Saturday, January 21, 2017

It's been great!

So there I was, face to face with a Giant Red Kangaroo, killer of the Australian outback! I knew that one false move could end it all. I moved one way, he moved the other!  A kick from his powerful legs could knock me senseless!
At that moment, one of the zoo workers told me to quit harassing the animals, and the 'roo went back to checking for fleas.
But the Taronga zoo really was cool, reached by, what else, a nice harbor ferry ride from downtown Sydney.  

We got to see platypuses, koalas, emus, wallabies, kookaburras, saltwater 'crocs and a lot of other Australian strange creatures.  
However, the central reason for our visit to Australia was to attend the wedding on Friday, the 20th, of one of our beloved Sister missionaries, Shannel Gonzalez, in the Sydney Temple.
 All went swimmingly, and we were honored to attend.
The reception was in a lovely old house in Campbelltown, west of Sydney, built just 30 years after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.
A minor miracle has occurred, and despite driving on the left for five days total, I didn't damage the Toyota Corolla we rented from the "No Birds" company, or cause heart attacks in the local drivers sharing our routes. 
"No Birds?" Thirty years ago, car companies here used attractive young women in the ads ("birds" in Aussie slang of the time), and even to pickup and deliver cars.  This company went for simplicity, hence the name.  
A wise guy sky-wrote something that got a lot of laughs while we were at the zoo:
The Australians we spoke with (and the rest of the world?) are uneasily awaiting the outcome of THAT.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge was finished in 1932, and was a source of much-needed pride at a time when Australia was suffering from the Great Depression along with the rest of the world.
It's bigger than it looks, and of course it had to be hiked across.
It was a gorgeous day, and I counted more than seventy sails in the Harbor from atop the Bridge.
All in all, we've had a very enjoyable trip.  We expected it to be good, but Australia has surpassed expectations.  Now, the trip home, with several hundred of our closest friends.
We hope you're doing well, and that the kangaroos leave you alone, too.
Dave & Paula

Friday, January 20, 2017

Almost a cathedral

One of the most iconic structures in the world is located here, the Sydney Opera House. Danish architect Jorn Utzon's entry was chosen in a worldwide competition in 1957 that drew some 220 plans; his idea was passed over in the first culling, but a fourth judge was added, and he liked "#218." Little did anyone know that Utzon's drawings had not yet benefited from an engineering analysis.  
The original budget for the whole project was seven million dollars, with an expected completion schedule of three years.  The Opera House was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973, and cost 103 million, some thirteen years and 96 million dollars over.
Utzon had a vision, and he meant to carry it out. Six years were spent going through twelve iterations of how to build and erect the the shells. It took Utzon three years just to get the tiles perfect that cover the 'sails' of the building. (They never need cleaning because of their design, and rain water is channeled quietly away without gutters to spoil the aesthetics.)
The concrete ribs of the shell are left to be viewed, and in Utzon's words 'engage the viewer in the structure itself.'
Utzon's father was a marine architect, and many design elements pay homage to him; for a small example, all signage on the right (starboard) side of the structure is green, that on the port side is red.
As the construction time dragged on and costs soared because of the difficulty of the construction of the shells, bureaucrats fell out of love with Utzon, and he finally quit over the controversy in March 1966. Luckily by that time, the 'sails' were near completion, and the halls themselves, of which there are six of various size, were designed and carried out by architects that had worked with, and understood Utzon. Sadly, he left Australia, never to return or see his work in life.
During the last ten years or so of his life - he died in 2008 - there was a rapprochement, and Utzon continued to direct some details of the building.  He received the Pritzker Prize, the 'Nobel Prize' of architecture in 2002 for his work on the Opera House, and the building is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, having been placed there in June of 2007.
I have not been in many other buildings, save temples, some cathedrals and a few others, that have evoked a stronger feeling of awe and even reverence. There was something about this place, a structure that has become the symbol of the nation.
So, next time you're halfway 'round the world, make sure and take the tour, and forget the $40. And make sure your wife is listening to the tour and not Led Zeppelin on her 'phones.
After catching our breath, we walked through the Royal Botanical Gardens, and they were as beautiful as expected.
Many years and many activities ago, I learned that Paula must be fed to be happy. We found a cafe in the Botanical Gardens, but carefully read the signs warning the patrons sitting outside of the rapacious birds patrolling the area.  Sure enough, I saw these Australian white ibis dive for any food left around:
The birds were even tagged.  #114 was a particularly bad actor - watch out for him!
Just then, I noticed that MY food was being taken by a devious and determined creature!
I quickly tagged her. Watch your fish 'n' chips in Sydney when #157 is on the prowl! I'm just sayin'.
We had time to take in the Sydney Aquarium, and saw a lot of creatures with whom we had recently swum on the Great Barrier Reef.
 And a few that we hadn't.
We maintained our diligence in reading and obeying warning signs, because as the dugong keeper reminds you, if you climb the fence, you will fall in!!
We hope that your dugong fences are in good repair, and remember, don't climb them.
Dave & Paula 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

No more ignored signs!

