Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Australia (Part 2)

Picking up from where we left off

IMG_3400 My TechEd schedule was very conducive to sightseeing. There wasn’t a single day where I worked later than 3p. Wednesday I was in for about 3 hours, done by 2p, and it was off to the beach. The sand was remarkably soft and fine, and the sun was just fantastic. We did witness one of the lifeguards going out to rescue some poor kid who’d gotten himself caught up in a rip current. After seeing the lifeguard (who wears nothing but a Speedo), Karin was ready to head out to be the next victim to be rescued, but couldn’t stomach going into the cold water.[1]

IMG_3383_thumb3[2]After our beach trip we ventured out to find dinner near the convention center. The Italian place we found was one of those where they had an old Italian out front who insisted it  was the best Italian joint in town. I don’t know if it’s the best, but it was certainly very good food. However, we did learn very quickly we weren’t in the US. Upon sitting down I (of course) ordered a manhattan. The waiter turned to Karin and asked if IMG_0127_thumb1she wanted a cocktail. Karin’s a bit more varied (that’ll be the word I’ll use) on her cocktail selection. The waiter bragged about the fact  that their bartender worked at TGI Friday’s in London. Now, bragging that your bartender worked at TGI Friday’s certainly isn’t normal here in the US, but Karin figured a lemon drop martini would be a safe bet. A few minutes later my manhattan arrived. It’s the one pictured on the left. Yeah, definitely not in the States. We were also informed that they were out of citrus vodka, so there would be no lemon drop today. The food, however, more than made up for the disappointments with the drinks.

IMG_0131 On Thursday Karin really found her bearings around town. She used the time that I was at work to go explore the city of Gold Coast, perusing the little gift shops and even finding her favorite little coffee place (and her new favorite coffee drink, a caramelized mocha). Since I was off working, I did put her in charge of finding something to do that day when I was done. She settled upon a duck tour. If you’ve IMG_6240 never done it, it’s an open air boat that doubles as a bus. When you’re in a city that’s on the water, the best place to see it is from the water. The tour took us down the river, and past where the rich people live. My new goal in life is to have a house on the river with a helipad.

IMG_3407 That night we found ourselves at a place called George’s, which is a steak/seafood place. One thing that I always try to do is sample whatever’s local.[3] The big thing in the area we were in (Moreton Bay) is bugs, which is a form of lobster. I had mine grilled, topped with cheese and a cream IMG_3405 sauce of some variety. I can say I’m glad I had them, but probably never again. They just have a weird taste to them; you could sort of tell they were lobster, but not really. We also started dinner with a lobster bisque that was chunkier than any bisque I’d ever seen before – although it was delicious.

IMG_3415 Friday was a relatively boring day. Karin and I grabbed lunch before heading out of town back to Brisbane. Outside of it being cloudy one day in Gold Coast we couldn’t have asked for better weather, so sitting outside, enjoying a couple of cocktails and munching on some food was a fantastic way to spend the afternoon while waiting for Anthony to be done. That night it was a quiet dinner at Anthony and Shane’s house and an early bed time (which was needed).

IMG_6343 Since we hadn’t had a good chance yet to explore Brisbane, Karin and I headed out to go roam on Saturday. Anthony suggested we walk along the South Bank, which is the bank on the opposite side of the river from the city. Since again the best place to see a city on the water is from the water, the walk offered up some fantastic views of the city.

IMG_6492 Along the way we stopped to visit The da Vinci Machines, a travelling exhibit featuring mockups of designs from da Vinci’s notes. Overall the exhibit was above average, and it’s amazing to see what he had come up with centuries ago. da Vinci had inventions for military machines, seafaring vessels, and of course flight. While many were never actually made in his lifetime, many of today’s machines are based on his ideas, including double hull boats. The item above is a primitive scuba mask, with a floating buoy for the hose so the person can breathe.

IMG_6694 From there we took the City Cat up to the cruise ship harbor. The City Cat his a high speed ferry that runs up and down the river in the city, offering some fantastic views and is a great way to travel.[4] There was a cruise ship in port, so our plans to sit by the water and enjoy a leisurely lunch were dashed as the cruise ship blocked any view of the water. But we made the best of it and enjoyed relaxing outside.

That night was River Fire, which is part of the annual Brisbane Festival. It features huge crowds, fireworks over the city, and a flyby by two F-111’s with their afterburners on. We had a pretty good vantage point, and it was beyond cool. I’ll get pics of that up later.

