Friday, November 28, 2014

The Big Cross Country Ride

(Linking Indian Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, since1917; but only since 1969 without changing trains; before that there were different rail gauges)

Here we are on the Indian Pacific, rolling the width of the USA from west to east for three nights. Snug in a cabin that holds a double by night and transforms into a sitting area by day. But it has an ensuite bathroom, since Sandee just will not travel without that feature wherever she is in the world. Carry on luggage she will accept, but private loo and shower and wifi is her minimum requirement. This trip however has no wifi, so that was a give.

(Our cabin and private facilities, above and below)
( this car had a wavy corridor with single cabins and facilities at the end and beginning of the car) below: the bar area

The ticket however allows for unlimited drinking, so who needs wifi in that case? (unfortunately her daily allowance in calories puts a dent in the unlimited element)

( first part of the trip before reaching the Nullarbor region)

The train is 28 carriages long and has several touristic stops along the way.

(Below the Nullarbor was like this for one day and one night of travel)

We leave before noon the Perth railway station and our first stop is Kalgoorie, the gold capital of Australia since the discovery in 1893. Unfortunately the buses, that were waiting for the hundred plus passengers on our train, were waiting in the dark as we boarded them around 11:30pm. Even the ladies of the night (a must for any self respecting miners town) had ceased working - or had overnight guests.

(Below and above more Nullarbor and no sign of life)

We got a running commentary about early 1900 facades and the first prospectors striking it rich. One mine to be visited was not accessible as the key to the padlock was missing, and when we entered the second strip mine we did not "alight" the bus for a walk in the dark to the edge of the pit. We were told later, that we missed a light fest of large Caterpillars (the one and only good thing coming from the Chicago area - lest I forget John Deere) which were doing 60 ton scoops of dirt every few minutes to be dumped in large machines that wash out the gold 24/7. We were told that this 3.6km long pit aims to keep scooping till 2029, if gold prices keep above certain price levels. The mining museum they opened just for our three bus loads had one of those CAT's on display, but it was too dark for a picture. They seem, by the way, to consume 1 liter of gasoline per 30 meter/33 yard.

(Cook city holding cells for bad people to be put on the train)

Beyond the fact, that this town has three buses trolling through town at midnight, this was not a highlight of our trip.

(Cook city citizens had a sense of humor)

We woke up in the famous Nullarbor the next morning. Nullarbor is Australian slang for the Latin phrase "no trees". If there is any reason not to take this sight seeing trip, it would be this sight for a full day and night. It however underscores the fact that Australia's citizens live a "coastal" life. Besides some birds and maybe desert critters I never spotted, no self respecting animal roams this territory.

( sunsets in the Nullarbor)

This brings me to the million plus wild camels that reside in Australia's inland and when caught are being exported to Afghanistan as a very pure race, highly desired by the Afghans. They roam the northern part of Australia, so we never saw them. We were told that the Afghans and their camels helped build the railroads crossing the country west to east and north to south.

(Cook's only phone, but does it work?)

The Afghans left or became Aussies, the camels stayed and multiplied and became a royal pest as they eat whatever is available in this arid world, in which cattle farmers try to exist. We crossed one of the largest cattle stations (farm) in Australia, but did not see cattle from the train. They corral their cattle with planes and four wheelers. The largest farm is 6 million acres large, that is 20 percent larger than the country of Belgium.

(Cook city sign and tribute to longest serving railway worker; question: did he die at age 28 looking like that or did he serve 28 years and retired looking like that?)
(Wild pepper plant growing in Cook)
(Blue wall is city pool wall, now dry; below housing for present 4 residents)

The next excursion in the middle of the Nullabor, this time around noon is the ghost town, since 1997, of Cook with a population of 4. Those two couples operate the train refueling station here. We wander around there and find the pool and the school, just see the pictures.

(The picture says it all)

(Adelaide seems to say "chocolate city")

We drove by Tarcoola with few residents there. I have a few pictures. When we arrived at Adelaide in the morning, buses showed us this one kilometer square town laid out in a grid, surrounded all the way with 760 hectare of parks. The only city in the whole wide world completely surrounded by parks. It's designer, colonel William Light, was not a park lover. He considered the feature a defense system for cannons.

