Tuesday, 29 November 2011

On bits from the British Isles

On why I probably will not go to Britain next year
One of the bike trips I would like to take would be to do some more biking in Scotland and get deeper into the Highlands. However, this was never on the cards for next year as I figured that the 2012 Olympics in London would make the trip needlessly expensive.

As I was cataloging a biography of Queen Elizabeth II today, I suddenly noticed that 2012 will also be her Diamond Jubilee and therefore another reason not to visit the UK in 2012. I is not that I am against the monarchy (indeed I am favour of keeping the monarchy) but the party will further increase the price of the trip.

I also wonder what the connections between the Olympics in London next year and the Jubilee are and will be.

On marmite

Since my trip to Australia, I have had a number of conversations on the subject of Vegemite and it's consumption. I find it makes a nice change from time to time. I am not sure if I have tasted Vegemite's close relative and predecessor, Marmite. That's why this story got my attention. However, the BBC's version seems to contradict this. ;-)

Saturday, 26 November 2011

On my shoulders, a niece

I was out in North Hatley yesterday for my step-niece's 18th birthday. Near the end of the evening, Désirée, my 3 year old niece was getting a bit restless. I therefore decided to have some fun and sat her on my shoulders. That made her night! She was tickled pink to be up so high, especially as everyone else at the part was an adult. Unfortunately, she wanted to tickle my face at times which was out of my comfort zone as I was wearing glasses as my contact lenses had been bothering me. Pictures of the event were taken and have been posted here.

Monday, 14 November 2011

On what comes next

A colleague asked me today "What adventure will you go off on next?"

My answer was that "I don't know." Luckily I don't have to know for at least five months. Even then, when I will be asked to choose vacation times, I will have fudge room. A wrinkle in my selection process is that the trip to Oz has given me enough Aeroplan miles to go anywhere in Canada.

I began by wondering if I should use them to fly to out for Margo's John's wedding in Victoria, bringing Leonardo along so I could go biking in Washington State as well. I quickly nixed that idea as a waste as the nature Aeroplan miles is such that it is better to use them to go to out of the way places rather than between two well-connected cities. I may well still do that trip, just not will Aeroplan miles. The rough idea would be to take the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles and go down the coast to Portland, Oregon. From there, I would go back up to Seattle via Mount St-Helens. From Seattle, I would take the train back to Vancouver.

Another possible ride would be to do the Calgary to Winnipeg section of AMUAM JuNITO. Yet another idea would be to go back to the Highlands of Scotland. I would also like to go back to Newfoundland and take three weeks to do Deer Lake to St-John's again, but by slightly different routes which isn't quite as crazy as it sounds. I would also take the time to visit Anse-Aux-Meadows by bus or car.

Still another idea came back to me while reading the BBC news website this evening. It featured a travel article about the Okanagan wine region. I had the thought that I could use my Aeroplan points to fly into Kelowna, and do a loop that would include the short bit I didn't bike on account of my chain breaking. I could also get in some wine tasting. I would design this tour to be more relaxed. Possibly by hauling a relative along to slow me down! ;-)

All possibilities, none of them definite.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


have been added to my photo site (see the link on the right) and will eventually be added to the blog.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

On Dorval's domestic arrivals area

In the last three calendar days, I have been in four airports and five terminals. This is the shabbiest by far. This unimpressive performance by Montreal is particularly bad as the first airport was Broken Hill's which is served by one small airline.

And Leonardo is apparently flying in via Toronto. At least this means I won't have wrestle him into a taxi and up the stairs.

Leonardo was dropped off on the curb outside my flat on Sunday morning. I suspect the cause of his divergent routing from Vancouver was the fact that my flight from Vancouver was full and that one of the design compromises of the Airbus 321 is that it doesn't have much baggage capacity. The Airbus 321 is a stretched version of the Airbus 320. The extra passenger capacity comes at the price of reduced range and cargo capacity. The Air Canada website lists the 321's cargo capacity as roughly a third of the 320's.