Alas, Sunday morning brought our time for our trip home. I had a two hour layover in LAX before heading off to my next destination (Tampa, FL at the time) and Anthony the night before assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem. Alas, he jinxed me. We were a half hour late taking off as a baggage door wouldn’t close and a fridge didn’t work (they fixed the latter by just bringing on dry ice). Then upon landing (only 20 minutes late) there was a bunch of baggage carts in front of our gate. After deplaning we were then informed that the baggage door now wouldn’t open. I didn’t get to the other side of security until after 8:30a (flight was at 9). Yeah, I missed my flight.

We’re already talking about going back again next year.

[1] It was spring in Australia after all.
[2] Editor’s note – This was a mistake from the earlier post. We went here on Wednesday, not Tuesday.
[3] This proved to be a bit of a challenge in Australia, as outside of vegemite there really isn’t a such thing as Australian food. It was basically the same thing we’d get back in the States.[5]
[4] If you ask Karin it’s also a great way to get a sunburn.
[5] Yes, I’ve tried vegemite – it’s terrible. Watching Karin try it for the first time was comedy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Australia (Part 1)

[Editor’s note: There will be no Friday Five for last week. I had been meaning to post this earlier this week but alas I was rather tired the last couple of days and just didn’t have the energy.]

IMG_6151 As my faithful reader[s] may or may not know, Karin and I went off to Australia last week for TechEd Australia. It was really just an excuse to go to Australia, even if it was for only a week. Needless to say, Karin and I had a blast. For Karin and I it was our first intercontinental trip, so a part of this post will include our experiences with that.

IMG_5530 Before I get rolling on the rest of this, I must once again mention a big thank you to Anthony and Shane (and Ace), our hosts for a good part of the week. They were kind enough to open up their house to us and help act as a  tour guide to Brisbane.

IMG_5518 Our flight to Australia was Qantas flight 14, which leaves LAX at 11:30p. Unfortunately Continental doesn’t have a partnership with someone who flies to Australia, so there was no upgrading on this flight. It was about 13 hours long, so even though you sleep for a decent portion of it (I probably slept a good 6 hours), it’s still a very, very long flight. Leaving on Friday night and landing on Sunday morning is also a bit odd, but it does make it relatively straight forward to overcome the jet lag if you can stay up until about 7p.

Getting through Customs was a breeze, with the only real hold up being waiting for our bags. Australia does check through any foodstuffs you might be bringing, and we lost a bag of trail mix because it had dehydrated bananas. Not exactly sure what danger they might pose, but what do I know?

IMG_3359The Sunday that we landed on happened to be Australian Father’s Day, so we went out for a special lunch at Hundred Acre Bar (which I guess is like the Hundred Acre Wood, only better). It sits right on a golf course, and is a very cool outdoor bar. The lunch was good (but not great). Most of the rest of the first day was just spent trying to stay awake, which is certainly a challenge.

IMG_5531 Monday was our first tourist day, and we did pretty typical tourist stuff. Just outside of Brisbane is a place called Lone Pine Koala Reserve where, among other things, you can hold a koala. And they’ve certainly got quite the racket going there – it’s $28/each to get into the park, and then another $16/each to hold a koala[1]. While I had no real desire to hold a koala, you’ve got to figure that the majority of people do. I’d ask why not just build the price into the admission fee, but I’m thinking they make more money this way. In any event, Karin was under strict orders to hold a koala, so we headed off to there first.

IMG_5559 The one nice thing about them charging you $16 is they at least let you come over to take your own pictures. Taking pictures of Karin holding the koala turned out to be a bit more of an adventure as they also do posing with a huge snake[2]IMG_5566and sure enough there was someone right next to where they were setting up Karin to hold the koala. I wasn’t able to walk past the snake, but I was able to stand near where they were by just ignoring the fact that they were there. So for $16 we did get a couple of great pictures out of it.

IMG_5584 Lone Pine is small but very cool. They have an area where you can feel wallabies (the small ones with the red highlights) and kangaroos. IMG_5660On the whole they seemed to tolerate me, but really liked Karin. I can’t say as I blame them. They also do a demonstration with a sheep herding dog. If you know Karin at all you know we of course had to stop by and watch that. It was IMG_6063 very cool to watch, and the border collie reminded us a ton of Roscoe, in both look and mannerisms – she was all about heading out and rounding up the sheep.

For dinner Karin and I wanted to find some seafood after hearing that Brisbane had some great seafood. ThIMG_6738e place we found ourselves in is called Jellyfish. I gotta say, it’s spoiled me to swordfish for the rest of time. It was just beyond amazing. They do all fresh fish, and this thing was just grilled with minimal seasoning – I threw on a squeeze of lemon and went to town. The lemon was all it needed. The restaurant is on the river bank (close to where I got the night shot from (which, by the way, I managed to pull off without a tripod) with a huge patio area and open walls. Unfortunately it started to storm as we were eating dinner so we had to move inside, but it certainly didn’t dampen the experience at all.

