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Three Classy Nights in Vienna, Austria

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Checking out Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic

We hop a two-hour shuttle from Prague that drives through snow-covered rolling hills and farmland. The small city of Cesky Krumlov sits in the south Bohemian region of Czech Republic and surrounds a castle.

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Cesky Krumlov State Castle and Tower

Staying in hostels for about $20 nightly can make traveling cheaper than living at home. “Welcome to Krumlov House,” Cal, the proprietor says. His wife Carolyn helps us with future travel arrangements to Vienna.

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Krumlov House, our humble abode

“You have to try the fried homemade local cheese and Eggenberg brew at Na Louzi,” Cal says. “It’s my favorite restaurant.”

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Niva – lightly breaded and fried Roquefort cheese

Off we go. Soon, Marilynn and I sip a mixed light/dark Eggenberg, and munch on mild Roquefort cheese wedges lightly breaded and fried. We love how food is truly one of the best ways to internalize a culture, anywhere in the world.

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Town Square

Small towns that surround castles make me feel medieval…, until I realize that instead of donning furs, Marilynn and I dress in REI down jackets and high tech hats. So much for medieval! However, Bram Stoker conducted much of his research here in Cesky Krumlov. Per the locals, this town is the true birth of vampire.

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Wandering the cobblestone streets

Getting lost on narrow, cobblestone streets that angle and twist through history adds to the delight of our adventures.

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Tower walls

We climb up the spiral stairs to the top of the Castle’s tower for some panoramic views of this stunning city.

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View from the tower

It’s time for dinner. Again, on Cal’s advice, we devour a “Bohemian Feast” at Dwau Maryi, loaded with pheasant, rabbit, chicken, pork, dumplings, potato cakes, and a measly salad in the middle – probably a recent addition. The leftovers were wonderful for breakfast.

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Bohemian Feast

Strangely enough, food servers in this small town carry a gruff attitude. We would expect the opposite. Perhaps they are tired of tourists. I wonder how they must feel in the Summer season when the place is crawling with tourists? I would not want their job.

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Which way do we go?

The following morning, we finally have time to write our first post on this adventure about Prague, Czech Republic . Afterwards, we hike up a snow-covered hill to “Our Lady Dolorous and the Holy Cross” chapel, built in 1710.

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Chapel on the Mountain of the Cross

Although closed every day of the year but one, we enjoy the energy and catch views of the city from different angles.

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City views from the mountain

Stay tuned, we be on our way to Vienna, Austria, for a short stop in Western Europe!   Ron Mitchell

 

 

CZECH REPUBLIC: Check It Out

The longer that Marilynn and I stay at home, the harder it is to leave. Once we leave, it’s easy to stay away. Finally, we hit the road again, all geared-up for two months of winter travel around Eastern Europe with no set itinerary.

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Prague

During winter “off- season,” most tourists are gone, and everything from hotel rooms to food is half-price. So, let’s bundle up and start checking out magnificence in the city of Prague.

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Prague Old Town Square

After a sleepless overnight flight, we roam the cobblestone streets and sidewalks of Prague in a trance of awe and wonder. The art begins on the cubic ground level.

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Even the sidewalks, streets, and sewer covers are beautiful

Snowflakes fly with the wind around stone sculpted saints, angels, warriors, gargoyles, and yet to be identified creatures clinging to Gothic buildings, spires, bridges, domes, and even the astronomical clock. Yes, overwhelming.

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The Astronomical Clock

Prague, my friends, is an amazing walking city. Plan to get lost in the angled alleyways where the streets make no sense, especially while a plethora of art grabs your gaze.

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Typical street in Prague

Like the hidden passageways of a Moroccan Kasbah, front doors of countless cafes, restaurants, and hotels mean nothing until you step through the portal and discover a different world.

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Pork Knee or Knuckle

It’s time for some stick-to-your-ribs food, like roasted pig knee (call it knuckle if you prefer) with sauerkraut and horseradish, a Czech favorite.

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Ron crossing the Charles Bridge

Let’s walk across the Charles Bridge to visit the John Lennon Wall, followed by a cold one at the John Lennon Pub. All we need is love.

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The Lennon Wall

A one-hour train ride to the town of Kutna Hora presents a unique day trip to the Cemetery of All Saints with the Ossuary.

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Sedlec Ossuary, better known as “The Bone Church”

It’s a church decorated with the bones of about 40,000 buried bodies who died mostly from epidemic around the 14th Century. Legend has it that a half-blind monk decoratively arranged the bones and skulls around the 16th Century. The monk regained his eyesight after his honorable labor.

