Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I experienced many "firsts" on this trip including walking in the rainforest at night. After a rushed dinner at the Daintree Rainforest Retreat Motel, Laurel and I drove 20 minutes up the dark and windy road in the rain to the spot where we would meet our guide for our night walk. Wisely we had scouted out the turnoff during daylight hours and knew where the dirt road was located at Coopers Creek. It was kind of creepy bumping in the pitch dark down the dirt road but Laurel assured me we were in the correct place. We finally saw some lights from a house up ahead. We parked and our guide came out to meet us, flashlights in hand.

We were the first arrivals of our group of eight. Three giggly Italian girls in sundresses showed up next then 2 other couples. We were told that we needed to walk in single file about 3 meters apart and use our flshlights to search for animals hidden in the forest. If he saw anything he would stop and point it out. He said we would do a rotation every 10 minutes so that we would all have a chance to walk near him- he would shine his flashlight on the ground and we were to stand in his"circle of light" spot until everyone else went by, then take up the rear.

We went into the humid, sauna-like jungle and he had us turn off our flashlights. If you looked up you could see a little light from the moon between the dense forest canopy, but side to side was pitch blackness. He said people never came into the jungle at night before flashlights because it was too hard to see and too easy to get lost. I believe it. I would never find my way out of there even with a flashlight. It was tempting to walk on each others' heels instead of keeping the recommended distance at first.

Our guide stopped to point out various large spiders, sleeping birds and insects. I was hoping for something a bit more exciting, not that just being there sweating profusely in the dark wasn't interesting in itself... When Laurel had her turn behind the guide he stopped and said "python on the path straight ahead". Sure enough, there was a 12-15 foot python on the path. It lay there as our group gather close and then it began to slither away into the undergrowth. It moved completely silently and we watched in awe as it stretched out in full length. Glad that I didn't step on that.

A short while later one of the Italian girls gasped and pointed to another python on the side of the path that 5 people had just walked by. We gathered up again and waited for it to move on. The guide said we were really lucky to have seen two pythons in one walk. There were countless dragons (bearded lizards) and frogs and toads and even some butterflies.

I used my walking stick (ski pole) for the one and only time on the trip. I was glad that I had it because it was fairly treacherous going for most of the time. The path was full of gnarly roots and uneven gorund. I couldn't believe how much I was sweating in the dark. I was completely wet with perspiration- it felt like it was just running off of me. I don't think I have ever been so drenched at night before. We walked for two hours. The last 15 minutes or so we were in an open field and walked along the forest edge. The breeze there felt wonderful. This was truly amazing. I wish that I had brought my camera because there were moments that I could have taken photos but I didn't think it would be possible. Oh well, we all know what pythons look like. Of course, it is a bit different sensation to have them out of a cage and lying on the path right in front of you...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest

Our flight from Sydney to Cairns arrived at 5:10 pm local time (6:10 Sydney). The rental car company we were using, Cruising Car Rentals, did not have a kiosk at the airport so we took a shuttle into town. We got dropped off at 5:50, not knowing what time the place closed. Luckily it was open until 6. The guy working there thought we were no-shows. He quickly did the paperwork and handed us the keys to our sporty little red car.
I squealed with joy when I saw that it was an automatic. That was going to make it soooo much easier to drive on the windy roads and through the round-abouts. The sun which had been setting close to 10:00 pm in New Zealand was beginning to set already at 6:00 and we had a 2 hour drive up to Daintree where we were spending the next two nights. The dark grey clouds blocked what little light was left in the sky. The roads were fairly windy and there weren’t any street lights since it was the highway. We wound our way around the cliffs near the ocean- similar in feel to driving Highway 1 in California.
We didn’t want to take any time to stop for dinner because we just wanted to get there before it got too late. By the time we passed Port Douglass it was pitch black and we were driving on tiny little two lane roads. There was a ferry we needed to take to cross the Daintree River and I wasn’t sure how late it ran. We spent an extra half an hour searching for the road to the ferry in the dark. Thankfully we saw headlights across the river from a car that was coming towards us. Yeah, we weren’t stranded in the middle of nowhere. After the ferry the road became really windy and we only had our headlights to illuminate it. We could tell that it was jungle on both sides of the road but we couldn’t see it. Frogs jumped around in the road in front of us and hoped that I didn’t hit too many. Eventually we found our way to our motel and they had closed up for the night. They put a sign on the door for us to honk when we arrived. We were shown to our room and we ate a late dinner of cracker, cheese and apples.
The Daintree Rainforest Retreat Motel is really cool. It is very eco-green and has solar panels for its energy. There is a pool and dining area and lounge space all outside with roof coverings. The birds and insects and foliage leave us no doubt as to where we are. It rained hard most of the night and I loved listening to the sound of it drumming on the roof. It is warm and humid but not blazing hot like the 109 degree day in Sydney.
The owner Eric told us we should get up early and go for a walk at a nearby place. We got up at 5:45 and were at the spot for a walk by 6:30. We had hoped to see some animals but no luck. The sun was up before us and the animals must have been hiding. We headed up the road to Thorton Beach and had a nice walk on the sand. Unfortunately, it is jellyfish season and they advise people not to go in the water. They do provide a bottle of vinegar near the beach so if you go in and get stung you can pour vinegar on the sting to make it hurt less.
Every few kilometers on the road, there are signs warning about the danger of hitting the local bird of fame, the Cassowary. Despite the signs, we have yet to see one of these huge flightless birds. Or any other animals for that matter except spiders and lizards and birds… Tonight that might change because we are going on a guided night walk in the rainforest.
We came back to the motel to speak to the owner about options for our day. He said he would try to book us on a 4WD tour tomorrow. That should be a blast. We decided that today we would go on a bunch of walks and hikes and maybe lounge around the pool here a bit. We drove all the way to the end of the road. We parked and tried to find our way to a swimming hole Eric had told us about. Laurel headed off on what she claimed was a trail but was a bit more treacherous than I wanted. It didn’t seem like a real trail to me so we went back to the car and tried again. This time we found the correct trail and made our way through the rainforest to the swimming hole. It was amazing to walk through the forest listening to all of the birds and insects and startling the occasional lizard. I went for a dip in the swimming hole but didn’t go too far because further out the ground was dark and I couldn’t see what was in the water. Back at the car there had been a sign warning about crocodiles in the area.
We stopped for lunch at a picnic area near a mangrove forest. It was so beautiful walking along the path through the mangroves out to the beach. Another path took us through a fan palm forest. It seemed like the right time for some ice cream after all of that hiking. A local ice cream place makes all kinds of fruit flavored ice cream from the fruit grown in their orchards. The drive in from the road went past trees laden with exotic fruit and were kindly labeled so that we could tell what they were. Gorgeous red and hot pink ginger plants surrounded the little ice cream stand. Today the ice cream flavors were: banana-mango-guava, wattle- seed, sapote- aka chocolate pudding fruit, soursop. They sold us all four flavors in a cup. We both like the wattle-seed the best. It tasted a little like coffee. The woman at the counter cracked open an enormous jack fruit and gave out samples to everyone with the disclaimer that we should suck on it and either swallow it like an oyster or throw it in the garden. I did a bit of both.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chillin' in Sydney

Today was about 40 degrees cooler than yesterday. Such a difference from the sweltering heat wave. It was still sunny and bright this morning and I put on my sunglasses at 7:00 am when I drank my coffee on the balcony. I headed out early on my own to go to Darling Harbour where the Sydney Aquariam and Wildlife Center are located.

