Monday, January 28, 2008

Heading Out

We left Wednesday morning, January 2nd. Our across the street neighbor, Matt Weppner, gave us and our four suitcases and 2 duffle bags a lift to the airport. He and Anita, his wife, took care of Saki, our 14-year-old Shiba Inu, while we were gone. In addition to three adorable kids (Hannah, Erin, and Brennan), they have three dogs, two bunnies, and a cat. With the presence of Saki, their house was a veritable zoo!

As I mentioned in the previous post, we spent the night in Los Angeles. Mostly we worried about being able to make connections in a timely matter. Our last big cruise (Panama Canal on the Crystal Symphony) we woke up to find Buffalo totally fogged in. Two hours before departure we went online to find out that conditions were clear in Rochester, 60 miles down the road. Two one way tickets and a mad dash later we were on our way -- and made it on the ship just half an hour before sailing from Caldera, Costa Rica. Much too close for our comfort zone!

Los Angeles was good. We had hoped to get soba in Manhattan Beach but the place was closed so that evening we headed to Little Tokyo. Komasa, which we had wanted to try last trip, was full so we went a few doors down to Hama Sushi, which was small, incredibly authentic, and just plain fabulous. The follow up visit to Yamazaki induced the usual sighs of delight.

Next day we continued the exploration of Los Angeles we'd begun in April and continued in November. This time we did the Beach Cities: Venice, Marina Del Rey, Vista del Mar, El Segundo, Huntington, Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo, ending up with a tour through Palos Verdes Estates and down to Long Beach, before doubling back on the PCH and heading back to Little Tokyo for a second round at Hama and Yamazaki.

After lunch, we visited the Japanese-American National Museum, a very poignant reminder that there is a lot about American history that (even now) we don't get taught in school. The racist quote from Ben Franklin emblazoned on the wall made me squirm, just as it should have done. (Not that I was particularly surprised; I was mostly squirming that I had to go there to have read it!)

Then it was off to The Grove, the shopping haven adjacent to Farmer's Market, for some window shopping and some eye candy. Then back to LAX to check in our luggage with Air Pacific. And then to Encounter for dinner with Tom.

Encounter was a hoot. The elevator played Jetson-inspired music, the restaurant itself, still done up for the holidays, twinkled, sparkled, and oozed, in true Lava-lamp fashion, and whenever someone ordered a beer on tap the dispenser produced a chorus of chirps, whoops, and wails reminiscent of the bar scene in Star Wars. The price tag reflected the killer ambiance, not the quality of the food, which was quite good but nothing extraordinary.

We boarded the plane for our 10-hour flight to Fiji well-sated (views, food, and a friend!) and ready for more!

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The Big Trip: Overview

We departed Buffalo on Wednesday, January 2, 2008, for our Big Trip, a 2-week cruise to ports in New Zealand and Australia aboard the Celebrity Mercury. Our itinerary included:

Jan. 2-3: Buffalo to Detroit to Los Angeles via Northwest. Toodled around Little Tokyo, the Grove, and the Beach Cities. Had dinner Thursday night at Encounter, the cool restaurant in LAX’s signature building, with our friend Tom.

Jan. 3-5: Los Angeles to Nadi (Fiji) to Auckland (New Zealand) via Air Pacific, the national airline of Fiji. The flight to Fiji was 10 hours but because we crossed the International Dateline going east to west Jan. 4 disappeared entirely!

Jan. 5-6: Checked out Auckland (on foot and a private tour) before boarding the Mercury, docked at Princes Wharf, adjacent to our (ultracool) hotel, the Auckland Hilton. Mike of Mike’s Garden Tours was knowledgeable and charming and Auckland is beautiful!

Jan. 7: Tauranga, New Zealand. Tour of the town plus Kiwifruit Country. We learned more than we could possibly have imagined about kiwi fruit. I told the owner / tour guide it was the best agricultural tour I’d ever been on.

Jan. 8: At sea

Jan. 9: Napier, New Zealand. An earthquake flattened Napier in 1931 and the citizenry rebuilt in the trendiest architectural style of the period, Art Deco! As a result Napier has the largest concentration of Art Deco style buildings anywhere.

Jan. 10: Wellington, New Zealand. Our tour of the Karori Wildlife Refuge resulted in our meeting Desmond Smith, a Karori tour guide and one half of the first couple in New Zealand to receive a Civil Union license!

Jan. 11: Christchurch, New Zealand. Rough crossing through the Cook Strait the night before (fortunately, we’re both impervious to motion sickness.) Nice tour of Lyttleton (Christchurch’s port) and Christchurch itself before heading up into the Southern Alps for a short walk about Arthur’s Pass and then a scenic train trip back to town on the TranzAlpine Railway.

Jan. 12: Dunedin. A tour of the town plus a visit to the Otago Museum.

Jan. 13: Cruising the New Zealand fjords. We entered Dusky Sound in the morning, while I was still asleep, and skipped Doubtful Sound because the water was too rough (insert joke about needing a “Backup Sound, beep, beep, beep!” here!), and then on to Milford Sound. Wow! It rates right up there with the top of Mt. Hale’akala as one of the most spectacular bits of scenery I’ve ever seen!

Jan. 14-15: Crossing the Tasman Sea from the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. HEAVY seas both days, with swells up to 15 feet! Much too much for many of our fellow passengers but I loved it!

Jan. 16: Coach tour through Melbourne (pronounced “Melbun”) up to the outlying town of Healesville and the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary. Kangaroos, koalas, and platypi, oh my!

Jan. 17: At sea.

Jan. 18: Newcastle, New South Wales. We’d originally planned on doing the “baths and paths” tour but opted instead to do a private tour of the Hunter Valley wine region with some of our tablemates, and just as well—Newcastle was very much under the weather!

Jan. 19-20: Sydney. Wow! What a beautiful city. A nice enough coach tour through the city center and nearby eastern suburbs, including spectacular Bondi Beach, and, best of all, a visit to and tour of the Sydney Opera House. Better yet, our friend, Nicky, a fellow passenger on our Panama Canal (Crystal Symphony) cruise, picked us up and took us on a 3 ½ hour car tour of, including a stop by her parents’ house to pick up her dad, who was kind enough to drive us across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Jan. 20-21: Flying back to Buffalo. We departed Sydney Sunday afternoon and arrived Buffalo about the same time Monday afternoon—36 hours later! Going west we had lost Jan. 4; going west to east we got to experience Jan. 20 twice!

Altogether, a truly fabulous trip with a hundred memorable events! More postings about individual episodes before long...

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