Thursday, March 30, 2023

Head to Honolulu, happy place! Explore it on fun Waikiki Trolley

The best hotdog in Honolulu is one of the treats you'll discover aboard the Waikiki Trolley,
which offers various tours for discovering this exciting east-meets-west city and Oahu's capital.
Here, John's World Famous Hawaii hotdog stand is popular with locals and tourists alike.


Even on a slightly cloudy day, Waikiki Trolley
brings a sunny spin to Honolulu sightseeing. We
recommend our base, Hilton Hawaiian Village.

HONOLULU HARKENS! It's our happy place, just five-plus airplane hours from San Diego, but a continent away from mainland  life. We love the city for its variety of activities, ethnic food, fine hotels and fabulous climate.  Even when it rains, it's only that warm "liquid sunshine." What a beautiful place.
We love to explore Honolulu from Hilton Hawaiian Village and its range of lovely hotels. One may book through either Hilton Grand Vacations, or  Hilton hotels since the range of Hawaiian Village properties offer both options. We climb aboard Waikiki Trolley, Oahu's only "hop on and hop off" transportation. Besides offering a crash course on the city's wonders, it's just plain fun.
The bronze of King Kamehameha I
stands proudly out the front of
Ali’iolane Hale, downtown Honolulu.
We opted for the famous trolley to fit as many of Honolulu's sights and attractions into three days as we possibly could. We were happy with the trolley system because we saw tons more in our few days based at Hilton Hawaiian Village than we would have with privately arranged tours. On the easy-access trolleys, we explored the history, mystery, food and fun of this lively Hawaiian city.  We saw new sights, learned new facts about Honolulu and the Hawaiian Islands.
We base at Hilton Hawaiian Village, with a
splendid array of hotels and great location.We
 chose Grand Waikikian, a quick stroll to the trolley.

We appreciated the directional help of friendly drivers, whose devotion to the islands and their comfy, informative trolley rides is legendary.
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
at Bishop Museum, a Honolulu attraction.
WE HOPPED ON and off with hour-long stops at points of interest: Iolani Palace, Punchbowl Crater and the beautiful war memorial, the Hawaii State Art Museum, Sea Life Park, Honolulu Museum of Art and Bishop Museum, Chinatown for lunch one day and the locals' favorite hot dog stand next day.
We strolled by the majestic statue of the great ruler, King Kamehameha, 
Punchbowl Crater has become a well visited and much loved
 memorial to the war dead. Officially known as the National
Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, it's a trolley stop.
ALL OUR drivers were personable, knowledgeable and eager to share their city's wealth of sights, history and attractions. 
Each time we exited the trolley, we checked to make sure where we'd find it and at exactly what time.  Each time, within an hour or a few minutes more, the trolley arrived as promised at the same place we'd left it.
To board, we were delighted to stroll less than a block from our hotel in Hilton Hawaiian Village. We found our trolley at the venerable Ilikai Hotel on Ala Moana, where it arrives each morning. It transport tourists to the tour "hub" where one chooses which route he wishes to explore and a friendly staffer guides tourists to the proper vehicle. 
WE LOVE city tours and Waikiki Trolley offers fine ones, including a bird's eye view of Honolulu’s historic sites and neighborhoods.  Toss in beautiful scenery, the Pacific Ocean, world-class shops and delectable food from a United Nations of restaurants.
Four lines offer convenient hop-on hop-off options with fun, open-air vehicles for enjoying people watching,  famous landmarks and Waikiki with all its glitz and wonder.  Plastic pull-down shades are handy if it sprinkles. Our driver even supplied rain ponchos for one brief cloudburst.
We joined families, couples and a mix of international tourists as we tried all four lines.
Waikiki Trolley's pink line makes its way
to the famous Ala Moana Shopping Center.
Passes are available for several lengths of time and if you buy a pass for several days, you'll save money.  That's what most people do. The four color-coded lines visit nearly every place or sight you'd care to see in a few days of visiting.   
Bruce Keller and Mike, a
friendly Waikiki Trolley driver,
explore the sights of the city
with flair in a fun vehicle.

 ALL THE ROUTES are fun, but the trolley's blue line
 offers special scenic pleasures as it visits the shoreline of Waikiki along the gorgeous coast line plus spectacular views of Diamond Head. We had stunning ocean views on the way up to Sea Life Park, stopping at famous landmarks including Hanauma Bay and Halona Blowhole. 

