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USA: December 2004-January 2005 January 31, 2005

Posted by Rhonda in North America, USA.
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USA: December 2004-January 2005: Part2

(…continued from Part 1)

1 January 2005: San Diego, CA

Dropped in to Dave G's house, then Sue H's. Went to the San Diego Zoo with Sue, then to Baja Betty's for dinner. Overnight at the Comfort Inn, San Diego.

2 January 2005: San Diego to Los Angeles

Drove back from San Diego to LA; overnight at Bill's in Corona Del Mar.

3-6 January 2005: LA to Paso Robles

Drove from LA to Paso to see John and Suzie. One of the days we had lunch with Jon and Mary S, and another we went to San Luis Obispo to look for books. One night Suzie and I went to bingo and caught up with Jeff and John afterwards for a pizza dinner. Somewhere in there we went to an Indian restaurant in Paso too – Tiger's Paw? (horrible food! and expensive)

7 January 2005: Paso Robles to Monterey

Very wet drive; lunch at Hog's Breath Inn in Carmel (Clint Eastwood's old place). Then to David's house where there were Rita, Lee, Danny, Tariq, etc…

8 January 2005: Monterey

Did some work; Jeff and David watched then played basketball. Dinner for 12 tonight! David and Rita, me and Jeff, Danny, Gerard and his sister Veronica and his father, Gerard and heather's kids – Lauren and Nicholas, and Cindee, etc. Heather and Paul turned up later. Played cards.

9 January 2005: Monterey

Late breakfast with David and Rita; did some more work; rained most of the day.

I cooked dinner tonight for Jeff, David and Rita, Johna dn Suzie, and Mark. Pumpkin Soup and stir-fried Chicken – went over well, but VERY expensive as everything was bought at the wholefoods market. Pumpkin Soup will now be know as "Seven mules soup" as David offered Jeff seven mules for me after tasting it!

10 January 2005: Monterey to Paso Robles

Left Monterey about 11:00am and drove back to Paso. Dinner tonight at Jon and Mary S's – John and Suzie, Jon and Mary, Jeff, and Nicole (Almond Hill Vineyards). Had Tri-tip beef and a lovely chocolate berry mousse dessert with a cansle for my birthday – and Mary had knitted me a neat scarf!

11 January 2005: Paso Robles to Primm, NV

Left Paso and drove on Highway 46 to Mojave where we had lunch at Primo's Burgers near the airplane 'graveyard'. Then on to Barstow where we met Rusty (Barbara) for coffee.

Then kept going through to Primm on the California/Nevada border. We stayed overnight at Buffalo Bill's Casino. Had dinner there – Jeff had Mongolian Beef and I had a $5.95 prime rib!

12 January 2005: Primm to Las Vegas, NV

Only an hour's drive today to Las Vegas. We're booked in at the Tropicana as that's where the conference will be in March. Beautiful day so we went walking to some of the nearby casinos – Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Exalibur, and New York New York (NYNY).

Had a late lunch at the House of Blues in the Mandalay Bay, then dinner at Savannas in the Tropicana – very nice!

13 January 2005: Las Vegas, NV

Jeff did the rides at NYNY this morning while I reconnoitred the Tropicana and booked a room for Char and me for the conference in March.

We walked the Strip from the Tropicana to the Las vegas Hilton – with a lunch stop at Denny's near the Venetian on the way. Jeff did the Star Trek Enterprise rides, then we caught the monorail back to the MGM Grand (opposite the Tropicana).

While we were walking through the MGM Grand we saw that the lions were out!

Then we went back over to NYNY for Jeff to use up the last of his day's worth of roller coaster rides.

We had dinner in the NYNY at Gonzalez Y Gonzalez. Excellent!

14 January 2005: Las Vegas, NV to Phoenix, AZ

AAA was the first stop to get directions to Phoenix! We took the 93 – very pretty drive. Stayed overnight at the Springhill Suites (Marriott) in Bell Rd on the northern outskirts of Phoenix – nice accommodation. Dinner at "On the Border" over the road.

15 January 2005: Phoenix to Tucson, AZ

Short drive to Tucson; booked in at a Best Western InnSuites on N Oracle Rd.

Quick trip to the Sonoran Desert Museum for 2 hours. Fantastic! The weather was perfect – blue skies, T-shirt only.

Dinner at local Mexican restaurant – Las Margaritas. OK, but have had better.

16 January 2005: Tucson, AZ

Off to Tombstone today via Sonorita – nice land!

17-22 January 2005: Tucson to California to Australia

  • 17th – Tucson to Palm Springs; overnight at Travelodge.
  • 18th – Palm Springs to LA; lunch with Bill at Marriott and overnight at Bill's.
  • 19th – drove up the LA coast to Malibu; dinner at El Torito Grill; movies; overnight at Bill's.
  • 20th – Lunch at Califonria Pizza Kitchen with Bill; helped Bill on computer; to LAX at 6:00pm for flights to Sydney then Perth.

USA: December 2004-January 2005 December 31, 2004

Posted by Rhonda in Air, North America, Transport, USA.
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USA: December 2004-January 2005: Part 1

I had a big "0" birthday coming up in December 2004, so one morning on our walk, Jeff suggested we go to see the family in Michigan for Christmas – and for my birthday. I thought that was a great idea, so off we went!
18-19 December 2004: Perth to Melbourne to Chicago, IL

Instead of trying to be heroes and fly straight through from Perth to Chicago (via Sydney or Melbourne and Los Angeles and the interminable airport waits) we took a leisurely flight from Perth to Melbourne at 5:30pm on Saturday afternoon, getting in to Melbourne around midnight and staying overnight at the Melbourne Airport Hilton. Lovely room even though we weren't in it for more than a shower and bed.

On Sunday Dec 19, we flew out of Melbourne at the civilised hour of 12:30pm, arriving in LA the same day at 7:30am! US immigration and customs weren't a problem – the fingerprint scanning and photographing was hardly noticeable. We already had our boarding passes for the 10:30am American Airlines flight to Chicago and it was from the same terminal, so we figured our 3 hour layover was also going to be leisurely and without incident, and that we could wander up to the Amercian Airlines lounge and hang out for a bit…. Ha! Famous last words!

We were pointed in the direction of where we had to go for hand luggage screening, then when we got near the escalator we were told to go out the doors and to the end of the queue. The queue wrapped around in a big U shape outside the American Airlines terminal and it took 1.5 HOURS to get to the escalator and up to the security screening area. Unbelievable! Quite a few people in the queue in front of us and behind us missed their flights – they were at the airport on time, but this unacceptable wait in the queue for security screening meant that their flights left without them – and no-one was coming down the line asking for passengers on specific flights to go with them to a special area to be put through! Poor buggers… There were a lot of angry and frustrated people in that queue and at times it got a little heated especially when some saw others apparently pushing in. Happy Christmas…

After the debacle of the security screening, we got to the American Airlines lounge in time for me to have a VERY quick shower. Meantime, Jeff caught up with Steve and Leanne R (we both taught with Steve at the same school back in the early '90s), and we spent some time chatting with them. They have been in Gove in the Northern Territory for a couple of years and were on their way to Montreal for Christmas – what a climatic shock to the system that would be. Small world – they were also on the same flight with us to Chicago.

Our flight to Chicago left about 45 mins late. We got to O'Hare with no problems landing around 5:15pm. It was quite dark and very cold (about 10F; -12C), though there was no snow. When we got to the Hertz counter we had some initial hassles with the orignally allocated car – there was no such bay! The second car had been vomited in (the smell was really awful), so they upgraded us to another car – this time a luxury car (Grand Marquis) for a mid-size price!

We finally got on the road and found Jerry and Gina's house by 8pm. Pizza for tea and lots of talking and catching up.

20 December 2004: Chicago, IL

No snow on the ground and the temperature was quite warm (~35F; 2C). Gina and I went to the bank and to AT&T to reactivate my cell phone – that went smoothly and I got a new number with no hassles.

In the afternoon, Jerry took us over to Wendy and Tony's house in Peotone (south of Chicago). They have a little boy – Jacob – who is 14 months old, so just a bit younger than William. Wendy drove us over to their 30 acre property a bit further out and showed us the "pole barn" Tony has built. It's an absolutely MASSIVE shed!!!! But as they have LOTS of toys (4-wheelers, trucks, jet skis, etc.) to house, I guess they need it.

Wendy and Tony and Jacob came over to Jerry and Gina's house for dinner – we had pork tenderloin and homemade sauerkraut, potato mash and brocolli. Good stuff.

21 December 2004: Chicago, IL to Sister Lakes, MI

A 33F day (0C). We didn't have breakfast until nearly noon – pancakes, French toast, bacon, cherries and cottage cheese.

This afternoon we followed Jerry to their house at Sister Lakes in SW Michigan (near Dowagiac). They have a lovely property there – 2.25 acres, a big ranch-style home. The drive to Michigan was interesting – about an hour out of Chiago around Michigan City they'd had 24" of snow two nights before, so there was LOTS of snow near there, but everywhere else had no more than a couple of inches. Chicago was snow-free, and the house at Sister Lakes had about 2 inches on the ground. Weird, But I guess typical 'lake effect' snow. When I called Harold and Lois, they said they only had about an inch on the ground there.

We had spaghetti bolognese for dinner, then watched an episode of Boston Legal – the spin-off from The Practice. Very good – looking forward to it coming to Australia.

22 December 2004: Sisters Lakes, MI

Ah, jet lag! I was awake around 4am, got up at 5:30 as I couldn't get back to sleep. Worked on an AuthorIT import for a client until Jeff and Jerry got up.

Around 10:30am Jerry and I went for a walk down to the lake. It had been snowing most of the morning and was very COLD – about 18F (-10C) – and windy.That afternoon we went next door to Eric and Shirley's house – it snowed most of the day and from their dining area it was like being in a snowdome! At times the flakes were really big; other times it was very light, but it never really let up all day.

Eric and Shirley are a lovely couple; Shirley had baked lots of goodies – her "turtles" were my favourite! Pecan nuts topped with caramel and coated with chocolate – yum!

23 December 2004: Sisters Lakes, MI to Ovid, MI

Packed up this morning and got on the slippery road about 10:00am. It wasn't snowing today, but the roads to the Interstate were very slippery and slushy. Even getting out of Jerry's road, we fishtailed a bit. There was a lot of truck traffic on the I-94, as usual. Just before Kalamazoo there was a major traffic hold up for about 30 mins. Eventually we found out why – a truck had jack-knifed off the road. It had probably skidded on the ice. We saw at least 3 other vehicles on the I-94 that had skidded off the road and ended up in the ditch or in the bush. One was way back in the woods and the tow-truck drivers were trying to get it out. It's dangerous out there!

We stopped at Portage (south of Kalamazoo) for Jeff to look at some CDs at Circuit City, and to look for shoes and to have lunch at Chilis. We also went to the Grange Mountain store (outdoor outfitters) where they had all sorts of hunting stuff. We got Jeff and shirt and sweater there.

On the I-94 again to near Lansing where we turned onto the Old 27 heading to Ovid. We got to Harold and Lois' around 3:00pm. The roads were OK up until we got to Hollister Rd (their road) – it hadn't been salted or graded so there was loits of snow on it. It looked like packed icing sugar and was a bit treacherous.

It was great catching up with Harold and Lois again – lots of chat and laughter.

24 December 2004: Ovid, MI

Shelley, Tim and girls are due to arrive today. Jeff and I went to Lansing to go to CompUSA and other stores to get gifts for Harold (wallet) and Lois (mini-mouse and 4-port USB hub), and also to Meijers for groceries. I lost Jeff in Meijers – had to page him twice; eventually we found each other…

Back to Harold and Lois's Got a phoen call from Shelley and Tim – their car has trouble and they won't be here tonight,

We went to the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at the local church with Harold and Lois and Liz. Very cold – 3F when we left!

Got a phone call from Shelley and Tim; they've been able to get a loan car from Ford so will be down Christmas Day.

25 December 2004: Ovid, MI

Biggish breakfast of French toast etc. Bruce and Nancy here for breakfast too. Brian and Cathy came over around noon; Liz later; John, Cam and Angie even later. Shelley and Tim and girls (Maegan and Merradith [M&Ms] – now 16!) got here about 11:00am.

Prime Rib for Christmas dinner and lots of other stuff! Plus grazing food. Lots of people, laughs, and chat all afternoon.

Opened gifts around 3:00om, thehn gradually people left. Tim and Shelley and the girls are staying here; they are such a lovely family. The M&Ms are off to France with the school in March, and they're very excited already!

26 December 2004: Ovid, MI

Hung around the house all day talking, laughing, and grazing – and playing Euchre!

27 December 2004: Ovid, MI

Shelley, Tim and the girls left today and suddenly the house was very quiet!

Lots of frost on all the trees etc. this morning (deer grazing at night in the full moon too). Later, Jeff, Harold and I went for a walk down Hollister Rd to Price Rd and back. A beautiful day – cold but no snow. Lots of sunshine and lots of photos as there was still a lot of frost on the trees. Made a snow angel when we got back!

Joanne D and Bubba (her husband) came over in the afternoon and we played some very competitive hands of Euchre. The girls won!

Lois and I packed up her computer for Liz and we took it over to Liz's in DeWitt, then went to Bob Evans for dinner with Liz.

Back home to play some more Euchre…

28 December 2004: Ovid, MI

Harold and Jeff off to the coffee shop this morning while Lois and I went to Laingsburg to the pharmacy, bank, and then Lansing to the CompUSA store and Meijers. We were back just before noon – boys not back yet…

We're due to go over to Bruce and Nancy's at 1:30pm and Brian and Cathy's for dinner at 6:00.

Called Jerry and Gina today – Gina workinf between 3:00 and 9:00pm tomorrow sowe'll get to their place between noon and 1:00pm for brunch nearby. This means we have to leave Harold and Lois's around 7:00 or 8:00am tomorrow, assuming the weather and the roads are OK.

Cathy had strep throat, so Brian adn john came over to harold and Lois's with dinner ("meals on wheels"); we played Euchre after they left.

29 December 2004: Ovid, MI to Chicago, IL

Weather positively balmy! 33F when we left Ovid at 9:00am, and in the 40s by the time we got to Chicago; no evidence of snow in Chicago.

Got to Jerry and Gina's around 1:00pm (noon Chicago time) and went to a local restaurant ("Wheatfield") for lunch with them, then on to O'Hare Airport where we're staying at a StudioPlus apartment.

Jeff wanted to see the Marc Cohen concert so we tried to get there, but we didn't have a decent map and he was shirty so we came back to the hotel where he read and I entered receipts. Great night – NOT!

We leave for California tomorrow…

30 December 2004: Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA

Flight to LAX today; picked up rental car; overnight at Bill's in Corona Del Mar.

31 December 2004: Los Angeles to Temecula, CA

Changed cars from the Chevy Classic (brakes were very soft) to a Mercury Sable.

Took Highway 74 to Temecula and blew a tire on a rock on the road from a land slip. Changed cars again in Temecula to a Buick Le Sabre! hertz may have blacklisted me by now – 3 cars in 3 days!
Went to Dave G's New Year's Eve gig in Murietta at the Rustico Restaurant with him and Sue H.

Overnight at the Holiday Inn Express in Temecula.

(continued Part 2…)

July 2004: Trip to Far North Queensland July 31, 2004

Posted by Rhonda in Australia & Oceania, Queensland.
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Far North Queensland: July 2004

We had the opportunity of spending a week in Palm Cove – with free accommodation. As it was a place neither had been to before, we took up the offer and spent a week in a beautiful part of this big land of ours.

July 10

After an overnight direct flight from Perth to Cairns (4 hours), we arrived at 4:30am. By 6:00am we were in Palm Cove – and nothing was open… However, Cocky's Cafe (right next door to Villa Paradiso) was setting up for breakfast at 7:00am, so they took pity on us and fed Jeff coffee and gave me water, and allowed us to sit and read the Saturday papers as the sun came up.

At a more respectable hour we checked in with Pam at Villa Paradiso – the apartment at Coral Horizons (where we'll be for the next 3 nights until my sister's unit at Villa Paradiso is vacant) is not vacant until after 11:00am, so we grabbed my sister's car and took off to investigate the local countryside.

We drove up to Kuranda (VERY winding road) and on to Mareeba, and back. Both of us were very sleepy at various stages, so we swapped drivers as this road is too dangerous to drive when tired. Almost nothing at Kuranda was open when we were there, and the markets don't run on Saturdays, so we drove around and moved on. The whole day was pretty cloudy, windy, with some rain… Not much of that famous Queensland sunshine and warm weather yet…

Once we got back to Palm Cove, we checked into Coral Horizons – and slept! Coral Horizons is a nice apartment complex; ours was a two bedroom fully self-contained unit with all mod cons.

Dinner tonight at Apres Beach Bar and Grill – great food.

July 11

Rain, clouds, and windy! Nothing to do but drive around some more – this time north of Palm Cove to Port Douglas for their famous Sunday markets. After a wander around the markets without spending a cent, we wandered around Port Douglas. It caters well to the 'tummy tourist'!! Lots of cafes, restaurants, bars, etc. Very up-market place from what we could see. Heaps of resorts as you come in to town.