The aquariam here is fantastic. I really enjoyed the glass tunnels with the sharks and stingrays and fish swimming overhead. A sign said that the glass made everything appear 25% smaller. Hard to believe because some of the rays and sharks looked enormous. They also had 2 dugong as well which are similiar to manatees. They eat 150 heads of romain lettuce each day so the staff feed them continuously from 7am-8:30 pm. I also got a preview of some of the fish I will be seeing out at the Great Barrier Reef.

The Wildlife Center showcased many of the most lethal animals on earth. Killer spiders, snakes... I got a kick out of seeing kangaroos and koalas. It might be the most close up encounter that I have with them, but who knows what I might see in the next week.

Food Down Under

Laurel and I often take pictures of our meals before we eat. It helps us remember what we ate and reminds us to be aware and thankful for our food. We had some really good Vietnamese food the other night in Sydney. They have lots of good ethnic food here.

More Sydney Pictures

I wanted to add a few more picture to the blog that I just posted but I think there is a limit per entry. These photos go with the Sweating in Sydney blog.

Sweating In Sydney

Sweating in Sydney

In one day we went from New Zealand where it was the coldest spring in 50 years to Sydney where heat records were being made. Our hot adventure started early with a 4:30 am wakeup for a 7:00 am flight. We arrived in Sydney at 8:30 am Australian time (10:30 NZ) with a challenge of what to do with our luggage for the day since we couldn’t get into our place until 5:00pm. Since 9/11 it has been almost impossible to find lockers at train or bus stations to store baggage.
We realized that we were just going to need to schlep our bags all day with us as we boarded the train to town. We got off at Circular Quay (pronounced key) and went for a walk over to and around the Sydney Opera House. I was surprised that it is cream colored rather than white. In photos it has always seemed gleaming white. Large lights and a stage were being set up by the front stairs of it. Australian Idol finals are being held here at the Opera House Sunday evening.
Hungry and hot, we chose a bayside café with umbrellas to dine for lunch. We ordered iced coffees and an antipasta platter to share. Big drinks in milk shake glasses were delivered to several tables around us and we started wishing that we had ordered milkshakes too. To our delight, the waitress brought us 2 of the drinks which were not only iced coffee, but also topped with a scoop of ice cream and whipped cream. So we basically started lunch with dessert. The antipasta platter was very good with lots of tasty marinated vegetables and cheeses and salami.
A harbor cruise sounded like a good idea but we had 2 hours to kill before it left. I changed my clothes because I had sweated through the ones I had on earlier. We headed out into the relentlessly hot sunshine, me dragging my bag and Laurel with her backpack, and headed over to the Rocks- an open air market in an old section of town adjacent to the Quay. I dragged my way through the crowds barely looking at the stalls because it was just too hot and hard. Taking pictures was all I could really manage. One stall had 4 huge paella pans with delicious smelling paellas and curries. In order to get away from the crowds we went back to the dock near the immense cruise ship and went over by the Harbor Bridge. We found shade at a bench under a tree and hung out there drinking cold water for awhile until a seriously disturbed homeless man drove us away with his foul language.
It was great to be out on the bay. It is a wonderful bay and since it was a sunny Saturday everyone was out sailing and boating. There were hundreds of sailboats and other vessels. I have never seen a water space more crowded. One 40 foot sailboat almost ran into our ferry. Besides that, it seemed like people were pretty good at controlling their boats. The ferry captains were amazingly adept at maneuvering their ferries. The cruise took us all around the harbor and gave me a good sense of where things were located.