On Air Canada flight 194

Definition of irony or possibly adding insult to injury: after losing much sleep over the possible Air Canada strike, I am sharing an Airbus 321 with a load of CUPE members returning from a convention. Some of them are apparently incapable of finding their seat on the proper side of the aircraft causing additional delays in loading Air Canada's longest single aisle aircraft. I have no great opinion of these people. They come across as if they don't listen worth shit. Maybe this is why they rejected two contract proposals in a row.

Then again, some sources suggest that social media is part of the issue. I have wondered if the growth of such networking could be dangerous as false information can spread too easily. Also, it brings the possibility of mob mentality and somewhere Terry Pratchett wrote something to the effect that a mob is only as smart as its dumbest member.

The flight was full and the overhead bins were jammed with carry-on luggage, some of them oversized. This meant I had to put my carry-on bag at my feet. This reduced the already-limited legroom available to me.

Northern Ontario rears its head. At our current rate, roughly two hours of a four and half hour flight will be spent crossing it. And people wonder why I don't want to bike across it.

On the floor in Vancouver Airport

I have arrived in Vancouver and I am sitting on the floor waiting for the lineup at Tim Hortons to shorten. After three weeks, I need to order a simple double-double rather than a long black.

On Air Canada flight 34

Note: In truth I should have written another entry before this one which would explain about the Driza-Bone coats and other bits. However, I didn't have the time on Friday (Oz time) and couldn't think about it on Saturday (Oz time). I am currently so zonked that I don't think I will have the spare brain cells to write it today, Saturday (Canuck time.)

With the added weight of two Driza-Bone coats, my luggage was much heavier than anticipated. Furthermore, the ticket machine at the train station was rejecting my cards. My credit card has been problematic in the last 36 hours. I have checked with Visa and the problem is the system and distance, not my card. However, in order to buy a ticket to the airport, I had to find a bank machine which means further haulage. My hands are raw from all the schleppage in the last two days. Halfway across the Pacific I realized that I should have applied the Burt's Bees Hand salve that I carry for my hindquarters on my hands. I will be able to have access to it when I am reunited with my duffle bag in Vancouver for customs.

The train from Sydney to the airport is almost all underground which disappoints me. However, it is quick. It is also remarkable, as it is a double-decker train.

Once in the airport, I got Leonardo out of storage and renewed the duct tape. The roll of duct tape I bought yesterday is slightly stretchy which makes it less predictable. Air Canada's mobile access has changed: I no longer can pay the bike surcharge nor do I get an electronic boarding pass. I think I unfairly disconcerted the check-in clerk by asking why. The Aussie clerk on loan from Quantas didn't have a clue. After disposing of the checked luggage, I had an outdoor breakfast next to a guy from Australian customs having a smoko. I politely inquired why I had to fill out an exit customs form. He said he didn't know, but it was a directive from Canberra. This Aussie exit customs added to the length of time it took to get through to the gate area. As it was followed by security, a random bomb pat-down (I should have pointed out my first name is Daniel not Achmed. ;-) ) and a queue at the TRS (Tax Refund Service) to get back the GST on the Driza-Bones, I had not quite enough time to investigate duty-free as closely as I wanted.

While made my way to my gate, I heard a couple of interesting gate calls. One was an Air New Zealand flight to Queenstown. That center of extreme sports is located in the Southern Alps. I didn't think it had an airport large enough to support trans-Tansman flights. I also suspected (correctly as it turned out) that the Air Kiwi plane (a 737 at best) would be dwarfed by all the heavy iron widebodies at the other gates. There is a lot of heavy iron at Sydney, I saw Airbus 380s from three different airlines (Quantas, Emirates and Singapore Airlines), 747s from at least six and a goodly number of the relatively unpopular, but long-legged Airbus 340. While looking out the window, I could see the reference markings on the Tarmac for the ground handlers to know where to stop aircraft of various lengths. They went from the very long Airbus 340-600 to the short Fokker 100 .The other odd call was for an Emirates flight to Christchurch. Emirates is a big Middle-Eastern airline that I find a rather improbable would flying into the South Island of New Zealand, especially as it only operates wide body jets.