Shrines, museums, restaurants, beaches, shopping
 and more: all await on the fun Waikiki Trolley.
The red line visits historic Punchbowl Crater, among the oldest natural landmarks on Oahu and one of Honolulu's most visited places. Its fascinating history dates back nearly 100,000 years, a tidbit offered by our history loving and entertaining guide. Honolulu's historic Chinatown is also a highlight of Waikiki Trolley's red line. Again, our patient driver-guide helped several tourists find the restaurant they wanted, then gave them directions to their cruise ship. He asked when they were to board and assured them that they had an leisurely hour or two to enjoy lunch and make their ship on time.

WE FEEL AT our best when in this exciting American city.  It feels like we're still in Malaysia, with its intriguing mix of shops and restaurants. But the currency, language and landmarks are familiar. We're back in the U.S.A. and enjoying one of the Pacific's great cities at a delightful hotel complex with a  fabulous, user friendly and fun trolley system.

And if you want to enjoy watersports, we recommend Hawaii Nautical, with its appealing variety of cruises -- from sunset, snorkel and dinner options to turtle, whale and dolphin watching. for tour options, prices, locations 

Hilton Grand Vacations:

Grand Waikikian:

 Hilton Hawiian Village, Oahu:

Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Kona side of the Big Island: 

Kandace Crystal stars in the
verbal role, with artful support
from a dancing alter-ego,
Nicole Diaz-Pellot. Lovely
two-person show at Scripps
Ranch Theater in San Diego.
: A pair of riveting, new, small-cast, sparse-set productions in San Diego are worthy of attention. "Neat," at Scripps Ranch Theater and "Monsters of the American Cinema," at Diversionary Theatre, are designed for thinking playgoers. Each well tuned production offers the audience moments of joy and reflection.  Both transport us to complex worlds, where change, adjustment, forgiveness and understanding are essentials. Fine writing and terrific performances mark each production. "Monsters...." unfolds in a cozy theater-in-the-round format, bringing the intensity of dialogue front and center.   

Kirk Brown, right, and Nicholas Toscano forge an
 unlikely friendship in Diversionary Theatre's moving
new work, "Monsters of the American Cinema."
"Neat" -- also in an intimate venue -- elegantly combines language, dance and visual arts to tell a story of a thoughtful, upbeat woman's self-discovery and the powerful impact of a disabled auntie. Colorful characters from her past inhabit her journey. "Monsters...." encounters villains both on and off screen. The story is an unlikely friendship between a black man and his late husband's straight, white son who find a common bond in their love of horror films. Each play features a talented two-person cast, thoughtfully directed. Both are expressive and touching with doses of gentle humor. These short-run, highly recommended shows help us think, expand and understand our world and fellow humans with a bit more grace and compassion. 619.220.0097 858 395-0573.
"The Empire Strips Back" takes favorite "Star Wars"
characters and brings them to life in a burlesque parody. 
"Star Wars" buffs and fans of burlesque are shouting for more at "The Empire Strips Back," selling out in San Diego.  It's an affectionate, unauthorized parody of the 1977 blockbuster, with all the familiar characters, beautiful lighting and costumes, sexy dancing, fun music and, yes, a strip tease theme. We were part of a standing ovation recently, following sold out runs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Five Australian cities have also given the show raves. Come with us to "The Force" (and farce) as we explore, learn and live. Catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, performance, the lively arts, family and more.  We love comments, too. Please share the link with like minded people, too, at

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Busy Brisbane: bustling, booming, fun, and a nighttime wonderland

Brisbane's majestic skyline is an impressive, sky-high mix of contemporary architecture,
artfully set off by well established trees, and places to be in nature even in mid-city.

Here near city center, the Brisbane River provides an
inviting oasis for this boating party. 


The Treasury Casino, is known simply
as ''The Treasury'' to Brisbane folks.
It also houses a hotel, restaurants,
bars and a popular nightclub.
Cookie won "for a change," she says.
BRISBANE HAS the feel of elegance and casual fun, city life and country charm. Visitors immediately feel its importance because of a vibrant mix of the stately, old, new and energetic.
Along with that dignified fa├žade, it's a city that likes gambling. "Welcome to Bris-Vegas," our captain said as he landed the plane. "Have fun, folks."
 I love casinos and gambling, so I cajoled Keller into accompanying me to aptly named Treasury Casino. What fun! It has all the games Vegas does -- minus video poker, my favorite. But  Cleopatra  was good to me on a fun game, "Queen of the Nile." $264.50 Aussie which paid a couple hours' fun and a nice dinner, about $175 U.S. Many Aussies love gambling, and spend millions each year in Brisbane.