North of Port Douglas we went in to Mossman Gorge. It was wet so Jeff stayed in the car while I wandered through the rainforest to the gorge and river and took photos. Surprisingly, you don't get very wet inside a rainforest as the canopy protects you a lot. Very pretty, very lush and green, and very earthy – as you'd expect from a tropical rainforest! Oh, and it rained – but I guess that's why it's a RAINforest.

After Mossman we kept heading north and went to Daintree Village (very little there), then on the car ferry over the Daintree River ($20 for 5 mins each way – but worth it!), then into the Daintree Rainforest itself. I found this a very spiritual place, even though we were in the car most of the time as it rained a lot. I can see why it is a world heritage site. It really is very beautiful, and some of the tree ferns must be ancient. Lots of signs warning us about cassowaries, but we didn't see any. Nor did we see any crocs, though there are signs at the Daintree River and at Cape Tribulation warning you about them. We went as far north as Cape Tribulation, which is the end of the paved road on eastern coast of Australia.

The drive from Palm Cove to Cape Tribulation and back is very pretty – there are times when "the rainforest meets the sea", sugar cane fields, the Great Dividing Range on the western side and the Pacific Ocean on the right. In many places, particularly just north of Palm Cove, the road hugs the coast and was reminiscent of some of the roads on Oahu in Hawaii and Big Sur in California (though not as rugged or as steep).

Dinner tonight at the Thai restaurant in the Outrigger Beach Hotel. The food was good, but not plentiful, and the service left a lot to be desired. Not impressed for a fancy hotel… and fancy prices.

July 12

Very wet, and dark grey skies threatening rain. So much for Queensland sunshine… After a mighty big downpour, we decided to do our drive anyway. This time we headed south to Cairns (about 20 mins away), then further south to Gordonvale where we turned west and up into the Atherton Tablelands. We took a detour based on a sign for the Peeramon Pub (built in 1908), and stopped there for a steak sandwich lunch and a couple of games of pool.

From the Peeramon Pub we went to Malanda, then on a bit of a loop to Atherton and back to Malanda (I got lost! – the map was a tourist attraction map, not a driving map…). Once we got on the right road we went to The Crater near Mt Hypipamee (an old volcanic crater), then south to near Ravenshoe, where we turned back toward the coast along the Palmerston Highway to Innisfail.

Along the way we detoured to a dairy that does cheese tasting and had a cheese platter of cheeses you don't normally get to try like Quark and Havarti. Innisfail is a pretty little town, surrounded by banana plantations and sugar cane fields.

Dinner tonight at Il Forno Pizzeria in Palm Cove – calzone and Italian salad; expensive for the quantity and they charged $2 a head for corkage!

July 13

A beautiful day! Sunshine, blue skies, but still windy. We moved out of Coral Horizons this morning, and into the unit at Villa Paradiso, so had a leisurely breakfast on the veranda with The Australian before packing up our stuff and moving just down the street (everywhere is close to everywhere else in Palm Cove – all within a short walk!).

We spent lunch and the afternoon in Cairns taking a look around the main drag and the waterfront with the new aquatic playground (well, we can't really swim in the mangrove flats that is the REAL Cairns beach!). Booked a helicopter tour to the outer reef tomorrow – flight out there, lunch, snorkelling, permanent pontoon, boat trip back to Cairns. Expensive, but Jeff has never been in a chopper before and the only time I was in one was nearly 20 yrs ago. And it gives us a different view of the reef. Hopefully the weather will be good…

Dinner tonight at Far Horizons in the Angsana Spa Resort. Very expensive; dinner on the deck overlooking the ocean (which we couldn't see because it was dark!)

July 14

Mosquitoes were in action for much of last night, despite the locals saying they don't get many. Had to buy some insect spray today to keep them at bay…

Bus picked us up at 11:15am and drove us to Cairns Airport where we caught the helicopter into Cairns to pick up another 2 passengers and then out to the Great Barrier Reef. The reef was gorgeous from the air and we had a great view! We landed on a dot of concrete in the middle of the ocean (or so it seemed) and were picked up by a small boat and taken to the 'mother ship' and its permanent pontoon mooring.

Lots of people were in the water snorkelling (mostly Chinese and Japanese tourists who may have thought the weather was hot – it wasn't!), but it was fairly windy and cool and cloudy, so we weren't keen to get in the water just yet…

Had lunch then went in the submersible for a different view of the reef, and the glass-bottomed boat for yet another view. All the crew kept saying how the view while snorkelling was even better – and they were right.

About 2:00pm the sun came out briefly, and we got our snorkelling gear and jumped into the water. Jeff and I swam around the outside of Moore Reef (most of the others swam over it, but you get a bigger variety of fish at the drop off). The fish were fantastic – very colourful and some even swim right up to you and you can touch them! It was great, but I should've hired a wetsuit as I was pretty cold after 30 minutes and got out. If I wasn't cold, I reckon I could've stayed in for an hour or two, it was that fascinating.

The boat trip back to Cairns took about 90 mins and I was still cold! The only showers were cold water ones on the pontoon, so I was sitting in wet bathers with a wet towel wrapped around me, wet shorts and T-shirt and my sarong around my shoulders to try and keep warm… The hot shower back at the Villa was very welcome!

Dinner tonight at Apres Beach Bar and Grill – again. So far it's the best value for money in Palm Cove.

July 15

Another driving day today – this time to see the beaches north of Cairns. We've passed all the signs most days, but today we're actually going in to see what all these places are. The beaches and towns/villages we visited included: Machans Beach, Holloways Beach, Yorkey's Knob (very nice on top of hill, and nice beach), Trinity Beach (nice; good steak burger at the Blue Water cafe too!), Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach (nice), Ellis Beach where we went for a long walk, and Buchan's Point (VERY expensive housing here!)

Dinner tonight at Colonies, upstairs in Palm Cove Village Shopping Centre. Nice too and better value for money than most.

July 16

Our last full day in Far North Queensland ("Beautiful one day, perfect the next" – well, it hasn't quite been like that, but it's been warm enough to be in shorts and T-shirts most of the time, though jeans and a light sweatshirt would've been fine too).

It was a toss up to either go back to Port Douglas for lunch (doing the 'tummy tourist' thing), or go to the Innisfail Agricultural Show. The Show won, so back into the car and south to Innisfail.

The Innisfail Show was a typical country show! We watched the dog judging, the horse jumping, sheep dogs rounding up sheep, and visited the winning entries in the crafts pavilion (many of which looked as though they'd come out of a CWA meeting from the 1950s! Crocheted tea cosies, anyone?). We avoided sideshow alley, and spent some time listening to a chap demonstrating some old bush skills, like twining rope. It was a nice day weather-wise, and very different activity-wise! A good day.

Dinner again at the Apres Beach Bar and Grill – I guess we like the place!

July 17

Our flight back to Perth (via Brisbane) doesn't leave Cairns until 4:30pm, so a leisurely morning reading the Weekend Australian on the veranda, then packed up and caught taxi early in the afternoon. Spent some time in the Qantas Club before the 2 hour flight to Cairns, then the 5 hour flight back to Perth, arriving around 10:30pm Perth time.

April-May 2004: Conferences May 31, 2004

Posted by Rhonda in Air, AODC, Australia & Oceania, Canada, Conferences, New South Wales, North America, STC, Trains, Transport, USA, Vehicle.
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2004 Conferences

It’s not often I’m able to get to two conferences in one year, let alone two conferences that are so close together in time that I have been able to do them in the one trip. The two conferences are AODC (Australian Online Documentation and Content Conference) in Sydney and only a week later, STC 51st Annual Conference in Baltimore (STC = Society for Technical Communication). I’m a participant only at AODC, and am participating and co-presenting (with Char JT) a session titled “AuthorIT Tips and Tricks” at STC as well as helping out on the AuthorIT stand at both conferences (in between sessions!).

So here are my ramblings from this trip…

April 26, 2004: They call it security (Perth to Sydney)

To get to Sydney from Perth you’ve got to take a 4 hour flight. Not a problem, but since the heightened security since Sept 11, 2001, I’m finding more and more anomalies in how security is dealt with at airports and on planes.

Since 9/11, air travellers leaving from Australian airports (no matter what their destination) have had to remove their laptop computers from their bags, AND remove the battery from the laptop and put them through the x-ray machine in separate trays. Then you have to make sure you grab the right one as it comes through the line (and particularly make sure that no-one grabs YOUR laptop), then re-stow the battery pack and repack the laptop bag (with associated mice, cables, cords, power packs etc.). Unpacking and repacking has to be done on a tiny table top that takes two people at most. And you have to do all this with a boarding pass hanging out of your mouth while you grab your other carry on luggage before someone else makes off with it.

I never understood why laptops had to be removed from the carry bag, nor why the battery pack had to be removed from the laptop – and no-one at the airport could explain it to me! Surely the thing is going through an x-ray machine – that’s an X-RAY MACHINE that can see through all other bags!!! So what’s with laptops? And why remove the battery? Well the good news is that since I flew to Darwin in September last year, someone has had the sense to realise that pulling a battery pack out of a laptop really wasn’t doing anything except making people angry and frustrated (would YOU know how to remove your battery pack from your laptop without reading the manual?), so when I flew today (April 26), the requirement to take out the battery had been scrubbed off the signs at Perth airport’s domestic terminal security check area. One small step towards common sense…

OK, so you’re through security and now you’re at the gate. Your ID was checked by the person at the check in counter, but as every man and his dog (well, not the dog, but you get the picture) can go through the security area and up to the gates to see off their friends, relatives, loved ones, you’d think there’d be another ID check at the gate. Wrong! Nothing is to stop you handing over your boarding pass to someone else and for them to board the plane in your place. Now I don’t want to be paranoid here (well, all right… just indulge me for a bit…) but what if you were coerced into handing over your boarding pass by a stranger? No-one would know it wasn’t you on the plane. And what if that stranger had nefarious intentions (I’ve always wanted to use that word!!)? If they are so concerned about security then either prevent all hangers-on going through the security area, or recheck IDs at the gate when you scan in your boarding pass. From memory you have to reshow your ID when you get your boarding pass scanned in US airports… And I don’t remember seeing the friends, relatives, etc. of travellers in the US hanging around waiting for the person to leave and doing their teary goodbyes at the gate. Any goodbyes are done well beforehand, either at home or when the person is dropped off. None of this parking and coming in and hovering around like flies around a corpse to see the traveller depart. Maybe this is a peculiarly Australian thing… Perhaps it’s because when granny comes out from the UK to visit for 3 months, you REALLY want to make sure that the old dear is DEFINITELY on that plane because as much as you love her dearly, 3 months is a very long time…

Now you’re on the plane and if you are fortunate enough to be in business class, the flight attendant comes around prior to take-off with a glass of water or juice for you. In a tall GLASS. Once the flight is on the way, your get served your meal – in business class you get two GLASSES, and wine comes in full-size BOTTLES, poured for you. You also get your meal on very nice CROCKERY – real stuff too, that can chip and break and shatter. And for CUTLERY you get a very nice set of stainless steel utensils (two 4-tined forks and a spoon) AND A PLASTIC KNIFE! Can anyone else see the stupidity of this or is it just me? Hello people – glasses, crockery, steel fork (with PRONGS!), wine bottles… Aren’t all these really dangerous objects in the wrong hands? At least as dangerous as a stainless steel dinner knife… (we’re not talking steak knives here – just ordinary dinner knives that have a real problem cutting anything other than pasta!). Which bureaucrat decided that metal knives were a no-no but that it was OK to continue serving drinks in glass? And don’t say that economy class has plastic glasses and plates etc. – I don’t think a real terrorist intent on doing something nasty on a plane would be immune from buying a ticket in business class where they had access to all this nasty stuff.

Now I come to the design of the plane and how easy it is to access critical areas. The flight I was on was in a new (?) A330 plane. Guess where the business class toilet is? RIGHT NEXT TO THE COCKPIT! And where’s the only entry onto the plane (and usually the only disembarking exit too) – RIGHT NEXT TO THE COCKPIT! I used the toilet twice and only once was someone in the galley opposite the entry door; the rest were all serving or clearing away. No-one questioned why I was there – the assumption was that I was going to the toilet. But what if I wasn’t? What if I had some nefarious (there’s that word again!) intention? I’m now at the cockpit door or in the toilet – immediately behind the cockpit wall. And I don’t care how well trained the flight attendants are (and they were all female on this flight) – it would’ve taken a lot for them to have come up the front from where they were and tried to stop me had I been determined to access the cockpit.

Aircraft designers are going to have to rethink how they configure a plane and the type of security required to access the area near the cockpit. Firstly, put the entry door at the end of business class, not at the front; remove the business class toilet from right next to the cockpit and put it at the back of business class. And make the galley adjacent to the cockpit only accessible by some sort of security code or pass, or use biometric IDs to gain access. And while I’m at it… Sky marshals on planes? Sure, but put them in a uniform – that should make us all feel safer. If you’re speeding do you slow down when you see an unmarked police car? No, because you don’t even know it’s a police car. But you sure slow down if you see a marked car! Joe Brancatelli (www.joesentme.com) wrote a great piece on this some months back.

Next, when is Qantas going to ‘get it’ that business people travel and many of them have laptops? A four hour flight is enough time to get some work done, but most laptop batteries last 2-3 hours at most. So why can’t the new planes used on domestic flights (especially long ones like Perth to Sydney) have in-seat power? Overseas flights have in-seat power in business class, but not domestic…

BTW, the new Qantas uniforms look good.

And finally, food. Qantas used to have a place on their Frequent Flyer section of the website where you could update your profile and preferences. From memory, that used to include dietary requirements. No more. I hunted the website, then had to call my travel agent to get her to let Qantas know I had a special meal requirement. This worked out OK, but Qantas only have a few ‘special’ meals available such as diabetic, gluten-free, vegetarian, etc. Obviously they haven’t heard of Atkins, so you can’t actually ask for a carb- and sugar-free meal. Gluten-free is the closest and then everything has rice with it instead of bread… (I’m not on Atkins, but it is the closest I would be able to get – if it was available).

April 27, 2004: Pre-Conference Workshops (Sydney)

What a day! My head is filled with all sorts of neat things you can do with JavaScript and cookies, and with just as neat things you can do using CSS and positioning in web pages.

Dave G (my margarita drinking buddy from San Diego) lead this morning’s half day workshop titled “Online Interactivity Techniques”. Those of us who had laptops followed along writing code (and hoping we actually understood some of it!). The concepts were easy enough to understand and the way that Dave explains things meant that the JS was easy to understand too – at the time. But not being a coder and not really wanting to pursue that side of things, my understanding is likely to fly out the window in a few days. But that doesn’t matter – I now know of some of the cool stuff that CAN be done, even if I don’t use it for a while at least. And that’s half the battle… knowing that something can be done means that when it comes time to implement something similar, I just have to go back over Dave’s excellent notes, code samples, and demos (he gave us a CD with it all on it so we can practice!). Interestingly I don’t think we had anyone in the workshop from NSW, the host state. Two were from WA, one from Qld, one from Victoria, and one from NZ. There was one other person but I’m not sure where she was from.

Char JT my friend, colleague, and fellow AuthorIT Certified Consultant from Massachusetts was up next for a 4 hour workshop titled “Separating Format from Content with CSS”. Now here was some stuff I could implement reasonably soon – given time to rework the websites I’m in charge of… The meat of her presentation was on how to use CSS to render formatting changes, and not use framesets, tables, and the like to control the layout. As a result of some of the things she showed us, I’ve set myself the task of working on updating the CyberText website over the next few months to be compliant with web and accessibility standards. You won’t see any changes for a while – I’ll work on them behind the scenes, then launch the revamped site later this year… (that’s the intention anyway!)

After Char’s session I met Renata J (NZ) for the first time although I feel I know her well from some of the lists we’re both on. She, Char, Char’s son Jesse, and I wandered around Manly and found a nice cafe (Marlo?) where we had dinner. The food was excellent and the company was fantastic. By the way, thanks to Tony and Penny for organising the conference and pre-conference workshops!

Brickbats and bouquets… to the Manly Pacific Hotel (the conference venue here in Sydney). Brickbats for my first night there – the air conditioning, radio, and alarm didn’t work and there were at least four long head hairs and one pubic hair in the bed I intended sleeping in! Gross out! Fortunately there was another bed and it seemed clean so I slept in that… I complained to the management by phone that night and in person the next morning. The beds all had fresh linen tonight and all the non-working appliances now work – so thank you. But these things shouldn’t have happened… It is not a good image for a 4 (??) star hotel that has pricey room rates.

April 28, 2004: AODC Day 1 (Sydney)

Tony S started off the day in his inimitable style, with a large dash of humour to set the tone. We popped party poppers to get the conference underway and I had my mobile phone stomped on by Dave G after it rang during his session. (Not quite true – it was a fake phone that was stomped on, but a helluva lot of people thought it was my real phone and that I should’ve walked out… It was just a joke folks, and I was in on it from the start. No real phones were harmed in the making of this picture…)

Dave G presented the first session (“Presenting ‘non-essential’ information”) showing us even more neat things you can do with JavaScript.

Char JT presented the second session (“Windows Longhorn Help Walk-Through”) which got us thinking about where things were going in the Windows world and some suggestions for preparing ourselves to embrace these changes.