It was finally time for us to catch the ferry to Balmain district where we were staying at the home of the McPauls. They aren’t here because they are visiting Berkeley but they let us stay there along with Evan and Angie from First Pres. The heat seemed to keep increasing and our bags kept getting heavier. We slogged our way up a big hill and then down the other side and over a few streets to their place. We rang their neighbors (Al and Margaret) per instructed and they came out to meet us. It is a bit embarrassing to meet someone new when you are drenched in sweat and red in the face, but they didn’t seem to mind. We were invited to join them for a drink after we got settled. I took a wonderful cold shower to wash the long day’s grime off and went over for a drink. There is nothing like a good shower when you really really need one. Their deck looks out onto the harbor and Sydney skyline. They were so nice and welcoming and gave us advice and helpful hints for getting around. The breeze picked up and it felt lovely to sit out on the deck.
After drinks, we walked over to Darling Street and up the hill 10 minutes to a fabulous district with lots of restaurants and shops. A Vietnamese restaurant looked good so we dined there at an outside table. The food was fresh and delicious- shrimp and vegetable rolls with peanut dipping sauce, BBQ duck and green papaya salad and “shaking” beef cubes. It was fun to be in a neighborhood that was so happening. All of the restaurants with outdoor seating were packed. We went to the grocery to get some supplies for breakfast and lunch and then headed home.
I didn’t sleep well for the 2nd night in a row. We are on NZ time and is was really bright and warm in the morning so we both got up early, had breakfast and then headed out in different directions. I took the ferry to Circular Quay and got on the bus towards Bondi beach. I enjoyed the bus ride through town and took note of place to go back to on the return trip. I LOVED the beach. At one end was IceBreakers- a swim club that has a saltwater pool next to the ocean and waves come up and crash over into the 50 meter pool. I thought about going for a swim but didn’t have my goggles with me. Instead, I walked along the great costal walk which winded up and down along the shore cliffs. The shore was comprised of extremely eroded rocks that were beautiful. Tons of people were out jogging, walking their dogs and strolling along. It was hot but there was an ocean breeze.
I returned to the beach and walked onto the fine white sand to the surf. The water was the perfect temperature and I enjoyed wading in while I watched the surfers and boogie boarders hoping for some waves. There must have been hundreds of people, both kids and adults, in groups being trained to life guard and do other types of water safety. They were easily distinguished by their water-polo style caps in various colors. Lots of people were swimming and the beach continued to fill up. I hopped on a bus to return back to the city and got off at Hyde Park to walk through the gardens. Flowers were in bloom and huge trees provided shade as the temperature soared. I wandered through a shopping area to the Palace gardens and back to Circular Quay. I bought a cold liter of water and drank it in just a few swallows before the ferry arrived. I still had to walk back to the McPauls from the ferry landing afterwards so that I could be there to let Evan and Angie in.
The heat really was intense and it was humid as well. It was 42.5 degrees centigrade which is about 105 or more farenheit. Luckily we figure out how to use the air conditioner. I decided to hang out inside for the rest of the day. Evan and Angie wanted to go get groceries and I cooked up some tasty sausages, pepper, onion and broccoli for dinner which we ate inside. Australian Idol finale began around 9:00 so we went outside to watch the fireworks from the Opera House. A few minutes of the hot air drove us back inside. We cheered when we saw that the forecast for tomorrow is for it to be significantly cooler after a thunderstorm tonight. Yeah.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Flying High