River City Cruises offers a
full bar with a choice of
libations for enjoying
spectacular Brisbane views.

Around the Treasury, tall, modern buildings provide a striking look to the downtown. Beautiful old banyan trees have been 
carefully preserved to frame contemporary architecture. There's an Asian influence of feng shui, with many skyscrapers built with "cut out" indentations for light, space, fresh air and plants.

View after sunset from River City Cruises 
sunset cruise boat which offers a picturesque,
relaxing way to see the city in changing light.

PEOPLE HERE love the water and use it as a major way of getting around, which sensibly cuts down on traffic and pollution. The river is also a major tourist attraction. A daily free ferry makes its way along the river. We hopped on and off a dozen times during our week-long stay. We also used Brisbane's River City Cruises which offers fun options for enjoying spectacular views, particularly at sunset when the city takes on a rainbow-hued glow. 
The city's famed Story Bridge is world known as a heritage-listed landmark. It's a steel cantilever structure spanning the Brisbane River and carrying  vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian traffic between the town's northern and the southern suburbs.
A Chinese lion guards entrance to a temple
in front of  the popular Wheel of Brisbane.

Bustling capital of Queensland, Brisbane is located on the often flooded Brisbane River. 
Bruce Keller and Christene
"Cookie" Meyers stroll
Brisbane River pre-cruise
It's home to gorgeous gardens, busy markets and the progressive South Bank cultural precinct with the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre. One could spend a week dabbling in the acclaimed interactive exhibitions. 
We spent a couple hours -- not nearly enough -- at one of the gems in the city's cultural institutions. Queensland Gallery of Modern Art has an impressive range of major contemporary art pieces. Then we were off to Mt. Coot-tha, site of Brisbane Botanic Gardens, high above the city.
Brisbane's popular River City Cruises takes
locals and tourists to historical landmarks, past
new construction, homes of the rich and famous
 and more in a variety of trips, including a
lovely sunset voyage with beautiful lights.

Like many Australian places, the mountain is an Aboriginal name, meaning "place of honey." It is known for its delicious black honey and the  beautiful wild, stingless bees who produce it. 
River City passengers enjoy a beverage while
changing light highlights city scenes. Passengers
also stroll the boat and decks on a sunset cruise. 
MOST VISITORS to Brisbane spend as much time on the water as they do on land.  We were no exception. Again, we used the city's delightful Cross River ferry system which connects all the major streets and destinations: Holman Street, Kangaroo Point, Riverside and Howard Smith Wharves, 
 The old Customs House on the Brisbane River is visible from
River City boats, a fine, classical style building, dating to 1848. 
The copper plated dome roof was built in 1889. The cyclist is a
light hearted addition which displays Brisbane's humor.

and Bulimba to Teneriffe.
There are both the "City Cats" for a reasonable $5.60 Aussie fare (about $3.75 U.S.) and the free "Kitty Cats" -- part of Brisbane City Council's CityHopper service, a useful,  complementary inner-city ferry service on the river. We hopped on and off CityHopper at seven stops between North Quay and Sydney Street, New Farm, which spans most of what we wanted to see. The ferries are fun and efficient.                                                                        AT THE HEART of the city is South Bank, a multi-million dollars attraction. It's Brisbane’s premier lifestyle and cultural destination. Located on the   
The bougainvillea line the Grand Arbour at the South
Bank Parklands. Brisbane, Queensland's capital; 
curling, tendril-like columns of steel are covered
with a train of vibrant magenta bougainvillea.

banks of the Brisbane River, its 17 hectares boast world-class eateries, stunning river views and hundreds of delightful events. Artful fountains, steps and sculpture with running water encourage relaxation. The city will spend $48.7 million over the next three years to upgrade its ferry terminals including Dockside and Mowbray Park. We were impressed with the  ferry network and accessible, well used public transportation. Millions are also spent on flood resilience.
Brisbane's efficient ferry system makes transit
in the city easy
, fun and picturesque. 
BRISBANE IS a lively, exciting place. What struck us about the city is the amount of green space within the city. Its suburbs are full of trees and gardens. Dutton Park, Spring Hill and Kangaroo Point are all inviting -- spacious, green and a 15-20 minute drive to city center for plays, concerts, schools, parks, shops and restaurants. Neighborhoods are varied and lively -- including Sunnybank, a one-time semi-rural suburb with market gardens. It's surpassed Brisbane's Chinatown to claim itself the city's largest Asian community. We found it a great place for authentic Asian eats. It's beautiful day or night, when the city comes alive.
Art is at the heart of Brisbane.
These playful pelicans
grace a riverfront park.

