Friday, January 4, 2013

The Scottish Experience and Incredible Hiking (New Zealand)

The fantastic weather today inspired my friends and I to do some hiking in the hillside surrounding the seaside town of Akoroa.  The 3.5 hour hike ended up being pretty strenuous over a rustic trail through forests, over numerous grazing fences into sheep pastures and through streams.  Because of the lack of ozone layer down here, the colors of the landscape are really vibrant.  The views from the top of the trek were probably the best I had seen so far in New Zealand.  Great day, all around.
Dunedin is known as the Edinburgh of the south.  In fact, in the Celtic language, Dunedin translates to Edinburgh.  To this end, I decided to do a Scottish tour today!  It began with the Speights Brewery tour and some great beer tasting.  Next, we headed to Larnach Castle, the only castle in all of New Zealand.  The views from the highest tower of the castle were great (and fittingly Scottish!). 
Then, it was time for the Haggis Ceremony!  Three guests (including myself) got lured into participating under the guise of getting a free bottle of whiskey.  We were the “Haggis Defenders,” dressed in a fake kilt (printed on an apron), wearing a Scottish hat (with fake red hair), and looking menacing while the master of ceremonies recited the history of haggis in rather entertaining fashion (photo below).

Docked in Akoroa, NZ.
the hike

check out the ship in the distance!
The ship is still there.  We've hiked a long way!
The tour guide and I at Speights Brewery
Dressed up as part of the Haggis Ceremony at Larnach Castle (Dunedin)
(I'm trying to look like a menacing guard of the Haggis)
view from the highest tower of Larnach Castle
The view of the bay from Larnach Castle in Dunedin, NZ.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Luge in Rotorua and The Great Ocean Road


Today, I escorted a tour to Rotorua, the famous lake with bubbling sulfur hot springs.  Upon arrival to Rotorua, we rode a cable car to a beautiful scenic lookout spot.  To get back down the mountain, we rode the Luge!  These body-weight propelled carts zipped us down paved pathways through the forest.  To brake, you just pull back on the handlebar, to limited affect. Up the ski-lift, and repeat!  After a great lunch, we boarded a “Duck,” (amphibious vehicle).  Ours was actually used in the Invasion at Normandy in WWII !  Beautiful views and a hilarious Maori Guide.

Along with the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and the Pacific Coast Highway in California, The Great Ocean Road outside Melbourne is considered one of the most incredible drives in the world.  3 1/2 hours of breathtaking views along the curving cliffside culminates in the famous "12 Apostles."  These lumbering limestone cliffs have been eroded by thousands of years of ocean surf.  The pictures truly don't do justice to the magnitude and scale of this landscape.  Check out the size of the people in the beach photo for an idea of the scale of the cliffs.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Brisbane and Sydney

Today, I tagged along with my good friends from the ship, "The Ringmasters"; these four Swedish singers are the current Barbershop World Champions. A group of Brisbanian(?) 'barbershoppers' met us at the ship and gave us a tour of the city.  The weather was perfect and it was great to learn about Brisbane from real locals, rather than a tour guide spurting out endless facts.

My first 24 hours in Sydney were pretty unforgettable.  The day began with my friends and I doing the famous “Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb.” This 3 hour experience over 8 lanes of car and train traffic on the bridge's maintenance grid culminated in an incredible view of Sydney Harbor, the Opera House and the Celebrity Solstice from 400 feet above sea level.  Afterwards, I sampled some local beer and ate my first kangaroo burger! (which was actually really good)  That night, my friends and I went to a famous jazz club to hear the CD release concert of a saxophonist who’d spent his last 10 years living in Singapore.  It was really cool to hear what experiences inspired his music.  Later that night, we ate meat pies in China Town and had beers in Darling Harbor.   I’m excited to continue exploring this city, since our ship will overnight here every 12-14 days through April.  

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!  :-)

Downtown Brisbane from a riverside park.
The view of Brisbane from the highest lookout point (nice photo-bomb Jakob!)

A 'farewell' dinner at Silk (the ship's Asian-Fusion Restaurant) for some good friends.
We made it: The top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge!  Woo!

My first kangaroo burger (Sydney)
A CD release concert at a Jazz Club in Sydney

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bali, Indonesia and Darwin, Australia

Merry Christmas from Australia! I hope you're all enjoying the holiday season, where ever you may be in the world. :-)

On this day, I visited Ubud, a town known as the artistic hub of the area: painting schools, stores selling thousands of handmade wood and stone carvings, etc.  The first thing that I noticed about Bali were the temples everywhere- literally on every block! The temple of a private residence we visited happened to be celebrating its “birthday” (every 210 days in Indonesia), which was a special treat. 

Next, were were entertained by the somewhat aggressive monkeys wandering freely among us at the Monkey Sanctuary.  Lunch was served at a 5-star hotel/spa built on a lush and sprawling compound overlooking the biggest river in the area.  It reminded me of the views while white water rafting in Costa Rica in 2009.