(Above buildings new conference center and below the parks at the edge of town)

The main street in Auckland is King William Street and because Commoners should not cross royalty, the street names on either side of King William street are different in the grid street town, so as to make certain no commoner was crossing The King.

(Adelaide park at the edge and a hill side view of town below)
(Could not resist another Jacaranda tree picture in Adelaide)

Another cute element was the Koala bear crossing wires allowing Koalas to cross the interstate concrete center divider (see picture). We were also told that sensors monitor the tunnels, and if a monitor finds koalas in the tunnel, the traffic is stopped till the koalas have exited the tunnel.

(Koala bear sign and below the concrete wall with a climbing net for Koalas)
(Trucks coming down too fast can sink their wheels in a sand bed called "arrester bed"; pulling them out costs 8 grand)

The last place we stopped on this tour to climb onto a bus was another mining city called Broken Hill. Called the silver city, it is the longest perpetually inhabited mining town in Australia with a memorial we visited remembering the 800 plus miners who died here doing their job. About 50 of them were registered in the last 20 years as "heart attack" victims. That told me that diagnostics in the years before that did not have the means to diagnose "heart attacks".

(Broken Hill miner monument with 800 plus names below)

We arrived in Sydney the next morning and left for Auckland New Zealand the following day

(Passing through Tarcoola and seeing the residents from the train)
(Waking up to the morning fog in the Blue Mountain area toward Sydney)
(it was somewhere here that I spotted 2 kangaroos in the distance)













































Sunday, November 23, 2014

Perth, the surprise

After "bitching" a bit about Sydney, nothing but good can be said about Perth, the capital of Western Australia. Somewhere during colonial times, someone in power took a ruler and a pencil and drew a line north south on the continental map and created Western Australia, just west of Darwin to avoid the "who is the capital" discussion. Well this state now covers one third of the country, making it the largest state anywhere in the world, (that means 5 times the size of Texas or for Europeans among you, 10 times Italy), housing 2 million people or almost 10% of the Australian population.

(Park right below our hotel window)
(Cricket stadium with Friday evening practice game)

Maybe, because we are "small town" people ourselves (the city plus suburbs counts a population of 1.9 million, but the city itself maybe a few hundred thousand), maybe, it was the cab driver from dutch origin (Bram got here at age 7) in the early sixties, maybe, it was the blue sky (Perth is the sunniest city in Australia, maybe even the world, with more than 300 sun days a year), maybe, it was the view from our 15th floor balcony, but this town had something that appealed.

(Perth mall street art)
(Mall statue)
(St Mary's right down town survived a few earth quakes)

In the days that followed, that feeling was confirmed by interesting factoids and the people we met.

(Kids loved the water fountains spouting at different intervals with a "colonial clown" entertaining them)
(Christmas with religious elements on the mall - haven't seen that in the US for years)

As we arrived in the morning hours, we had to leave our luggage at the hotel and were kindly booted out till our room would be ready. We were told that inner city public transportation, meaning buses, were free. We thus rode all four colors of CAT buses (City Area Transportation), the red and yellow lines went east west, the blue and green lines north south) from beginning to end to get a feel of down town. We walked the city mall, no cars allowed, and found the iPerth tourist info booth, where we were told that at 11 am the next day a walking tour was advised.

(Fremantle downtown pub with a profound statement below)
(Rosemary our guide entertaining us)
(Perth Supreme Court)
(I saw 2 live Roo's in Australia from a distance, so this is the best I can do for you)
(Rosemary insisted on this picture)
(We loved the diverse range of trees in Australia)

Rosemary turned out to be a very sprite well informed Brit (she stated she wasn't Aussie, because she came as a "ten pounder" to town). In those days the Australian government recruited immigrants to come, asking for 10 pounds for the documentation and the trip cost to Australia. The only consequence was that the government decided where you would reside in your new country. And in Rosemary's case that was Western Australia, or in those days Perth, a small backwater town on the lazy Swan river. Now it is the fastest growing town in Australia growing 1,000 citizens a week. And it shows, as all around town construction cranes indicate, that new buildings and or city complexes arise.