Brisbane is an enticing melting pot of Southeast Asian cultures, shops and cuisines. Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Japanese, Korean, Singaporean and Vietnamese eateries abound. Supermarkets sell produce from multiple countries. We heard a dozen different languages in less than a day. What's not to like about this global gem? Information:;;                                                                                                                                                                                         
"R*E*S*P*E*C*T" at Lamb's Players Theatre
has been held over multiple times. It's a dazzling,
soulful musical romp, a tribute to girl singers and
composers of the '60s. Fabulous live band's on stage.
 Theater in San Diego is at its best in March, when new work abounds. Productions derailed three years ago by COVID are happily back. "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" is a spectacular, beautifully written tribute to '60s girl singers, held over multiple times at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado, up through May 9. It's smooth, lively, expertly delivered to showcase the enormous talents of SoCal's finest vocalists backed by a swinging band and effective video imagery of the music that marked a generation. The fast-moving, multi-costumed world premiere is another triumph for Lamb's tireless artistic director Robert Smyth. It effortlessly spans "girl group" genres from folk to rock, soul, funk, rhythm and blues, and more. To deliver this energetic show for months on end, making it fresh and fun each time, is testament to a terrific ensemble. Bring your memories, to clap and toe-tap to hits by Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Mama Cass, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Brenda Lee, Carol King, Janis, Buffy, Petula and more. Expect well deserved cheers, whoops, whistles and standing ovations. 619.437.6000

Phil Johnson and Katie Karel play the
parents, with Eben Rosenzweig and Elena
Bertacchi in Roustabouts' "gUnTOPIA."

at Moxie Theatre is up through April 2. The Roustabouts' smart, dark and disturbing satire explores the effects of gun violence and features one of the region's top actors and directors, Phil Johnson heading a confident, accomplished cast. Co-directing with hard-hitting imagination are Rosina Reynolds and Kate Rose Reynolds. The thought-provoking work interpreted by a fine-tuned ensemble artfully tackles the complex problem of gun violence, as a family confronts a tragedy in their own home.  It's thought provoking theater, aimed at encouraging discussion and debate about this complicated and volatile issue in America. "Talk backs" feature a variety of experts, victims and others whose lives are touched by gun violence. This is not a play for sissies but is rewarding, intriguing and, as all worthy art should, it's bound to make us ponder. Johnson's moving soliloquies are worth the ticket.  619 568-5800

The colorful Waikiki Trolleys explore various routes around
Honolulu, taking visitors and locals alike around this
colorful city, for "hop on and hop off" convenience.
: Honolulu calls us -- and we answer. It's one of our favorite cities in the planet because it has has everything: fabulous hotels, exotic shopping with bargains aplenty, gorgeous climate and beautiful flowers, birds galore and a gastronomic array of eateries with food from many Pacific Island cultures and the Far East. Museums, surfing,  aquarium, zoo, parks, historic buildings, the Pearl Harbor memorial, helicopter tours. And the beach, with all its wonders. We explore it all from several color-coded Waikiki trolleys, and take you along the fun routes.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Lovely Lone Pine: Australia's the place to cuddle koalas, feed 'roos

It's "kangaroo communion" as Bruce Keller feeds two hungry critters at Lone Pine near 
Brisbane, Australia.  We flew 7,513 miles to commune with these curious creatures in one of the world's largest and best run animal preserves, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.




Plus a delightful, informative boat ride to get you there in sight-seeing comfort

Brisbane's Mirimar II offers the best, most scenic way
to get to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. It leaves from
downtown Brisbane, making its way through the city
and into beautiful woodlands

I would converse in polar bear and python
I would curse in fluent kangaroo
If people asked me, can you speak rhinoceros?
I'd say, of courserous, can't you?"