After a great lunch in a superb setting overlooking Manly Beach, we filed back in to hear Gerry G talk about “Audience Analysis and Usability Testing”. Gerry gave us some good ideas to take away and lots of tips on what to do and what not to do.

The last session of the day was a presentation by Allan from Microsoft Australia who introduced a ground-breaking new authoring tool to us – Notepad XS PRO!!! What a performance! It was so like the real thing (fake computer glitches and failures and all) that he had us in fits of laughter. Allan used to be on “Fast Forward” so if you think his face was familiar, that’s where you know it from. BTW, I spoke to him afterwards and his material was real – he really did work with Tony as a documenter many years ago. His delivery was just right and his audience analysis was spot on!

Macromedia provided drinks and nibblies to us all at the end of the first day of sessions – thank you! Then people adjourned with new-found friends (and old acquaintances) to some of the many restaurants in the area.

April 29, 2004: AODC Day 2 (Sydney)

After an early morning walk around to Shelley Beach with Renata (NZ), Day Two started with a breakfast provided by Panviva, one of the conference sponsors. Then people milled around the exhibitors’ stands – AuthorIT got a lot of interest!

The first session was a vendor ‘grilling’ where conference participants could ask the vendors about their product. Attending were representatives from Alucida, AuthorIT, Macromedia, Objectify, Panviva, Virtual Media/Republicorp, and Web Organics.

The rest of the day was split into two presentations per session, so I can obviously only report on those I attended. First one for me was “The new localisation” presented by Paul of AuthorIT. Paul spoke about the issues involved in localisation of documentation, including all the traps, things you have to take into account, and the costs. A very informative session.

Next was “The Clinic” where participants asked questions of a panel of experts to see if they could solve their documentation problems. Almost all problems were solved or at least suggestions for resolutions were offered, except for the person using the .NET Nuke (?) and Dreamweaver combination – sorry no-one could help you!

Another great lunch overlooking Manly Beach, but this time inside; then more exhibitor time, then back into the afternoon sessions…

Sofia C spoke about the issues with creating accessible websites in her presentation “Accessibility in Practice”, and gave us much food for thought; then Dave G gave another enlightening presentation this time on “HTML Help Hints and Tips”.

After a welcome ice-cream break, Kylie W addressed the issue of “Writing for a Varied Audience”.

Many participants adjourned to the nearby ’41 The Steyne’ for an excellent bite to eat, and a few drinks, and then what we’d all been waiting for – Uncle Dave’s Trivia Night!!! Lots of laughs, really crappy prizes, and arbitrary points added or removed to totals depending on the whim of the marker, Tony S. Interestingly, the table with Penny B on it (Tony’s wife!!!) happened to win by half a point…. As Luke was heard to sneeze… “Nepotism”!!!Tomorrow is the last day – we have six plenary sessions, so plenty to keep the brain going…

April 30, 2004: AODC Day 3 (Sydney)

Another early morning walk with Renata (NZ), this time up past the Queenscliff SLSC. Day Three (Picnic Day!) started with an excellent plenary session on why we should use Web Standards by Char JT.

That was followed by Tony S’s presentation on “Information Architecture and Metadata” – so now we have a new name for what we do! We also have more stuff to put into our HTML pages – those metadata tags look pretty useful.

Jean HW spoke next on the reasons to use/create in-house style guides and what to put in them. She also told us what NOT to put in them that should go in other sorts of documents.

Lunch was in boxes that we took across the road to the beach. It was a gloriously warm and sunny day, and the braver ones sat in the sand to eat their lunch while others sat on the sea wall and those concerned about sun exposure sat on the lawns under the shade of the Norfolk pines. Following lunch we had a game of beach cricket much to the amusement (and some disdain…) of the locals. We even got a few spectators! Jesse, the conference mascot, excelled seeing as though he has never seen cricket played or played it before. Sadly, all too soon it was time to go back into the conference for the final sessions.

I had a meeting so missed Tom J’s session on the website case study, though I heard it was excellent.

In case we hadn’t already had enough of him, Dave G had another HTML Help session, but this time WITHOUT A LINE OF CODE!!! His breakdown of various topic styles was enlightening for those of us who have never studied tech writing theory.

Finally we had a “Tips Showdown” where various participants offered up some tips and tricks for everyone. And with that it was all over. Thanks to Tony and Penny for a great conference. The location was superb, the presenters were enlightening and very free with their time and knowledge, and some of the prizes were really crappy – what more could you ask of a conference? The social activities were great and an opportunity to get to know people who may have only been email signatures until now. And as with such events, new friendships were made and existing ones were strengthened.

Thanks again.

May 1, 2004: Travelling (Sydney to Boston)
38 hours with no sleep is no fun! The time I spent in the air (some 20 hours) is included in that figure, but some of the worst time isn’t actually sitting in the plane but getting through customs, immigration, security at all ends coming and going, and hanging around in airports waiting for flights. So from 6:00am on May 1 in Sydney when I got up until 11:00pm on May 1 in Boston when I went to bed, some 38 hours went past (yes, you gain a “day” flying in an eastward direction over the Pacfic).

I was on a Qantas flight that had the Skybeds in business class. What a feat of design and engineering they are! They allow you to lie flat, but that still didn’t mean I slept… just catnapped on the 14 hour flight to LA, so I think it’s sleeping drugs for me next time. I watched two movies – both must have been eminently forgettable as they are already out of the memory banks – and did a little bit of work. These Skybeds have real power outlets so you don’t need an Em-Power adapter such as the Targus one I bought last year. Looks like it’s destined for eBay…

Our arrival at LAX was eventful as one of the economy passengers was ill during the flight and we were told on arrival that they had considered diverting us to Honolulu. So we had to wait about 30 minutes for the paramedics to remove her from the plane and for the quarantine people to check her out to make sure what she had hadn’t infected the entire plane.

The upside of the extended wait was two-fold – there was no-one else in the queues for immigration and customs (a first for me!), and our baggage was already on the carousel as we came through immigration (another first). After a couple more security checks, I checked my bags through to the American Airlines flight to Boston and went upstairs in Terminal 4 to the American Airlines lounge.

What an improvement on the last visit I made to an American Airlines lounge! Much more spacious and better facilities – including SHOWERS! I’ll take back all the nasty things I’ve said about LAX’s lack of shower facilities. However, this was in a lounge and I don’t know whether the general population can access showers in the main halls. The only disappointment was that the food offerings were minimal at best; for anything more substantial than mini pretzels you had to pay. Not like Qantas where the lounge has snacks all day. And they are obviously cutting costs – I got three free drink vouchers (not that I used them all), whereas Qantas has unlimited access to liquid refreshments.

After a 3 hour wait, the 6 hour flight to Boston took off on time and arrived about 20 minutes early. Jim (Char’s husband) found me in at the baggage carousel, then we drove to another terminal to pick her and Jesse up – they arrived about 5 minutes after me, despite leaving Sydney 5 hours earlier than me. I had direct flights, whereas they had stops in Auckland, LA, and Minneapolis.

20 minutes later we were at Char and Jim’s house and a real bed beckoned…

May 2-6, 2004: Work with a little down time (Boston)
Most of my days at Char’s were spent working both with her and separately – either on our joint presentation for the STC conference, my website, or on testing the new features in the next AuthorIT beta release. And talking work talk! I think we’re ready…

On Wednesday Char and I had the afternoon off work and drove up to Kittery in Maine where there are a slew of Outlet Malls. Mmmmm…. shopping…. I’m limited in the goodies I can buy as I have to carry them home with me! We had a great lunch at Bob’s Clam Hut – Char had the deep fried clams and I had the clam chowder. And I tried the new Lime Diet Coke – nice; better than the lemon one.

On Wednesday night we went to the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly (north of Salem) and saw a stunning performance of “Kiss Me Kate”. It’s not a musical I’m familiar with, but that didn’t matter. In addition to some great acting, the costumes were spectacular. Char found a review in the Boston Globe that said that the costumes had won a Tony Award – I can see why.

May 3, 2004: US cell phones (Boston)

One of my first tasks was to purchase a cheap cell phone that works in the US and that operates on a pre-paid card or similar. I used to have one (from Verizon) but when a friend tried to activate it in the US a month or two ago she was told they couldn’t as there was an ‘security issue’ with the frequency of that style of phone… Seems that existing users who haven’t let their contract lapse can still use these phones, but those whose phone has been inactive for some time, can’t. So the Verizon phone became a useless brick. That left me with the task of finding a phone under $100.

First stop this morning was a Verizon Wireless store. The cheapest phone was $114 US + $30 activation charge, less a $50 rebate pre-paid card, so a total of $94. And when I come back next year I have to pay the $30 reactivation fee again. I figured there had to be a cheaper phone around – and there was. At BestBuy I was able to purchase (with my VISA card) a $70 phone that had an immediate $20 rebate applied to the purchase price and with no reactivation fee at a later date. With tax, I paid $52 US for the phone, and when I activated it with a $40 pre-paid I was going to be ready to roll.

Not so fast… First, I get the phone home and read the manuals (yes, Virginia, someone DOES read manuals! Hey, I write them – the most courteous thing to do is read someone else’s work!). And find that I have to call a 1800 number to get AT&T to activate the phone using my VISA card. So far, so good.

After waiting about 20 mins on hold for a customer rep (fortunately this was a free call from Char’s phone), I get the runaround from hell. Guess what? AT&T’s computer system WON’T ACCEPT A NON-US VISA CARD as payment for the activation. Now AT&T are no fly-by-night organisation – they are one of the three biggest telecommunications companies in the entire WORLD – and they can’t accept my VISA card. After speaking to the rep, and getting my call escalated, it seems that short of returning the phone to BestBuy and getting a refund and starting the runaround again, I had no option than to go to an AT&T store and pay the $40 pre-paid plan in cash. So these guys are happy to SELL me a phone (on my Aussie VISA card) that is designed for travellers who can’t use their Australian or European phone, yet CAN’T accept my VISA card because they “can’t confirm the address against the card number Ma’am.” ABSOLUTE BOLLOCKS!!! Char and Jim (a two person business) take VISA and can confirm an international address against an international VISA in less than 1 minute. So why can’t one of the world’s biggest companies?

Yes, I could’ve used Char’s VISA, but that’s not the point. AT&T promote these as “GoPhones” and when you read the blurb you see that they are ideal for travellers to the US and Canada, even as a throwaway phone. Nowhere in the manuals did I read anything about a US VISA only. So much for encouraging tourists to visit America! I did ask the AT&T people I spoke to to escalate this issue as there must be plenty of other travellers affected by it.

Bloody crazy!

May 7, 2004: Train travel on Amtrak (Boston to Connecticut)

It’s my niece’s 21 st birthday today – happy birthday, Shannon. Sorry I won’t be there.

The Regional train was scheduled to leave Boston at 9:35am – and it was right on time! I’m due to arrive in New Haven, Connecticut just after noon – so far, so good…

Char drove me to Boston’s South Station, leaving Lynn at 7:15am because we didn’t know how bad the peak hour traffic might be. Well, with the “Big Dig” tunnels (which is still not finished – lots of construction still happening), the trip was surprisingly fast. We had enough time to drive through some more of the “Big Dig” project and get to South Station just after 8:00am, well in time for the train. I’ll be seeing Char again on Sunday in Baltimore.

It’s many years since I sat in a train station, let alone at commuter rush hour in a city the size of Boston. Some observations:

  • Lots of white and black faces (mostly white), with very few Asian or Hispanic faces.
  • Mostly commuting workers with some backpackers and well-dressed retirees going on a longer train journey of some sort. Clothing worn by most was casual/comfortable, with very few suits. Despite it being a beautiful sunny day, not many were wearing spring colours – lots of black, grey, beige, blue, with an occasional yellow sweater.
  • Shoes were nearly all work shoes or sneakers, with a few sandals. I think I was the only one in boots! I’m sure Dallas would have different…

Train security was interesting – and non-existent. Despite the bombings in Madrid a few weeks back and the news reports of how security has tightened up at US train stations, not a bit of security was in evidence at Boston South Station or on the train itself. No checks of anything except tickets. No screening of luggage either. And this is a train that goes through to New York and Washington…

The train is very fast – which makes it hard to take photos out of the window. Business Class has power for latops etc. – in fact I am writing this on the train having just pulled out of the station at Providence, Rhode Island.

The tagging and graffiti is interesting near railway tracks – it is everywhere. On every man-made surface, under bridges, on the sides of train carriages, and containers. Very sad.

To counter the ugliness of the graffiti is the bright sunshine and the new green leaves on the trees as they start to put on their full summer foliage.

May 8, 2004: Driving to Baltimore (Connecticut to Maryland)
Today was mostly spent driving to Baltimore with Whitney. After doing a few last minute errands we got on the road around 10:00am, finding our way to the I-95 and heading south. Mostly it was a pretty drive, except for the section around New York City where we went through parts of the Bronx and Queens. Some of the project housing we saw from the road was very depressing and ugly. The road wasn’t too good either – there’s no room for expansion and the limited number of lanes meant that traffic congestion is a way of life.

After getting over the George Washington Bridge (which crosses the Hudson River in New York) the road improved dramatically as did the traffic congestion and the scenery, and the rest of the drive through New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland was uneventful.

Interestingly, there were no billboards on this section of the interstate, which made the drive that much more pleasant and picturesque.

Some 5 hours later (we stopped for lunch) we arrived in Baltimore and navigated our way around some rough inner city streets to the hotel – the Tremont Plaza Suites on St Paul St. To get our bearings for the conference we walked down to the Inner Harbor and got a sense of how far it was to the Convention Center (about 5 blocks).

The day was fine and sunny and people were out in droves at the Inner Harbor. Pretty neat place, with lots going on and lots of places to eat. We ended up having dinner at J.Paul’s which was delicious and inexpensive. The waiter was very cute too!

May 9, 2004: Conference Registration and Exhibition (Baltimore)

After Whitney left I went over the presentation I’m giving on Tuesday (ya gotta practice sometime!), then walked down to the Convention Center around 2:00pm.

Char had just arrived at the AuthorIT booth, then the guys turned up and set up shop ready for the enquiries from conference attendees. I saw lots of people I had met from previous conferences and it was good to catch up – there’s a nice sense of community with people you know through email and then get to meet at conferences such as this.

After standing and gabbing the rest of the afternoon, Char and I went back to the hotel to dump gear and freshen up, then met the AuthorIT guys and resellers for dinner at J.Paul’s at the Inner Harbor. Everyone seemed pleased with their meals, so I was glad I recommended it. Lots of laughs and jokes – Paul is such a kid!

Back to the room and to bed by 11:30pm – Day 1 of the conference proper starts tomorrow at 8:00am.

May 10, 2004: STC 51st Annual Conference – Day 1 (Baltimore)

The opening session featured Ben Schneiderman, the author of “Leondardo’s Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies”. Unlike previous keynote speakers at other STC Conferences, I was disappointed in this session as it was very much a PowerPoint presentation similar to any standard technical session. And to me, it seemed to be a promotion for his own book. Unlike the keynotes by the National Geographic photographer (whose name escapes me at the moment) in 2001 and David Macauley in 2002, this speech didn’t inspire or provoke me at all.

The three technical sessions I attended on Monday were:

  • The Tech Writer’s Essential Toolkit: An overview of a whole slew of tools, websites, and book resources all under $100 or free. Some neat suggestions among these that I’ll investigate once the list of links is available from the conference website.
  • Advanced Marketing for Technical Communicators: Three speakers gave us some good ideas on marketing, such as focusing on customer benefits not on what we do, and ‘information foraging’.
  • Guerilla Usability for Tech Writers: Now here was a session I wanted to attend as Steve Krug (the author of “Don’t make me think!” was the presenter. It was humorous with some sensible ideas on usability testing, and it was nice to hear that Krug was a tech writer before getting into usability and writing his now famous book.

Lunch today was a Networking lunch and I sat on the Consulting table, meeting and talking with some fellow tech writer business owners, Natalie Roelant and Kathy Schuster. Some good ideas were shared.

And at the end of the sessions, we had the Regional Receptions. There were quite a few at the Region 8 reception where Bonnie Graham handed over the Director Sponsor position she has held for 3 years to Beau Cain. Beau mentioned that the 2006 or 2007 Regional Conference may be hosted by the Australia Chapter, perhaps in combination with Region 7 (thus including South East Asia).

Oh, and in between the sessions and at the lunch break Char and I helped out on the AuthorIT booth, answering the questions that we could.

This evening Char and I decided to eat in the room and have an early night as we have our joint presentation tomorrow, followed by another presentation by Char. Despite our good intentions, it was still well after 11:00pm before we turned the light out.

May 11, 2004: STC 51st Annual Conference – Day 2 (Baltimore)

Char and I got to the Convention Center nice and early to make sure that the computer setup we had asked for was as we requested – it was. The switchbox worked, the laptops worked, and the data projector worked, so we were in business! Our session (“AuthorIT Tips and Tricks”) went for 90 minutes, and was attended by about 40 people. We kicked a few out at the beginning as we were focusing on existing AIT users or those actively evaluating the product, and suggested the others attend Paul Trotter’s vendor demo session at 9:00am (and thanks STC for scheduling TWO AIT presentations at the same time!) We think our session went well – nothing failed (including us!), but we won’t know how people really felt about the information we demonstrated until we get copies of the evaulation forms in a few months. Those who approached us after the session were pleased with the information we gave them.

