Canada and Alaska: Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay National Park was the turn-around point for our cruise and the visual highlight. The weather had been almost unremittingly foggy and grey for the whole trip up to this point and so we were all a bit concerned we wouldn’t actually see anything.

Fortunately some sun did appear, and there was no rain. The weather was cold, but because the ship did a loop up the channel and back, we could see everything from our balcony. I did go out on the prow though and took photos from a few different spots around the ship.

It was also a day when the ship’s crew celebrated 77 years of Alaskan cruising with a serving of pea and ham soup (it’s a Dutch thing? Or something) that I thought was very nice but not many others seemed to enjoy it.

The scenery was spectacular, and the onboard tvs had documentaries on the wildlife and the formation of the bay that were quite interesting. They also had a park ranger do a voice-over as we went past the different glaciers.

No big icebergs were to be seen, but lots of little one made the water look like a styrofoam boat had exploded. Although not all of the icebergs were white – many were a dirty brown and you could watch them float along shedding clouds of rock flour that clouds the water and makes it that milky turquoise shade.

Next: Grouse Mountain and Vancouver for a day before heading home.


Canada and Alaska: Whistler and a Float Plane Ride

Whistler rivals Banff for prettiness and the mountains, dare I say it, are even more spectacular. Here’s Mum and I at the float plane dock.

Although who can really say which place we’ve been is the best? I’m reaching that stage of travel where I can’t honestly recall precisely what Banff’s mountains looked like. Lucky I’ve got five million photos!

The float plane was fantastic but slightly wobbly. The scenery was a ring of mountains with glaciers and lakes. The colour of the water was really stunning from the air.

As always, I felt my stomach lurch when the plane bumped up and down, but it was worth it! The other good thing about doing the flying options is that they’re quick (20 minutes this time) and so there’s time to do some walking around afterwards. Whistler town centre is a pedestrian mall and the town is set up for lots of summer sports. BMX and mountain bikers we catching the chair lifts up and riding down the mountain right to the middle of town. I got a free gondola ride and watched them from above.

I didn’t go up the mountain until late so I just did a little walk around, enjoyed the scenery and then came down. The gondola is one of the longest in the world and takes 20 minutes to go all the way to the top. Dare I say it even got a little boring? The views were great though, when it wasn’t rocking in the wind.

After having lunch at a cheap pasta place, Mum and I had enough leftovers to heat up for dinner in our room, which had a microwave. Imagine being able to eat what you wanted, with only a one minute wait and not have to make conversation with a waiter or try to work it tips! Luxury!

How one’s priorities change when traveling, hey?

Next: we go to another place and do more things.

Hoi An Day One

It’s 4am and I’m sitting by the pool at our hotel listening to the occasional boat putter by on the river. After a very early start the day before yesterday, and no sleep all night, I was pretty impressed with myself for having enough energy to hang out at the bar for a few hours before flopping into bed at about 5pm. No caffiene along the way either! 

My very first impression of the hotel was a cement stairway on a dirty side street (to be fair, all the streets here a pretty dirty) but then we climbed up to the airy, flower-filled reception and a view over a long pool to an emerald lawn leading to the river – it was gorgeous. The grounds are full or orchids and frangipani trees in flower. I met a staff member, Nu, who showed me that if I dipped a finger in the little pond around the dining room, little goldfish would come and nibble my finger. 


The hotel has a four hour Happy Hour, which started just before we arrived. Two for one cocktails, which made them around $2 each. 

They also do a street food tasting on the lawn at 4:30 every afternoon. We tried a bunch of tasty fritters, rolls and noodles and I failed to pronounce ‘that was delicious’ in Vietnamese. The only consolation, when trying to pronounce Vietnamese words, is the obvious difficulty Vietnamese people have with English. Even people with big vocabularies are barely intelligible.  

  After being shown to our rooms, Luke and I had a quick, much needed shower, then went for a wander down to the pool and found Matt and Michael already on first name terms with Tin (or Super Tin, as he is now known). Although I try hard to be friendly to everyone, being with Michael and Matt is like being with two Crocodile Dundees – if Crocodile Dundee spent all his time looking for bars.

The weather is looking like being very warm today (and always sticky-humid) but possibly cooler after that so we’re thinking of having a day by the pool to relax then getting our tailoring underway the next day, plus signing up for some cooking classes and tours. Or maybe we’ll just sit by the pool or the riverside bar, which we seem to have commandeered.


Country Victoria and Road-Tripping With My Mum

These school holidays I’m spending time with my mum. We’re doing a six night road trip through north western Victoria and seeing places I’ve either only driven through or not been to before.

We met in Albury, where Luke’s parents live (located, rather conveniently, halfway between Orange and Melbourne) and will be spending two nights in Echuca, two nights in Swan Hill and two nights in Castlemaine before heading back to Melbourne.