As I approached the gate I observed a three year old having a bit of tantrum. I had the thought, "I hope the brat isn't sitting near me." Low and behold, he, his parents and infant sibling are across the aisle from me. A disadvantage of bulkhead seating. I know I was a borderline hyperactive kid myself but this kid needs more parental discipline, IMHO. Actually, he wasn't that bad but the bulkhead seat wasn't great for him as the TV screen was too far away from him to absorb his attention.
Two hours into the flight, I looked out the window. I was surprised to see we are flying over land. I looked on the map to discover it is the New Hebrides! It is somewhat comforting to know there is somewhere to land around here.

The problem with this flight is that it left at midday. It is having a hard time trying to convince me it is time to sleep! I have set my watch to Vancouver time (six hours ahead and a day behind) in order to choose a decent time to try to get to sleep.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

On getting to Sydney

I got a taxi to the airport slightly before a beautiful dawn.
I finagled Leonardo and my duffle bag onto the Saab 340 which is the smallest plane I have flown in since flying to Anticosti in a Beechcraft 99 in the early 1980s. Getting in and out of the lavatory was a challenge.
At Sydney airport, I dragged Leonardo to left luggage in the International Terminal then took the train into Sydney where I checked into the Railway Square YHA.

On my last day in Broken Hill

On Thursday, I walked down Argent Street to find some breakfast, explore the possibility of posting some bulky bits home and get a bike box. The first and third worked but the second got too complicated.
Later in the morning, I went to the Royal Flying Doctor museum for a nice if very sobering tour. I rode up to the Broken Earth Cafe and Restaurant for lunch, but was put off by the prices. I rode back into town where I had a cheaper lunch. I went off to look for a historical marker relating the Battle of Broken Hill but failed to find it. More on that later. I then went to White's mineral art gallery and mining museum. My route took me along a washboarded section of road. White's offered a fascinating glimpse of Broken Hill's mining history. The mineral art section consisted of pictures made by gluing various powdered minerals to surfaces. I wasn't impressed by the chart detailling the nature of the minerals, as it described bauxite as iron oxide, rather than as an alumnium ore. It does contain iron though.
I then found a historical marker relating to the Battle of Broken Hill. The latter was the only fighting to take place in Australia in the First World War. On New Year's Day 1915, a pair of Muslims in an ice cream cart opened fire with rifles on a train carrying picnickers. Ten people were hit, four fatally. The train reversed out of danger and a posse of soldiers, police and angry, armed civilians quickly tracked down the two and shot them.
After looking at the marker, I noticed I was missing my bike computer. I retraced my steps through the museum and back to the washboarded road. There I found the computer, but it had been run over and screen was cracked and useless. My consolation is that it was on the last day and that I got about 10200 km out of it.

I went back to the hostel, arranged for a taxi at 5:15 tomorrow and packed Leonardo. Sydney tomorrow.

On the road with Mad Max

I have a soft spot for the Mad Max movies which led me to Broken Hill as it was the nominal place where they filmed Mad Max 2 better known in North America as The Road Warrior. In fact, it was mostly filmed at various locations around Broken Hill, most notably, Silverton. The latter was my destination on Wednesday, and at 25 km out of Broken Hill, a middling distance there and back. Only fate had other ideas.
About 5 km from Silverton, I was lured by a sign to the Old Daydream Mine Tour. The sign said it was 20 minutes away (implicitly by car) which I "translated" as about an hour by bike. I had been flying along on the bike so I felt up to the challenge. Also, they promised fresh scones. The road to the mine site was unsealed and as a partial consequence had so much washboarding that my mirror fell off after about 500 m. It had been loose. I didn't notice until about 5 km later. When I did, I decided to hope for the best and keep an eye out on the way back. Along the way, I saw a fox, a wedgie and a line of ants.
Line of ants
I arrived at a ramshackle collection of buildings a few minutes before a tour was about to start. Along with a gaggle of grey hairs, Peter, our guide and an ex-miner at the big Broken Hill mine, showed us first around the remnants of the community that had grown there in the 1880's. I won't say prospered as despite the rich galena deposits, it must have been a miserable existence. Galena is an ore that produces silver, lead and zinc.
This is the remains of one of the huts the miners lived in.
Anyway, these hardscrabble miners dug and backfilled a fair number of shafts. Peter took us down one of them. It was very low, dry and dusty. Luckily, I was able to keep my claustrophobia in check. All very interesting to hear but not to retell. One interesting bit was that someone, starting in the 1960's, had been going through the leftovers and doing some treatment to the ore before selling it to the big processing plant in Broken Hill.