The other sessions I attended on Tuesday were:

  • Developing a Corporate Style Guide: A good session on what sort of things should be included in a corporate style guide – and what shouldn’t.
  • Marketing Yourself: This was the most disappointing session of the conference that I attended – so much so that by the time the third speaker (of five) started, I walked out. The reason: this session was written up in the program as “Intermediate Level” and described as “Learn inventive approaches to self-marketing”, yet the first speaker talked about a support program for the unemployed run in a specific geographic area, while the next two focused on new graduates – hardly intermediate level and “Resumes for Newbies” is hardly ‘inventive approaches’.
  • Connecting the Dots: Using Your Indexing Skills to Develop Effective Metadata: An excellent session on metadata and the skills we already have that can be applied to metadata and information architecture. Seth Maislin’s section was especially inspirational.

Lunch was the SIG (Special Interest Group) lunch, and again the STC organisers got the Lone Writer numbers wrong – we only had 2 tables and could easily have filled 3 or more. This same thing happened last year. It was good catching up with a whole lot of familiar faces, and some familiar names whose faces I didn’t know.

Because the “Marketing” session was so bad I went back to the hotel during it, showered and changed ready for the Lone Writers dinner at Crabby Dick’s restaurant in historic Fells Point. A heap of us met at the Wyndham Hotel and some of us went in Al Hood’s rental car to the Inner Harbor and then took the Water Taxi to Fells Point – the rest walked as their cab didn’t turn up. It was a gorgeous balmy evening and being on the water was really nice.

Crabby Dick’s was a fun place, very much like Dick’s Last Resort in Dallas last year. Lots of laughs and silly hats – and what was Dana Utz thinking when he bought the tank top that said “Oh Boy! What a Dick!” on it… Many of us (there were 24 of us who turned up) caught the Water Taxi back to the Inner Harbor.

May 12, 2004: STC 51st Annual Conference – Day 3 (Baltimore)

Already the last day of the conference – it just goes by so quickly. The walk to the Convention Center this morning was a lot lighter with no laptops for Char and I to carry, and no AIT uniform to wear.

The sessions I attended on Wednesday were:

  • Planning for Content Management: An excellent session on how Coca Cola Enterprises in Atlanta implemented AuthorIT for their SAP documentation (online help and role-based training materials). Some great ideas and suggestions, and some terrific strategies for anyone attempting to do the same.
  • Entrepreneurial Lessons Not Found in the Classroom: This was an inspirational session done by human dynamo Marissa Levin. Some very sensible messages and some great anecdotes – her website will be a must.
  • Bringing Brand Alive for Software and Web Sites: I found this session disappointing as it did not live up to my expectations based on the title and the description.

Lunch was based on Regions today, and I sat at one of the four Region 8 tables. With the exception of me and John from Las Vegas everyone else seemed to be from the San Francisco area.

Finally, the closing session was here. After the accolades for the organising committee, Thom Haller made us laugh, reminisce and think about why we do what we do. Thanks Thom – you more than made up for the disappointing opening session.

And with that it was all over… I was originally signed up to do a full day workshop on Indexing but it was cancelled while I was in Sydney and it was too late to change all my travel bookings (train, plane, hotel, car rental and ferry!), so I have to decide what I’ll do tomorrow. Staying in Baltimore is not an option that is appealing, so I’ll either take the train to Washington DC or rent a car and go down to Chesapeake Bay.

May 13, 2004: Shopping, rental cars, and other bits and pieces (Baltimore)

So much for renting a car and going to Chesapeake Bay… The Preakness (like the Melbourne Cup) is being run in Baltimore on Saturday and not a rental car was to be found. I seem destined not to ever see Chesapeake! I had planned to visit there when I went to Washington DC in 1986, but a pea-souper (fog) blanketed the whole north-east and I went to the Shenandoah Valley instead. I even thought of catching a train to DC today and doing some of the museums, Smithsonian buildings etc., but the train fare was $78 USD return – for a 30 min trip each way! I’d’ve thought there was a commuter train for about $5-10 each way, but NOT nearly $80! So I checked out some of the brochures in the hotel and found that there was an Arundel Mills outlet mall nearby – with a shuttle service. So I did that instead.

Not being a shopping person, I surprised even myself that I could spend 7 hours in a shopping mall! I took it slowly and looked in most stores, buying a few bits of clothing for myself and my baby nephew, and some shoes. And had a salad lunch from Subway in the food court. Now to fit it all into the luggage tomorrow!

Final thoughts on staying in hotels… This time the Tremont Plaza Suite in St Paul St, Baltimore.

  • When you request a non-smoking room, you don’t expect to be confronted with a room that absolutely reeks of smoke. And no offer of shifting rooms as the hotel is “fully booked”. But some magic mandarin-scented spray from housekeeping got rid of the smell for a while…
  • Dial-up internet access is horrible! I think the slowest speed we got was 28.8kbps, and the fastest was about 52. You really think twice about supporting sites that are graphics- and JavaScript-heavy. And what’s with the hotel promoting “2 data ports” in each room? There are two physical data ports, for sure, but only ONE line – there is no physical way that two people can independently connect to the internet at the same time.
  • Room cleaning. Above the desk on the wall (near the ceiling) was a dark mark. It was there on Saturday when I arrived. On closer inspection, we determined that it was a dead cockroach… And by Friday when I checked out, it was still there!
  • Plumbing. Right from day one a room above us had some serious water hammer, and over time so did ours. Being woken at 11:30pm or 2:30am (seriously!) with the sound of something loud and banging coming into the room is no fun. I complained about this water hammer nearly every day, but NOTHING was done.
  • Car service. The hotel has a great private car service with prices comparable to local taxis. However, it is not advertised in the hotel folder in the rooms, or by the desk. It was only because I asked for a taxi on Tuesday that I found out that it existed. I’ll be using it to go to the Amtrak station tomorrow, but the hotel really should promote this service to its guests.
  • Deli. The Tremont Plaza is a Suite hotel meaning that it has a mini-kitchen. But the best was that there was a deli attached to the hotel, with reasonable prices and excellent fresh and prepared food – meats, chicken, salads, breakfast makings, snacks, drinks, etc. We made a lot of use of it! It was much cheaper than eating out.
  • Windows. Even though we were on the 19th floor, we had windows that OPENED! So we were able to get some fresh air which was essential when we were trying to remove the smoke smell from the room. And yes, the room still had air conditioning which was necessary when the temperature got over 90 degress as it did on about three days.

May 14, 2004: Trains, planes, and waiting… (Baltimore to New York)

Woke early, read the newspaper, then sorted out the packing. Thank goodness I purchased some vacuum packers yesterday at the Samsonite store – they were a god-send when I needed to fit everything in! They’re pretty nifty in how they squeeze all the air out, allowing the garments to be very flat in the bag and thus allowing even more in the suitcase than normal. Which was just as well – both the suitcase and the black bag were well and truly full! I can’t buy a THING in Canada as there will be no more room… Luckily most of what I’ll be taking in Canada is photos.

The hotel driver took me to the Amtrak station just after midday and someone took my bags to put them on an earlier train so that they’d be waiting for me in New York. Then the information desk suggested that I catch the earlier Acela Express train – the one that left Baltimore at 12:30 instead of the 1:30 train. So I did. The train ride was very pleasant, but it wasn’t until almost the end that I found the power point, so I could have been working for most of the 3 hour trip.

The scenery was good in patches, mostly the top end of Chesapeake Bay and the green trees etc., but most of the areas through settlements were of sad and rundown industrial buildings. Of course, I don’t know any country whose railway lines run through the nice parts of town, so I guess that was to be expected.

When we were close to New York’s Penn Station I asked the attendant where to go to claim my baggage and to get the connection to JFK. The chap she was talking to offered to show me – and I found that he was an Amtrak supervisor when we got off the train. He led me up to the Customer Service area, who then let me know when the other train arrived (it got in later than I did), and directed me to the Baggage Claim area. Well, directed is perhaps the wrong word… After the great experience with the Amtrak supervisor, the Customer Service people were less than helpful. And when I enquired as to how to get to JFK, I got varying responses such as “catch a cab”, “walk three blocks and catch a shuttle bus”, and “catch the xxx train, then get off at yyy, then catch the zzz train”. According to the Amtak website there IS a connection from Penn Station to JFK – but not according to the people who worked there. And with the amount of luggage I had, there was no way I was going to try and manoeuvre it along the streets of New York City, or onto commuter trains at peak hour. So a cab it was…

Baggage Claim was an interesting exercise. After waiting for ages (at least 30 mins), they opened baggage claim. Everybody streams in to the area where the bags are laid out on the ground, and has to fight for their own bag. A cursory glance is given to the baggage claim tickets by the men who work there, so pretty much anybody could make off with anybody else’s luggage. Then getting a porter was even more interesting. Eventually one turned up after being paged. While I was waiting for my bags I spoke to a lady who said that a cab was really my only choice – especially after she saw the bags I had! So the porter took me up to the taxi stand and I then had the experience of a $55 USD cab ride (including tip, but not including the tip to the porter) to JFK. The cabbie was from Romania and was very vehement in his opposition to the American presence in Iraq – as were MANY Americans I spoke to. He talked the whole way to the airport…

I got to JFK around 5:00pm – yep, it took almost as long to get from Baltimore to New York as it did to collect my bags, get a cab, and get to JFK! And the traffic was good with no traffic jams or gridlocks that NYC is famous for. When I got there, I was told that the Cathay Pacific check-in wasn’t opening until 7:00pm and no, they couldn’t take my bags, and yes, I’d have to keep them with me, even if I went to the bathroom! Great…

So I sat in the area near the check-in counter for the two hours, making a few phone calls to friends and relatives to catch up and/or say goodbye. What an enormous waste of time. There really is no facility in airports for early check-in for people with long wait times for a connection.

Once I checked in and went through the “remove your laptop from the bag, ma’am” and “remove your boots ma’am” (actually, I’m not even sure I got the “ma’am” bit!), I went to the British Airways lounge (which is a code share with Qantas and Cathay Pacific and possibly others). The BA Terraces Lounge was very pleasant, with some decent (and free) snacks and drinks. But I had trouble connecting to the internet from the data port. After a couple of service people helped me, I still couldn’t get through. I asked the last person I spoke to if there was a desk where I could do some work – connection wasn’t vital though that would be nice, but I had close to 4 hours to kill and may as well be doing some work (and write this blog entry, of course!). The business area in the lounge was very full. The lady quietly said she’d take me through to the First Class lounge – which she did, via the kitchen and food preparation area. There I got a desk, power and a data connection – but I still couldn’t connect to the internet. Once a couple of toffy Brits who were sitting at the only computer in First Class left, I jumped on that one to check my email only to find that they block some sites, such as links to webmail facilities. Nice one! So back to work I went… Still another 2+ hours to my late night flight to Vancouver (it leaves after 11:00pm).

May 15, 2004: Vancouver Island

The Cathay Pacific flight from New York to Vancouver didn’t leave until midnight on May 14, arriving in Vancouver at 2:00am Vancouver time (5:00am New York time). One allergy tablet helped me catnap a bit more than usual, in addition to the fact that it was late and that the Cathay flight had skybeds! Our arrival in Vancouver was uneventful – not many left the flight (most were continuing on to Hong Kong), and ours was the only flight in, so immigration and customs and baggage collection was super quick. Vancouver Airport is such a neat place to walk through with lots of First Nations carvings and artwork. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of time to appreciate them before you’re into the immigration line. The hotel shuttle picked me up and I was in bed by 3:00am.

And awake by 7:00am! After the free full breakfast I caught the shuttle back to the airport to pick up my rental car from Hertz. I got a trainee, and despite asking for a vehicle with a trunk (so that my baggage wasn’t on display while on the road), he gave me a small sedan with no ‘privacy’ shelf. So I went back and got given a Ford Crown luxury car for the same price! A 4.6L V8 monster – with a big trunk! It’s going to be hell on the fuel costs – Canadian fuel prices are similar to Australia, hovering around 95c to 1.00 per litre. For the first time ever, I took the ‘fuel purchase option’ from Hertz as their price was 92c/litre and I’d seen on the internet that morning that the Aussie prices were likely to hit $1.07/litre in the next week – no doubt Canadian prices were going to rise similiarly as the crude oil price had risen dramatically.

The drive from Vancouver Airport to the Tsawassen ferry terminal was uneventful and I didn’t get lost – British Columbia is very big on signage for their ferries! The ferry trip to Duke Point, Nanaimo took about 2 hours. Weather was overcast but not cold, and no rain. The drive to Qualicum Beach took another 30 minutes or so, and I arrived at Jill and Brian’s house mid-afternoon. Jill was still at her conference in Ottawa and Brian and I caught up on our respective news, then went shopping for tonight’s dinner of Spring Salmom!!! Bliss!!! Brian BBQed the salmon and veges, and it was absolutely delicious! Pacific Northwest salmon is just THE BEST in the world, and BBQed on the deck of a magnificent house overlooking the Strait of Georgia on a warm spring afternoon just can’t be beat.

May 16, 2004: Vancouver Island

A MAGNIFICENT day – not a cloud in the sky, and the water in the Strait of Georgia was like a millpond. Brian and I drove down to Nanaimo Airport to pick up Jill, then spent the warm afternoon just lazing around, taking Jazz (their dog) for a walk on the beach, and getting dinner ready for us and Jill’s Mum and her English cousin. Drinks on the deck, and a fabulous meal capped off a perfect Sunday.

May 17, 2004: Vancouver Island

Another MAGNIFICENT day – if tomorrow is like this when I’m on the Inside Passage ferry, I’ll be very lucky indeed… and the Weather Channel indicates that it will be. After Jill left for school, I finished packing and loaded up the car and said goodbye to Brian. The drive from Qualicum Beach to Port Hardy took me about 5-6 hours (should be about 3.5 hours) as I went on the Oceanside Drive not the main highway, and stopped quite a bit to take photos and enjoy the scenery, and to have lunch in Campbell River.

It was a much more beautiful drive than I remember from 1986 (when I last did it), but there seemed to be less bald eagles flying around near the ocean. I got in to Port Hardy around 3:00pm and found the Glen Lyon Inn without any trouble. My room overlooks the bay and the fishing marina, and there are LOTS of bald eagles flying around in front of my room. Neat! I even saw a hummingbird hover near the window just before sunset (which is around 9:30pm!).

Port Hardy is a pretty small town, but has all sorts of facilities. I was able to find a bank to get some Canadian cash, and found some mini-binoculars in the hardware store – who knows what wildlife I might see tomorrow? Had dinner in the restaurant of the Glen Lyon – grilled Halibut; nice but not spectacular (I got spoilt with the salmon the other night!).

The weather tomorrow is expected to be fantastic, so I’m really looking forward to the 16 hour ferry trip to Prince Rupert. When I did this trip in 1986 it was June or July and even though it was summer, the weather was overcast, cool and rainy and misty, so it didn’t display the beauty of the area as it could have. Maybe this time…

May 18, 2004: Inside Passage Ferry: Port Hardy to Prince Rupert

The forecast is for sunshine the next 4 days – but what a MISERABLE day it’s turned out to be this morning! It dawned with low cloud, no sun, and light misty drizzle -and very strong winds. A great day to be on the ocean… NOT!

After the 5:30am wake-up call, a quick shower and repack, I was off to the ferry terminal at 6:10am. There was already a long line of vehicles there, so I just bided my time in the queue for 40 or so minutes before being directed on board. My reserve seat in the North Star Lounge was a window seat which was really lucky as the seats are 6 across with an aisle between and only one is a window seat. Those on the other side of the aisle see very little unless they go out on deck (not an option at the moment as it is too cold and inclement) or shift somewhere else outside the lounge. However, there WAS NO VIEW except grey on grey – grey sky, darker grey water. Oh, and white – white caps on the water.

The ferry (“Queen of the North”) left on time about 7:30am with its load of some 200+ vehicles and passengers, and by 9:00am we were in the open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. Whie we were still in clam waters I had my breakfast of papaya and yoghurt that I bought yesterday in Qualicum, had a cuppa, and wandered about the decks getting my bearings and getting a GOOD dose of VERY fresh air!

Open waters = swell = some people were very seasick. The swell was running at 1-2 metres I’d guess, and it made moving around very difficult. At one stage the captain advised us all to stay in our seats and there were regular calls for “a cleaner to go to the purser’s office” – no doubt to clean up after another seasick passenger. I was fine, and happily stayed in my seat reading my book. I couldn’t use my laptop as there was no power outlets except in one place, and the purser said that it was iffy power and could blow a laptop… And no internet connection, though there was a video games room for kids. So I couldn’t read some of the stuff from the conference on my laptop – and I didn’t have it with me anyway – it was in the boot of the car, and we were only allowed down to the car deck at four designated times during the voyage. Maybe later…

So far the journey is very disappointing as the weather is just awful. Maybe it’ll be better once we’re in calmer waters and much further north…

2:30pm: Well, the awful weather lasted until noon when suddenly it all lifted and we had PERFECT blue skies and the calmer seas of the Inside Passage itself. Almost everyone ended up on the decks enjoying the sunshine, the glorious scenery, and the freshest air you could imagine. The wind was cold but my Xanadu polar fleece and the Freo Dockers scarf were put to good use for the first time this trip. It was just MAGIC and I hope the photos do it some justice.