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The bones of 40,000 people

The Roman Catholic Church administrates this UNESCO World Heritage site.  “Remember the Death” symbolizes hope of resurrection. Not a celebration of death, but symbolic of the equality of all people in front of the throne of God.

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No words…

I digress here to explain that we are American football fans. We stayed awake two nights in a row, all night, to watch the NFL playoff games in the comfort of our room at the “Elite Hotel.” (Quite unique hearing broadcasters speak German) I was too gassed that morning to walk to Prague’s most popular attraction, the Prague Castle.

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Prague Castle, up close and personal

While I was content to view the site from a distance, the amazing Marilynn trekked up to the castle.

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Views from the Castle

She had the place almost to herself. From Gothic to Renaissance to nouveau and cubist, the art and architectural presentation transcends words.

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Prague by night

So, I’ll end this post in a trance of awe and wonder, and leave with you Marilynn’s inspirational photos of Prague.   Ron Mitchell

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As beautiful at night….

 

 

The Polar Bears of Churchill, Manitoba

The terrain changes from farmland to tundra during our two-night train ride from Winnipeg to Churchill. This small town on the Hudson Bay greets us with 30 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. “Welcome to balmy Churchill,” says Shannon, executive director of the Great Bear Foundation. “I’m so glad that you guys decided to take our Polar Bear Ecology Field Course!”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Good Morning Churchill!

About ten of us pile into a yellow school bus. Rows of small bench seats bring back distant memories of school days. Off to our first polar bear class at the Churchill Northern Studies Center, whose mission is “to understand and sustain the north.”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Hey there big fella

Let’s head out into the field, tundra that is, and bounce along snowy, ice-covered roads to pursue our mission, which is simply to see polar bears.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Sleepy bear spotted in a snow storm

Ever try to spot a polar bear in a snowstorm on a vast, unforgiving tundra? Well, it’s not as hard as you might think. At least not in this part of the world. Approximately 1,000 polar bears gather here each year and wait for the shores of the Hudson Bay to freeze. They need ice in order to hunt for ringed seals. Eating seals is crucial to their survival.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Typical Churchill scene

These magnificent creatures descended from Grizzly bears around 250,000 years ago. This time of year, their metabolism duplicates that of a hibernating bear, but they don’t sleep like one. They saunter around until the ice comes. That’s when polar bears come to life, as well as lose tolerance for such close presence of other bears.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Don’t eat the yellow snow!

Once we spot a bear, Frank, our trusty driver/guide/photographer/instructor, turns off the engine. Classmates jockey for position by the windows. “Hush!”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Sharpening claws? Probably foraging for food

We try to be quiet, but have difficulty containing the oohs and aahs during our first sighting. However, we become pros during future sightings, where the only sound comes from clicking cameras.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Otherworldly terrain

Watching these bears, just being bears in their natural environment, puts tears in Mare’s eyes, while I’m paralyzed in awe.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Gotcha!!

Red foxes pounce on unsuspecting rodents under the snow, while constantly on the lookout for bears as well!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Check out that tail!

Polar bears that misbehave get sentenced to Polar bear jail. No kidding. A specially converted holding facility provides an alternative to killing a bear, who might happen to get too close to humans in the quest for food.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Actually this is bad human behavior NOT bad bear behavior

Bears who don’t respond to being “hazed away” are tranquilized with a dart, and then transported to a bear cell. They are held there without food, to avoid habituating them to humans. Nobody wants bears to associate humans with food.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Bear Jail

Eventually, each bear is placed in a huge net and transported via helicopter many miles away to a place where ice has formed. Yes, they do have about a sixty percent recidivism rate – repeat offenders! Still, this is an excellent alternative to euthanizing bears whose only crime is to seek out and eat food in order to survive.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

A “bad” bear headed to bear jail

Let’s break things up with a dogsled ride. Dave Daley is the “big dog” at Wapusk Adventures. He loves each one of his dogs, and gets to know their strengths, psyche, and motivations. If a dog misbehaves, he bites it on the nose. Then he gives it positive reinforcement within a minute. Dave sleds us around the “Ididamile” track. What a thriller, as well as fun exercise for the run-loving dogs!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

“Hike!”

Once back onto the bus, a mother with two cubs shows herself in temperatures of 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Ahhhhhh…

It’s starting to get more like polar bear weather around here. Hopefully, the ice will not take too long to form, as it seems to take longer each year.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Just can’t capture the grandeur of the Northern Lights!

As if seeing polar bears and foxes cavorting in the snow isn’t enough, how about finishing the evening with a grand showing of the Aurora Borealis?  We live in a wonderful world. Thank you, Abundant Universe!

Ron Mitchell

 

Oh, Alaska!

Eagles mate for life. But even the most romantic lovers need a little space once in a while.

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Sometimes you need a little space

One of them decides to go fishing. A bald eagle can dive at speeds of up to 200 mph.

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Gone fishing

A juvenile bald eagle does not go bald (head and tail turn white) for about five years. They pay attention and learn how to fish.

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Juvenile eagle learning the ropes

An eagle’s scream means “Stay away from my kill!” The eagle will emphatically rip into the catch, its body language telling others to stay away or fight. Eventually though, they get full and give way.

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Hungry and willing to fight

Ah, bald eagles are pirates known for stealing booty. They can spot that kill from two miles away. The kill attracts lots of attention.

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Fighting and feasting

After a while, a few juveniles hang around for scraps of spoils.

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Juveniles waiting for the leftovers

Meanwhile, something attracts the attention of a black bear.

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I think I heard something!

Hopefully, it’s not this spike bull moose, whose antler configuration makes him legal for hunting season. (Not that that matters to any bear)

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A male moose hoping not to be dinner

Everybody gives way to the grizzly bear. This guy strolls through the horsetail grass in the wetlands of our backyard. He eats anything he wants along the way. Coastal brown bears grow larger than their grizzly cousins in the interior, due to plenty of seafood proteins.

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A big brown bear looking for dinner

Perhaps this young cow moose swam across the river because of the bear’s scent.

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A young female moose hoping not to be dinner either

The romantic lovers meet again. Nothing can harm the top of the food chain, except for humans.

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“So happy together…”

Oh, Alaska. You’re almost as beautiful as my romantic wife. Happy 22nd anniversary, Babe!

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Happy Anniversary!

Ron Mitchell

 

ALASKA SATISFIES THE SENSES

We love to travel the world and see different things. Rarely do we visit a place twice. So why have we come back to Alaska for the sixth time? Let me try and answer that…

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Hanging out in the solarium on the Alaska State Ferry

 

Traveling here presents an adventure in itself. I chill-out on a lounge chair with a sleeping bag for three nights under the solarium on the Alaska State Ferry, from Bellingham, WA to Haines, AK. Even make a few friends along the cruise up the marine highway, which cuts through mountains and occasionally stops at remote towns.

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Wrangell, Alaska

Marilynn had a more exciting adventure. She drove the entire Alcan Highway, through Canada to Alaska, slept in her car off the road during a snowstorm, and once even car camped in a Walmart parking lot while in the Yukon! Look at the amazing array of wildlife she gets to see along the way….

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A Black Bear feasting along the Alcan

Smell the fresh air. Winds blow over glaciers, rivers, sea-filled fjords, and pristine forests. The smell of fresh air has almost no smell at all.

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Grey Wolf near Muncho Lake

See the surrounding glaciers, mountains, rivers, canals and forests. The view never grows old. Fabulous scenery engulfs us the moment we arrive.

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Chilkoot Lake

Feel the cool days and nights. Love the feeling of being cool during summer. Beats the hell out of that excessive heat back in Phoenix, AZ!

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Davidson Glacier

Taste some of mother nature’s delights. I caught four Dolly Varden (trout) my first day here. Looking forward to the Sockeye Salmon run that should begin next month. Maybe I’ll catch one this year, who knows?

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Dinner!

We pluck wild oyster mushrooms from a decaying Cottonwood log in our “backyard” as an excellent side dish for the fresh fish. As I write this, we are still hoping that they were indeed oyster mushrooms!

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Oyster Mushroom – we hope!

The sound of a running river serenades us to sleep at night. (Doesn’t really get dark this time of year) Sometimes rain pouring on the cabin’s tin roof adds to the music. A symphony of bird songs wakes us each morning. Sure is a nice break from the noise of freeways, airplanes, sirens, helicopters, and politicians!

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“Home”

Our backyard is the Chilkat River in the Bald Eagle Preserve. Hundreds of bird species appear at different times of year, along with seasonal salmon runs. Each fall season, over 3,000 American Bald Eagles converge right here for the final salmon run on this continent, like an annual convention in Las Vegas.

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One of the 400 full-time residents of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

This summer marks our fourth year volunteering in Haines, Alaska as caretakers for Alaska State Parks. That basically means that we clean and stock outhouses, bring garbage into town, and keep the preserve clean. In return, we get to live in a small cabin in the woods. This one even has the luxury of electricity. There is no running water, but driving about 22 miles to fill containers with glacial fed spring water has a certain Zen feel to it. Our outhouses are only 100 steps away from the cabin.

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The watering hole

The small town of Haines (1900 pop) has no stoplights. Some folks don’t lock their doors. Others leave their keys in the car, parked “downtown” for friends that might need a lift. “Just let me know where you left it.” We have made some good friends here.

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Haines, Alaska

Alaska not only satisfies our senses, it overwhelms them. And we appreciate it!                       Ron Mitchell

 

Australia: Ending the Adventure with Blue Mountains and Bondi Beach

 

Driving and flying around Australia for seven weeks, three of us covered lots of territory, and lived in very close surroundings (three beds in one room). Yet, we still love each other!

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Seven weeks was not near enough time!

Adjusting to driving on the left side of the road results in not only a warning ticket, but both Marilynn and I were alcohol breathalyzed by police on separate occasions. The cops must have thought that we had been drinking.

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Opps! Found this waiting for us at home in the USA.

We wrap up the adventure with several hikes in the Blue Mountains, a popular area only 1 and 1/2 hours away from Sydney. “Get there before 9:00 am to beat the tour buses from the city,” our motel manager says. “The tourists don’t speak English, and don’t know how to que.” (form a single line)

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The Blue Mountains

Katoomba, the main small town in the region, provides an excellent home base for day hikes. Numerous cafes and the unique residents, including a Tennessee-based messianic Christian sect, make the town a cool place to hang out in the chilly evenings when not hiking.

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Katoomba

Many trails traverse this temperate rain forest that blankets canyons and mountains. Some of the main attractions include “Three Sisters” rock formation towers and “Echo Point” lookout.

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Three Sisters

The “Grand Stairway” proves to be a heart-pumping hike with over 1,000 narrow steps out of the canyon, past waterfalls and odd rock formations.

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Just part of the Grand Stairway

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Many waterfalls. Many steps.

The forest canopy shields us from the sun, while wild Cockatoos fly in flocks and squawk as if they are mad at somebody.

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Cockatoos

We avoid the crowds of tourists and children at “Scenic World” which we affectionately nickname, “Wally World.”

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Scenic World cable car

To its credit, a person can access views of the canyon if unable or unwilling to hike, via the glass-floored cable car that goes across the canyon, and a different cable car that descends into the valley at a 52-degree angle.

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Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk

We found that the large cities in Australia share at least one thing in common – fantastic walkways.

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Breakfast!

After a breakfast of salmon/shrimp/pea frittata on our last day in Australia, we walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach (where we kept our clothes on) and back on the Clifftop Coastal Walk.

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Coogee Cliffs

This 5.5 km walkway could not be more scenic and was especially pleasant on this overcast day. What a perfect way to prepare for a 13-hour flight back home!     Ron Mitchell

 

Driving Australia’s Gold Coast, from Brisbane to Port Macquarie

Before catching up with Pat and Marilynn and renting a car with them, I rode 29 hours on a greyhound bus where the only scenery consisted of sugarcane fields.

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Sugar Cane – The view for miles and miles and miles

The most exciting event was at a bus stop, where a man selling coffee says to me, “You have beautiful teeth. Are they yours?” Had to think for a moment, as I do have two molar implants. “I guess they’re all mine.” I yank on them to make sure.

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Byron Bay

“Nobody goes there anymore…it’s too crowded.”  Yogi Berra

Rent a car and you get to see more sights by taking tourist roads off the main highway. Byron Bay is big and beautiful, but too crowded on Easter holiday. Getting out of here quickly takes a long time.

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Emerald Beach

Enter Emerald Beach, where seclusion and heart pumping beach hikes suit our style. Kangaroos know what I’m talking about, as they hang out here too.

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Hi there fellas

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The Rules

We decide to rent an apartment in Port Macquarie, which provides an array of opportunities such as purchasing and cooking our own fresh catch from local seafood markets.

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The harbor, Port Macquarie

Why go out to a restaurant (expensive throughout Australia) when you have a kitchen, and balcony overlooking a river and ocean bays? Not to mention stunning sunrises.

