limited editions.   Over the years I have developed a better understanding and appreciation of art.  Aunt Lil would be proud.

Tonight is formal optional night on the ship, so we are getting dressed up a little for dinner.  There is also a "Captain's Welcome Reception" in the theater, but once again, we will pass on that.  We don't get much out of crowded cocktail parties.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Day 19 - Sydney Transitions

The ship's crew is very busy today, with people getting off and new passengers getting on.  We have been trying to just stay out of the way.  But before I talk about today, I must describe last night.

Our tickets for the opera trip indicated dress was formal, so Ray got into his tux and I pulled out my long black dress, jewelry and multicolored jacket.  We met the group in the theater at 5pm and received our bus assignments.  There were 3 small, executive buses with about 22 seats each waiting to take us to the Sydney Opera house.   Although this would only be about a mile walking, many of the streets in the area are either one-way or blocked off as pedestrian walkways. As a result, the buses had to travel a roundabout route through the city to get us to the opera house.

Inside the opera house

Once we arrived, we were ushered into the Utzon room for a reception.  The room is named after the Danish architect who conceived the opera house's design, Jorn Utzon.  For the next 2 hours we enjoyed champagne, wine, juices, and various heavy hors d'Ĺ“uvre.  Several of the friends we had made in the pre-cruise activities were there too, so we enjoyed great conversation as well.  We made our way to the theater a few minutes before the opera began. 

It has been a long time since we have been to an opera.  It is not usually our favorite type of music,  but we did enjoy this one.  It was a production of La Boheme, re-imagined with a 1940's Germany setting instead of the original 1840's Paris setting.  Although the story line is a little sparse, the singers and orchestra were very good.  The English subtitles, although obviously not literal translations of the Italian lyrics, were enough to allow us to follow the story line. 

After the opera, we made our way downstairs and boarded the buses to return to the ship.  The only glitch in the evening involved security getting back on the ship.  Australian authorities have everyone go through standard airport screening equipment before boarding.  This is usually not a problem coming back from tours, but last night just about every woman set off the buzzer on the body scanner with her jewelry.  I was one of them.  I had to go through 3 times before I was cleared.  After the first try I removed my jewelry, and then before the third try took off my shoes and beaded jacket. The beads must be metal!!   At least I wasn't the only one.

When we got back to our room, we found sandwiches and cookies waiting for us.  Our butler was concerned that we wouldn't have had dinner because we had to leave so early.  It was after 10pm, so we declined the sandwiches but did enjoy the cookies.

View overlooking entrance to Sydney Harbor from Bondi Cliffs

This morning we ordered breakfast in again so we could stay out of the way of departing passengers.  We were booking on a 9am tour "Opera House and Bondi,"  so we needed to be out shortly after the last departing passengers.    There are 5 theaters in the opera house, so this tour  allowed us to see the Orchestral theater, the opera theater, and one of the small theaters when not in use.  We got a full explanation of the buildings of the opera house, with it's many problems, and a good description of how things work preparing for and during performances. 

After we left the opera house we got a tour of parts of the city, then drove out to see the famous Bondi beach.  On the way, we stopped at a lookout point for a fantastic view of the bay and the cliffs at the entrance to the bay.

Bondi Beach
Bondi beach is small compared to what we are used to on the east coast USA, but that is because it is in a cove.  It does has beautiful white sand and good surfing.   We enjoyed smoothies at the Bondi Pavilion as we watched locals enjoying the beach and waves.

Now back on the ship, we are in our room again, trying to stay out of the way of people just coming on board and crew bringing on their luggage.  We are going to try to have an early, quick dinner tonight so we can be on our balcony for the sail away from Sydney tonight.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Day 18 - Sydney

Lighthouse on way into Sydney Harbor

Today I have more photos than words.  

Our ship entered Sydney harbor just after dawn this morning.  We were out on the balcony watching the magnificent cliffs and several lighthouses marking the way.   A few days ago Sydney had record high temperatures, but today it was in the 70's.