By about 2:00pm we were in relatively open water again, in Milbanke Sound (oh, yeah, we stopped off for 15-30 mins in Bella Bella to drop some people off). The wind was very cold and there wasn’t much to see, so many people came back inside. I’ll go back up on deck later when we get close to land again. Meantime, back to my book (Bill Bryson’s “The mother tongue: English and how it got that way”).

4:30pm: It’s now warm enough on the top deck (the most open deck) to be down to a T-shirt! It is still a glorious day. Have seen a couple of seals/sea lions(?) and a couple of orcas (though they may have been false killer whales as the main orca pods are not due back until mid-June). However, the girls in the tourist kiosk said they could be ‘transient’ orcas as versus ‘resident’ ones. Transients tend to be younger and hunt in twos and threes, and they hunt all sorts of fishy stuff – seals, fish, etc. Whereas residents are in large pods (20 to 30) and follow the salmon as their main source of food. Some Germans said they saw a bear and 2 cubs near a waterfall. I haven’t seen a bald eagle this time, which is surprising as they were the main wildlife I saw back in July 1986. Could be the wrong time of the year for them, or maybe they follow the salmon too.

6:00pm: The light is still fantastic for photos – it seems like it’s about 3:00pm. But the wind has picked back up. By 7:00pm the wind on the top deck was ferocious both in intensity and its chill factor. Of course, jeans, T-shirt, light denim jacket and polar fleece with no bum or elastic band in the base didn’t help. I had to wrap my Dockers scarf around my head and ears to protect them! The lower decks are better, but still very windy so I’ve come inside for the moment. I’ll go out again when the sun starts to go down. Should be a speccy sunset as the weather has been so gorgeous since lunchtime. This is a MOST BEAUTIFUL place, with spectacular scenery, pristine air, and sheer beauty. Highly recommended for doing your soul a lot of good and for making your spirit soar. If you get a day like I’ve had, you’ll also get sun and wind burnt – there’s a lot of red faces around!

9:30pm: The sun just went down behind a hill and a few minutes beforehand a whale blew – I saw the rush of water and air and its fin in the distance but didn’t see it again. What a way to end a fabulous day of fresh air, photos, sunshine and being at awe with nature!

We’re due into Prince Rupert at 10:30pm, so not much of this trip will be spent in darkness. This was the first sailing of the Summer season, so I’d imagine that in June/July, there’d be little or no darkness at all. One of the ladies sitting near me is from Kitimat and she said that in June the sun doesn’t go down until 11pm.

We arrived in Prince Rupert on time, but it took quite a while to clear the car decks. I got to the Howard Johnson hotel at 11:30pm.

May 19, 2004: Elusive Moose… Prince Rupert to Prince George

This is a very rambling blog as I jotted down notes and thoughts as I drove the 720kms from Prince Rupert to Prince George… Here are those jottings:

  • Mosquitoes as big as helicopters!
  • Lime flavoured diet Coke – when will we get it in Australia? It’s great!
  • Almost no traffic.
  • Followed the Skeena River to Terrace – very pretty and scenic; at least as beautiful as Yosemite. The Skeena is extremely fast flowing at the moment as it is full of snow melt. Lots of little waterfalls gushing down the rock faces.
  • Hot day – 27C outside; shorts and t-shirt weather.
  • Listening to Canadian radio (where I could pick it up) and hearing quite a bit of Australia – Natalie Imbruglia, INXS, Midnight Oil, Keith Urban, AC/DC…
  • Some CRAZY cyclists! Bicycles, not motor bikes. These are mountains!
  • No wildlife so far (10:00am) – only a few birds such as robins. Very glad I bought binoculars for the Ferry trip – hopefully will get some use from them in next few days too.
  • Have been told that I should see moose, bear, elk, mountain sheep, deer etc. So far, nothing… No roadkill, no live animals… And no litter ($2000 fine!)
  • HUGE bumblebees that leave a mess on the windscreen when they hit…
  • Lots of road signs for moose… lots of neat moose habitat… but no moose…
  • Saw one bald eagle when leaving Terrace after having lunch.
  • Food – absolutely EVERYBODY seems to be doing lo-carb meals – very different from previous years…
  • Mountains are awesome; weather is awesome.
  • Lots of logging but also lots of regrowth and renewal of the forests.
  • Petrol prices have varied a lot – from 99.5 in Vancouver to 85.9 in Burns Lake.
  • Wildflowers – mostly dandelions, very little else. Maybe it’s too early?
  • The drive is prtty flat, even through the mountains as it follows the rivers (Skeena, Bulkley). Good roads for driving.
  • Saw a dead fox near Hazelton.
  • Visited Ksan First Nations village near Hazelton – very interesting.
  • Clouds coming in this afternoon but still sunny and hot (25C+).
  • Road construction…
  • After Hazelton, scenery is very rural – cattle, sheep, horses, farms, rolling pasture, mountains as a backdrop.
  • Saw a coyote???
  • Full service gas stations still around – and still check oil and water and wash your windscreen! All for no extra cost (as in the US).
  • 7:30pm just outside Prince George and it is still 21C.
  • Never did see a moose… or a deer, or an elk, or mountain sheep, or bears…

May 20-22, 2004: Prince George to Vancouver

This is a very rambling blog as I jotted down notes and thoughts over two days while driving from Prince George to Vancouver… Here are those jottings:

  • Saw one bison ranch – advertising bison meat for sale…
  • Lots of moose signs – but no moose to be seen – still…
  • South of Prince George: very rural landscape; lots of newly ploughed brown soil.
  • Weather (20 May): cloudy, sunshine, rain last night as car was very wet this morning, cooler temperatures today.
  • Something bit me a few days back – I have two funny little blood spots and raised welts near my waist. No idea what it was. But very itchy.
  • Quesnel is pronounced “quenelle” – yeah, like you’d pick that from looking at it!
  • Saw beaver dams and lodges and the effects of beaver dams on reclaiming land. Clever little critters.
  • Went to Barkerville Historical Village – 80kms inland off Highway 97. But it was worth it – neat little place; another town founded on gold, though you’d have to wonder about the people that made it this far inland and through some very inhospitable country and weather.
  • Yay! saw three (mule?) deer on way to Barkerville. First REAL wildlife! No photos as too dangerous to stop.
  • There’s still some gold mining and panning operations up near Barkerville, so not all the gold is mined out.
  • Highway 97 is a great road and today I have good driving conditions. Light to medium traffic; fairly flat. Followed Fraser River valley for much of the way down form Prince George – very rural and pretty.
  • By 3pm on 20 May, it was 24C outside (between Quesnel and Williams Lake). Radio reception is very iffy – often CBC is all you can get out here, and the massive power lines really affect reception in places.
  • There are some really crappy and cheap looking motels around that could do with pulling down and starting again. In Williams Lake even the Super8 looked good compared to the others.
  • Saw some more birdlife – Canada Geese, Redwing Blackbirds, Yellow-breasted Blackbirds – and crows!
  • Stayed overnight at 108 Mile (yes, that’s the name of the town!), and the 108 Resort – very nice location overlooking a golf course and two lakes (Sepa and yes, 108 Lake!). Had a lovely wild salmon meal in the 108 Restaurant. I went for a walk around the smaller lake after I got there, but it rained and I got a bit wet!
  • Lots of the blokes around these parts have beards and some look like the Grizzly Adams character – goes with the territory?
  • Weather (21 May): very cloudy and rain and thunderstorms expected, so I think I’ll just go straight through to Vancouver and not stay overnight at Squamish as I’d sort of planned. It’s 465km from 108 Mile to Vancouver, so it should take about 5 hours, depending on the weather and the terrain, and how often I stop. Well, the terrain means I won’t do it in 5 hours – these are mountains and Highway 99 from the turn off through to Pemberton is very narrow, winding, rough, and hilly! The sides drop off to who knows where, and the grades are very steep (steepest I saw was 15% for 3kms – and two cyclists with full panniers were JUST starting up the hill…). Many parts you can only do 20kph. Hairpin bends in parts, and rock falls and slides. But despite this, it is VERY SCENIC and I’m glad I came this way.
  • I SAW A BEAR! Between Lillooet and Whistler; a black bear. It was only on the side of the road for a minute then scampered off into the bush, but I was able to get three photos as proof!
  • In the middle of NOWHERE I was able to get gas for 81.9c/litre!
  • Pavilion Lake – the most beautiful clear aqua at the lake’s edge.
  • Seton Lake near Lillooet – massive rock falls, lovely colour, but would’ve been stunning if the sun was shining.
  • Bucketed down with rain near Pemberton and continued raining very heavily almost until Whistler. Lightning as well – just as the road follows massive high voltage electrical power lines! Scary.
  • Whistler is SO up itself that there aren’t any signs for food outlets, gas stations etc. I needed to find a toilet – ha! No way! Everything I saw as I drove through Whistler Village looks VERY EXPENSIVE, so I didn’t stop. Besides it was raining. And the cars in Whistler and heading to it were the most I’d seen of the Mercedes, BMW, Saab, Audi, Lexus, Porsche ilk.
  • Traffic heading to Whistler is very heavy – it’s a long weekend in Canada (Victoria Day) and some people have obviously taken Friday (or at least Friday afternoon) off work and are heading up here.
  • Toilets – when you’re on the road driving for 6 hours and have consumed well over a litre of water, you need a loo – badly. But none are to be found! All signs for Provincial parks don’t include symbols for toilets, so you don’t know if there are any there or not. And public toilets are nearly impossible to find. On Highway 99 there are no rest stops (with loos) as there are on Highway 97. So as I couldn’t even see a fast food place in Whistler I had to wait until Squamish, where the Wendy’s/Tim Horton’s had some nice clean loos. Wendy’s had the best value chicken salad meal too!
  • Is Jim’s Mowing everywhere? There’s a franchise in Squamish…
  • Highways are well labelled, EXCEPT for the exit you have to take to follow 99 South! So I went further than I should, and had to exit at Lonsdale St and double back in nasty suburban traffic to the Lion’s Gate Bridge, where 4 lanes of traffic have to merge into 1 in about 10m!! And what’s with routing a major highway through the centre of Vancouver? To get to the airport on 99 South you HAVE to go through the Vancouver CBD – not a pleasant experience after 4pm on the Friday of a long weekend…
  • Stayed overnight at the Quality Inn in Richmond, and had a wonderful last wild salmon meal at Milestone’s Bar and Grill up the road.
  • Return the rental car to the airport this morning – I did more than 2300kms and paid $141 for fuel (plus what I’ll pay at Hertz to fill the tank).
  • Flight leaves for Hong Kong at 3pm…

May 22-23, 2004: Vancouver to Perth

Flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong was uneventful, but the drugs didn’t work. Again, I no more than catnapped for the 14 hour flight, and ended up watching three movies as I thought I’d packed my power adapter for the laptop into my checked in luggage – then found it when I had a shower at HK airport! The movies were a better lot than coming over – this time I saw “Calendar Girls”, “The Station Agent”, and “Cold Mountain”. Both “Calendar Girls” and “The Station Agent” were feel-good movies, whereas “Cold Mountain” was darker and more brooding – and quite violent, but then, it was about war. All were good movies in their own way.

I have a 3+ hour layover in Hong Kong airport, before the last leg – the 8 hour flight to Perth. At least I’m back in the West Aussie time zone (or very close to it if it’s not exact). Maybe I’ll sleep on this last leg? Ha! I think that the next time I do this, I’ll have to go to the Dr and get some decent sleeping drugs. This is havoc on my body…

And I just found out that the Dockers won yesterday and that Paul kicked 9 goals! Woohoo! They beat Brisbane too, which was always going to be a tough game – even at home. Last year the weekend I was coming home, Paul kicked his best haul for the season too – 7 goals. So I’ve missed both those games where he was the star of the show.

Queensland, Northern NSW: January 2003 January 27, 2003

Posted by Rhonda in Australia & Oceania, New South Wales, Queensland.
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Queensland, Northern NSW: January 2003

In January 2003, we cashed in some Frequent Flyer miles and took ourselves off to Queensland for 5 days (well, 3 actually – a day’s flight each way). I had never been (except for an hour in Brisbane Airport some 17 years ago), and Jeff had really only seen the Gold Coast area. Queensland has a motto: “Beautiful one day, Perfect the next.” Must apply to other times of the year, as it was very windy the first day or so – the ocean was choppy, the sky was grey, it even rained a little.

Our first real day in Queensland we headed north from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast, following the coast as much as we could to Noosa. One of the highlights was catching up with a colleague of mine, with whom I worked for 4 years at Microfusion – he is currently Head of Library Services at Immanuel Lutheran College in Maroochydore, and they have a property about 15 mins inland, high in the hills and overlooking the coast. There they breed Alpacas and Maremma sheepdogs, and grow mangoes, star fruits and other exotic things to eat!

The following day we headed south, back through Brisbane and to the Gold Coast. Then on to Byron Bay in northern NSW, staying overnight at Suffolk Park, a little hamlet on Tallow Beach just south of Byron Bay. Byron Bay is the most easterly part of mainland Australia – and is quite beautiful. Not the town so much, as the environs. We had dinner south of Suffolk Park in the small coastal town of Lennox Head – and decided we could live there!

Our last travel day (Australia Day, Jan 26) was spent driving south as far as Ballina, then west through Lismore and Casino to Tenterfield where we had a ‘memorable’ meal at the local Bowling Club! Then we headed north back into Queensland, through Warwick and Beaudesert and back to the Gold Coast, where we spent the evening at the local RSL Club in Currumbin, where Jeff’s brother Phil and his family live.

Early the next morning we drove back to Brisbane Airport and caught our flight home, via Melbourne.

USA: STC Conference: 2002 April 30, 2002

Posted by Rhonda in Conferences, North America, STC, USA.
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USA: April-May 2002

We drove from LA to Nashville (I presented a paper at the STC Conference on May 7, in Nashville), then back to LA. In that time we traversed approx 16 states of the US of A. The trip to Nashville crossed California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee (of course!) – all in 7 days.

Our trip back to LA took 6 days, and from Tennessee we drove through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The weather was wonderful almost the entire time, and we went from ocean to desert, to mountains (with snow), to prairie, to bayou, and back to the ocean. We encountered sunshine, wind, some rain, humidity, dry heat, and snow. We went from sea level to around 14,000 feet, and we drove 6670 miles in 14 days (10670 kms).

My favourite part of the trip was the canyon lands of Utah and the Rockies.

27 April 2002: Zion and Bryce Canyons, UT

It was cool and drizzly most of the morning we were at Zion. The shuttle bus that took us around is free (well, included in the US $20 National Park entrance fee). The drive out of Zion on State Road 9 towards Bryce was pretty spectacular. We saw one deer foraging on the side of the Park road.

The most amazing thing were the people in TENTS!!! suspended on the side of Zion Canyon. And there were people camped in them, keeping off the slippery rock face. The first tent was suspended about 300 feet up; the next two about 600 feet up. They’re MAD!

It’s about a 2 hour pleasant drive between Zion and Bryce Canyons, but in that time gradually go up higher and higher. Bryce Canyon itself varies between 8000 and 9000′ above sea level. It was cold and lightly snowing when we were there. The wind was fierce and cut through you like a knife. But it WAS spectacular.

Like Zion, Bryce is a National Park and it cost $20 US to get in, but you can drive your own car everywhere once inside the park.

28 April 2002: I-70, Arches National Park, Moab, UT to Golden, CO

After the canyon lands of Utah, I thought we were done with the spectacular scenery and geological formations – wrong! We took the Interstate 70 almost from its western beginning, through to Denver, Colorado, only taking a detour to the town of Moab and Arches National Park. The weather was superb for driving and for seeing red rocks – sunny, warm, and dry for the most part.

This Interstate would have to rank with one of the best for sheer, awesome, and rugged beauty. Oh, by the way it also traverses some of the most well known ski fields in North America – Vail, Aspen in particular, and just off this Interstate are Breckenridge and Copper Mountain. The highest point of this road was around 14000 feet, and the long Eisenhower Tunnel through one of the mountains, a feat of engineering if ever there was one, is around 10000 feet up in the sky!

We took a detour off the Interstate 70 to the town of Moab and Arches National Park . Having seen Zion and Bryce the day before, we were a bit ‘ho hum’ about another lot of rocks. How wrong we were! Arches got top spot, as far as I was concerned, ranking WAY up there with Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. The fact that the weather was superb helped – I took LOTS of photos of Arches, none of which do the place justice.

Arches had to be the inspiration for the cartoonist who created the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote! Towering sheer cliffs, balancing rocks, arches, rock slabs, desert vegetation and climate – it had it all. And it had to be the best $10 US we spent in the entire country. Like Bryce, you can drive your car through the length and breadth of Arches National Park.

Arches is just outside Moab, a small town in Utah, where heaps of adventure activities happen all year round – white water rafting on the Colorado River (which runs through the town), mountain biking, mountain climbing, and all sorts of extreme sports. As we were driving into Moab, we were met by a stream of well over 300 hot rods and other customised vehicles – young and old. There had been some sort of rally in town that weekend and they were all headed out to Deadman’s Gulch before heading home. Lucky we hadn’t tried to get accommodation there the night before…

On leaving Moab, we decided to go back to the interstate via State Road 128, not realising it hugged the Colorado River almost all the way, so there were times when we were way down low at river level, and all these cliffs towered above us. A lucky find.

