A New Beginning?

The sun is hot, the forest animals are restless, and so are we. We are feeling relieved to have been fully vaccinated and have been watching as the local area slowing reawakens. As life begins to resume in our neighborhood, so do our dreams of travel! Not, of course, because we want to flee the hot sun and crowds of unmasked shoppers.  We want to experience the joys of exploring new vistas and learning about new cultures.

So to no one’s surprise, we have a trip planned in just a few short weeks. The plans were not really anything that we had on our radar as a “must go spot.” Research into the areas have opened our eyes to the interesting possibilities to be found in Egypt, Greece, and Turkey. While we always wanted to go to Greece and had planned to visit Egypt last year, Turkey was not something we had really given much thought about.  Yet it is one of the more interesting places we think we will go.  Due to the ongoing global pandemic and the restrictions, conditions, and constant changes that go with it, we will be going with guided tours of these countries on this trip.  This is a first for us!

Stay tuned and we will keep you informed of our plans, the trip, the food on the trip, and how our packing lists changed to accommodate HEAT!!  We have our visas for each country, we have completed our entry form for Greece, and we think we have a plan to get COVID tested before each leg of the trip.  It is a fine balancing act to get the test done within the time frames required by each country (usually 72 hours), while also getting the results back prior to each flight!

 

Happy Birthday to Dave, Happy Birthday to Dave 03/23/2020 Sydney, Australia to Buffalo, NY

After Kathy’s initial panic – at 1:30 AM! – when the United app started saying the flight was cancelled, we called United and got reassurance that the phone app was WRONG. Relieved, we could finally start our day – our last full day in Australia. Feeling melancholy about the trip stopping, or at best pausing, so early into our journey put a damper on the day. The decision was made to have a fairly relaxed day so as to not to exhaust ourselves prior to our early morning trip. We did manage to get out the door fairly early. We went to nearby Berowra Valley National Park. We took a nice hike that was not too long and not too strenuous but was great as we got some amazing pictures of kookaburras. Kathy got a scare early on in the hike when she passed an incredibly large spider in a web alongside the trail. From that moment on, she had Dave walk point to watch for snakes and spiders. After the hike, we found a nice picnic table at a small playground park to have our mainstay PB&J sandwiches. Not much of a birthday lunch, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. Next stop on the agenda was a visit to Koala Park. This is a sort of petting zoo where Dave and Kathy got to see some awesome animals up close and even pet some kangaroos and hand feed emus and cockatoos! Dave remarked that this is the first time in his 57 years that he got to wear shorts on his birthday. Also, how can you top petting kangaroos on your birthday??? The rest of the day was spent on getting ready for our flight the next day. And, yep, we got checked in.

Just to spin your head…..it is the next day already!! We are on the flight soaking up being in first class. Our first time flying other than economy – and hopefully not the last. Kathy could really get used to this. Dave told Kathy she can fly first class all she wants – as long as it doesn’t cost more than $152 for both of us like these seats did! We got to the airport and there was a line that wrapped around several times to check in the luggage. Premium fare meant we got to skip the lines, take the express route through the security checkpoint and suddenly we were at our gate!!! In the time of social distancing, we really appreciated this. The 15-hour flight was much more palatable in the front of the plane rather than the back of the plane. The ride started out with champagne, followed by a steak dinner for Kathy and chicken for Dave. (The best piece of beef Kathy has had for quite some time.) The nice nap stretched out on our full length “bed” was a perfect!! Again, first class allowed for better social distancing, as we had the whole row to ourselves and there was more room between the seats.

The next stop was Houston, then Washington, DC, and then home to Buffalo, NY. We are sad to be cutting our trip short. We are, however, very grateful that we did not get stuck somewhere and will be home near family. (Not that we can visit anyone, as isolation is still king.) This is our last post unless we start traveling again. I hope you enjoyed our abbreviated journey.

Until the next time: au revoir, adios, auf weidershein, talofa, sayonara, ciao, cheers, or whatever language you use to say goodbye for now.