IMG_3372Tuesday was a relatively boring day as we drive from Brisbane to Gold Coast where the conference was. [3]Anthony was able to score a ticket for Karin into TechEd, so Karin was able to join me that night for “exhibitor night”. If you’ve never attended one of these, it’s something that you have to see once. There’s a ton of booths (although here it was much smaller than the US version) with vendors doing almost anything to pimp their wares – from drawings to give away high end products, to tried and true techniques like booth babes. We suffered through dinner there and headed back over to the casino to play for a little while. I got to play some poker (finished up $150, thank you) and Karin played her usual penny slots.

And that was just the first half of the trip…

[1] – Note that I did not say koala “bear”. Koalas are not bears, they’re marsupials. Ask any Australian – they’ll tell you. (They even seem to get offended if you call them bears.)
[2] – I’ve mentioned before I have an extreme phobia when it comes to snakes. I hate mentioning this because every now and then someone will think it’s “funny” to take advantage of this fact. Trust me – it’s not in the least bit funny. If anything it’s the fastest way to get me to disown you as a friend. I’m not kidding.
[3] – Editor’s note. One nice thing about being married to someone so detail oriented is she helps correct my shoddy memory. The trip to the Italian restaurant was on Wednesday, not Tuesday.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

None needed. W00t!

The Week

Every now and then I find myself somewhere that I’ve never been to before. The rest of the time I find myself in Houston, which is where I was this week. The last couple of times I’ve been out here I really haven’t been able to hook up with anyone, and unfortunately this week was the same. So it was class, dinner, apartment, sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The Restaurant

On the advice of a couple of Yelp reviews I decided to check out Sabine River Cafe, a creole place next door to 713 (my favorite sushi joint). Unfortunately, the reviews were greatly overstated. While the gumbo I had to start was very good, and the green beans side were done to perfection, the chipotle pork chops were dry and flavorless. You win some, you lose some.

The Travel Note

Sometimes it just doesn’t come together for you. I was supposed to fly from ATL > IAH > SAN last Friday. Unfortunately when we got close to Houston (IAH) it was closed. We were diverted to MSY (New Orleans). As it turns out, the equipment I was supposed to fly from IAH > SAN was also diverted…. Was – until they decided to change equipment. By the time I got to Houston my plane had left and I got to spend the night in a flee bag hotel.

However, I will give props to the bartender who took pity on me and let me get a drink after the bar had closed.

The Five

Sarah posted an ode to the fantasy football league that I’ve been in now for the last 15 years. The league is really much more than just a fantasy football league; it’s a collection of good friends. Every year we get together to hold our auction, something that over the years has gone from a living room floor to a hotel conference room. In honor of the impending auction weekend (and in response to Sarah’s blog posting) here are my five favorite memories from the league.

  1. First and foremost it has to be my two mug victories. Beyond pride, all we play for in this league is a big engraved mug. I won years 5 and 7, and was the first ever to win two mugs.
  2. The auction/draft weekend has for years been a gathering. One particular year there was a group of us hanging out the night before the draft holding (yet another) mock draft. At some point in the night I had proclaimed to (who knows at this point) “Go nuts”. Alas, what was heard was “Grow nuts”. Couple that with the fact that it was the first year we had ever had women in the league and that single phrase has become legend.
  3. Brennan. Brennan has been involved with the league for going on his 14th year and one of the league’s most committed owners – he even attended the draft the day after his wedding.. Unfortunately, poor Brennan has been the butt of two of my favorite moments.
    The first was the morning of the draft his first year in the league. He’d just broken up with his gf at the time. Karin, Brennan and I went out for breakfast beforehand. When asking the waitress to split up the check I said that Karin and I were together. The waitress responded by staring right at Brennan, and in a rather condescending tone said, “And you’re alone?” That’s just harsh.
    The second is a late garbage time interception that Steve Young threw that cost Brennan a playoff victory. A playoff victory when he had assembled one of the best teams ever seen in No Name Fantasy Football League history. Steve’s reaction? Laughter. Brennan’s reaction? Well, his shrink tells me the therapy’s going well.
  4. Alas, this is something that can never happen again as it was pre 9/11. Skye was flying in from Colorado and a group of us went to go meet him at the airport. We wound up running a little late and by the time we got to the other side of security (remember those days?) we had to run to the gate. We rounded the corner just as Skye walked off the jetway and gave him a huge cheer.
  5. The last is the first ever draft we held in 1995. It was in the apartment Karin and I were living in. We were an 8 team league at the time and many of the owners didn’t realize what they were getting themselves into at the time. The one that really stood out was Brian – who’s preparation was a list of players on a scratch sheet of paper from Fingerhut.