After our long drive, we stopped overnight with friends in Golden, Colorado. Golden is about 7500 feet above sea level – higher that Mt Kosciusko, the highest mountain in Australia… and it’s not even mountainous. Golden is virtually in the foothills of the Rockies, just out of Denver. Alan and Dottie’s house is surrounded by pine forest, and three deer live close by. While we were in the kitchen, they walked by the kitchen window!

1 May 2002: I-40 truck traffic

Springtime is obviously the time that road construction happens. In fact, I’ve heard people say that in Chicago there are only two seasons – winter and construction! Road construction or not, there’s a LOT of truck traffic on the Interstates, and the I-40 would be one of the busiest. When you combine road construction and loads of truck traffic, you end up in traffic jams where often you’re the only car.

4-9 May 2002: Opryland Hotel, Nashville, TN

The conference was held at the lush and lavish Opryland Hotel. Everything was under these huge glass canopies, and the gardens inside the hotel were like tropical rainforests.

10 May 2002: Tennessee to Mississippi

We thought we’d take the diagonal Natchez Parkway across Tennesee to Jackson, Mississippi, but decided against it after we got on it and found that the maximum speed limit on it was 40mph – for 440 miles! So we decided to chance in on the Interstates, and did a quick exit and drive-by Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi. It was after 5.00pm and the house was closed so we couldn’t go inside.

12 May 2002: One World Theatre, Austin, TX

From Jackson, Mississippi we headed west, for our date with “America” (“Ventura Highway”, “I’ve been to the desert [on a horse with no name]”) at the One World Theatre in Austin, Texas. This is a small theatre, set high up in the hills surrounding Austin. It only seats about 300 people, and we had seats in the second row! Literally spitting distance from the guys in the band. Brilliant concert – and then to cap it off, we talked with them for about 15 minutes afterwards.

13-14 May 2002: Texas to Arizona

After leaving Austin, we headed west on the Interstate 10. This didn’t have a lot of traffic on it, but what there was was mostly trucks (what a surprise!). As we went further west, the country got drier and drier – and at one stage we got out of the car and a stinking hot, dry wind was blowing. It was over 100F. Around Tucson, the desert is suitable enough to support Saguaro cactus.

USA: STC Conference: 2001 May 25, 2001

Posted by Rhonda in Canada, Conferences, North America, STC, USA.
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USA: May 2001

The first STC Conference I attended was in May 2001, at the Chicago Hyatt. To take advantage of the 'cheap' Business Class Circle Pacific airfare, I had to go through Hong Kong either on the way there or home. That was hard… Not! So I took advantage of the places that Cathay Pacific goes and decided to call in on some Canadian friends on my way to Chicago, and as Chicago is so close to Michigan I popped in to see family too. Then of course coming home was via LA, so I spent another few days with friends in various parts of California. 

5 May 2001: Perth to Hong Kong

Left Perth on Cathay Pacific flight CX 170 around noon; travelling Business Class, seat 14K which was in the second front row. Personal video in seat arm. Watched "Chocolat" and "The Family Man" (with Nicholas Cage).

Excellent food – beef fillet for lunch and lots of other goodies; fed a light snack around 6pm as well. Arrived in Hong Kong around 8pm. Took ages to clear Immigration – long lines, air conditioning not coping. Took the hotel link bus to the Regal Kowloon Hotel, arriving around 10pm.

Hong Kong very bustling and busy – and hot (~28C). Had a nice hot shower, and got to bed after figuring out how the lights worked!

6 May 2001: Hong Kong to Vancouver to Qualicum Beach, BC

Did stuff on the computer with my Outlook contacts for a couple of hours. Checked out and caught the hotel link bus back to the airport. That trip took about an hour after we'd picked up people from the other hotels. Flight was delayed until 3:15pm, about 1 hour late. Flight is Cathay Pacific CX 888 to Vancouver and New York. Spent time in the Wing Lounge at the airport. Finally got internet access. Had a late lunch in the noodle bar of the Wing Lounge. Excellent noodles but a pain to eat with chopsticks… and there were no other utensils.

Took off at 3:30pm; I'm sitting in the 'bubble' of the jumbo (seat 83A) next to a young Chinese man who is an investment banker in New York with Salomon Smith Barney. Watched "Thirteen Days". Tried to sleep. Couldn't – but at least I was much more comfortable in Business Class!

Arrived in Vancouver about 45 mins late (11:45am); straight through Immigration and Customs. The longest wait was for baggage claim. Met by Vicki P (tech writer at Chancery Software). She drove me to the Tsawassen Ferry Terminal where we had a light bite to eat and chatted until the ferry left at 3:15pm. The ferry trip to Nanaimo was 2 hours; Jill met me on arrival. Great to see her again. Drove to Qualicum Beach – Brian was at home, and then Jill's Mum arrived. Dinner with Jill, Brian, and Tommy (Jill's Mum) – tomato and bocconcini (like buffalo mozzarella) first, then halibut in a delicious sauce, and rhubarb and apple crumble for dessert.

Bed about 9:30pm.

7 May 2001: Qualicum Beach, BC

WWoke at 1am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! Fortunately went back to sleep fairly quickly. Woke again at 6, 7, 8, 9, and finally got up at 9:45am. Pottered around the house with Brian, checked email, took lots of Bonsai photos, tool Jazz for a walk on the beach. Brian is very into his Bonsai; he can no longer work and is on an invalid pension. Too funny – a tiny electric fence around the goldfish pond to keep the raccoons out!

Jill home about 4:30; helped her prepare the meal for tonight (rotisserie chicken) – Brenda and Steve, and Don and Mavis are coming. Brenda and Steve brought strawberries, sour cream and brown sugar and we had "New York Strawberries" for dessert – bloody delicious! (strawberries, small dollop of sour cream on side of plate, another small dollop of brown sugar near it, but not touching – dip strawberry in sour cream then sugar, then eat! Super simple, super tasty!) Lots of chat and laughter – great food, great wine, and great company.

Everyone left around 10pm after deciding to share a chateau in France in July, 2003! Jeff and I are invited too!

8 May 2001: Qualicum Beach, BC to Calgary, AB

Woke about 12:30am with a headache! Drank lots of water, then drifted and dozed until 8am when I got up. Jill off to work just before 9. Checked email and repacked. Brian took me to the airport at 12:30pom flight to Vancouver's domestic terminal. Flight took about 20mins and it was a bit bumpy, but then it was a SMALL plane! I'm currently waiting for the shuttle bus to the main terminal to catch the flight to Calgary at 3:00pm.

I was able to get into the Maple Leaf Lounge where I checked email again and had a bite to eat and some wine. The flight to Calgary was about 1 hour – left at 3:40pm and go in about 5:45pm with a 1 hour time difference. Met by Patti at the airport. Dropped luggage at their place, then on to Cochrane to pick up the kids from soccer and pizza; Steve picked up ice-cream from McKays in Cochrane (GREAT ice-cream!).

Nice evening with Patti and Steve. But I heard Greg's Mum and Dad both died last year – quite a shock. They were so good to me at various times in 1986. Bed about 11pm.

9 May 2001: Calgary, AB to Ovid, MI

Up just after 7am – Steve had already gone to work. Kids off to school around 8, then Patti and I went to the Calgary Winter Club for a late breakfast before she took me to Calgary Airport where I am to catch Air Canada flight 3220 to Chicago. Cleared US Immigration and Customs in Calgary (what a GOOD idea!) and got ticketed through to Lansing. Got into the Maple Leaf Lounge OK and checked email. It was a full flight, but it took off and landed on time – this would be a first in my experiences in the US!

Flight was approx. 3 hrs; Chicago is 1 hour ahead of Calgary; we landed around 4pm. Flight to Lansing is not due to leave until 6:20pm sop wandered O'Hare airport to where the United Airlines Red Carpet Club was. No food except bar nibbles, and you had to PAY for drinks!! Is this a sign of things to come? $3 US for a glass of wine – not impressed – then they expect a tip too!!! Stinking hot in Chicago (26C) and where I'm sitting in the lounge the sun is shining through nice and hot.

BTW, no free internet access in the Club lounge either! Don’t even mention the flight delays!!! We were in the queue for take-off at 7:30pm (original departure time was 6pm!), then a hatch was open so we had to go back. Finally took off and landed in Lansing well after 9:00pm (originally due in at 8:00pm). It was only a 35 minute flight but it took forever to get out of Chicago… and this was in good weather too!

Harold and Lois met me at Lansing airport, then we drove home and had a late supper of soup.

10 May 2001: Ovid, MI

Lois and I went to Birch Run Outlet Mall near Flint. I got my Jockeys!! 24 pair! + 5 bras + Jeff's Van Heusen shirts and black slacks. Had lunch with Lois at a Bob Evans Restaurant – nice chicken salad.

Home for a nap. Family over tonight –Bruce and Nancy, Brian and Cathy, Liz (who is 18 today!) and John (Grade 9), Marchelle and Jakob (nearly 4) – Marchelle is pregnant again.

11 May 2001: Ovid, MI

Woke at 1am and hardly got back to sleep. Up at 8. In to Laingsburg with Lois for some bits and bobs. Back for lunch. Made some phone calls – found out that the flight tomorrow is 6:00am NOT 6:50am! Talked with Kathy C (Wichita, KS) for a while; left a message with Lee; spoke with Kimberly (Smart Computing magazine).

Over to Mt Pleasant to see Shelley and Tim this evening. They now live in Manistee and Mt Pleasant is about half way. Meagan and Merradith are now 13 and very good at athletics. Got a replacement Michigan State Police mug from Tim! (the original was in the box that got lost by United Airlines back in 1995/1996)

12 May 2001: Ovid, MI to Chicago, IL

Checked in to conference venue (Chicago Hyatt) at 7:00am. Called Whitney and arranged to meet her at 9:30 near the tour booth – she was going to take my watch to Cartier's while I did a tour. However the tour was cancelled so Whitney and I walked downtown Chicago most of the day. Visited the Terra Museum of American Art, etc. Weather beautiful but cold. Shari had arrived by the time Whitney and I got back to their room.

Shari, Whitney and I caught a cab to Buddy guy's House of Blues. Had dinner there and a couple of drinks but left at 8:30pm as I was tired and so were the others. Nice blues band playing from 6:30 to after 8:00pm.

13 May 2001: Chicago, IL

Slept for 11 hours!!! Whitney, Shari and I took a cab to Lou Mitchell's for breakfast, then a limo to the Chicago Architecture School and just got in on time for the 10am 2-hour walking tour of the buildings. Beautiful day – warm in the sun. Walked back to the hotel via the Birmingham Fountain, the one featured in the credits for "Married… with Children"

Got back just after 1pm, quickly registered for the conference, the back up to the room to change etc. before attending the webmaster's session between 1:30 and 3:30. International Reception was between 5:00 and 7:00pm, then the Welcome Reception from 7:00 to 9:00. Both good; heaps of people!

Bed to check program etc.; lights out at 11:00pm.

14 May 2001: Chicago, IL [STC Annual Conference]

Breakfast, then keynote address by DeWitt Jones – BRILLIANT! Full on day all day; in addition to the conference sessions, I attended:

  • Networking lunch – sat at one of the webmaster tables.
  • Regional Receptions – Australia is in Region 5 (Texas, Oklahoma, etc.); met Jill N from Sydney.
  • Field Museum function – fabulous location, plenty of food and wine, classical music, AND for to wander the museum as much as we wanted to without anyone else there!

Back by 9:30pm; did photos, etc.; bed by 11:00pm

15 May 2001: Chicago, IL [STC Annual Conference]

Found that there was internet access on the Competition computers! Today started with the SIG business meeting (Shari was the chair); attended sessions, then Networking lunch which was arranged by SIGs. I was a host at one of the Lone Writer tables and met lots of interesting people: George M, Mike S, Deb L, etc. We LWs filled 5 tables easily – we were only allocated 3 but we took over another 2 as well. Whitney and Shari were the other table hosts for the LWs.

More sessions then the SIG "Happy Hour" in the Big Bar at the Hyatt. About 20 turned up, which was good. Very expensive drinks (about $9 US for a glass of wine!) Six of us went out for Chicago's famous deep dish pizza at Giordano's. brilliant pizza, stuffed crust, deep pan – about 1 inch thick! Those there: Whitney, Darren W, Marie, G, Pam (from Omaha), Barbara (Syracuse). Back to hotel and bed around 11:00pm.

16 May 2001: Chicago, IL [STC Annual Conference]

Checked email, had breakfast, then phoned hotels for a better rate. No go! So will stay here Friday night even though it's so expensive. Humid and wet outside when I walked to the Fairmont for the first session (by William Horton)

17 May 2001: no clue what happened to this page!!!

18 May 2001: Chicago, IL

Started walking at 10:00am to Navy Pier. LOTS of kids as school breaks out at the end of the week. Went on the BIG Ferris wheel and had BBQ chicken bun lunch at Be-Bop Joe's at the Navy Pier. Visited the stained glass museum too – some beautiful pieces. Walked back to the "magnificent mile" (N. Michigan Ave) and into Northbridge shopping mall where Nordstrom's is. Checked out lots of clothes but didn't buy anything.

Walked down to Water Tower Place and Marshall Field's. Still didn't get any clothes. Ticketed prices are similar to Australian ticket prices, but end up being 2x our price with the awful exchange rate. EVERYTHING is expensive with our dollar hovering around the 50c US mark – a $6 lunch is $12, so while the ticket prices are the same, the actual price is quite different.

Back in the room I checked the contents of the conference CD then started packing.

19 May 2001: Chicago, IL to Monterey, CA

Finished packing and was waiting for the Airport Express van just before 8:00am. Instead of the van, I shared a cab with a lady from the STC office as it was a little cheaper at $18 each. Don't know her name but she was in charge of speakers and worked for the Program Committee. Currently waiting at O'Hare for the flight to San Francisco. Will be staying at David's tonight as Lee has a 'black tie' function to attend.

Got in to San Francisco on time, then was in the rental car and headed toward Monterey by about 1:30pm. I took the Half Moon bay exit – that was a BAD MOVE! The traffic was horrendous! It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I things everyone was out for a drive! Traffic cleared after Half Moon Bay. Called David from Davenport (north of Santa Cruz) – he was home and expecting me. When I got to David's house, he was at Costco! And he'd left Thami there which was very unfair to her. So we introduced ourselves and got on fine.

David cooked a rack of lamb for dinner – delicious as usual. Mike and his friend Roger came over later. We organised to go out fishing in the boat tomorrow.

20 May 2001: Monterey, CA

Up early but no-one else up, despite all agreeing to do so for the fishing trip, so I read until the others started to appear. Had one of David's big pancake breakfasts, then left for the boat about 8:30am. Out in the heavy swell and fog trying to catch salmon for 4 hours – all I felt like doing was feeding the fish! Very queasy… and we didn't catch a damned thing!

Beautiful afternoon – read outside. Heather and Gerard and their kids (Alex and Laurel) came over later.

Then I went over to Lee's for dinner – just a chicken Caesar salad, but goof. It was good to see her too. We went for walk along the Monterey/Pacific Grove beachfront first. Lee's doing really well, which is great to know. Back to David's at 10:00pm; everyone asleep in bed.

21 May 2001: Monterey, CA

Went shopping at Macy Woman at the Del Monte Shopping Centre – bought lots of nice clothes then met Lee in Carmel for lunch at The Forge.

Drove around Carmel, Pacific grove and Monterey in the afternoon – another superb day. Checked out the outlet stores in Pacific Grove and bought a new bag, a jacket, and shoes.

Back to the house after 5:00pm David had 'a turn' at basketball when he played at lunchtime today, so Thami and I did an amazing combination of 'firsts' – we had leftovers, we made dinner (David was resting by then by the TV), and we didn't have any wine! None of those things usually happens at David's!!

22 May 2001: Monterey, CA to Paso Robles, CA

Said goodbye to David and Thami then got on the road by 10:30am hoping the fog had burnt off on the coast drive. It hadn't. Didn't come to a 'no fog' area until I got to San Simeon. Went to Hearst Castle and did the Number 1 Tour. Really interesting – an amazing house!!! Got to Paso Robles and John and Suzie's about 5:00pm. Only John was home – we were meeting up with Suzie at a winemaker's dinner in Templeton. Had a shower, then John drove my rental car to Templeton – bit of a maniac driver!

John and I were the first ones at the restaurant (Seven 30 Grill). Others at our table: Jon and Mary S, Ishkar and Marina (from Sri Lanka). They all have vineyards. Ishkar's brother has Rosemary Senivaratne as his godmother!!! Marina is an Ob/Gyn; Jon and Mary are a really nice couple. Wonderful meal, excellent company, good wines from the two young winemakers – very expensive though!

Very hot day today – over 100F.

23 May 2001: Paso Robles, CA

Suzie and John both not working today. We got going about 11:00am – it was already close to 100F. Went to the factory outlets at Atascadero where John works in a wine shop (it's just down the road from Paso – and has a Van Heusen store!); and also into Paso for Suzie to do some stuff. Went to Ishkar's vineyard atop a big hill. Met his mother; she used to work for the UN in New York for 20 years.

