Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Transit Pass Observations

Actually observations whilst using my Day Tripper (or is it City Hopper or perhaps Local Bopper) rail, ferry, and bus pass over the last few days here in Sydney.

1. The ferries here are alone worth coming to Sydney. The views are fantastic, the passengers are friendly, and the transportation--don't use that bad word here in Australia since that word when spoken by a judge got the first forced settlers to make the trip--it affords is very, uh, affordable. I started the day by taking the commuter train to Cronulla (pronounced by the conductor on the train as, "Crnya", funky beach resort town south of Sydney called and took a walk on the paved path with fantastic views of the very South Pacific.

2. The fast and fine dining here is a delight for the world traveler and especially the latose intolerant. Lots of Asian and fresh seafood choices, even if sometimes the fare of the fast Asian food shops are a bit obscure.

3. I discovered evidence that althought the toilets do flush in the proper (USA) direction, the entire continent of Australia is really upside down. Note the antenna below--actually above--the monorail. See, they couldn't fool me. No wonder I was so heavy headed after my 30 hour journey on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday to get here. Of course, there was no Monday.

4. My dear friends Heinz and Ellen arrived yesterday morning successfully from Ithaca. Heinz is 84 years old and is recovering from a bout of diviculosis but made the trip I believe to sail again with me. They insisted on taking me out to dinner yesterday despite their having arrived from their 35 hours of travel. We had a delightful dinner in a downtown basement Chinese restaurant as the only patrons. The proprietor was unbelivably talkative and thus quite annoying (Heinz and I don't tolerate OTHER talkative people very well) and performed the most blantant up-selling I've ever experienced. We'd order a, "small portion of steamed rice" and he would say, "one deluxe fried rice coming up". Finally I got the idea to have him repeat the whole order and we edited it--as he continued to ask for our respective life stories, no doubt to distract from the task--until we agreed on the dinner selections. It was fun and wonderful to have such a "private" dinner. After a few hours of getting caught up, we sat at Circular Quay watching the fantastic Sydney harbo(u)r boat traffic and then Heinz and Ellen saw me off as I sailed away on the CQ to Darling Harbo(u)r ferry. All in all a fantastic day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lost a day but gained a season

Arrive yesterday (Tuesday) morning at my hotel at 10:15 am (4:15 pm Monday in Boulder) after leaving my house at 11:00 am Sunday. I think this comes to 29 hours 15 minutes "in transit". It seemed every minute of it. Maybe more. Long flight but relatively comfortable upstairs in the 747-400. Had a Scotsman next to me who travels the world attempting to convince locals that the mining company he works for will not rape the earth. His company owns the Henderson Mine; so we had nice conversations about Molybedum. Sat next to a Caltech economics professor on the leg from DIA to LAX. We discussed, uh, universities. He teaches some classes at UCSB and didn't have nice things to say about state universities compared to Caltech or MIT. Go figure.

At about the 10th hour of darkness on the LAX to SYD 14 hour flight, I asked the flight attendant when I went to the galley to overcome my coffee withdrawal headache at 4am--10 am the day before in Boulder--how most of the passengers seemed to be able to sleep for 12 hours during the interminable night flight. She said, "pills".

One highlight (pun intended) of long night flight was looking down on Maui at (roughly) midnight and watching the Southern Cross rising to the SE. Saw the SC all night until Jupiter and Venus came up just before dawn. Other than that, after some reflection I believe the trip seemed longer than 29 h 15 m. It's 85 degrees and very summery here in Sydney. Took a very long walk to get in synch yesterday. Had a delightful dim sum lunch and dinner of sushi from a conveyor belt for dinner. Stayed up well after the sun set at 8:02 pm and got up this morning (Wedesday) at 6:15 am. Will probably think of more ambitious things to do today and Thursday. Perhaps buy a "day tripper" ferry and train pass and have a meat pie at a funky beach resort. There's a "powerplant museum" near my wonderfully located hotel. Hey, do I know how to have a goodtime, or what! The hotel is on Darling Harbo(u)r, a wonderful area of seafood and other restaurants, cheap good Aussie beer (Cooper's pale ale is very nice), and varius other musea. My friends Heinz and Ellen arrive today. I'll probably have a Cooper's PA with them tonight. Heinz is 84 yrs old and probably traveled all this way from Ithaca just because I'm on this cruise. He'll be impressed I sat next to an economics professor. I won't tell him that the Caltech guy never heard of him.

