Coming home

Craig and Barbara in the Blue Mountains

September 2, 2004

At home, Hillsboro, Oregon

 Dear friends and family –

 We’ve finally reached an interlude of calm after the last frantic weeks.  We consigned Sequoia to the Super Servant 3, did some traveling in Australia, spent a delightful week in Sydney, flew to California (experiencing August 24 twice by crossing the date line), had a mini-family reunion, flew to Portland, retrieved the car from storage, found a house to rent, and here we are!  I’m sure on the psychological change-o-meter we are experiencing a VERY high score.

Sequoia’s arrival in Vancouver aboard the Super Servant 3 has already been pushed back (similar to our experience in Brisbane), and the arrival is now set for September 12.  We’re planning to fly to Vancouver to receive the boat, sail to Port Townsend for a few sail repairs, and then back down the Washington coast to the Columbia River, and Sequoia’s home port.  Unfortunately our favorite marina in St. Helens is full up, so we’re looking for another marina. 

 
Here are a few highlights of the last several weeks:

I last wrote from Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.  I think I mentioned that it was quite cold and we were huddled around the woodstove.  That night, it snowed several inches, which created a beautiful winter wonderland among the eucalyptus trees.  We enjoyed being in a calm, restful place, somewhat recovering from the hectic pace of getting Sequoia onto the Super Servant 3, and then immediately flying to Sydney, renting a car, and negotiating some horrendous traffic getting OUT of Sydney.

View from the front window of our Blackheath cabin
Jenolan Caves From Blackheath we drove to the Jenolan Caves – an extensive cave system full of stalactites, stalagmites and other fantastic formations.  We signed up for a tour, and enjoyed being in a relatively warm place (the caves).  Unfortunately the guide was more interested in telling about the names given to various formations (“the Sultan’s curtain”, “the miniature forest” or the like, and didn’t say much about the geology that created the place.  One cave, called “The Cathedral” is reported to have such fantastic acoustics that they hold concerts in it.  We missed by only one day being there for a concert by a cellist, performing Bach solo suites.  That would have been quite interesting.

From there we drove to Lithgow, where we had a couple of interesting experiences.  First there was the hotel – we decided to splurge and stay in a brand new “Best Western” hotel.  Even with the high priced rooms, they were definitely running it on the cheap.  The room had not been heated.  It turned out that you could ONLY get heat if you inserted your key tag into a fixture on the wall.  The idea was that when you were out (having the key with you), the room would not be heated.  We wanted to go out to dinner, and we definitely did not want to come back to an unheated room.  So Craig figured out how to defeat the system by separating the key from its tag, and leaving the heat on.

Very well and fine, but it turns out all the heat is directed into the room, and none into the bathroom.  The bathroom has no heater or heat lamp.  So taking a shower turned out to be like climbing into a refrigerator.

All this is no doubt because most of the year it’s quite hot.  But it’s small consolation when you’re there at the cold time of the year.

The other interesting stop we made in Lithgow was at the “Working Men’s Club” where we had dinner.  Clubs such as this seem to be a uniquely Australian institution.  Social clubs are able to raise money for their activities by running gambling establishments (“pokies”), bars and restaurants (all in one building).  Sometimes the restaurants are the best in town (as seemed to have been the case here) and quite reasonably priced.  Anyone can come into the club, as a “temporary member”, as long as they live at least 5 kilometers away, or come as a guest of a member.  You have to sign a book, promising to obey gambling and drinking laws, and then you have the run of the place.  When we were in Australia, the government was proposing to introduce a tax on the “pokies.”  The Clubs Association was running a huge publicity campaign, claiming that the government was trying to destroy the Australian Club system.  

 
Driving back to Sydney, we stopped to see the station for the ZigZag railroad.  This is an antique train and line which is operated by a nonprofit group.  The train apparently does switchbacks up and down a steep hill by reversing direction repeatedly.  There were no trains running at any time that was good for us, but we noticed that they had called their platform “9 ¾”.  We inquired, and it turns out they run “Hogwarts Express” trains (straight from Harry Potter books and movies) on Saturday nights.  Kids dress up in appropriate costumes, and are seated on the train by use of a sorting hat.  Various other details are added to make the experience as authentic as possible.  The staff person said that each of the two preceding Saturdays, the train had run in snow flurries, which made for a special trip for the kids. Craig on platform nine and three quarters

Above:  View of downtown Sydney from the top of the Bernly Hotel

Back in Sydney, we stayed at the Bernly Private Hotel, in the Kings Cross District.  Although it caters primarily to backpackers (twenty- and thirty-somethings doing Australia on the cheap), they do have inexpensive private rooms available for folks like us.  It’s a very friendly place, and anyone traveling to Sydney should consider it.  
The Kings Cross district is something else.  The main street is lined with strip joints and “adult boutiques.”  The sidewalk is full of scantily dressed young women leaning against doorways, and touts, trying to talk passing men into coming inside.  One tout beckoned us, “Special for couples…” (We didn’t take him up on his offer).  Between the adult establishments are newsstands, internet cafes, convenience stores, fast food places, and tiny Korean and Vietnamese restaurants.  We walked past all of this every day on the way to the train station.  

We bought a 5 day transit pass which allowed for unlimited travel, within the central Sydney area, aboard trains, buses, and ferries.  The ferries, of course, were the most fun.  We went to the zoo one day, and another day we took the ferry out to Watson Bay, which is at the mouth of the Sydney harbor.

Below:  Sydney zoo animals.  Left, the echidna, a relative of the duckbilled platypus (both unique to Australia).  Right, meerkats (from South Africa).

 

We went to two events at the opera house.  The first was a production of The Mikado, and was excellently done.  The character of KoKo, the Lord High Executioner, was played by a local media personality, and he really milked the character for all it was worth.  We were glad we’d been listening to Australian news so we could understand some of the local current satire which was inserted into his song, “I’ve got a little list.” 

Sydney opera house from a ferry deck
The other opera house event was a concert by LangLang and the Sydney Symphony.  LangLang is the 22 year old Chinese piano sensation, and he was very good.  After the concert, all the young people were snaked in a line around the lobby, waiting to buy a CD and get it autographed by the young man himself.  We thought the orchestra was also excellent, but the acoustics of the hall were not as good as we had expected.  
 Sydney is obviously THE place to live, if you are a sailor.  There are thousands of sailboats anchored in the various inlets and bays of Sydney Harbor.  We really regretted not having been there on our boat, and we’re thinking there may have to be another sailing trip, with an entire year devoted to the east coast of Australia.  (I doubt if our orchestras would give us another leave of absence, so it may not happen for awhile…)

Above:  View of downtown Sydney from Watsons Bay.

On the plane from Sydney to San Francisco, we were talking to one stewardess about our experiences of the last two years.  She asked “How were you changed?”  No one had ever asked us that before, and it has really set us to thinking.  For sure we are calmer, more relaxed and more able to live in the present.  It will be a challenge to maintain that attitude as we re-enter the land-based life.  Yesterday we signed up for electricity, gas, telephone, water, garbage, renters insurance, cell phone service, cable, and internet.  YIKES!  We didn’t need most of that when we were cruising…

 

Best wishes to all!

Craig & Barbara Johnston 

S/V Sequoia

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