We had tickets for the "Aussie Wildlife" tour at 9am, so we had to be out early again.

Ray petting a koala
Our bus took us about an hour west of the city to the Koala Park Sanctuary.  This is a small zoo with more than just koalas.  It is however, the first chance we had to actually pet a koala.

 We also saw kangaroos, wallaroos, several varieties of wallabies, wombats, dingoes, possum, peacocks, several kinds of parrots and cockatoos, and sheep. 

Matilda Wombat

"Friendly" Kangaroos

Mama is sheared while baby looks on

 We also got to see a demonstration of sheep shearing.  It was very interesting to see how little the sheep seemed upset by this process and how they could actually get all the wool off in one piece.  The only one who seemed concerned was the lamb the shearer brought up with it's mother.

 The ship will be staying here in Sydney overnight tonight, so there is still time to explore.   We have another special tour booked for tonight.  La Boheme is being performed at the Sydney Opera House tonight and we have the opportunity to attend, along with a reception prior to the opera.  We have heard that the acoustics in the opera house are not the best, but the Opera House is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world and we couldn't pass up a chance to see an opera performed here.

I am writing this early today because this is the end of the first segment of our cruise.  Regent will be shutting down internet service for a while tonight and tomorrow morning so they can finalize bills for the passengers who will be getting off the ship tomorrow morning.  Many people seem to have booked the segments from Singapore around western Australia to Auckland and around New Zealand ending here in Sydney, Australia.   Departing passengers are supposed to be off the ship by 8AM tomorrow.  We have a tour booked for 9AM, so we'll be right behind them.  Our butler told us the ship is 100% sold out in the next segment, so it looks like we will get a lot of new passengers boarding tomorrow when we get back from our tour.

Day 17 - Sailing to Sydney

Today was another day at sea when we could just take it easy, read, watch a movie, and watch the sea go by.  The enrichment lectures for today were on the lives and careers of three sopranos, and a sports talk by Verne Lundquist.    These didn't interest us so, other than breakfast, afternoon coffee, and dinner, we enjoyed the comfort of our room.

Last night we did manage to go to the show.  This is significant because it's the first one we've managed to attend so far.  Unlike the Celebrity and Royal Caribbean cruises we've done, Regent does not have set times for dinner seating.  You can go to the restaurant any time between 6:30 and 9:30PM and be seated for dinner.  Since the ship only holds 700 passengers and no set dinner time, there is no need for more than one show per night.   The only show starts at 9:30pm each night.  We are usually done with dinner by 8pm and are not into sitting at the bar for an hour after dinner while we wait for the show to start.  Usually we just go back to our room after dinner and settle in.  Last night was the last night the current performance troupe were to put on a show, so we decided to go see them.  They did a Broadway tunes themed show and it was pretty good.  It's a small troupe of 8 dancers, 2 singers and 2 adagio performers.  The dancers were very good and the songs they chose were not the typical ones you usually hear.  We enjoyed the show.

Dinners have often been a little too complex for our taste, but last night and tonight were much better. Last night's dinner was turkey, sweet potatoes, peas, and home-made cranberry sauce.  Tonight I had lobster tail and Ray had Beef Wellington. Desserts are always excellent, so no complaints there.

We are looking forward to getting into Sydney tomorrow.  The entrance to Sydney Harbor is spectacular so we are going to try to get up early to see it.  Last time we were here I was up but Ray slept through.  We ordered breakfast in so we can enjoy the view from our room before we have to meet our morning tour.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Day 16 - Melbourne Wildlife

Billabong with a flock of Magpie Geese

Today we went on an all day tour called "Kangaroos and Koalas."  It was this and so much more. We began with about an hour bus ride (in a very nice bus), to the Serandip Open Range Sanctuary.  This is not a zoo, it was a farm that the Australian government purchased as a protected area for indigenous wildlife.  This is near the town of Little River, the namesake of the Little River Band.  Ah, Reminiscing. 

Emu strolling down the path toward us.