--from "Talk to the Animals." 1964 Academy Award best song Oscar, from "Dr. Doolittle" with Rex Harrison    



 of a relaxing boat trip to a place where we could feed active kangaroos and contented koalas. People remembered their time on the river to a world famous sanctuary in the suburbs of Brisbane.
Those stories don't do justice to this marvelous place where critters are protected, loved and cared for as if they were royalty in a penthouse.
One has to see it to believe it.
The Koala and River Cruise and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary deliver.
We booked the five-hour Koala Cruise excursion not knowing what to expect, but we'd read
rave reviews and other travel writers endorsed it.
The wildlife shows at Lone Pine are extraordinary.
Here, a bird of prey has his eyes us as he flies close overhead
WE CLIMBED aboard the sleek and comfy Mirimar II. The Skipper was glad to see us as the boat had seen little activity since COVID and was just beginning to recover from the lapse of bookings and temporary curtailment.
We settled in to perfect seats on the top deck for a fascinating narrated boat journey to the Koala sanctuary. 
Both Lone Pine and the boat that takes you there are treasures. While Lone Pine's title implies a focus on that sleepy resident of Australia's thousands of eucalyptus trees, the premier attraction is also home to dozens of contented kangaroos, shy dingos, saltwater crocodiles and a bounty of beautiful birds. Beautifully trained sheep dogs are in residence, too, along with stealthy birds of prey, who perform with skilled trainers in a breathtaking show.
A mother kangaroo and her large joey seem
happy to be among Lone Pine animal lovers.
ONCE COMFORTABLY on board, with coffee from the snack bar, we traveled up the river a leisurely 20 miles to Lone Pine. There we disembarked and walked a brisk uphill trail from the jetty, up a tree-lined path to the sanctuary entrance.
The Mirimar Koala and River cruise has been taking visitors to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary for over 70 years and is a "must do" experience while in Brisbane. We cruised through Brisbane's historic landscapes, iconic attractions, pastoral scenery home to mansions,  and interesting wildlife habitats. We were happy to listen to the entertaining recorded commentary, with occasional asides from the knowledgeable captain.
We entered the sanctuary for nearly three hours to explore.  Some people stopped for lunch at the cafe, but we'd brought our own snacks, so took off to study the trails and decide where to go first.
WE HEADED for the kangaroos and weren't sorry.
Lone Pine is the world's first and largest koala sanctuary. But first, we passed by 130 koalas, most of them snoozing with a few brought out for photos.  We learned that the koalas have a light schedule, working only a few days a week and then for a couple hours at a time. They lead a pampered, well tended life.
For under $20, visitors can hold a koala
under the watchful eye of a trainer. The
pretty creatures "work" on a revolving,
pampering schedule are are not over-taxed.

The kangaroo feeding was joyful.  The pellets we purchased look like dog kibble and were nibbled gratefully up by the 'roos right from our hands as we stroked and talked to them. We walked among them, petting, smiling, watching them nurse their young.
We enjoyed several shows, including a lively birds of prey show -- dramatic as two trainers coached the birds to fly back and forth, over our heads.
The Australian sheep dog and sheep shearing shows were fast-paced and fun. 
Views from Mirimar are great
with not a bad seat for gazing.

We missed the platypus swimming but admired a giant alligator, complete with his trainer's affectionate allegory. Then lorikeet feeding -- more fun!
The animal haven boasts 70 species of Australian native animals in a spacious natural bush setting befitting the world's first and largest koala sanctuary.  The boat stays long enough to allow time for the changing shows and  naturalist talks.  Activities are spaced so that one has time to wander leisurely.
LONE PINE is thoughtfully designed. Signs point to various trails and shows so if you're interested in the sheep dog or birds, you can be on time and find a good seat.  Its 44 acres allow animal lovers to explore and find places of individual interest. Families, couples, student groups and singles looking for a nature-driven diversion are comfortable at Lone Pine.
Cookie is thrilled
to feed the 'roos.

The unique restaurant and food service area are lined with koala cages so one can munch lunch and watch the sleepy critters at the same time. Occasionally, we saw one rouse himself slightly to snack, dreamlike, on a eucalyptus branch.  One youngster remarked, "Look, mum, they poop in their sleep."  

ON THE RETURN voyage, our Mirimar companions savored 
Lone Pine has excellent signs and marks to guide
you to exhibits, shows and place to place.

 our time in a magical place. The bar was open for beverages and snacks, as we motored past those stately homes with a capsulized commentary. Prices for both the boat ride and sanctuary entry range from $55 to a family ticket for $250 Aussie dollars. The handsome boat also does charters.