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Why go to a restaurant?

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Wow!

Some guys catch their own, fishing from painted rocks along the walkway.

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Rock Art in Port

Beach hikes weave in and out of coast and rain forest. Watch out for those Cockatoos, though. “Those birds are destructive,” a local woman says with a sneer. “They destroy my gutters and tear limbs from my trees.”

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The Birds

I suppose that nobody’s perfect, but not even the birds?   Ron Mitchell

 

 

Australia: Reunited In Brisbane

The worst part about traveling solo is being alone. The best part is, well, being alone.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Lone City Walker

After a good night’s sleep on a nineteen-hour bus ride from Airlie Beach to Brisbane, I wander the streets at dawn. My schedule consists of having no schedule at all.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Beautiful Brisbane

I must admit to growing weary of solo travel after two weeks of it, and look forward to Marilynn and Pat flying here in a couple of days.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Here She Comes!

Meanwhile, I get a great deal on a fancy downtown hotel, the “Mercure,” and catch a long workout in the rooftop gym. Then, I take a luxurious bubble bath in my private spa tub, and take the opportunity to wash my laundry in it as well. Naked laundering. Very efficient. The sisters will love this place after being in the outback of Alice Springs.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Gym on the 13th Floor

The city of Brisbane boasts many great walking/jogging/bicycle paths, that take you over cool bridges, through botanical gardens, and around man-made lagoons.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Cool Bridges

The free city ferry weaves around the river that snakes through Brisbane. Hop off at any stop.

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City Ferry

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Lagoon

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Fabulous Walkways

In the evening, I walk into a bar (Imagine that) and stumble upon “Ball Queen Bingo,” where a community of drag queens run bingo games each Tuesday and Saturday night.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Ball Queen Bingo Anyone?

After munching a kangaroo steak sandwich smothered in spinach pesto, it’s back to the luxury hotel for some more luxury. I’m not much of a shopper, even in this major marketplace, but do manage to purchase some baked, spicy crickets.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Crispy Baked Crickets Look Cool in a Salad

Can’t wait to sneak a few of these buggers into Mare and Pat’s salad!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Spicy Baked Crickets from “Zeed Bugs”

My girls show up just in time for two hours of free cocktails and snacks, nightly compliments of the Mercure Hotel. Life is good, perhaps even better when you are fortunate enough to share it with someone.        Ron Mitchell

 

 

 

Australia: Pat and Marilynn’s Excellent Outback Adventure

Sisters take a road trip into the outback, and the road goes on forever in western Australia.

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Forever, and ever! Thank goodness for the meat pie in the trunk (with beer and wine…)

It seems that rewards await at the end of every journey. This time it comes in the form of an underwater observatory in Busselton.

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The Underwater Observatory in Busselton

Deeper into the outback they drive.

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The Outback

This day ends with evening strolls and morning jogs along the beaches of the beautiful Bay of Isles, in the town of Esperance.

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Esperance

After a long drive through brush fire damage to Kalgoorlie, Mare explains to a woman that she and her sister are traveling on their own for a while.

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Lots and lots of fire damage

“Oh yes,” the woman says. “Girls need to take time from their husbands for manicures, spa days, and shopping.”

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The Super Pit in Kalgoorlie

Little does the woman know that they’re “not those kind of girls.” These gals are more interested in Australia’s largest gold mine, and the Country’s oldest operational brothel!

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The S & M room in Questa Casa, one of the few remaining brothels in Kalgoorlie

They call semi-trucks hauling three containers (or more) “road trains” in these parts. These monsters of the highway can have as many as 84 tires and weigh up to 150 tons.

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Saw more than a few of these puppies along the way

Back on the west coast the sisters land on a different planet. Nobody knows for sure how the stalactites actually formed in the Pinnacles Desert, as each geological theory dispute the other.

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The Pinnacles Desert

Time to fly away from the west and journey to the red center. Alice Springs lives a world away from everywhere else in Australia.

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Approaching the great rock

It does not take long for them to find a favorite bar, “Uncles.” Bars will be bars and boys will be boys. The bartender throws out one very big, cranky, drunk man. No worries. Soon, an extremely intoxicated Aboriginal guy serenades the sisters with an unintelligible song.

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Kata-Tjuta

One does not visit Alice Springs for the company. Access to Uluru and Kata Tjuta draws the curious. Mare says, “The feeling of being there defies description.”

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Uluru at sunset

Where will the girls go next?  Ron Mitchell