Located in the Northern Territory, Darwin is near the national park where Steve Irwin (The Croc Hunter) taped his famous show.  My friends and I visited the Crocodylous Park in Darwin, home to thousands of crocodiles.  I got to feed raw chicken to the baby crocs from a fishing pole and also held one for a photo shoot (see pics below).  A very entertaining way to start my time in Australia! 

A monkey just hanging out on the trail in the Monkey Sanctuary (Bali)
This monkey made a mess of his coconut (Bali)
One of the temples I'd see on every block in Bali and Ubud.
The incredible view from the 5-star hotel I had lunch in (Ubud)
More incredible views of the river valley from the 5-star hotel (Ubud)
Look, Ma!  I caught a baby croc!  :-) (Darwin)
Holding a baby croc at the Crocodylous Park (Darwin)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kuala Lumpur and Singapore

I’ve wanted to visit the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur ever since I first saw them in the movie “Entrapment” back in High School.  At one time the tallest in the world, the towers are now only the second tallest in the city of Kuala Lumpur itself.  The Batu Caves were the highlight of the day:  Climbing the 500 steps into the colorful shrines in the limestone caves, passing dozens of monkeys hanging out within arms reach.  Seeing the factory floor of a major pewter company was intriguing as well. 

SINGAPORE:   Along with Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul, Venice, Cairo, Dubai and St. Petersburg, Singapore ranks among the coolest cities I’ve ever visited.  I began my first day by visiting a famous Hawker Center (read: food court) in Chinatown to begin sampling the plethora of dishes for which Singapore is famous.  On the subway, Rasmus and I met two local girls who decided to become our tour guides!  They took us through the National Orchid Gardens and then bought us some of their favorite dishes at the Newton Hawker Center while the area was slammed with torrential rain.

The evening began with playing a round of virtual golf at “1-Altitude”, the highest situated bar in the entire world while sampling our first “Singapore Sling.”  After meeting more friends in the trendy bar area of Clarke’s Quay, we headed to a club which ranked in the top ten in the world.  It certainly did not disappoint. 

Tomorrow I reach New Zealand!  Pictures from Bali and Australia coming soon!
Happy Holidays, everyone!

Batu Caves (Kuala Lumpur)
Liquid pewter being poured to create handles (Kuala Lumpur)
The Petronas Towers (Kuala Lumpur)
an epic photo of the Singapore Skyline (with 4 "Brads")
Having some duck in Chinatown (Singapore)
A Buddhist ceremony in Chinatown (Singapore)
The national orchid gardens (Singapore)
Playing golf at "1-Altitude", the highest bar in the world (Singapore)
Drinks with friends at Clarke's Quay (Singapore)
The Singapore Skyline

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dubai, UAE, Oman and India

DUBAI (UAE):  The tallest building in the world (828 meters), the Middle East’s only indoor ski slope, a “7-star hotel”(Burj al Arab), enormous residential areas created by filling the ocean with sand (The Palm Jumeriah), a great night life and no crime – all in Dubai.  My 24 hour visit was a whirlwind of sightseeing: In addition to seeing the aforementioned sights, I also visited the traditional gold souks and met my buddy’s friend from Sweden; she works on Sheik Mohammed’s yacht as a babysitter/activity partner for his two daughters.  I watched the sunset from her 60th floor apartment overlooking the water before heading out to experience the city’s nightlife.  All in all, a great day in Dubai.

MUSCAT, OMAN:  The first thing I noticed in Muscat was how immaculate it was- Every street was maintained with flowers and landscaping, trash was non existent, and roadways looked almost new.  Our taxi cab driver said it was all the oil money: they only pay .50 cents per liter here!  I spent the day swimming in the Arabic Sea and relaxing at a beach club / dive center.  Notice in the picture below how far out the tide is!  Other than the Dead Sea, it was easily the saltiest water I had ever swam in.

I was very lucky to get off the ship India.  I was one of less than 20 crew members out of over 1200 that were allowed off the ship in India, simply because I happened to have the proper paperwork: a “Seamen’s Book,” from my trip to Brazil in 2008.  I escorted a tour that stopped at the first Christian church in India (also burial place of Vasco da Gama), a history museum for this region, a spice market, and meandered along the water in a fishing village, where they use a intriguing system of counterweights to lift huge fishing nets from the water every few minutes (I’ll upload a video to youtube/facebook soon).  The other highlight was seeing a traditional Indian dance performance at a swanky 5 star hotel overlooking the water at sunset.  I enjoyed a local Kingfisher beer before returning to the ship.

Next post:  Kula Lumpur, Malaysia and Singapore!  Coming soon!

Happy Holiday's everyone! 
Burj al Arab (7 star hotel) (Dubai)

Burj Kalifa, 828 meters, tallest building, tallest observation deck

The Directory for the mall around the Burj Kalifa- over 800 stores!
The view from the observation deck of the Burj Kalifa - look how small the cars are!

Lavish jewelry at the Gold Souks (Dubai)
Dubai at Night

Touk-Touks to get around in India!

Fishing village in India

Being exposed to the less glossy side of India

Drinks and snacks at a 5 star hotel (Cochin, India)

Main performer from a traditional dance performance (India)

The perfectly manicured streets of Muscat, Oman.

Notice how far out the tide is (Arabic Sea) (Oman)