Accomplished actors Richard Baird and Amanda
Evans, among a gifted cast in "The Cherry Orchard.
BEST BETS: Anton Chekhov's masterpiece, with its elegant prose and stirring story, meets David Ellenstein's stylish direction of a dream ensemble in Northcoast Repertory Theater's thoughtful production of one of theater's great plays, "The Cherry Orchard." The story of an aristocratic Russian landowner returning to her family estate just before it is auctioned touches the heart and tickles the funnybone.
The moving story of class struggle and life changes shines with both humor and poignant momentsThe San Diego production is getting raves for its timely appeal. Although written 120 years ago, the timeless tale grips and stays, a complex study of social change and the intricacies of relationships. It runs through April 2 in this intimate, appealing venue.  858 481-1055

With the city skyline as a backdrop, Christene "Cookie" Meyers
and Bruce Keller travel the waterfront of Brisbane, Australia.
UP NEXT: We're off to fun, bustling Brisbane, then on to natural wonders in Katoomba, a gorgeous mountain town near Sydney where we feature a delightful hotel, Mountain Heritage Inn, to enhance your visit with spectacular scenery and first-class ambiance. First, the busy capital of Queensland, Australia, on the meandering Brisbane River. It's  deeply connected to water sport, culture, nature and life on the river. This hip, modern-day city pays homage to its past in stately homes, parks and country estates. From free ferry rides to an animal preserve, rock climbing, botanical gardens, art galleries and kayaking, it's a town of many faces, moods and pursuits. Come with us, remembering to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, family, the arts and more, at:

Thursday, March 9, 2023

New Zealand trains offer spectacular scenery, nostalgia, history

All aboard! Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers took a pair of spectacular train trips on
a recent Celebrity cruise around New Zealand. Trains allow prime viewing of the country's spectacular scenery. Cruise tours are the best way to see the most in a short time in port. Celebrity's are tops.



Passengers have time to admire scenery and take photos.

My great-grandfather was a telegrapher on the Northern Pacific Railroad and his daughter, my gran Olive, grew up on trains. She passed that affection down the generations and I felt her presence as we hopped on the Marlborough Flyer for a step back in time to the days of World War I and steam locomotives. It was the first of two memorable train rides.
We were in Picton aboard Celebrity's lovely New Zealand cruise on the line's Eclipse. A fun scenic tour is offered on this lovely heritage steam train from a majestic bygone era.
The Flyer's carriages boast meticulous interiors.
Our journey took us from Picton and Blenheim in Marlborough, New Zealand, to the picturesque village of
Seddon, where we were greeted by a Johnny Cash impersonator, homemade pastries, wine tastings, friendly people and a gaggle of sheep.
AS WE chugged along in the Flyer, we heard fascinating commentary about the historic WWI “Passchendaele.” It is named after a great battle and pays tribute to soldiers who worked for the railway and fell in that "Great War."
Built in 1915 in Christchurch, a major "redo" of the locomotive was engineered by Steam Incorporated in 2014. The locomotive's noble history  complements its reputation as one of the country's most successful of "AB Pacifics." Royals have boarded her and our group spanned the globe.
New Zealand's trains offer close-up views of the track with
  winding curves, tunnels and time to admire the engineering.
My train-loving partner and ever curious photographer, Bruce Keller, loves trains of all kinds and is particularly fond of steam trains. He enjoys "the sound -- the hiss of the steam, the feeling of nostalgia, the fun of being part of something that no longer exists in much of the world."
THEN, IF YOU'RE planning a Dunedin stop, don't miss a trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway, one of the world's great train trips and Dunedin's top attraction. It departs  from downtown Dunedin's stately train station, to travel deep into the Taieri Gorge for eye-popping scenery: brilliant golden fields, grand old trees and gorgeous foliage cloaking the mountainsides.
Cookie is front and center on a viewing station between
carriages on a colorful New Zealand train trip.
BOTH JOURNEYS offer stunning
landscape -- gorges, lush vegetation, tunnels, twisting roads, valleys and meadows. The quaint town of Picton is heritage-listed and has a welcoming charm while Dunedin's train station is a dazzling architectural wonder. Built in 1906, a magnificent Flemish Renaissance-style edifice features white Oamaru limestone facings on black basalt. Its dramatic "Gingerbread House" look is worth a visit, even if you're not boarding the train. We've taken the train journey three times and never tire of it.
WHILE THE Marlborough train ride has a leisurely classic look, a ride on the Taieri Gorge train has a sleeker, more contemporary feel. We walked out of the carriage into a small, open-air balcony, to admire passing scenery and take photos -- without the intrusion of windows.
Dunedin's stately train station is an attraction in
itself, but do book a Taieri train trip while there. 
Perfect weather (end of summer now in New Zealand) showcased dramatic scenery: Otago's hills, sweeping viaducts and verdant landscape. We appreciated two distinctive, different trains, each with class and character.
Scenery of New Zealand's South Island is remarkably varied. 
BECAUSE IT is vintage and lovingly restored to its century-old look, the Flyer takes pride in its classic, older rail car appeal. 
Comfy seats are a rich burgundy leather and the wood is nicely cared for. One hears the soothing clickety-clack, but it's not bumpy. 
The vintage car continues its "step back in time" with several photo stops. At the longer pause in Seddon, passengers stretch, shop and nibble. Seddon, named after a New Zealand prime minister, is 25 kilometers south of larger Blenheim, known for fine wine. The journey follows the banks of two rivers, the Awatere and Blind, home to choice grape growing regions. Their sauvignon blanc put New Zealand wines on the map. Many of our fellow passengers returned with bottles.  
THE TAIERI trip offers another kind of spectacle -- equally engaging. The scenery is more rugged, and its history unfolds before the eyes. Wrought iron viaducts and hand-carved tunnels conjure images of hardship during this impressive endeavor 100 years ago.
Train lovers should make a double-header of these two colorful, narrated trips offering history, waterfalls, streams, flora, livestock and more. They reveal how people live, work and build:;;;
And in the UK:

A lovely new play, "High Table," at San Diego's
Diversionary Theatre features a gay marriage
and unfolding complexities when a Nigerian
family faces their confusion. It's an imaginative,
 thought-provoking production, beautifully acted and.
directed. Stay tuned for another inventive work:
"Monsters of the American Cinema" by an exciting
San Diego playwright. 619 220-0097

BEST BET: San Diego theater is booming, with memorable March productions in a month dedicated to the lively arts. San Diego's Diversionary Theater's new play, "High Table," is a beautifully rendered love story told by a talented ensemble, directed with  skill, perception and emotion. The complex story unfolds with an evocative accompaniment of classical African chants and drumming. The cast's deft portrayals of departed ancestors parallels "real time" family, with accomplished actors playing multiple roles. The story unfolds with imagination and restraint. It's a touching, intricate work, exploring the myriad cliches facing the gay world, as well as complications of a gay relationship. What emerges is an enchanting, enduring love story.   

Bruce Keller feeds a grateful kangaroo, communing with
the graceful Australian figures, a national treasure. Up next

UP NEXT: Wonders abound at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, a magical place located near Brisbane. You'll walk and talk with famous Australian animals in an 18-hectare koala sanctuary in the Brisbane suburb of Fig Tree Pocket in Queensland, Australia, the largest such sanctuary in the world. We're thrilled to have mingled with and fed the kangaroos and cuddled a sleepy koala. Come with us, remembering to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more: Please share the link.


Thursday, March 2, 2023

Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb delivers: steel, scenery, spectacle


Above: Once at the top, Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Bruce Keller pause for a victory pose.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is world famous for its challenge and spectacle.
Dwarfed by massive steel, climbers at far right make their way
up the side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Directly in front of the
first climber are the steep ladders one climbs to the top


"It's like climbing a majestic erector set assembled by dozens of three-man rivet teams...."

-- Bruce Keller


ONCE YOU'VE climbed the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, you'll feel as if you've won an Olympic medal.

Ascending the world-renowned bridge (spelled Harbor to us Yanks) is a test of one's will, determination and courage. 

Our group prepares for the climb, having passed the breath test,
climbed the practice ladders, filled out mounds of paperwork.
Daring the fates, we climbed it a second time a couple weeks ago. It's a fun option if you're cruising. We'd just enjoyed a Celebrity cruise, and could look upon our handsome ship from hundreds of feet on high.
Scared of heights and a lifelong sports neophyte, I had extreme  trepidations. Why bother when I could safely sit on my, er, laurels? Because I simply had to.
I've suffered from vertigo since childhood. I quiver and tremble on high-floor hotel balconies. I have a chart-topping fear of balconies or viewing platforms. 
So climbing it not once, but twice, was an accomplishment  I'm proud of. Forgive my hubris.

SURE I HAVE other talents.  I play piano, sing, conduct an orchestra, arrange a medley, jam on my saxophone and offer up a passable second violin in a string quartet.  But climbing a bridge! "who, me?" I'd never considered it. Not until my partner and travel mate Keller suggested it eight years ago.