I have been dreaming about flying over Milford Sound ever since I began planning my trip here. The day to fly finally arrived. After perusing the activities guide book, I selected a flight somewhat at random. Alpine Air was a bit more reasonable than some for the flying time so I called them from the Manapouri hotel at 8 am to reserve a flight. Ian, the guy who answered the phone, said to call back at noon to confirm that the weather was good enough to fly.

We drove to the 2 and a half hours to Queenstown where we were spending the night. I drove like a pro, the left side seems fairly normal now. At noon I called and Ian answered again and said that we would be able to fly around 1 pm and that they could pick me up at my hotel in Queenstown. Ian himself showed up in his jeep and said that we were picking up 2 other passengers. The 3 of us gals squeezed together in the back seat and Ian grinned and said that the jeep was bigger than the plane we would be in. He was not only the receptionist and the chauffeur, he was also the pilot and we were going up in a little 4 seater Cessna single engine plane.

Ian reminded me a bit of Ricky Gervais. He was very funny and nice. The other passengers were a young gal from Auckland and another from Melbourne. Neither had been in a little plane before. Ian casually wrote down our names and we walked out on the grassy field to the plane. He handed us life jackets to wear since we were flying over water. The woman Emma suggested that a parachute might be more handy. Ian laughed and said that it was located inside the life jacket, along with a tent and a chocolate bar. Emma liked the thought that Ian was a father and therefore motivated to have us all survive the flight.

We got buckled in, put our headsets on and began taxiing over the grass to the runway. I was seated up front next to Ian and there were a set of controls and steering in front of me. I was tempted to use them but wisely kept my hands where they belonged- taking pictures with my camera. Before I knew it we were off the ground and heading towards the amazing local mountain range named The Remarkables. And they are!!!! I was used to looking up at them from the lake level. It was shocking to be in a tiny little plane and looking directly out at them. I didn't let myself think too hard about the size of the plane and just enjoyed the spectacular view. It was unbelievably beautiful, simply breath taking.

We flew along the mountains and then turned to go through some valleys and eventually out to the ocean. Ian pointed out the sites including a few Lord of the Rings filming sites. We continued down the coast and then turned in to Milford Sound. When Laurel and I went on the boat cruise through the sound yesterday it was bright and sunny. Today the weather had turned and there were clouds and mist in the sound. I loved seeing it like this, misty and romantic and foreboding. I loved the sensation of flying and seeing everything from that height. On the way back Ian flew in some valleys where there were glaciers and went really close to them.

This truly was an unforgettable experience. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity and that I mananged to randomly choose one of the only air companies to fly in such small planes. I hope you like the photos!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Driving New Zealand Style


I survived my first day of driving in New Zealand! I didn't realize until I got in the car that we got a stick rather than an automatic. I knew that I would be driving because Laurel lost her wallet and doesn't have her license nor does she drive stick. There was no place to practice in the parking lot so I signalled to turn out onto the main road. True to form, I actually managed to turn on the windshield wipers, the spray and the lights rather than the turn indicator. While my left hand was trying to figure out the gear shift Laurel was directing me into a roundabout. Might as well try to learn everything at once. With just a few choice words from my mouth we made it through the first roundabout and were on our way.

GPS in hand, Laurel calmly talking me through every lane change and placement. She was very encouraging and cheered my small victories. We had a 7 and a half hour drive to get to Queenstown from Christchurch. Most of it was on narrow 2 lane country roads, often through mountain passes. The scenery was breathtaking and it kept changing every 30 minutes or so. I had to remind myself to not clutch the steering wheel to tightly because my hands were cramping up. I felt like my brain was being almost over taxed to get my left hand to do what my right was used to doing as far as the shifting. I realized that I haven't even driven stick at home in over 4 years but luckily since I learned to drive on it my feet knew what to do.

At one point just past a small town there was a house being transported down the road. It took up both lanes so the cars coming from the other direction had to pull off into the grassy shoulder. We inched down the road following the house for about 15 minutes before it got to a place where we could pass. Later, I had a big truck pull over in front of me blocking half the lane and forcing me to go around it. I just made it back to my lane before a car came in the other direction. Nothing like getting your heart rate up...

About half way there we came around a bend in a mountain pass and the amazing light aqua colored lake Tekapo came into view. It was absolutely stunning. There was a place to pull over to get a closer look and then we went a bit further and stopped for lunch with a view of it.

So, all in all, an amazing day. I felt completely spent by the time we got to our hotel. We checked in and Laurel went for a run. I ordered pizza for dinner so that we could just relax in our room which is by far the biggest room yet. It has a balcony surrounded by flowers. The lupin are stunning- pinks, purples, yellow, peach, white and they cover the hillsides. Laurel came rushing back into the room, flushed pink and told me to drop whatever I was doing because I had to go see the view right that moment. I grabbed my shoes and jacket and camera and we went out to the extremely steep street that the hotel is on. The light coming from between the clouds was brilliant. We trotted down to the lake and looked up at the towering craggy peaks and the rays of sunlight coming through the clouds onto the green valleys at the base of the hills. Truly, one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. We stood there in the chilly 40 degree weather and watched until the sun was gone. The hike back up the hill was worth it.