Ship sails from Wharf about 3 blocks from my hotel on Friday, 1 Feb.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Equator Crossing Question

-----Original Message-----
From: Marc
Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 11:44 PM
To: Mike
Subject: The Equator

Mike, I recall that in the past years I remember reading that whenever one crossed the Equator on a ship, there was some of a carnival on board, with the passengers wearing strange clothes, etc. Does this still takes place or is it a practice that has been discontinued for whatever reason. Best, Marc

-----Original Message-----
From: Mike
Sent: Thursday, January 17, 2008 8:13 AM
To: 'Marc'
Subject: RE: The Equator

Hi Marc,

The old kind of silly traditions, such as costume parties, amateur talent contests, and the venerable King Neptune equator crossing ceremony were major aspects of long sea journeys. When ocean liner crossings got faster and then ships came out purely for cruising, it appears that many of these onboard events were modified and many were dropped for lack of interest. In my experience, it seemed that some passenger groups, most notably a group of Japanese on my first small ship cruise in the early 1990s, insisted on the fancy dress party but couldn't care less about the other traditions which were really hold overs from very long (and boring) sea journeys.

The new cruise ships are much too big to have anything like the old ship-wide ceremonies. What they do have is just one of many events on the daily schedule, and the old traditions (such as they are) often have less attendance than the daily bridge competition or perhaps an ice carving demonstration.

The ships of Silversea Cruises have 200 to 350 passengers on the ocean crossings, mostly seniors and definitely frequent cruisers. I've seen some very minor and tongue in cheek attempts at the Neptune ceremony on Silversea, but usually I'm at the bow, looking at the ocean or reading with most of the others who are awake during the afternoon. The dozen or so passengers who attend the ceremony are either already at the pool bar when it started or are first time passengers who wander away before the cruise director takes off his false beard. The "ice cream social" usually gets a lot better attendance, at least if the band isn't too loud. The picture above is from a Silversea cruise of February 2002 from LA to Sydney via Aukland. With all those days at sea--we couldn't stop at Fiji due to typhoon damage to their sewage system making the port off-limits--a minor effort towards a King Neptune equator crossing ceremony was made. Note that the Executive Chef had something to do with throwing a paying guest in the pool while King and Queen Neptune looked on. They (as all the rest of us) were very bored.

In my experience on the half dozen Silversea cruises that crossed the equator on a major "crossing" itinerary, the King Neptune ceremony was held in varying degrees on about half. I've crossed Zero Degrees Latitude a number of times briefly--coming South out of Singapore but then swinging north into the South China Sea, for example--and that wasn't mentioned by ship's staff. United Airlines has been notably lax in all celebrations on their crossings.

This trip counts, of course, as a "major crossing itinerary" as the sea portion will be approximately 6,000 miles (over 5,000 nm) from -33 degrees South to 22 degrees North lattitude. Air travel (without celemonies but lots of movies if I'm lucky) will cover great circle 16,214 miles.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Trip Planning

Leaving in less than two weeks for 18 days (17 nights: funny how that works) on Silver Whisper, the newest of the Silversea Cruises' four ships. Planning (with United Airlines' consent) on three nights in Sydney before the cruise and two nights in Hong Kong at the end. The ship will make seven stops enroute including three on the island of New Guinea, two in Papua New Guinea and one on the Indonesian side of the island in the area formerly called, Irian Jaya. I've been to PNG's capital city of Port Moresby--known as "Moresby" to world travelers who are defined as those who call it "Moresby"--in the South. The two stops in the country on this cruise are on the north side of the island and give access to the mountainous areas. I've booked a full day excursion (the cruisers name for guided tour just like we don't leave the ship, we disembark and we don't just pay for the cruise, we pay through the nose) at Madang, the 2nd stop in New Guinea after the lovely named town of Wewak. The full day tour, uh, excusion will go up into the mountains where I won't be surprised if a bunch of university students will dress like canibals and jump up and (presumably) down. (This is know in the world of cruising as "folkloric", a word apparently used only by cruise ship tour desk personnel.)

The ship will stop also in Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, country number 115 for me, and make two stops in the Philippines, Cebu City and Manila. I've booked tours (or as we say, "pre-booked" them) in all the stops except for Newcastle, NSW which is only 75 miles north of Sydney. (Maybe I'll go there on commuter train from Sydney and leave a note for myself.) Newcastle is a substitute port for the originally advertised city of Bundaberg in Queensland, near Brisbane. I'm sure the entire ship will be abuzz conjecturing about the reason for the substitution. My guess is that the captain had a lump of coal to deliver.

Click on Google Earth screen capture above (as well as on most other pictures as in this series) for a higher resolution version. The one above shows the ship's planned stops.