03/22/2020 Royal National Park Sydney, Australia

Today, we leisurely visited Royal National Park, just south of Sydney. We stopped at an overlook and decided to take a quick stroll up a trail. The quick trail ended up meandering to the top of a cliff and then down to an authorized nude beach. Kathy decided to stop before getting to the beach. Still remembering the trauma of the old man who ran on the beach in a speedo, and seeing several older men climb past us, she chickened out and used the excuse of “I’m tired” to leave before Dave had a chance to experience a real nude beach. The climb back up was long, so in the end Kathy felt good about the decision, although she did harbor guilt about depriving Dave of some new views, especially the day before his birthday. (By the way, the day after our trip to Bondi Beach, the authorities closed that beach as too many people were gathering too closely to be observing proper social distancing!)

We then drove along the famed Grand Pacific Road. We stopped after driving on one of the longest bridges to take in the views. It reminded us of the Linn Cove Viaduct along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but was much, much longer and hovered over the ocean. A few pictures and a walk along the bridge capped a wonderfully relaxed day.

Now it was time to get stressed!!! Grocery shopping – one of Kathy’s all-time favorite things to do. However, this trip to our nearby store was one of the most unique experiences ever!! We were greeted at the entrance by a girl squirting hand sanitizer into the palms of the patrons. We then went through the store, picked up our few items, and then headed to the checkout register. No cash was being accepted, though, as they do not want to touch money due to the virus. Patrons had to stand behind a line until the next person can move up to the register. We experienced this all day long, including at the national park, where you cannot review a map with a ranger as they do not want anyone leaning over the counter. Dave picked up a map – and ended up having to buy it as he touched the map with his hand. Strange new world we live in. If it keeps Australia healthy though, we are in complete support of the plan!!

Now, it was time to head home, or at least our “home away from home” for the next two days. We leave on Monday. Although Monday is March 23 in Australia, it is March 22 in the US, and is Dave’s birthday. He is NOT happy to have to spend 24 hours in planes and airports to fly home on his birthday! We are heartbroken to have to leave so early, but we are comfortable that this is the best decision for us.  (Panic set in when Kathy woke up and the app on our phone said flight cancelled, but the airline says it is still on—keep your fingers crossed for us)

03/21/2020 The trials and tribulations of Dave – Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

Yesterday was Friday. Probably wondering why this is important, it is the Lenten season and Friday means no meat for Catholics. Dave and Kathy decided to take a trip down to Bondi Beach to soak up some sun before we come back to the states. Yes, we are coming back at least for a bit of time due to the current pandemic. Back to the subject at hand, we stopped for lunch and being good Catholics, we ordered our vegetarian meals. Kathy had some couscous and a nice salad. Dave had an avocado sandwich, but unbeknownst to him, it was hiding some fish! Oh, the tragedy of it all. Dave does not like fish at all, almost as much as Kathy despises ketchup. He stoically ate the sandwich, trying not to grimace when he got an especially big chunk of fish in a bite. He expects to receive special blessings from God for his supreme sacrifice.

We did find a good way to make him feel better!!! How about Bondi Beach which had an abundance of young women who were lying, walking, and strutting around in small bikinis. He deserved the views. Kathy did get to see a guy about 100 years old in a small speedo running down the beach. That is her penance for laughing at Dave as he swallowed each bite of his fish sandwich. You know what they say, revenge is best served cold. Well, that might not apply as it was hot at the beach!! A walk, metro ride, and another walk and soon enough, we were back home to make dinner.

Decisions were soon made, and we will be returning to the US, at least until July 2020. At that time, we will make further decisions. Currently, we are busy trying to cancel and get refunds for our outstanding hotels, cars, flights, and tours. Luckily, most places are giving a full refund. AirTreks, our flight booker, is being proactive on our flights as some have already been cancelled by the airlines due to the pandemic. We will see what happens, but the first ¼ of the trip has been amazing! We are confident that this won’t be the last time we are on this side of the world!!

03/20/2020 The Three Sisters at Blue Mountains National Park, Australia

Yesterday saw us awakened bright and early to the sound of tree trimming machines, men talking, and the sounds of extensive yardwork right outside our doors. While not the best way to wake up in the morning, we still woke up to start our day early….not that we got out the door early. Still lollygagging, we did not leave to hike until approximately 10:30 in the morning. We spent the next little bit driving up to the Blue Mountains National Park to hike around the Three Sisters area. After a quick lunch, we were off to hike. We could find little evidence of the terrible fires consuming Australia last year, and vivid green new growth covered the hillsides. We enjoyed the views of the Three Sisters and the mountains that framed the rocky obelisks. We walked up the trails and then back around where we were able to see the Three Sisters from both sides and even take a bridge to stand near the top of one of the spires.