Yesterday Mum arrived in Albury and Luke drove us out to the Hume Dam. It was a beautiful day and Luke’s mum, Lea, had informed us that Luke’s great-grandfather had built the dam himself with the help of ‘one or two people’, so we should go see it. I seem to have neglected to take a photo of the dam itself, but there’s footage for the video and it’s a pretty standard looking dam with a road across the top you can walk over. The lake was quite lovely though, ringed with low green hills and people out on boats. No nasty jetskiis ruining the serenity, either. Perfect!

hume dam

The next morning we had a coffee at the lovely Noreuil Park in Albury with Luke’s sister Erin and her ridiculously smiley baby, Evie. Then Luke, Lea, Mum and I drove to Rutherglen to visit a few wineries before Mum and I headed on to Echuca.

Rutherglen is a very popular wine region about three hours north of Melbourne. It’s a small historical town that’s very well presented. There’s dozens of wineries in the area and many are open for tasting. We first visited All Saints, one of the most prestigious wineries in the area. You can tell because it has a frontage that looks a bit like a miniature Hampton Court.

all saints winery

I think castle-style buildings in Australia┬á look either comical or tastelessly pretentious, but this one wasn’t all that bad and the large elm-lined driveway into the property was quite grand, even without any leaves on the trees. We tried some samples of food in their cheese shop then tasted some wine. I always feel like a fraud when wine tasting – I know I’m not good at it, and I also know that it is definitely possible to be good at it as my friend Nikkii can taste a wine and guess pretty accurately what the label will say regarding flavours. I find this ability to be verging on magical. How can someone genuinely taste chalk? Or pencil shavings? Or white (not yellow!) nectarine flavours? And yet she does. Without any training. I’m not sure anyone I know has an ability that leaves me quite as awestruck.

Fancy produce in the cheese shop.

Fancy produce in the cheese shop.

After All Saints we trundled into Rutherglen to visit Parker Bakery, which Erin assured us was well worth a visit.

parker pies

I opted for a vegetarian pie as I have been in contact with too many vegetarians and vegans lately and feel guilty about eating too much meat. There was only one vegetarian option available but the range of meat pies was pretty impressive, including venison, emu, kangaroo, prawn and buffalo. The gourmet pies were $8 each, which I thought was a bit steep, especially for the vegetarian one, but it was indeed very tasty.

parkers pie

beechworth menu

Last stop was Pfieffer’s Winery, which Luke remembered from his childhood. It was a typical country establishment that was in equal parts quaintly humorous and disturbing.



Apparently there was a scarecrow-themed event coming up. Possibly for another chance to use alliteration.

scarecrow poster

Inside the shed we tasted some wines and saw people collecting picnic hampers to take out to the bridge. Luke had talked about it being a nice bridge to have a picnic on. I’d been imaging something pretty small and tacky, but it turned out to be gorgeous.

pfeiffers bridge

A proper wide wooden bridge over the river. How lovely! We spotted turtles and fish in the water and wished we’d eaten here instead of in town. Next time.

After Pfeiffer’s Mum and I said goodbye and headed off towards Echuca, using Mum’s tomtom GPS unit (at seven years old it was possibly their very first model) for the first time. ‘The Man’ (as the tomtom will hereafter be called) pointed us in the right direction and we only stopped once as Mum had to put a bet on. Being with my family is so different to being with anyone else in my life. No one else I know bets on horses, eats in bistros, drinks wine with lunch or watches news on television. It’s so familiar and yet quite foreign. I’m not complaining though… except about the news on tv as it’s just so darned depressing.

I’ll leave Echuca until the next post as this one has ended up much longer than I expected. Suffice to say that Mum and I have continued drinking wine and went to bed at 9:30pm and we both woke up around 5am. Lucky you’re not with us, hey Luke? ­čśë

A New Mission!

Here Comes The Planet is being repurposed like an old milk bottle. But instead of cutting it into a funnel or a mini greenhouse for my tomatoes, I’m going to use it to promote my People Projects. There’s going to be a new project every so often (I’ve been doing lots of thinking on my drives to and from work) and the first one is my campaign to help my brother and his fiancee get married! For FREE! They are finalists in a radio competition and to win they need to get the most votes. People vote by sending an sms (only one per number) to 191300 reading ‘Wedding Michael Nikki’.

My goal is 1000 votes (apparently 713 won last year) and I’m going to do it by harrassing everyone I know – and lots of people I don’t know. Tonight is White Night, a festival in Melbourne where all kinds of things happen all over the city all through the night. I’m figuring the crowd will be in the mood for interacting with strangers and that stranger should be me. I’ve made a cardboard sign and I’m ready to roll. If you can help by sending a text please do so (and get every phone in your house busy!) and leave a note here so I can keep count!

