Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I think I have died and gone to heaven and it is called Melbourne, Australia.

After flying out of Alice Springs here yesterday, it is like we landed on a new planet. Although our last day in the middle of the Australian Desert was pretty awesome in Alice Springs (we visited Alice Springs Desert Park-fabulous!), I was happy to be air born and on to new surroundings where hopefully most crawling things live outside and not in our beds. We found such a place-YAY! The Stamford Plaza Hotel, an all Suite hotel which will be our home for the next week even has a pillow top mattress-another big YAY!! It is a lovely and definitely 5 star service hotel. Nestled in the heart of Melbourne CBD, we are a walk away from most anything...

Arriving on Christmas Eve was a bit chancy, we did not know if anything would be open. Well, the streets were bustling with last minute shoppers and many businesses were still going. We headed, in the pouring rain, to the nearest grocery store, where we stocked up with our first in room foods since Busselton. I was so happy to see Oatmeal and blueberries staple breakfast for the last 20 or so years...Amazing how I miss really only little things in life right now..Grocery bags in hand, we scurried home in time to take off to the nearest church down the street. I wanted to go to a Christmas Eve church service and sing Christmas carols and that is just what we did. The church was a very old and ornate Anglican Church..I was moved to tears really as the guitars played and we sang X-mas carols. Afterward, H & I went back to our room and actually had a lovely dinner in our new home, the Stamford Suite. The roasted chicken, bread and salad were one of the best meals I have had lately! We then commenced to sit and watch on TV the "Candlelight Carols" being shown live from the park band shell just down the street. There were no tickets to go down there live and glad not because it poured down rain the whole concert. Under the shell though the dry singers gave quite a Christmas musical performance which lasted 3 hours. A perfect evening for these weary travelers!

Today was a whole new day-it is Christmas here! There are not too many peeps on the streets here in Melbourne except many obvious tourists like us. We walked about 5 miles today down to and through another beautiful park and Botanical Gardens. The views were breathtaking as we wandered through a botanist's dream..People picnicking throughout the park, birds chirping, lakes, many different species of trees and plants-everything is so green here!! H and I enjoyed our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by a pond in the park and both agreed it was surreal to be here. Melbourne is a very pretty and clean city. The structures are both old and modern mixed together. Very magical place so far!

By the time we got back to the room, I was pooped! Now our task is to find a restaurant that is open on Christmas night, not a small task. Looks like we will be relegated to the "Casino" district. Oh well, everything is an adventure right?

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Uninvited Guests"

Boarding our (oh so little) airplane from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock it occurred to me that this would be a short flight. It was a quick 30 minutes, in which Qantas managed to give us a “snack” the first free food we had seen for awhile on an airplane. I figured the landing would be tense as it was getting into the Outback the day earlier. And it was..The runway was about 10 feet long and I will admit, there was some seat clutching for me there at the end. We stepped off the plane to a new world of heat and desert. It looks very much like Arizona here, sans cactus. We rented a car at the airport as Ayers Rock and other sites are too far to walk and we did not want to be tied to a tour bus.

Our new abode is the “Sails in the Desert” a part of the “Ayers Rock Resort” group. H picked the highest quality of 4 hotels just for me I know. This one is considered “5 star” and we got the “Spa Suite” The property does not disappoint. Beautiful sails around the pool and property (thus the name). The hotel lobby has beautiful Aboriginal art and clean marble floors. If you do not faint from the outrageous prices of food here, you can enjoy dinner at one of the 2 restaurants here. We are opting for the “cheaper” yet good quality restaurants to dine for dinner at the resort.

The room was nice when we arrived. A very cute spa Jacuzzi bath on the back porch with flowers in a garden overlooking the pool area. Kind of dated..but nice…We immediately high tailed it out to “Uluru” or Ayers Rock, which has been here about 600 million years according to science. The aboriginal people have their own “stories” of religious lore around each nook and cranny of the rock. To look at it far away it just looks like a big rock but close up it is magnificent! We stopped to watch the sunset, where the rock can change colors in moments. Unfortunately, it was cloudy but we did get to see some magnificent changing of colors in the sky and I took a million pictures of Ayers Rock.