From the bridge at night, the city's splendors unfold far below.
"OK. You're afraid of heights, fine," he said. "I get that.  But why not challenge yourself? You're so confident about other things, time to expand your horizons."

In 2015, we were planning a return to Australia, a country we both love, had visited several times before, but never together.  It would be a special time on so many counts, so I surprised him one day with a booking. No turning back.

THE DAY of the climb, I gazed at the imposing bridge as our walk brought us closer.  I was fascinated and terrified by the ant-size figures climbing over its top. That would be us in a few hours. (Pulse acceleration. Slight dizziness.)

The famous Sydney Opera House is far below happy climbers.

Soon we were filling out papers and taking a breath test. Every climber must have a blood-alcohol reading below 0.05. Otherwise, you're rejected from the climb and forfeit your fee.
The "Climb" staff of 100-plus is knowledgeable, amiable and accommodating. Media and marketing director Brock put us at ease when our taxi from the hotel took three times longer than anticipated. He and the able staff kindly rebooked us, thanks to a cancellation.
The protocol included safety videos, then trading our clothes for special light-weight climbing suits, stepping into our harnesses and straps and heading out the door and up, up and away. Emphasis on "up." Earlier, we'd proved we could climb by going up two practice ladders in the preparation room.

WE HAD ALSO learned how to fasten and use our lanyards, sliding them along a practice cable. So once on the bridge, we felt secure because we were literally hooked to it. And, as patient, daring Keller reminded me, "You've already done this once, Cookster. Piece of cake." 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is bathed in the colors of the
rainbow.  Special lighting celebrates Gay Pride.

The tours are kept small to encourage a congenial feeling. We introduced ourselves with a brief "who and where from" to encourage conversation and camaraderie.  Our group included a couple from Manchester, England, a father-son from New Zealand, a honeymooning couple from Japan and two enthusiastic Swiss travelers who -- like the two of us --  had tackled the bridge before.  Our pleasant and encouraging guide, April, offered commentary and pep talks as we climbed --stories about the bridge, previous climbers and Sydney's grand history. 
The enterprise offers various packages: romance packages are popular as is a first-nations people tour with Aboriginal landmarks and native history told by indigenous storytellers. There are climbs geared to photographers, and others for students. There's a sunset-night time climb and the famous “Coathanger” which traverses the bridge from South to North, and back again and is considered the most challenging.
I STILL TREMBLE when I think about it. But I'm so grateful to have summoned the courage again. The main draws for me were twofold: conquering my fear, and being part of a famous and historic enterprise.We learned that the bridge was built in 1932 in the height of the great worldwide depression, providing work for hundreds and boosting national pride. It cost 10 million to build --1.5 billion Aussie dollars today. The architect lived in a home below where he monitored progress. Unnerving to me during the steep 8-ladder climb was the roar and rumble of trains and cars. They shake the steel as they pass by the thousands (160,000 cars per day and dozens of trains.) One thinks of this bridge as solid and steady. It moves! I am still recovering.

Safely grounded after nearly four hours together,
our excellent guide April presented us with
certificates congratulating us on our climb.
YES, IT WAS a spectacular day. Keller is ready for a third climb. We joined 5,000 couples who have proposed on her, 40 wedding couples and more than 4 million of us slightly crazy climbers.
1,400 helped build her and a remarkably low number -- 16 -- died during the 8-year construction. One worker fell the 462 feet when his drill kicked back. He was an experienced diver and survived by going in feet first. He suffered shattered legs and broke every rib but he survived to return to his job!

I recommend this to fellow cowards, and all of you who wish to do something you've never done. Why not challenge a cliche about yourself? Carpe diem.

For the time of your life:

To book a Celebrity cruise to New Zealand or Australia ports:

Dunedin Railways cars take train lovers and nature buffs
deep into a corner of southern New Zealand that most
folks never see. We highly recommend this Taieri Gorge trip
UP NEXT: While we're Down Under, we're exploring the wonders of both Australia and New Zealand. Come aboard two distinctive Kiwi trains, one out of Picton, the other from Dunedin. Come with us aboard the Marlborough Flyer and Taieri Gorge Railway, both show-stopping train excursions. Let these two distinctive trains whisk you away to beautiful farm land, sheep pastures, mountains, ravines, canyons and more in handsomely maintained  cars. Enjoy the beauty aboard a pair of trains, then visit a koala sanctuary and rest in the spectacular mountain town of Katoomba. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more. Do share the link: