Monday, March 7, 2011

We're Back = Pneumonia

After a very quick 3.5 hour flight from LAX to CLT, a very brief layover and then 30 minute flight, we were back at the Wilmington airport where we departed from on January 29. It's amazing how quickly the trip went by. I had made an appointment with Mom's doctor here for this afternoon just to have her checked out. We managed to get a bite of breakfast, get a shower, and then it was off to spend the afternoon at the doctor. They seemed to think it was a viral infection, but did some blood tests, chest x-ray, etc. We had been home about an hour when they called to say that they were concerned about one of her tests results and it could be blood clots. We were off to the Emergency Room for a CT Scan with contrast - just what she needed after being up for 40+ hours straight! Due to her history of clots they put STAT on the order, which allowed us to get through very fast. Thankfully there were no clots but she does have pneumonia. Heavy antibiotics and lots of rest are in order for the next several days. I am pretty exhausted as well and ready to go on to bed. Thanks again to everyone who followed our adventures on the blog. Until next time...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday x 2

We spent Sunday morning (our time) getting ready for our flight and doing a little shopping. The day went by so quickly and before we knew it we were at SIN checking in. We were taken to the Kris Lounge to spend the couple of hours before our flight. This is probably the nicest lounge we have been in. The food that was available was limitless. We had a choice of about 10 different hot food items, sushi, soups, you name it. We even had a glass of champagne. All I can say is that the Asian airlines put ours to shame. About 4 PM we boarded our flight that was all business class with only 100 seats and not all of them filled.

The flight was about 15 hours, and it went by so quickly. We had several meals and I even slept very soundly for 7 hours of it. We were watching the "stats" on the flight and at points we were traveling well over 700 mph. We arrived in LA at 3:30 PM, also on Sunday, so we technically landed before we left.
The "after" shot
Amazingly our luggage that we check in Sydney arrived here just as planned and we breezed through customs and were on our way to check in on our domestic flights. We are now in the US Air lounge in LAX (a FAR cry from SIN), and are awaiting our red eye back east to CLT and then on to ILM by 8:30 tomorrow morning. Glad to be safe and sound thus far with two more flights to go. I bet we'll be 2 tired people for the next few days!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Singapore

Wow – it sure feels great to get a solid night’s rest finally. Mom is still really battling this cold, which just won’t leave. In fact I have already made an appointment for her at the doctor for Monday, the day we return. Since she wasn’t feeling the greatest this morning I went out to McDonald’s, and I’m not ashamed of it! I think this is the first “fast food” we’ve had in over a month. We both thoroughly enjoyed our egg mcmuffins, and I even tried their jasmine green tea. After our breakfast we did call and talk to dad for a bit. I think he is more than ready for us to get home. Since Sin is such a large city we opted to take the Sin Air Hop On Hop Off bus around the city. We had our boarding passes from the flight so it was a mere SG$6 for an all day pass. The bus picked up right across the street from the hotel, which was perfect. We started off going down by Marina Bay, so we saw the Singapore Flyer up close and personal and then continued on around the city.
 
We did have to alight at the Botanical Gardens to transfer to another bus. Since we were there, we decided to go on in and enjoy the gardens. One thing I was told was to not go during the heat of the day, but that’s exactly when we were there and boy was it hot.
 
We took our time going through and tried to stay in the shade. It is an enormous place, about 74 hectares with the National Orchid Garden taking up 3 hectares. We had heard so much about the orchids that we really wanted to go and see them. 
Turns out they have over 1,000 species of orchids and over 2,000 hybrids. Again, I think I tried to take a picture of each and every one since every one seemed prettier than the last.
 
After a couple of hours in the gardens we had both about melted and decided to get back on the bus. It was also now late afternoon and our breakfast was long gone. Once on the bus we went down the infamous Orchard Row where they have a Louis Vuitton, Prada, a Gucci store every other block. Honestly, there were two LVs within 2 blocks. Unfortunately, Mom would not let me leave the bus.  After a bit we had arrived at the Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, which is a famous hawker center.
 
In case you’re not familiar with hawker centers, they are food stalls with local fare at very inexpensive prices. Since we were there about 3:30, it was pretty empty, but the choices were plentiful. There must have been 75 different stalls with all different types of cuisine.
 
We decided to graze since we weren’t sure what most of the food was. We started with some simple fried rice, which turned out to be amazing. We thought we could use a few more carbs, so we went on to a noodle dish called laksa, which is a curry coconut soup with noodles, tofu, and fish. It’s much tastier than it sounds, but it sure was spicy! We stayed away from the stall called "Pig's Organ Soup". We moved on to some fried items, a spring roll and a bean paste biscuit, again, much better than it sounds. We had to have a little dessert, but honestly, I cannot imagine that anything they had for dessert would have been edible – sweet corn and milk ice anyone? Didn’t think so. Ironically there happened to be a Wendy’s attached, so we went for a sure thing, an Oreo frosty. With it being so warm out, it really hit the spot. As we were leaving, they had opened the various Satay stalls and had closed down the street for the evening. This center is open 24 hours a day and gets very busy a little later in the evenings. We rejoined the bus about 5:30 and continued around the city again. It was nice to go again because you see and hear things you missed the first time. 
Gate to Chinatown
We arrived back to the hotel this evening and decided to relax in our room and just enjoy the view. Hard to believe we start our very long 28-hour trip back to the East Coast tomorrow. Jet lag here we come!

Sydney to Singapore

The little “nap” we had was short lived and we were up at 5 AM trying to get all of our luggage organized. We had a car coming for us at 6, so we needed to be ready by then. The hotel staff was right there with everything we needed and we were at the airport by 6:30. We were flying on Singapore Air and they truly lived up to their reputation. We were immediately checked in and whisked up to the Kris Lounge. I think the most exciting part is that our large luggage has been checked all the way through to LAX on Sunday. We had a little breakfast while in the lounge and then were taken to board just 30 minutes before the flight. What is amazing about this is the fact that we were traveling on the A380, which is currently the largest passenger plane in the world and carries over 500 passengers.
 
It has an upper and lower deck but we found out that Singapore Air has retrofitted it to carry less than it’s actual capacity of almost 800. We were greeted by name (even before they saw our boarding passes – can’t figure that one out) and taken to our seats. We were both speechless! I had heard that they have the largest biz class seats in the sky, and that is the truth, almost 36 inches wide. Mom even said that the seat was almost too big, seriously? The boarding process went so quickly and quietly and we were ready for take off after just 30 minutes. It’s hard to believe when you compare it to domestic flights with less than half that many passengers. When we went to take off we could tell we were on an enormous plane because it took a very long way to get airborne. We had 7 ½ hours en route to Singapore and we enjoyed every minute of it. In fact it seemed shorter than the flight out to LAX, but then again we didn’t have a flight quite like this. We were served two wonderful meals including the most wonderful brandied fig ice cream! I will have to take photos on our flight on Sunday to show here – I had forgotten to do this on the flight. We were on the ground a few minutes early and before we knew it on the way to our hotel. It was so fast to get through immigration especially since we didn’t have to wait on our luggage. Our taxi driver was so friendly and extremely knowledgeable. We managed to arrive in the midst of a thunderstorm and downpour that ended as quickly as it started. Our first impression of Singapore is what a beautiful city it is with all of the landscaping – trees, flowers, flowering shrubs, etc. Not sure if everything he said was true, but he said all taxi drivers are Singaporean and if they were to ever cheat someone by offering a “flat fare” they would lose their license and could never drive a taxi again. He then went on to tell us what a safe city it is since you are hanged of you are found in possession of a gun. He also showed us many of the unique buildings that are here including the new Marina Sands that has a boat on spanning 3 separate towers. It’s just too over the top.
Day View
Reminds me of Vegas at night!
Just your average shopping mall in Sin
We also saw the Singapore Flyer just before arriving at the hotel.
 