(Downtown Perth growing 1000 people a week, thus construction cranes all around)

Rosemary pointed out several landmarks as seen in the pictures, and stopped at the senior center, where she read us today's $10 menu. She lives 40 plus kilometers out of town but can ride for free to downtown for her lunch or dinner.

(This store has dried foods in bins and very much in demand since 1929, one of the three owners just died recently at age 93 after showing for work daily)
(This English court was built before WW1 for 45000 pounds by a prospector gone rich; upper offices with old signage reinforces the feel of this center. Picture below is long shot along the court yard)

We took the next day an all day ticket for less than $12 each to ride that far out of town to Mandurah a beach town, which we left asap as it was infested with pesky little biting flies, which made me feel like a horse or a cow swatting those pests off my face all the time, shaking my head. When asking locals, they told us, that those pests would be there all summer and that they were early this season, but that one gets used to it. We decided not to have lunch there. The flies followed us in the bus, an untold number of them riding my back.

(We had lunch right beside the senior luncheon affair with fifties and sixties music under colorful tents)
(Riverside Bell tower downtown recently built for bells given by an English town whose name I forgot)
(River trip brought us alongside this neighborhood, see above and below)

We also "alighted" (that is what Aussies say when they leave a train or bus) in the port city of Fremantle, where the Swan river flows into the Indian Ocean. We regretted not having more time to explore this wonderful old port, so a ride on the local CAT bus had to do.

(Some people have large homes built to spec with less imaginative neighbors)

An evening cricket game from our balcony told me that I do not understand the game, but the crowd roared at various times, thus I take it the home team was winning.

(Aboriginal paintings in a new neighborhood)

On our last full day in Perth we took a cruise for several hours upriver on the Swan. The first announcement was, that in case the ship would sink we would be directed to climb on the roof where we would be dry, as the river wasn't deep enough to worry about evacuation procedures nor the need for vests to be distributed.

(Above and below Swan river pictures during river cruise)
(Below our "funny" captain, who after awhile started to annoy us)

The captain turned out to be a jolly, congenial bullshitter with irrelevant rants at the federal government in his commentaries during this trip, highlighting the fact there was not much to tell about this lazy winding river with apartment complexes and homes facing the water.

(Pictures taken during our train trip to pesky biting fly townships)
(Aussie bird have not seen before and below the "old" station in Mandurah)
(Riverview of Perth)

The skyline of Perth from the water looked a bit like any mid sized modern city, with here and there construction cranes indicating "progress".

(Regional train and the universal Australian sign for bike storage place near stations)
(Self explanatory above in train below)

According to Rosemary a waterfront area near the ferries downtown would become a bit like Dubai, with futuristic skyscrapers and all.

(Above wall art in downtown Perth results in below picture of Marilyn)

Wifi was a problem again. We went to the library to find free wifi and check our emails, only to learn we needed 5G to access their system.

(The most expensive art object symbolizing Perth's isolated location, loved and hated. In my opinion the pigeon poop improves this plastic statue)
(Above colonial government offices with below national code of arms, with a deviation the kangaroo is looking backwards toward the treasury building for more money)
(Below code of arms indicate that the kangaroo and the emu stare at each other without blinking, thus forward only - no retreat)

Public places almost never had wifi access. Aussies have their smartphones and phone booths, so who cares about the few foreigners anxiously trying to find internet connections.

(A frontal shot of the government offices - one of few old buildings left; many facades we saw were just that facades, with new buildings behind it)

We tried to have lunch at a 35 story high revolving restaurant, but were denied again, because I was wearing dress (I stress "dress") shorts, as shorts are shorts and that is that.

(An "arty" shot of the downtown plaza)

Did we tell you why we flew from Sydney to Perth of all places? Well because we are taking the train back to Sydney to see the outback in all its glory on a 3 night trip spanning the whole continent.

But about that in the next blog