We learned our lesson in the last chapter of the blog. You've got to read the warning signs and follow them. So, we started watching more closely on our next field trip, in which we took the Sydney Harbor Ferry
to Manly Beach, one of the more well-known strands in Sydney, and took a walk around notable sites in the area.
Most of the signs were pretty straight forward.
Many seemed like good safety tips. Apparently, parts of the 100-foot cliffs on the North Head - one of the points of land defining the Sydney Harbor entrance - had begun falling off in big chunks at inopportune moments. Bad for tourism!
Admittedly, $5,500.00 Australian is actually only $4,146.64 US dollars, but that is still not worth bringing Fido along.
This next one kind of worried me for the safety of my lovely spouse, but she maintained it was the other kind of fox.  Whew!
I was OK with this one, as I had no intention of bothering Large or Medium penguins either.
With a gruesome graphic like this, I don't even want to know how heavy the penalties are.
If my hoarder/collector days were not long over, this would have done the trick.
I was already walking kind of slowly, as we'd covered about nine miles on the day, but when I was informed that I needed to further decelerate to save what appears to be a large rat, I heeded the warning.  It took about an hour to do the next 100 yards, but the bandicoots are safe.
I have become very partial to Australia during our brief time here.  It is a lovely, laid back, fascinating place with wonderful people. Because of this, and my basic desire to preserve history, I did in no way, shape or form disturb the following patrimony of New South Wales:
Things are going better now that we are paying more attention to the warning signs.
We hope that you are finding your way more smoothly by doing so also.
Dave & Paula

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Australia gives it one more go

The ranger lady at the Blue Mountains Heritage Center seemed so nice, as she explained the various hikes in the Blackheath area.  Little did we suspect that she, and her "lovely" hikes would constitute another hazard of this country.
"Oh, yes, the Clifftop route to Rodriguez Pass and back up is a bit strenuous, but it's a good walk," she said with an innocent smile.  What could go possibly go wrong?
I slap myself for not taking a picture of the sign at the trailhead.  As far as we can remember, it said something like, "WARNING! Steep, difficult trail. Markings may be lacking." I think the fine print read, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!" But hey, we've done tough hikes, right? Right?!
It really was pretty on the way down, though on a number of occasions we had to retrace our steps to find where the trail continued.  And, it did cross our minds a couple of times that, you know, what goes down must come up.  
We finally reached the valley floor in one piece, ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and started back up.
Though I had always associated elves and dwarves and their handiwork with New Zealand (next island over), they had apparently been fiendishly practicing their art in the Blue Mountains for a while also.  I lost count of the stone stairways about the time I began hallucinating.
 And then it got silly.  The last pitch up the vertical wall was nothing short of absurd.
Just as we drank the last bit of water and composed notes to our children to be found by our bodies, we reached the parking lot, where several tourists were eyeing the trailhead.  "Don't even think about it," we mumbled as we climbed in.
In the end, instead of the 11 kilometers the clever ranger lady had promised, it was 11.5 miles, you know, those bigger things, and that didn't count the vertical.  
We hope you have the good sense to read - and obey - the warning signs, and be careful in beautiful and mellow places that actually are trying to get you.
Dave & Paul
Coming Soon: "Why they drive on the left in Australia," and, "Other ways to croak in Oz."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A mellow place, trying to kill you.

We had one missionary, a Sister, from Australia in our mission.  We always joked with her about attending her wedding some day.  Well, she up and got engaged. Paula and I looked at each other, shrugged the shoulders, and said, "Why not?"
Before, and on the way over, we read books and articles, most of which reminded us that Australia will try to kill you, with crocodiles, the ten most poisonous snakes in the world, box jellyfish, cassowaries (huge birds) to eviscerate you, and the deadliest spider anywhere.
Other than that, it's a pretty dang mellow place.  The first day, we visited the Maroubra beach walking from our hotel.
"A beach can be defined as a stretch of sand longer than 20 metres and remaining dry at high tide. Based on this definition, the Coastal Studies Unit at the University of Sydney has counted 10,685 beaches in Australia."  A friendly Aussie told me that number may be one reason the country is perhaps TOO mellow at times.
OK, but still, a helicopter went over every five minutes counting sharks, and a sign warned of "blue bottles," which we learned were Portugese Man'o'Wars.  I went swimming anyway.
Sydney has a great, easy public transit system, which we used on Sunday to attend church with our beloved Sister missionary.  We lost track of time talking with her and her family, and another Sister missionary who was visiting, and caught the train back, then the last bus to Maroubra.  We were the only folks on board, and the bus driver asked us where we were headed. "No worries. I'm on the way to the garage. I'll drop you off." And so he did. 
The Great Barrier Reef off the north coast of Australia runs for more than 1,600 miles, has over 900 islands, is considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world, and the food was great!  We lived aboard a live-aboard dive boat for three very fun days.
We did ten dives, including a couple at night. 
I thought giant clams were the stuff of cartoons.  Nope!  We saw a number of those suckers, which are actually quite beautiful, and measured several feet across.
On one night dive, up to four sharks at a time were sliding around us, looking for fish caught in our lights.
OK, did I mention that the food was great? By the end, I had to put an extra weight on my belt to hold me down from the effects of too many great meals.
At the moment, we're in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains , a couple of hours to the west of Sydney. It's a popular area for vacationing in the austral summer, with pretty little tourist towns and beautiful vistas, 
as well as cooler temperatures.
A particular hike in a deep canyon was perhaps the most beautiful we had ever taken, with giant ferns, meticulous paths, amazing cliffs and almost no one around.
When we arrived at the Leura Ward today, we wondered if perhaps the Church had purchased the building, as its architecture was unusual.
With a grin, the former Bishop said, "No, it was planned by an architect in 1983 who wasn't a member, but he read all he could about the Church, and designed it to be filled with light."
"We think that whoever in Salt Lake saw the photos of the scale model liked it, and approved the design. However, some stuffy guy visited later and got all bothered. We think it's great!"  The building has garnered several awards through the years, and the ward loves it.
And so did we, along with the warmth of the folks there.  
So far, we've only seen one two snakes, no spiders, no box jellies or deadly birds. It's been nothing but a great trip, in a country that one could come to love.  
Except for Vegemite.
Who in the world thought that was great?! I've got to include it as a hazard of the continent.
We hope that your spreads are at least edible, and that the 'crocs leave you alone.
Dave & Paula