Then over to Morro Bay for lunch – it was only 65F there! Had a so-so lunch at the Great American Fish Company on the wharf. (Sandra Bullock was filming there yesterday – or so rumour had it; and Mel Gibson was in Paso.) Went home via some vineyards – stopped in at Jane and Dave's (Barn Owl Vineyard) and sat outside chatting until we all decide to have a BBQ and fruit cocktails at John and Suzie's. Suzie went to town with them to get the makings, while John and I went to Jon and Mary's vineyard. WOW!!! Mary showed me over the property and house. WOW! again!!

Back to John and Suzie's house where Dave made mixed frozen passionfruit juice with dark rum and triple sec cocktails, then frozen guava, then frozen mango and peach – DELICIOUS! Suzie prepared prawn and chicken kebabs which John cooked on the BBQ. Also steamed rice, salad, fresh corn on the cob etc. Way too much food after the very filling cocktails! Nice night.

24 May 2001: Paso Robles, CA to Corona Del Mar, CA

Left John and Suzie's around 9:30am and drove Highway 101 south to Los Angeles, then on to Corona Del Mar where Bill B lives. Good to see him. Lovely house and outlook over Newport beach and Newport Harbor.

Did genealogy and computer stuff most of the afternoon then had an early sinner at the Five Crowns, an English pub in Corona Del Mar. Had the salmon (HUGE!). As we were leaving, we met two of Bill's friends – Penny and Michael; they were TERRIBLY English. I only spoke with Penny; she was very nice.

25 May 2001: Corona Del Mar, CA

Bill took me on a tour of the local sights, and I also checked out the situation re setting up a bank account in the US (too hard!). Had lunch at the Pride of Newport, a replica paddle steamer. Had clam chowder and halibut.

Left Bill's at 6:30pm and just made it to the Hertz with almost no fuel left – I was a bit worried about that on the Interstate (405) where everyone was going over 70mph!

Los Angeles Airport: The Qantas Club lounge here is APPALLING! For example:

  • No free computers/business centre
  • No tables at a suitable height for working
  • Very basic food and drink
  • No toilets in the lounge – you have to go out and down a corridor
  • No showers – anywhere!
  • No TV
  • Very limited number of seats (maybe 25)

Flight due to leave for Melbourne at 11:30pm.

New Zealand: March 1999 March 22, 1999

Posted by Rhonda in Air, New Zealand, Transport.
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New Zealand: March 1999

I was going to Sydney to attend the AODC conference there, and had some frequent flyer miles up my sleeve as well as a week's leave due, so I decided to cash them both in and spend a week meandering about the north island of New Zealand – a country I had never been to before.

As usual, read from the earliest date (12 March 1999)…

12 March: Flight to Sydney

Left Perth a few minutes late at around midnight. Estimated flight time: 3 hr 45 min to Sydney. ETA: 6.45am Sydney time, 13 March 1999.

13 March: Sydney to Auckland

Arrived at Sydney on time at 6.45am. Quick dash to international Transit area then bus to International Terminal. LONG dash to area of terminal where Air New Zealand left from – made it on time; cleared immigration. Air New Zealand flight left a few minutes late, just after the scheduled departure time of 8.00am.

Lovely crew, great personalities, excellent seats (little wings for headrest, footrest, when tip back the back of the chair the base also adjusts), great breakfast (choice of hot, cold, or light – great idea – pity Qantas doesn't do the same! you get what you're given for breakfast on Qantas!).

Arrived in Auckland about 1.00pm Auckland time; estimated flight time was 2hr 40min. There's a 2 hour time difference from Sydney; 5 hours from Perth (daylight saving still in operation). The only sleep I got was some drifting and dozing.

Waited for my bag – was promised by Qantas and Ansett that its arrival with me wouldn't be a problem – that it would get on the same plane as me… My bag didn't arrive. Put in a baggage claim – nice man. The next flight from Sydney arrived at 1.40pm so went to see if it was on that one – no show. The baggage man gave me an Air NZ emergency toiletries bag (with a T-shirt). However I had to go to a hotel to await my bag's arrival. Decided to go to the Airport Centra (booked there next Saturday night), as there didn't seem much point in going in to Auckland itself. I really didn't have a lot of choice as I had to have the bag delivered to me once it arrived, so I couldn't get on the road as planned.

Caught a shuttle bus to the Maui car rental depot to pick up my car. What a debacle that was! These guys wouldn't work in an iron lung! I kept comparing it to Hertz at Detroit Airport where they pump them through so quickly. It would've taken at least 30 minutes before I got dealt with – and there were only 3 parties before me!

Got talking to a US guy with a BIG beard, who is the Road Manager for Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills and Nash) (name: Bill Long?). He and his wife have just spent 3 weeks in the South island, now spending 2 weeks in the North Island. He works 9 months of the year as a house builder, then 3 months on tour with CSN. They're not touring this year till July, when they start a tour with 85 tour dates. David Crosby will be touring earlier with his son's band, CPR.

I finally got my car – a maroon Hyundai Lantra, with no air conditioning and it was hot! (~26C). Drove about 100m to the Centra and checked in about 3.30pm. At 4.30 I called Baggage Services to see if any news on my bag. Could only leave an electronic message, not talk to a real human being! At 5.30 I called Reception and asked if there were shops open tomorrow where I could buy undies etc. At 6.00pm I got a phone call from reception – they'd had a call from Baggage Services – the bag had now arrived in Auckland and they were sending it over by taxi. At 7.00pm called Reception as the bag still hadn't arrived – she was going to try and get hold of them again. At 7.15 I decided to order Room Service as waiting for the bag and a change of clothes so I could eat in the restaurant was becoming a joke. At 7.30 the bag arrived, followed closely by Room Service. I have no idea where it went, but it finally got to me.

Unfortunately I wasted a half day of touring and car hire and had to spend the night in Auckland, which wasn't my intention, in an expensive hotel ($120 NZD per night), which was also not my intention.

Still, it probably wouldn't have been a good idea to drive too much this afternoon as I'd had no sleep since 5.00am Perth time on Friday 12 March. I tried to stay awake long enough to get a proper night's sleep in order to wake early and get on the road – think I crashed about 8.30pm!

14 March: Auckland to Paihia

Slept for almost 12 hours!! Up just after 8.00am and on the road just after 9.00am. I got lost twice and had to ask for directions to get out of town on Highway 16 heading north. Eventually I got on to the right road!

I headed north through Helensville and Wellsford, then turned towards the west coast. Visited the kauri museum – interesting; had a sandwich there. Then north through Dargaville and turned east at Hokianga harbour/inlet. Continued east to Keri Keri and then to Paihia in the Bay of Islands.

I did over 450kms, in 8 hours, with just the one stop for about 30 minutes to visit the museum and have a bite to eat.

At Paihia, I went to Waitangi to the Treaty House – magnificent views over the bay – big cruise ship in too.

With the help from the receptionist at the Paihia Beach Resort (Carla?) (which was $245 night, a little out of my price range!), I got a room at The Retreat for $85 night. This was a fully self-contained little unit with fabulous views over the Bay of Islands. Nice owners – Jan and Kevin Smith.

Had a fish and chips dinner ($14.00) and a glass of wine ($4.00) at the Bayside Cafe next to the Copthorne Resort and adjacent to the Waitangi Bridge. It was OK – nothing special; same for the wine.

Impressions of Day 1

  • very winding roads – can do no more than about 80kph in most places
  • beautiful kauri forests
  • 20-30 foot tree ferns
  • very lush
  • enormous amount of land has been cleared over the years for agriculture
  • more cows than sheep
  • lots of roadkill – mostly small furry mammals with tails, and some spiky little animals (found out later that the mammals were possums and were a pest; and the spiky animals were like the Australian echidna, also introduced)
  • very pretty
  • lots of hills
  • magnificent views
  • very friendly people

15 March: Paihia, Bay of Islands Cruise

Another long sleep – ~10 hours! Woke around 7.15am; sun not quite up – brilliant day, not a cloud in the sky. Augurs well for the all day "Bay in a Day" boat trip through the Bay of Islands.

Went for a walk down the STEEP hill, then back up after 20 minutes – it's a BIG hill!

Was picked up at 9.15am by the King's boat people. Big boat, lots of people but not packed; heaps of Germans. Sat with a family from Montana (grandparents) and Colorado (parents, and kids).

Superb day – weather, company, activities. Saw 2 big dolphin pods – "swam" with one, on the boom net. Went through the "Hole in the Rock", then stopped at an island for 1.5 hours for lunch. Had another swim but it was a bit cold without a wetsuit, so not a long swim. Very beautiful, picturesque day. Clouded over a little in the afternoon.

Back at 4.00pm, then back to The Retreat for hot shower, etc. Back in to town and caught the 5.10pm ferry across to Russell, intending to have dinner there. but no restaurants opened before 6.30pm! So caught the 6.00pm ferry back to Paihia. Went to Only Seafood (upstairs at Bistro 40) for dinner. Had a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc (Villa Maria), and EXCELLENT swordfish. Expensive, but really good. Back to room around 7.15pm.

16 March: Paihia to Whitianga

Up at 7.30, and off for a 30 minute walk down the BIG hill and up hill and down dale on the coastal walk below The Retreat. Another cruise ship in the Bay today; another magic day ahead! On the road just before 9.00am.

Headed south, catching Highway 1 at Kawakawa, and following it south past Auckland to just past Bombay, then heading east on highways 2 and 25 to Thames. Then north of Highway 25 to Coromandel, then up the Coromandel Range to Whitianga, where I arrived at 4.00pm. I stopped for the night at Bailey's Motel on the waterfront ($70 per night). Did about 450kms today


  • easier travelling for most of the day, compared to Monday! still a lot of winding roads when you HAVE to slow down.
  • Warkworth – pretty little town; stopped there for a salad roll lunch
  • view coming in to Orewa – LONG beachview of Auckland skyline when crossing the Auckland harbour Bridge (VERY high)
  • spectacular drive north from Thames to Coromandel, mostly clinging to the water's edge. Water like a millpond; sheer cliffs/hills on other side; houses stuck at base of hills just back from the road.
  • climb to Coromandel with the views over the "Firth of Thames"climb (all in second gear) to the top of the range (~6km), before heading down the east side in 2rd and 3rd gear to Whitianga. And being almost at the top and passing a couple of intrepid cyclists heading up on the steep, unpaved road!
  • the calm of Mercury Bay which is where Whitianga is located

17 March: Whitianga to Taupo

Did my 30 minute walk at 7.30am along the esplanade into town. A fine day, though a little foggy/misty at that hour – the sun had JUST got up.

Checked out at 9.10; went in to town to post postcards and pick up bits and pieces. on the road south by 9.30am, via Highway 25. Joined up with highway 2 at Waihi, then followed that to Tauranga, which seemed a pretty big place). After Tauranga, veered south on Highway 33 to Rotorua.

Rotorua very touristy – and SMELLY! Stopped at the Info Centre and the lady there not very helpful (I guess she sees too many people and had to answer too many dumb questions). Decided not to hang around – the sulphur smell even away from the thermal areas was enough to put me off going to them! So headed south for Taupo (and Lake Taupo) after picking up some fuel and a bite to eat.

Got to Taupo about 3.00pm and after calling in to the Info Centre and picking up a dining guide etc., I drove to the Peppertree Motel. Only small; unit at back; $60 night. Close to lake but no views.

Drove back out to Wairakei area just north of Taupo and checked out the Huka Falls on the Waikato river. Pretty spectacular – the volume and speed of the water feeds 8 hydro-electric power stations! Also went to the "Craters of the Moon" where there are lots of steam fissures in the earth. Only a mild sulphur smell, so bearable. Also it was free! Pretty eerie place and a little disconcerting that the activity is so close to the surface here.

Back to motel for shower, news, then out for dinner to the Bar On The Lake – had the pan-fried fish ("lemon fish" – a variety of shark). Very nice; huge quantity – and I got water! Watched the yachts in their twilight race on the lake. Phoned Penny B in Waipawa – will see them tomorrow afternoon and stay overnight. Back to motel at 7.30pm. Drove ~300km today.


  • Rotorua's smell!
  • Huka Falls – volume, speed, colour of water
  • views heading down east coast of Coromandel Peninsula

18 March: Taupo to Waipawa

Up and walking by 7.45 – walked around edge of Lake Taupo for 45 minutes. On Road just after 9.00am. So far 1336 kms on the clock…

Leisurely drive from Taupo to Napier. Lots of wineries/vineyards in the region, especially coming in to Napier around the Esk Valley. Had a wander around the downtown area of Napier and a horrid smoked salmon croissant in a coffee shop for lunch. Napier very Art deco as completely rebuilt after a massive earthquake earlier this century.

From Napier to Havelock North and Hastings, then on to Waipawa where Alex and Penny B live. Got there just after 3.00pm. Picked up some wine for them at the local liquor store – Montana Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot (very nice – had a glass with my meal the night before), and a Whitecliff Sauvignon Blanc. With dinner (roast lamb and home-grown vegies) we had a Stables Cabernet Merlot – excellent.

Alex and Penny are a lovely couple – retired, though Alex drives the school bus now. They only moved to Waipawa and their current house last year – lots still to do. They have 3 dogs – a Rottweiler (Pride), English Pointer (Wickham), and a Chihuahua (Buffy); also a cat which I never saw.

Lots of good chat, good food, good wine!

19 March: Waipawa to Te Awamutu

After breakfast with Penny and waiting for Alex to get home from the bus run, I got going about 9.15am. 1581 kms on the clock.

REALLY long drive today – 9 hours and well over 600kms. South to Palmerston North, then Wanganui; round the coast to New Plymouth, then up the coast to Te Awamutu, just south of Hamilton, where I stopped at a brand new motel. Bit more expensive ($90) than the others, but EXCELLENT facilities (including an iron and ironing board, hair drier, heated towel rail, free use of the washing machine and drier – did my laundry!) and usual kitchen HUGE bathroom, king size bed.

Wandered to Waipa working men's Club for a grilled fish dinner for $6.00! Best value meal I've had in NZ!


  • amount of roadworks I've encountered
  • greenness of farming country
  • sheep, cattle, poplars, hills

20 March: Te Awamutu to Auckland

20 minute walk this morning, then on the road around 8.30am. Only a couple of hours to Auckland; and 30kms to Hamilton. Stopped briefly at Hamilton and had a beef satay sandwich for breakfast. Got lost getting out of Hamilton, trying to find Highway 1 – but found a public library and they helped me get to where I wanted to go!

Reached the Centra Airport Hotel about 11.30. Checked in then dropped of car at Maui around the corner. All OK. Drove 2345km in total.

Spent the afternoon at the hotel reading and doing crosswords. Would've gone on a 3 hour Auckland tour except expected Steve C (Kim's brother) to call call/contact as he said he would. No call.

Went to dinner in the hotel restaurant ("Penny's") and had "seared salmon with sundried tomato risotto, bok choy and sour cream and herb dressing" – delicious. Also a glass of Rockwood Merlot – nice.

Back to room for an early night as have to get up at 3.15am tomorrow. Daylight saving finishes tonight so at least I get an extra hour!

21 March: Auckland to Sydney

Restless night as I knew I had to get up around 3.15am. Got up at 3.00am; taxi to airport by 4.00am. Check in not open till 4.00; departure tax counter not open till 4.30; customs just after. So I had to wait a bit anyway.

Spent waiting time in the Air NZ lounge – even got a nice greeting from the chief steward on the flight! Now that's service! Took off around 6.00am Auckland time; arrived in Sydney just after 8.30am Sydney time.

Met Robyn T and her new husband, Tom. Did a tour of Sydney's beaches; had a drink at Doyle's in Watson's Bay. Beautiful day; lovely couple. Got to Sebel around midday but room not yet ready, so we went to Milson's Point for lunch at an Italian Cafe. Had the Caesar Salad – less than ordinary!

Back to Sebel and thanked Robyn and Tom for the tour/lunch etc. Room still not quite ready. However it was worth the wait – the room was terrific. Very like the Monteleone in New Orleans. Went up to the gym for 30 minutes workout; ironed all my clothes in preparation for the Conference tomorrow.


January 1998 January 31, 1998

Posted by Rhonda in North America, USA.
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USA: 1997-1998: Part 2

(…Continued from Part 1)

1 January 1998: Nashville to Memphis

Drove to Memphis today – stayed at Radisson downtown, 2 blocks from Beale St. Everything closed in the afternoon so decided to come back tonight and go to BB King’s. Went for a walk down to Mississippi River from Union Ave, then back up Beale St. Went back at night – everything still closed. Jeff not happy! Had room service and decided to leave tomorrow.

2 January 1998: Memphis to Little Rock

Checked out and drove to Graceland. Expected it to be tacky – it wasn’t – was a very moving experience! Left at 1.30pm and on road to Little Rock, Arkansas. Very flat terrain all the way there. Checked into the Holiday Inn in North Little Rock. Drove around town a little then had dinner at the Country Kitchen next door at the Ramada. Back to hotel by 6.00pm.

3 January 1998: Little Rock to Oklahoma

Left Little Rock for Oklahoma City via Tulsa. Fairly flat, some undulation but no hills etc. to speak of. Weather fine and warm (high 50’s). Stayed south of Oklahoma City at the Fairfield Inn in Norman. Dinner at Chili’s (first one since getting to the US). Hot night – over 60.