We are staying at the Fairmont, which is located across from the iconic Raffles Hotel and in the center of everything. We checked in and got into our room to see the beautiful view of the Marina District. We had reservations for high tea at Raffles, so we didn’t have much time to get ready. We went across the street to see the beautiful hotel and enjoy our tea and champagne. 
Exterior of Raffles
Lobby
Looking up in lobby.
In addition to the usual tiers of sandwiches and sweets they had an entire buffet set up with fresh fruit, scones and several different kinds of dim sum – that was a first. It was all so good!
After tea we walked around and admired the property and went down the arcade where the different shops can be found. The exchange rate is in our favor, so many of the shops were very inviting. So far we’ve been very good – that may end in “Sin”. We’ve had a pretty long day and it does feel much later since we had to move our clocks back 3 hours. Here’s the crazy part, in Sydney we were 14 hours ahead of EST and though we moved our watches back 3 hours we are still 13 hours ahead of EST. Maybe I’ll figure it out when I’ve had some sleep. We are calling it an early night so we can have a full day tomorrow. 
Susan - thank you so much for all of your comments, it's been great hearing from you. I would be happy to tell you about the snow egg, please just send me an e-mail by clicking here

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Last Day in Sydney

Today was the big day for going on the Bridge Climb. I was going on the 10:35 climb so I had to leave the hotel around 10. I had what I thought was a pretty good breakfast since I knew it would be some time before I had the opportunity for lunch. I had used Google Maps to figure out where I was going, but unfortunately it failed to show that I had to go up a level to get to the correct street. I had to ask a local postman to direct me. The way the streets run in “The Rocks” is a little confusing. I checked in for my time slot and went to the waiting area where they were showing a video of what to expect. If nothing else, I can say that they are thorough. I met a young woman from San Francisco who was on holiday for a few weeks. We had a great time chatting and going through the readying process.
The "before" shot
We had to put on special jumpsuits (so very stylish!) and take off all jewelry, watches, basically anything that could drop from your person. We were given a cap which was clipped to our suit and a clip for our “sunnies”. We then had to get in the harness that would tether us to the bridge. I swear that thing must have weighed 10 pounds! We were strapped in and then finally given our radios and ear phones to hear the commentary as we went up. We even had to go through a simulator to make sure we were physically fit enough to go up the ladders. This whole process took about an hour and then it was time to head on out. There were 12 in our group – people from New Zealand, the UK and the Netherlands. In total the climb took just about 2 hours and was not for the faint of heart. The bridge is in the process of being repainted, but the most difficult task is removing the lead based paint. It costs about 17 million dollar a year to paint it. We also learned that there are 6 million hand driven rivets in the structure that took 6 years to build. We did have to navigate through some rather small areas and went up 5 ladders to get to the base of the arch. From there we took the many steps to get to the top where we had the most amazing view. 
On the way up
At the top
I was very happy that I waited until I was here to book my climb since the weather has been so changeable. I will say that there couldn’t have been a better day for it. We could see all the way out to where we entered on the ship, we could see Darling Harbour and the ANZAC bridge. The amusement park that we could see across the harbor was where the steel factory used to be. In total there were 16 men who died in the building of the bridge, many of whom fell to their death from up above. At the top we were 134 m above the water, or as our guide put it 5.4 seconds. We did some photos at the top – we weren’t allowed to take our cameras up, so they do them for you. All in all we climbed over 1400 stairs, talk about a work out! It was worth every penny and just an amazing experience. By the time we were down and unsuited it was almost 2 PM and I was starving. I went back to see how Mom was doing and had a bite of lunch. The great thing about our hotel is that it’s in such a great location, so Mom can see so much of the harbor and the city so she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out. We spent the afternoon trying to figure out the packing situation and I went to get a few souvenirs. We also sat out on the balcony for a while to take in the view for our one last sunset. Tonight we met Scott and Nicole for dinner at Quay. I met them back in September in Italy when I was in cooking school and the 3 of us bonded immediately. 
I miss them already!
They flew down from Brisbane for the evening so they could see us and have dinner. We had the best time – it was as though we were right back at the Villa sipping wine and sharing stories. Dinner was amazing! Evidently it is the top rated restaurant in all of Australia, and I can understand why. We did the 4 course dinner with everything from Mud Crab (sounds terrible, but is so good), to marron (cross between a crawfish and a prawn), then groper for the entrĂ©e (a type of reef fish – I thought it was grouper), and then a snow egg for dessert. 
Marron
Infamous Snow Egg
There is a story with the egg, but I won’t get into it now, just a photo. Of course we shut down the restaurant and it was 1 AM by the time we got back. It was just so great to see the both of them that I didn’t want the evening to end. When we returned we still had to face our luggage since we hope to check it through to LAX. Of course this meant trying to pack just what we need for Singapore in the carry on luggage. The long and short is that our bags are heavier now than on the trip over, but I think we figured it out. It’s well after 2 AM and we have to get up at 5 to get ourselves to the airport. Wow, hope I can sleep on the plane tomorrow. 
Just another beautiful shot
And at night