Now a bit about the flies here. We had been warned (swarms of flies in the summer at Ayers Rock) by at least 2 Australians. The first thing we did here was go to the store and buy fly net hats, which look as dorky as you can imagine but I say comfort before beauty in this case. We also bought the strongest DEET we could find. It is probably illegal to sell this stuff in the US because I guess DEET is toxic not only to insects but humans too. I do not care. I will not be suffering with flies anymore..So we are equipped with net hats, enough DEET to kill an army of insects..STILL, the flies are relentless. As we tried to sit and watch the sunset last night and meditate, which I suppose is what you should do at Ayers Rock, I was busy shooing flies away from my netted face. I overheard a guy next to me say f^&(ing flies! So I knew I was not alone. We finally had to get in our car and watch from the windows in the not so serene nature of our rented car. A shame really, these flies. I thought I had seen the last of them at IMWA. I guess summer in Australia brings out the little buggers. They do not bite..they just BUZZ and fly around your lips and eyes, especially-just enough to make you nuts. The fact there is BUG SPRAY in the closet should be a clue!

OK, so I was thinking this was all we really had to deal with in this beautiful place in nature. We got home from the sunset and a quick dinner and I went to jump in the 5 star pool to get all the DEET off of me while H stayed behind to meet the guy who was going to show him how to get the Jacuzzi on. When I arrived back in our 5 star room, H opened the door with horror in his eyes. What?! He told me we had a problem..and ANT problem. I went to look at the beds in our nice 5 star room and much to my dismay there were little tiny red ants in our beds. Not just a few ants but HUNDREDS of them on the beds, on the counters in the bathroom, everywhere. I freaked out.. to say the least..H called the desk and they mentioned he could come down and get a key to a new room. No, he said-No-you can BRING me a key to a new room. The guy arrives..I am in my robe frantically trying to get our stuff together and not bring the ants with us..He went on to explain that this was bug season and he even has bugs at his house to which I think I replied Do you spend this much for your house? He said no of course and he was sorry. I asked him how does he know there will not be ants in our new 5 star room? He said because the ants are finicky and do not go in all the rooms..Oh dear lord..H and I were pretty willied out by then and obsessively checked our beds many times before we finally crawled into our new beds. The only saving grace is the hotel guy comped our breakfasts here for 3 mornings, so that saves us around $186. That is how expensive breakfast is here. We found a card in our new room that said:

Uninvited Guests

You may notice one or two uninvited guests. Please do not be alarmed, these creatures are native to the area and it is quite normal for them to appear throughout the resort. If however you are disturbed by their presence, please contact reception.


We awoke the following day and alas were still bug free at least in our rooms. We popped awake at 5:00 and raced out to Ayers Rock to see the sunrise but we missed it by about 10 minutes by the time we got there. We were so not awake yet that H forgot for a few minutes and drove on the right side of the road. Right after we realized it, 2 very large buses came driving the other direction. Whew!

Got to do the morning tour where the history of the rock was given. Ayers Rock or “Uluru” is the largest monolith in the world and one of the wonders of the modern world. There is an area to climb the 350 meters to the top of the rock but a) you have to do it before 8:00 AM and many times they do not open it because of wind, rain, etc and b) the park Ranger said that the indigenous people do not want anyone to walk up there for religious reasons but according to the 99 year lease that they made with the white people, they have to allow it. So we opted not to do it. We decided to do the hike around the whole rock which is about 14k or 8 miles or so. This is the first real exercise I have done since IMWA. It was pretty easy so I must still be in shape. The views up close and personal to the Rock are not think the pictures do it justice. We were swarmed by flies the whole hike and it started to reach about 100 degrees by late morning, when we finished. I was very happy to get back to our air conditioned hotel room (sans ants so far). I got a 5 star massage in the afternoon at the resort. This was in the top ten best massages I have ever had and for the price it should be! I must admit the Jacuzzi tub on the back deck is pretty darn cool!

Today we went to hike “Kata Tjuta” otherwise known as the “Olgas”. They are massive and beautiful. Again the pics cannot take in the grandeur of this area. On the way there early this AM, we saw a wild camel on the road, then we saw many camels in a herd-amazing. The temperature at 11:00 was well over 100 degrees and the UV index here is about 16 (off the scales-there is a “UV alert here), which is way higher than anywhere else I have ever been. We did another shorter, but hotter hike through this area. The hike was more difficult and the one time I wish I had my hiking shoes with me, alas I did not (we left about 100 lbs of stuff back in Alice Springs).

The rest of today we will relax then back to Alice Springs tomorrow for one day. Then we are Melbourne bound! Hopefully the little bit of exercise I have done will make up for the massive amounts of food I am consuming!