After the ups and downs of the hike, we decided it was time to be responsible and do some laundry. Finally finding an open laundromat after a couple of missteps, we managed to get our machines started with the help of a very nice attendant. She helpfully told us, “The wash takes 23 minutes and you can come back to put into the dryer.” We took that as permission to find a cold drink where we again had a milkshake. Just to remind everyone – this is flavored milk which is shaken, not stirred. At least it was cold, which is what we needed. During our nice drive back, we continued to discuss whether we should or shouldn’t we return to the USA, how and if we would be able to return, and where we would stay if we were able to make it back.

As we watch the current turmoil, we hope everyone stays safe and healthy.

03/19/2020 Checkpoint Kathy, Sydney, Australia

Yesterday we travelled to downtown Sydney, Australia to visit the iconic Sydney Opera House. The trip started with a walk to the metro station, a quick ride downtown, and then a walk down to the harbor. We strolled to the opera house, wandered up and down some stairs, tried to see the “Fawlty Tours” dinner theatre (Canceled due to virus), and then decided upon lunch. As you can imagine, we had a busy morning. By lunchtime, we had already walked 10,000 steps and managed to accomplish the “heart point” goals on our exercise apps. Time for lunch! An outdoor café at the harbor had a lunch special of a sandwich and a drink, and that was just the ticket! Kathy decided upon a chicken panini and champagne. She is, after all, not working, and alcohol is allowed during daytime for unemployed people – and even sometimes those that are employed. It was wonderful as you can see by the pictures.

Next on the agenda was a climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We paid our fees and set about getting ready for the climb. Prior to the climb, we were required to fill out health information and submit to some tests. As you can imagine, climbing the bridge is strenuous, requires agility, and is hundreds of feet above the road and the water below. There were a few medical questions. One of the questions asked if you had high blood pressure. Kathy checked that box even though her BP is well controlled with a tiny dose of medication. They also administered a simplistic breath test where we had to count to five near a machine that was used to detect alcohol. Next thing we knew, Kathy (and no one else) was called to go to another room. Assuming it was about her BP, she was about to discover it had nothing to do with her health. Instead, she had to submit to a handheld breathalyzer, similar to what police officers use in the states. Required to blow into the tube, her breath was measured to see what her blood alcohol content was. Luckily, the sparkling wine she had at lunch did not make her too tipsy to walk up the steps. She was, however, tipsy enough to settle her nerves about being so high off the ground.

Next was a walk atop the beams and girders high above the cars and trains racing below us. What amazing views! We wish we could have taken some pictures, but they made us take our wallets, cameras, phones, and even our clothes and put them in a locker. We had to wear their outfit and walk through a metal detector prior to heading up the mountainous supports. Quite serious were they about no photos. Of course, they were happy to take photos of each of us to be offered for sale afterwards (that cost an arm and a leg.) The walk was astounding, and we were glad we took the leap of faith and climbed up the stairs, up and over and under the girders. Amazing views of Sydney and the surrounding harbor. Having now walked and walked, we, of course, decided more walking was in the cards. We visited the Royal Botanical Gardens and wandered among the trees and birds like cockatoos and ibises.

Heading home, we walked to the train station and rode the metro back to Pymble. We were a bit more efficient, though, on the return, as we are learning how to use the local apps for trains and walking. As we neared our Airbnb, we observed hundreds of flying things overhead about the size of hawks. Dave remarked that they looked like bats, but Kathy thought they were too large. Some helpful Aussies confirmed that Dave was right – they were fruit bats, by the hundreds! Kathy gratefully came home and sank onto the bed in relief while Dave the Magnificent walked to the store and bought Kathy some strawberry milk.

Tomorrow, we are thinking of heading for the hills. The Blue Mountain National Park is nearby and Dave would like to see how the vast wildfires affected them over the summer.