My brother, years ago, helped me out when I was low on cash and got me started with enough money to buy my first sewing machine and so this is how I can help him out and do something he’ll hugely appreciate. He and his fiancee Nikki are raising a family, building a house and running their own business. They are wonderful people who deserve to win!


Photos to come tomorrow of me humiliating myself in the city!

Australia: An Orange Christmas

Luke and I departed New Zealand early on the morning of the 22nd of December. We were both looking forward to getting home but Melbourne was still a week away – first we were stopping in Orange to stay with my family for Christmas, then on to Albury for a couple of nights to stay with Luke’s family. It’s rather handy that Luke’s parents live about half way between Orange and Melbourne rather than in a completely different direction.

I have a small family and therefore our Christmases are fairly quiet affairs. There’s Mum and Dad, my brother’s family of four and me. This was to be the first Christmas at my brother’s new house and the first time he’d cooked Christmas dinner. It was also Luke’s first Christmas away from his family.

My family.

A few of my foreign friends have remarked on how strange it must be to have Christmas in summer, but fortunately this year the weather was fairly cool and rainy – Orange is almost always in drought so rain is generally something to celebrate. Michael did a fantastic job with lunch, cooking turkey breasts, pork and roast vegetables and Mum contributed our traditional jar of pickled walnuts. I don’t know how many of the people reading this are likely to have tried pickled walnuts but they’re quite an acquired taste. It took me 30 years of tasting them every Christmas before I could enjoy them but now I go through several jars a year.

The Christmas table.

Another tradition with my family is seafood. We always snack on prawns during the day on Christmas. I’m used to prawns being steamed – I was so disappointed in Louisiana when they were always served battered and deep fried. What a waste!

Mum peeling the prawns -twice the size of any we saw in the US.

We all enjoyed Christmas day, and I was amazed, as always, to see how much my nephew has grown. Izaac seems to morph into a new person every time I see him. Last time he was barely talking, this visit I could barely keep up with what he was saying. His half-brother, Ethan, becomes more and more mature by the year and is not far away from high school. There’s nothing like the growth of children to mark the passage of time.

Two cheeky monkeys.

The boys with my mum and dad.

Apart from spending time with family our trip to Orange also included a night in Bathurst visiting our friend Geoff and my annual trip to the berry farm, where I picked several kilos of strawberries. There are some things Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without, and a pile of fresh fruit is high on my list.

I hope all of our readers and friends out there had a great Christmas in 2013 and I’d love to hear about what makes Christmas special for you – especially if it’s something even more obscure than pickled walnuts!

Wisconsin: Thanksgiving

We spent Thanksgiving with Josh’s family in Waukesha. His grandpa owns a huge, beautiful house by a gorgeous lake and we spent the whole day there chatting to his family and going out to play a little in the snow.

The lake looked like it had a thin layer of ice but when we tried to break it with stones they skittered around a made a weird noise. Lots of fun!

Josh was doing all the cooking and wouldn’t let us help at all so we watched from a couple of bar stools. We sat with his cousin Nick and learned a bit about American Football (I’ll be honest, it still makes no sense to me) and talked about the differences between Australia and America. I tried to convince him that Australian animals weren’t that dangerous but I’m not sure I succeeded.

Josh’s cousin Megan dropped off an apple pie and stayed to chat for a while but didn’t stay for dinner (the pie was ace, by the way!), and a few other people came and went. It all had a really nice family vibe that we haven’t experienced much of this year – except for when my mum was in the UK and when we were with Andrew’s family. I always find it fascinating to see how other people’s families interact. It was also a pleasure meeting Josh’s sister, who has three cute cats -amazingly, our allergies didn’t seem to flare up too badly, which was a relief.

So here’s some photos of the food!

A very nice looking bird – Josh soaked it in brine overnight before cooking it, leading to extremely succulent flesh. I’ll definitely be trying that at home!

The buffet. Croissants and jelly with a roast dinner! Only two people had the jello… some things are too strange, even for me ;-).

My contribution – some mead that I’d brought from the UK. Everyone seemed to like it.

Everyone at the table, right after I went back for seconds. Such tasty food!

My favourite photo of the day – Josh and his grandpa.

I wish I’d taken more pictures of Josh’s grandpa’s house. He practically rebuilt the place himself and the┬ádesign and craftsmanship is just beautiful. The whole place has lots of exposed wood and feels really warm and inviting. Many of the walls were painted by a couple of artists. They did each room with a different theme but in the same colours. The lounge wall has a topographical map of the lake outside the house and it’s done with such elegant detail and lettering that’s it’s a real feature. There’s also heaps of photo collages of various family members and pets throughout the place that make it feel like it’s the hub of a really close family.

We really valued the experience and enjoyed the day immensely. So thanks Josh – and all of the family members reading this! We couldn’t have had a better Thanksgiving.