We began with a ride around the sanctuary, then continued for a short walk through the bush to a billabong*.  Over the course of the morning we saw Emu's, Kangaroo, Black Swans, Magpie Geese, and lots of other birds in their natural habitat.

At one point, an Emu was walking down the path toward us.  We all moved quietly to the side of the path so it could pass without feeling threatened, but it stopped a few yards from us and decided to turn around.

There were lots of Emus and Kangaroos.  A few of the Kangaroos stopped to pose for us, but mostly they were hopping away from us.  It was a lot of fun to see them in the wild.

Our next stop was back to the picnic area where the tour organizers had a barbeque lunch waiting for us.  There were hamburgers, veggie burgers, beef sausage, pork sausage, grilled egplant & peppers, salads, cookies, and fruit. All that plus beer, wine, soda, coffee and tea.

After lunch an Aborigine man from the Wathaurong tribe came in to give us a talk on various tools made by his people.  Although some items he showed us were handed down from his father, most of the items were made recently, either by him or his family members.   He talked about how his father and uncles taught him how to make these tools and weapons. Since this man was only in his 30's at most, I left there convinced that the Aborigine culture is being preserved in Australia.

Local Aborigine playing Didferidoo

At the end of his presentation, he talked about the iconic Aborigine instrument, the didgeridoo and played it for us.   This is an amazing instrument that requires the artist to breathe in and out at the same time.  I got some good video of him playing, but like all my video, I won't be able to edit and share that until I get home.  This internet connection is just not good enough for video uploads.

In the afternoon, we drove on to a nearby National Park, where rangers monitor koalas in the wild.  Koalas don't move very fast,  so the rangers were able to spot a few earlier in the day, then lead us to where they were.   We were able to see 2 females up in Eucalyptus trees.  The rangers claim that they can identify individual koalas by the patterns around their noses, and have named each one.  They are studying them to learn more about their behavior and how they can be better protected.

This was a great day.  Now for another great dinner.

* billabong:
1. a backwater channel that forms a lagoon or pool.
2. a branch of a river running to a dead end.

Day 15 - Melbourne

We arrived in Melbourne about 7AM this morning.  Our tour for today wasn't scheduled to leave until this afternoon, so we had another nice, easy morning.  Ray was feeling a bit off this morning, so we decided he would stay on board to rest and I would go on the tour by myself.   We will be 2 days in Melbourne and we have a full day tour tomorrow, so it's better for him to skip today's tour.

The tour for this afternoon was called "Melbourne and Gardens."  This was mostly a city tour, with stops at Fitzroy Gardens, The Shrine of Remembrance, and the Eureka Skydeck.

Captain Cook's Cottage

Fitzroy Gardens is a park in the middle of the city.  It is mostly open lawn and trees, with several small gardens tucked into corners.  There are 2 significant buildings in the park.  The first is a small Conservatory with lovely flowers.  The second is the cottage Captain James Cook grew up in.  Captain Cook was the English navigator who explored and charted the east coast of Australia.  His parent's cottage was dismantled, shipped over from England in Barrels, and reconstructed here.

Australian Shrine of Remembrance

The next stop was the Shrine of Remembrance, a monument erected to honor Australian soldiers who fought in World War I.  There is a museum in the ground floor of the monument, documenting several significant battles that these Australian troupes were involved in.  On the grounds nearby were several other smaller monuments, commemorating World Wat II and each of the other conflicts that Australian soldiers have fought in.  There was even a small monument to the war horses.

Regent Seven Seas Voyager, from Eureka Tower

Our last stop was at the Eureka Tower, for a ride in the high speed elevator up to the observation deck on the 88th floor.  It was a beautiful clear day and we had a great view of the city.  I took several pictures of the city, including this one of our ship in the harbor. 

The bus had me back at the ship by 5:30pm.  When I got back to the room, Ray was still not feeling great.  I was hungry but he wasn't, so we ordered room service again.  I got to have a full dinner and he was content with a chef's salad.  Now it's time to rest up for a long day tomorrow.