4 January 1998: Oklahoma to Abilene

Left Norman by 9.00am, south on I-35 to Dallas/Fort Worth. Skimmed Fort Worth then west on the I-20 to Abilene. Got there about 2.30. Found the Fairfield Inn near the Mall of Abilene. Went looking for CDs and books – found very little. Drove south to Buffalo Gap and back again. Early dinner at Chili’s near hotel. Back to hotel for Jeff to watch movie length premiere of Babylon 5.

5 January 1998: Abilene to Amarillo

West on the I-20 to just past Sweetwater, then north west to Lubbock, then north to Amarillo (lots of fog).

Really flat country, then went from Central Plains up a ridge to the Great Plains. Stopped in at Palo Duro Canyon just out of Amarillo.

Went shopping at Westgate Mall – CDs and books. Then to Outback Steakhouse. I had salmon. About half way through I felt strange – very hot, sweaty and flushed. Suspect I had an allergic reaction to something. Could’ve been anything – lots of spices on the salmon, sauce, onion soup beforehand, bread, veges and wine.

6 January 1998: Amarillo to Albuquerque

Lots of fog again, so decided to leave a little later and do some shopping first. Hopefully will get to Albuquerque tonight. Bought CDs and work clothes for Jeff. Left Amarillo about 11.30.

A little snow on the way but nothing to stick. Once into New Mexico, the landscape changed from really flat plains to more hilly and mountainous (though no real mountains until got to Albuquerque). Albuquerque very sunny and clear – beautiful city surrounded by mountains. Did some more shopping!! Then had dinner at Chili’s. Back to Fairfield Inn – lovely SW décor in foyer and rooms. Had a long swim (30 laps of pool – approx 20m) then did all our laundry.

7 January 1998: Albuquerque to Flagstaff

Drove around Albuquerque a little this morning – to AAA then to an area at the base of the Sandia Mountain range (Glenridge/Glenwood Hills?). Very nice homes, brilliant views, brilliant weather. Weather absolutely perfect – clear, sunny, about 44F expected today. Dry roads.

Stopped at Gallup in New Mexico near Arizona border – old Route 66 town on edge of Navajo Reservations territory. Had lunch at El Sombrero – lots of locals – good Mexican food!

Crossed Continental Divide near the border – 7275′, then on the I-40 to Flagstaff, Arizona. Very spectacular countryside all the way. Lots of variety – mesas, red sandstone, lava, flat plains and low/no scrub, up to the forest and mountains of Flagstaff. Jeff watched basketball and we went for a late “snack” at Denny’s.

8 January 1998: Flagstaff to Las Vegas

Headed west out of Flagstaff and then north at Kingman to Las Vegas. Lots of high desert country – very scrubby and barren. Mountains in distance. Then we came up over a hill and into the Colorado River canyon, right at the same time that “Stairway to Heaven” was playing. Awe-inspiring scenery – very rugged and barren. About 10-15 miles later we crossed Hoover Dam. Stopped to take pictures and saw 2 coyotes and lots of little chipmunks. Lake Mead, the lake created as a result of damming the Colorado was like a mill pond. Hoover Dam was the crossing between Arizona and Nevada and so now we were in “casino country” – they’re everywhere!

Got to Las Vegas and the MGM Grand where we were booked in (90,000 people in town for the Consumer Electronics Show, so not a big choice of cheaper accommodation). MGM Grand is reputed to be the world’s biggest hotel – it has 5005 rooms! The walk from the elevator to our room took nearly 10 minutes! After we’d settled in, we found a card shop for Jeff and an Internet Café for me – first! Then we walked “the strip” at night to look at all the glitz – Monte Carlo Casino, Caesar’s Palace, Treasure Island – it’s like a living, breathing Disneyland! Had a late dinner back at the hotel.

9 January 1998: Las Vegas
Visited 2 other casinos – Luxor and Excalibur. Luxor most impressive of all with its ancient Egyptian theme. Went to the Tutankhamen Museum there – very well done replicas.

Jeff went off to find another card shop and to find where the basketball was playing. Late lunch at Ricardo’s Mexican restaurant. While he watched the basketball I had a go at the slot machines. Did my $20, as expected, but lots of ups and downs in the process!

10 January 1998: Las Vegas to Bakersfield

Checked out of the MGM Grand and headed to the Las Vegas Hilton for the “Star Trek Experience” for Jeff. While he was waiting in line I did another $20 on the slots – very quickly this time – nearly all downs.

Left Las Vegas after midday and headed west on the I-15. Stopped in for lunch at Baker (Denny’s), then left the I-15 to head north west to Bakersfield where we stayed the night. No basketball channel for Jeff though, so he was in a stinking mood. Dinner at a Marie Callender’s – very HOT turkey pot pie.

11 January 1998: Bakersfield to Monterey

From Bakersfield to Monterey today. David and Paul watching an NFL final. Diane N there (Lee and David have split up). Dinner of squid with David and Di.

12 January 1998: Monterey

Cleaned David’s house and took Xmas decorations down. Lee turned up to pick up books from garage in afternoon and saw Jeff.

Went over to her house late afternoon – very nice. Jason now 6’5″. Lee came over for dinner – squid again. Jeff had a bad headache so was in bed while we ate.

After Lee left, Pamela turned up! David is definitely playing the field…

13 January 1998: Monterey

I went on a “real estate tour” with Lee to check out open houses in Carmel and Pebble Beach – from $350,000 to $7.9m!! Lunch with Jeff and Lee at a Mexican place in Monterey. Diane over for dinner tonight – I insisted on steak (for Jeff) so we had that and potatoes and salad.
14 January 1998: Monterey to San Francisco

David left for court early this morning and we left for San Francisco. Very wet all the way. Stayed at the Holiday Inn at Fisherman’s Wharf. Jeff went card hunting – I walked to the Cannery and checked out the shops – wet! Had an early dinner of clam chowder (chili for Jeff) at a coffee shop in the Cannery.
15 January 1998: San Francisco
I went to Ghiradhelli Square to check out the shops, while Jeff went card hunting again! Very wet! Read newspapers/books this afternoon then went to Stonestown Mall for Jeff to watch “The Postman” and me to check out Macy’s sale. Had late dinner at a Mexican restaurant in the Cannery. Then back to hotel in time to watch ER.

16 January 1998: San Francisco to Paso Robles

Left in the cloudy weather for Paso Robles. Got there mid afternoon after an hour long traffic jam on the 101. Checked into hotel and called John and Suzie. Up to their place for dinner and good wine!

17 January 1998: Paso Robles

Spent day with John and Suzie. Drove south to Atascadero and San Luis Obispo, then to coast at Morro Bay and north to Cambria, then back to Paso Robles. Visited York Mountain Winery (very so-so), Midnight Cellars (young wines and ordinary) and Peachey Canyon – much nicer wines and Doug (the winemaker and owner) spent some time with us. Bought some Zinfandel and a late harvest red. John and Suzie’s for dinner (10pm!)

18 January 1998: Paso Robles to Los Angeles

Left early in the fog, for LA. Got to Agoura Hills about 10, in time for Jeff to watch the basketball. Were going to go to Six Flags this afternoon, but it was 3pm by the time we got underway and it closed at 6pm. Tony Roma’s for ribs for dinner.

19 January 1998: Los Angeles

Lazy day looking for books and basketball cards. Drove around a lot through Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills and took the Topanga Canyon Rd to the coast where we had big Italian continental rolls for lunch. Read and watched TV back in hotel – pizza delivery for dinner, served with nice Peachey Canyon Zinfandel we had bought.

20 January 1998: Los Angeles

Last day! Got up late and re-packed everything. We ended up using only 1 extra black bag so pretty good on the shopping this time! Hunted basketball cards for 2 hours between leaving Agoura Hills Radisson and getting to LAX Airport to drop off car. Few hassles with car drop off, but got them sorted. Couldn’t check in until 3pm so waited a bit. Checked in then had Mexican for lunch. Eventually found the Qantas/JAL lounge and parked ourselves there for the next 6-7 hours. Flight due to leave at 10.30pm.

USA: December 1997-January 1998 December 31, 1997

Posted by Rhonda in North America, USA.
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USA: 1997-1998: Part 1

On the spur of the moment we decided to surprise our friend Jerry in Chicago for his 50th birthday. After a few secret calls to his wife Gina to make sure they’d be home in December, we contacted our family in Michigan to see if we could visit for Christmas, booked our flights and headed off to the US for a few weeks vacation.

16 December, 1997: Perth to Chicago

Up at 4.00am; taxi at 5.00am; left Perth at 6.15am. Sydney airport – 6 hour layover.

Los Angeles Airport – met Bill B and exchanged information in our 4 hour layover.

Arrived Chicago at about 2.00pm Perth time, 17 December 1997 – 34 hours since leaving! Overnight at Best Western, O’Hare – about 1 star!

17 December, 1997: Chicago
Took TriState Coach to Coachwood depot. Met by Otto (Jerry’s father). Stayed at Radisson Alsip overnight. Otto also took us to Orland Square Mall so Jeff could get his suitcase repaired – had split on bottom seam – great for a brand new, never-used suitcase!

Dinner at Radisson – French onion Soup and Caesar Salad for me, Soup and Pork tenderloin for Jeff plus bottle of Vendange Merlot (very ordinary).

18 December, 1997: Chicago

Left Radisson – Gina picked us up at 11.00am for Jerry’s 50th birthday surprise – and was he surprised! Gina and I went to Mall in afternoon – excellent pizza at Sbarro! Dinner out for Jerry’s birthday at “Hobknobs” Restaurant – Jerry and Gina’s parents (both sets), Gina’s sister Liz and her partner Paul. Back to Liz and Paul’s fantastic house for coffee and cake afterwards. Brilliant house!
19 December, 1997: Chicago

Jerry and Jeff took me to Lisle for meeting with RTI people (Jim and Kathy Emerson). Picked me up again at 5.00pm – taxi or limo would’ve cost $60 USD each way! – petrol for Jerry was $27. Dinner at Chinese buffet with Jerry and Jeff – good food and cheap!

20 December 1997: Chicago

Gina worked today. Jerry and Jeff went to card place – dropped me off at JC Penney’s where I stocked up on jocks and bras. They watched basketball in the afternoon, then went back to the card shop. Got in pizza for tea.

21 December 1997: Chicago

Late breakfast at a Pancake place – I had Eggs Benedict. Looked at computers in afternoon. Went to a comedy place with Wendy and Tony for dinner and show. Left early ‘cos dinner was stone cold and revolting. Played Scrabble with Gina and Wendy.

22 December 1997: Chicago

Gina and I went to AAA to pick up tour guides, then to a bookstore to get books to read. Wendy and Tony came over later after we’d had an excellent dinner of chicken and veges. Played Clue and Euchre.

23 December 1997: Chicago to Michigan

Gina cooked a late breakfast, then went to work. Jerry drove us to O’Hare. Plane was delayed until after 3.15pm (due to leave at 2.40pm).

Arrived Lansing 45 minutes after leaving Chicago. Met by Harold and Lois – 30 mile drive back to Ovid. Talked lots!

24 December 1997: Michigan

Helped Lois with some baking – apple pie, cherry pie, two pumpkin pies. Beatrice (88; Lois’ mum) over in afternoon for Xmas Eve dinner of Swiss Steak, potatoes etc. Excellent.

This afternoon went for a late lunch with Harold and Lois to Ovid Café, then went for a walk through the woods with Harold and Jeff to lake Ovid (about 3 miles). Saw 3 deer, lots of Canada geese and some wild turkeys in the fields. Very brisk! About 30-35F.

Snowed a little tonight – just enough to dust the ground.

25 December 1997: Michigan

In the morning Brian and Cathie, Bruce and Nancy, Cameron, Shelley and Tim, Maegan and Merredith all came over. Jeff and Harold took Lois’ Mum to Lois’ brother, then we all went over to Brian and Cathie’s for Xmas dinner about 2pm. Also there were Elizabeth (14) and John (12), Marchell (21) and her husband Aaron and new baby Jacob (3 months). Very warm Xmas.

Watched Chevy Chase’s “Xmas Vacation” later, opened presents and generally had a lovely Xmas Day. Shelley, Tim and girls also staying with Harold and Lois so went back there for a night of TV watching – 3rd Rock, Seinfeld and ER.

26 December 1997: Michigan to Ohio

Said our goodbyes to everyone (they all came by in the morning – Bruce, Brian and Cathie, as well as Shelley and Tim), then Harold and Lois drove us to Detroit Airport (2 hours). Weather and roads good.

Picked up Hertz car at the airport and on the road by 3.00pm. Car was a Ford Taurus (97 model) with California plates! They had a cheek getting us to pay a drop-off fee!

Drove south on the I-75 through Toledo, Ohio and stayed overnight at Holiday Inn in Wapakoneta, north of Dayton, Ohio. Dinner in restaurant of hotel. Horrid wine for me, good food.

27 December 1997: Ohio to Kentucky

Left Wapakoneta, Ohio by 9.00am and headed south on the I-75. Went through Dayton and Cincinnati, then into Kentucky.

Turned west on the I-71 to Louisville to go to the Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat Factory and Museum – but it was closed! Continued on to Owensboro and got there about 2.30pm to have lunch at the Moonlite BBQ Inn (saw it on TV) – excellent food and sauces for ribs etc. I had Sampler of beef, mutton and pork; Jeff had the Pork Ribs. Hot sauce was HOT!

Left there at 3.30pm and headed south to Bowling green. Got to Holiday Inn just after 4.30pm – dark already (in Central Time Zone). Saw 2 deer in a field while driving south. Lots of pretty “Santa Snow” on trees, though none on the ground. Not everywhere, only in patches/ very pretty scenery – lots of rolling hills. Would be fantastic in spring/summer/fall but a bit grey/brown in winter.

28 December 1997: Kentucky to Tennessee

Quick breakfast at Burger King then on the road to Pigeon forge, TN. Beautiful clear skies and warm. Quite a lot of snow-covered areas by the time we got to the I-75, but clear again by Knoxville and Pigeon Forge.

Pigeon Forge is a MAJOR tourist town! Dinner at Bennett’s Pit BBQ – more southern BBQ meat!

29 December 1997: Tennessee

Snow expected at Pigeon Forge today. We’ll hit the Outlet malls today and Dollywood if the weather is OK.

Jeff got work shoes at Converse and Nike, and also Levi’s. I got some clothes, some jeans, hiking boots, and a quilt and gifts for the staff, and some Jockeys! No snow but Dollywood closed – then it snowed! Drove up to Gatlinburg instead – lots of snow there – very packed with tourists.

Back to Pigeon Forge and had a late lunch/dinner at Sagebrush Steakhouse – good food, no alcohol – Pigeon Forge is a dry town we found out!

Drove around after dinner (5.30pm) looking at the Winterfest lights – “real purty”. Stopped at some shops but didn’t buy anything. Also stopped in at an arcade and played pool – I won 3-2! Then played Wacky Gator and Spider Squash – lots of fun!

Called Susan tonight and spoke with her and Chuck and organised accommodation for tomorrow just out of Nashville close to them.

30 December 1997: Tennessee

More than 3 inches of snow last night and lots of heavy snow this morning.

Jeff mailed some stuff home and left his black bag there! We were well on the way to Nashville when he realised and had to phone to get it sent on. That’s the second time – he forgot his coat at Harold and Lois’ too!

Pretty drive, lots of snow early on but OK near Nashville. Found our hotel on Murfreesboro Rd and checked in and called Susan to get directions to their home. Went over the road to the Santa Fe Cantina for late breakfast/lunch. Excellent meal, good value (cheapest yet and best so far).

Snowing heavily when we left the restaurant. Drove up Briley Parkway to Opryland area – everything shrouded with snow, visibility poor, so we didn’t get out.

Back to hotel to shower and get on the yucky roads to Sue and Mike’s. Took 45 minutes to travel about 12 miles – peak hour traffic and hazardous driving conditions.

EVERYBODY was at Sue and Mike’s – Susan and Mike and their kids (Lyndsey – 17; Justin – 10; and Emily – 5); Tom and Connie and their 2 kids (Erin – 5; Collin – 9 months); Chuck and Joan; Mike’s parents – Patricia and Wayne; Mike’s great aunt; Joan’s mum; and us. Had turkey etc for Xmas dinner. Spent lots of time talking with Tom and Chuck and Joan. Left there after 11.30 – took about 15 minutes to get back to hotel.

31 December 1997: Tennessee

Up late and out by 10.30. Drove into centre of Nashville and caught trolley to Music Row. Went to Country Music Hall of Fame – most interesting stuff were the original lyrics. Also went to RCA Recording Studio then back to town.

Stopped in at the Market street brewery and then to Mollie Magee’s Pub to see Casey Schultz (?) play – had met him in the carpark when we arrived.

Had a quick meal at Demo’s Spaghetti House (excellent food!), then back to Mollie Magee’s – this time Joey Holiday was playing. Stayed from 2.30-9.30. Met 2 guys from Detroit – Matt and Tony; also Rodney the barman as well as Casey etc.

Back to hotel to celebrate New Year’s Eve by sleeping through it!

(Continued in Part 2…)