The fresh scones were quite good.

Peter, the guide, was concerned about my water supply and topped up one of my bottles. For the record, I was carrying over 4L that day, the only day I had bothered with the 2L flexible bottle.
On the way back, I saw some feral goats descended from those the miners had brought. I saw something that I first thought was my mirror, but which turned out to be a large scaly lizard with a fat dumpy tail. In retrospect, I think it was a shingleback or Tiliqua rugosa asper. Later, I found the mirror.

In Silverton, I was greeted by...
...some emus......and some camels. I went to the town museum. I was about to park Leonardo in the shade of a porch when I disturbed a long (roughly 1 m), slender lizard which had been there.
I asked the volunteer in the museum lobby if he knew what type of lizard it was, showing him the digital image that I had managed to snap. He said it was a lace monitor or goanna. I am going to have to read up on Aussie lizards.

The museum was an exercise in clutter, a lot of the rubble relating to Broken Hill and not Silverton. One piece was a cheap reproduction of a Spanish sword the same as the one Philip got in France in 1984! There was one artifact whose significance I only twigged to when I was in bed that night. It was an announcement from the Australian government in Chinese from the 1880s. The translation provided said that four wicked bandits had shot three government officials and stolen a lot of money. The bandits were still at large and sometimes came out of the hills to buy grain. The government wished that people tell them if they knew where they were and not to help the bandits. I can't remember if there was a reward mentioned but there must have been.

Maybe I am slow on the uptake or maybe Silverton is a long way from the ranges North-East of Melbourne. However, I think the museum would have done better if they had added a card saying the notice referred to the Kelly Gang! I'm just saying it would help the foreign tourists such as myself.
One thing I didn't need explained was the various Mad Max related things. Outside the Silverton Hotel (itself famous from films including A town like Alice), was an VW Beetle tricked out as the Pursuit Special's Love Child, complete with a particularly pointless supercharger sticking out of the front hood. I say "particularly pointless" because the supercharger in the original didn't actually contribute to engine power and the engine in the Beetle is in the back.

Re-reading this section, I realize that many of the references probably fly over the heads of many of my readers. I'd apologize, but this is my blog about what interests me. It will become clearer when get home and post pictures.
Anyway, next door there was a souvenir shop with a bad reproduction of the Pursuit Special and a couple of dune buggies modeled after those in the movie. There was an Australian cattle dog that looked very much like the one from the movie and as if he was waiting for Mel Gibson to come back and drop off his percentage, possibly in the form of Dinky-Di dog food. After buying some souvenirs and a cold drink, sat on the veranda and shot the breeze with the owner.
He surprised me be saying that about six months ago people were in the area practicing stunts for Mad Max 4 Fury Road. I'd thought that movie was in development hell and would never see the light of day. The guy said that they had been doing test shoots with 3D cameras complete with special vacuum cleaners to keep dust out the lenses. Apparently, further shooting had been halted because the land was currently too green. He told me where some scenes in The Road Warrior had been shot, particularly the Mundi Mundi lookout a few klicks further on.
I biked to the top of a nearby hill to a small private museum dedicated to Mad Max, featuring several original artifacts including a piece of perforated steel plate used as armour on the tanker wheels. There were also a couple of more accurate replica Pursuit Specials among other clutter memorabilia.
Afterwards, I headed on to the Mundi Mundi outlook. The Mundi Mundi Plains are staggeringly flat.
Some foreign tourists (possibly Italians) said that it was one of two places where you can see the curvature of the Earth. My comment was that I have been to three of them! I have seen the curve of the Earth on the plains around Montreal as well as any sea coast. For that matter, I think I can see the curvature at my Metro Station.
The road next to the Mundi Mundi outlook has been used in several movies. It shows up two or three times as different places in Mad Max 2, most notably in the climax where the tanker goes off the road after running into the Humongous' truck. In an earlier bit of the film, there is actually a sign saying "Mundi Mundi overlook". This bit of road is also used in Reckless Kelly as a part of the montages of Ned going to and from Kelly Island.