Now we are deciding what thrills we are going to have tomorrow since we arre in the thrill capitol of the world. Bungee jumping is out but almost everything else is being considered. I want to go on a flight to Milford Sound and Laurel is thinking about hang gliding.

Hope everyone is well! More soon...


Tranzscenic Railway

Tranzscenic Railway and Christchurch

Our journey continued from Wellington to Christchurch via the Inter-Island Ferry to Picton and then on the Tranzscenic Railway. Check-in was required by 7:40 am for the 8:25 am crossing. We checked our bags, got coffee and made our way to the ferry. The immense ferry took us by surprise. It was enormous. Ten decks high. We went to the top of the ship on the sun deck. It should have been named the WIND deck. The views leaving Wellington were lovely. Homes nestled in the hillsides above bay harbors. The ship wound around the point and then went out to sea. The cold drove us inside for the next hour until we approached the South Island and we made our way through the inner passage ways to the little seaside town of Picton.
As instructed, we followed the blue line on the sidewalk over to the tiny train station where everyone gathering was told that there was a problem on the first part of the line and that a bus would take us to Blenheim where the train would meet us. I haven’t been on a tour bus since my tour directing days and it made me a bit queasy just thinking about that time. I was glad that I wasn’t sitting up front talking into the microphone and counting the guests to make sure no one was left behind. The bus wound its way through rolling hills and vineyards, past sheep and cattle grazing in the green pastures for about 30 minutes until we reached Blenheim.
With relief, we saw that our baggage made it onto the platform and was loaded onto the train. Our seats were a four-top across from a Canadian couple who looked as if they had been on the road for way too long. The car behind us was the observation car. Unlike our other train ride which had a 3x5 foot open viewing platform between cars, this was an entire car with the sides open where windows would normally be. There was plenty of room to move around even with quite a few people present.
After just a little while we went through a tunnel ( one of 50 or more) and popped out by the ocean. It was some of the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen. The light aquamarine water that lined the shore and went to 100 yards or so turned into a deep aqua and then to cobalt blue. The dark, almost black, sand contrasted brilliantly with the water. Sea lions and elephant seals and seagulls were abundant at times. The yellow lupin that covered the hillsides came down to the sand and mixed with the driftwood. And as if that wasn’t enough you could turn around and look out the other side of the railcar and see snowy peaks and verdant green hills and flocks of sheep and yellow lupin and scotch bloom and grouse. This view went on for hours as we flew through tunnels carved through the hills by the ocean.
When we arrived in Christchurch we took a shuttle to our bed and breakfast. The gardens surrounding the place were filled with lush pink rhododendron and roses in bloom. We checked in, dropped our bags and went for a walk through the center part of town. Christchurch is lovely. The city center itself is by far the prettiest town we have been in. An enormous park is in the center. We just went to one corner of it where they had seasonal flowers planted around a fountain. The smell of roses and jasmine filled the air. We followed the path by the river to the cathedral square. The restaurants nearby had lots of outdoor seating with fireplaces and heatlamps. We selected on that specialized in heating squar pieces of stone in a very hot oven or hours and then your meat was brought out on it and you cooked it on the stone to your liking. Very interactive meal. They really mean it when they say it is hot and to not touch it. I survived without any burns and enjoyed the local lamb and beef and seasonal vegetables. Our waiter was very nice even though he was struggling to stay awake. He had been to Wellington too the night before for the All Whites soccer game and hadn’t slept for a couple of days. He talked to us about our trip down to Queensland the next day and gave us a few tips. We finished our meal with chocolate and white chocolate filled beignets with a berry sauce and vanilla ice cream. Yes, we like Christchurch very much.