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sydney

I think we both passed out last night from sheer exhaustion and slept in this morning. We have a whole wall of floor to ceiling windows and even the light didn’t bother us. Since we had gone to the store yesterday we were able to enjoy breakfast in our suite. This morning the weather was very cloudy and cool with a little light drizzle. Mom opted to stay in today due to the weather and her still being sick. For some reason she just can’t get over this cold which is very frustrating to us both. I decided to venture out late morning and go to the botanical gardens that are just across the street. It is strange to me to see such a large park right here in Sydney – I guess it feels a little similar to Central Park in NYC. While I walked through I enjoyed seeing the many types of plants, trees, birds, etc.
I was started to see a bat flying above and then noticed a tree full of them sleeping. Turns out they are called Flying Foxes, a type of bat, that has actually caused problems for the garden since they have been making their nests there.
 
My goal was to go to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I did finally have to get a map since the gardens were so expansive and I think I was a little lost. Eventually I did make it to the Gallery where I was able to see “The First Emperor” exhibit including the terracotta warriors. There was a pretty long queue for tickets, but it was well worth it. There were so many artifacts from the period including tiles from buildings and a lot of bronze items including different types of beverage containers and even tea kettles that resemble what we have today, just more ornate.
 
The highlight of course were the terracotta warriors. They are fantastic. According to what I read, each soldier took approximately 150 days to create, and no two are alike. There are several different types of figures including infantryman, cavalryman, horses and charioteers. The general is one of only 9 that has been recovered so far and each has been next to a chariot. They are more imposing that I had thought – the general stands at almost 7 feet while the others slightly smaller. After this exhibit I did look around at some of the other pieces of art, but it was now mid-afternoon and I was ready for lunch. I arrived back to find Mom reading and enjoying the scenery. We had a wonderful lunch from our bread, cheese, fruit, etc. I had to run out and go up to the shopping area to get something to get a pashmina. The weather has been so much cooler than anticipated. I was also able to get a glimpse of St. Mary's Cathedral.
We did have to start getting ready early for this evening’s Opera – Carmen. We had dinner reservations at Guillame at Bennelong, which is the restaurant that is in a sail of the Opera House. We were dining with a couple we had met on the ship that were from Maryland. It was great to see two familiar faces and to have such great dinner companions. Ironically we saw the Silver Spirit as it was leaving Sydney Harbour.
 
They do a pre-theater 3-course dinner. I started with oysters while Mom had the scallops. We both had filet for our main course, but I had the chocolate dessert while Mom opted for lemon. Dinner ran a little long, so we arrived in the theater only minutes before the start. The inside of the theater is actually not as large as I had anticipated, but the acoustics were wonderful. 
The opera lasted about 3 hours including intermission. The costuming and staging were fantastic and of course we loved the music. It was an evening we will never forget. I think we both loved the fact that the horse, yes a real live horse, was in the production and even did a curtsy at the end when everyone was taking a bow. In fact I dare say the horse may have gotten the most applause! 
We took our time getting out and walking back and just enjoyed the sights of the Harbour. It really was the perfect end to a most memorable evening. 

This is a little late, but I had wanted to upload a bit of the didgeridoo player from Melbourne and this has been my first chance. Click below to listen (it was very dark so it's hard to see much on the video).
video