Going back, I stopped at the Silverton Hotel for a cold beer and peanuts. Thus fortified, I rode the 25 km back to Broken Hill seeing only 11 cars and one cyclist, whom I passed.
Total distance was a hair under 90 km.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

On the Indian-Pacific

Adelaide is big enough to require the Indian-Pacific something like an hour to clear the suburbs. Part of this is that the train is very long meaning the engineer has to apply power slowly and carefully as he navigates the junctions and switches. Also, I suspect we are relatively low priority compared to the zippy commuter trains. The later seen to come in two flavours: the first is something that looks a bit like a modern Budd car, though a bit smaller; the second, probably a bit older have raised cabs at one end of each car which makes them look a bit odd when three are hooked together. The design strikes me as being of Japanese origin. (I have found out that they are 2000 class railcars are therefore nothing of the sort.) All are evidently diesel-electrics.
Unless I missed my guess, this Indian-Pacific service is a single which means it is only 427m long. A double train would be 711m long which is quite incredible to me. The single length is twice that of the Overland.

The cabin is very comfortable but of an older vintage than the Overland. It has crank operated Venetian blinds. The walls are painted in several shades of pale green that suggest the sixties institutional. On the other hand, there are showers and towels available.
I arrived in plenty of time after having bid farewell and thank you to Diane and Rob. Traffic was a bit heavier than previously as it was earlier in the day than my two previous trips to downtown Adelaide. Getting to the Interstate Rail Terminal involved having to make a somewhat hair-raising turn across a major junction. The queue to check in luggage was almost too short as it didn't give me time to remove the bags from Leonardo and stow my helmet in one the panniers I was planning on checking. The upshot of this was that I took longer with the clerk than was truly needed. Luckily, the people behind me didn't seem that upset.

In the station shop in Adelaide, I was about to buy some munchies to eat on the train when I noticed the shop also sold USB memory sticks in the shape of a Southern Rail locomotive in the colors of their various trains (the Indian-Pacific, The Ghan, etc.). I found the concept so original and fun that I had to get the Indian-Pacific one.

Unlike the railway stations in large Canadian cites of my experience, the platform was wide open to the public and I could wander up and down. This allowed me to make sure Leonardo was properly loaded into the baggage car. Non-passengers were allowed wish their friends and relatives off inside the train.

The security announcements included the statement that anyone caught smoking would be immediately removed from the train. This provoked a laugh from passengers and speculation about whether they would be thrown from the moving train or be set down in the middle of nowhere as train has no scheduled stops between Adelaide and Broken Hill! That probably makes this my longest non-stop rail journey!

The train's overall timetable includes a few several hour halts in minor spots in the wee hours of the morning. My theory is that these halts are there for three reasons. The first is to allow the train to arrive in major centers at godly hours. The second would be to allow the train to be replenished with fresh staff, fuel and other consumables. The final reasons would be to allow for the delays that could accumulate over a 65 hour journey.

After leaving Sydney, we rolled through grain growing area of the Adelaide plains. We pass massive grain storage and loading facilities. Unlike what I've seen in Canada, storage facilities include concrete surfaces with low walls. The grain is piled between the low walls and covered with great sheets of plastic weighted down with tractor tires.

Once train was well out of the suburbs, I gave the Parents a call. In "the what a time to be alive" department, I couldn't remember the exact procedure for dialing home to Canada, so I looked it up in my PDF version of Lonely Planet Australia.

It is Melbourne Cup day today. The train manager announced that a "sweep" would be run related to the cup. I then connected this with the fact that some some of the female conductors are wearing silly hats. Aussies for you.

My fellow passengers are mostly of what might be termed the grey-haired set. Unfortunately that now includes me on account of my beard. I could pass as non-grey haired if shaved. There are a few obvious backpacker types, but I'm probably no higher than the 5th percentile of age of passenger!
Me with my salt and pepper beard and grey-haired fellow passengers

Lunch was a chicken roll, a hot meat pie and a tinny of VB. "When in Rome..." There were four mates traveling together in the row in front of me. Three left for the Red Gum Lounge soon after we left Adelaide. The fourth one joined them once he had finished with the paper. They spent most of the journey there.

Leaving the grain plains, the train made its way through some hillier terrain to drier plains with mountains or at least ranges in the distance with smaller lumps nearer to hand. The ground became shades of yellow and red, covered by dry land shrubs and plants punctuated by the occasional tree or emu, though the frequency of trees dropped the nearer we got to Broken Hill.

Shortly after the train scares a trio of emu, the iPhone dings to say a text message has arrived. It is from Bell to "welcome" me to Australia. As the signal strength indicator is at minimal, my guess is that we had been out of any coverage and as we returned into coverage, it "learnt" it was in Australia again and reacted accordingly. I turned off the ringer on the phone in case it happened again. When I turn it back on in Broken Hill, there was another such message.

A little later we put a pair of wedge tail eagles to flight. The sodding huge birds were my first "wedgies" and were very hard mistake for anything else. A minute later and a pair of emu start running.
The train has been running along besides a highway. There is precious little traffic on it. To date, I have only seem one three trailer rig on the road and that was a propane truck near Dadswell Bridge. At least, I think it was a triple. However, I gather road trains tend to be further into Outback than I have been so far.

As we near Broken Hill, the sight of a siding makes me think that we haven't passed another train since a bit after Adelaide. While passenger trains are few out here (two a week in each direction, I would have expected a freight train or two. Maybe they work the sufficiently low schedule of trains to avoid relatively expensive starts and stops. Perhaps it is Eastwards on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and Westwards on Monday, Wednesday and Friday! ;-) Actually, that doesn't jibe with the little I know of the timetables. As we came into the station, I saw a freight train presumably full of ore poised to depart, heading West.

On the Adelaide Zoo, musings

I visited the Adelaide Zoo yesterday. I did so in spite of the giant pandas that the zoo acquired recently at excessive cost. The pandas take up a disproportionate amount of space in the zoo. Also, they aren't particularly interesting. I found Australian critters to be much more fun.
The zoo has been very clever in some spots in how it has laid out the pens. The best example are the meerkat enclosures which are just in front of the giraffes. As the meerkats are small, people can look at the giraffes with an unobstructed view. It helps that both are African animals.
I embarrassed one of the zoo volunteers by asking what the birds I had taken a picture of were. They had been hanging around a zoo café hoping for handout. They were obviously not zoo animals but they were exotic to me with their crests. The volunteer wasn't sure but thought they were common wood pigeons. (I have since decided that they were crested pigeons.)
I also surprised a clerk in the shop by asking if there was a plush rainbow lorikeet that didn't make noise! There wasn't.

Afterwards, I moseyed through downtown Adelaide finding a used book store with a Footrot Flats collection the family doesn't have. I also found lunch in the form of some tasty lamb yiros and hot, salted mixed nuts.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Old HMAS Adelaide Gaol. Interesting, if slightly morbid.

When I got back to Diane and Rob's house, Rob had the TV on to the news. The big story was Quantas being ordered to end its lock-out. One side story was that Great Southern Rail had sold out Monday's Overland from Adelaide to Melbourne despite having added two extra coaches.

Over a supper of salmon and assorted roasted vegetables, we chatted about a number of things including the sometimes odd ways some Aussie words are pronounced. I gave the example of Wagga Wagga which sounded to me like "Wogga Wogga". Rob piped up that I was still pronouncing it wrong as "the second 'Wogga' is silent." ;-)

Rob has a crazy habit of getting very early such as 4:30 AM and then falling asleep at the supper table. ;-) Of course, I have get up at 4 AM on Friday to catch my plane to Sydney.