Friday, April 29

Royal wedding fever

Garry and I have been taking a trip down memory lane this evening as the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton is broadcast live around the world. The pair exchanged their vows before 1900 guests in Westminster Abbey - and a global television audience of two billion people - while another million people waited patiently on the streets of central London. Four out of five free-to-air channels in Australia broadcast the ceremony live; with at least four cable channel also providing live coverage.

So much of what we're seeing brings back personal memories. Where do I start?  For example, we recall the spectacle of the Royal Guard marching down The Mall during the Trooping of the Colour; and waving at the Queen as she rode by in an open carriage.  I also recall the colourful Union Jack bunting hung down the Mall every Spring and the sound of Westminster Abbey's stunning acoustics as the choir practised for an evening service.

However, perhaps our strongest memories are those from one sunny Sunday afternoon last September.  Literally days before Garry's appendix suddenly burst we toured the spectacular State Rooms inside Buckingham Palace. It's hard to believe those same grand rooms are now hosting a lavish wedding reception. While television cameras aren't permitted inside, so vivid are the memories of our tour, I can honestly picture the scene that's probably unfolding as I type this post. London really was our home for the last five years.

UPDATE: May 2, 2011
This fascinating royal wedding factiod was published by the BBC today:

The National Grid said its figures showed a huge surge in demand for power after the service - equivalent to one million kettles being boiled - when the royal couple returned to Buckingham Palace. Over the course of the day power use rose and fell during key moments - with the biggest drop in demand when the couple made their balcony appearance and people stopped what they were doing and turned back to their televisions.

I bet a similar surge in domestic water usage also occured after the wedding as well. We're clearly creatures of habit. 

Friday, April 22

Where did our savings go?

It’s been another remarkable week for the Australian dollar. Yesterday it rose to a new record high against the US dollar, for the third time in as many days. One Australian dollar now buys you US$1.075. Analysts are tipping that the dollar will hit US$1.10 before the year is out. The last time it traded at this level was 1982 before the currency was floated. It’s hard to believe that despite relocating back to Sydney I still live in a country whose currency is worth noticeably more than the US dollar.

While living in London we got rather use to the concept of earning money worth more than the US dollar. However, the Sterling was always a rare breed. In all of our travels the only other currencies trading at similar levels were in the Middle East, reflecting no doubt the power of an oil economy. For example, the Omani Rial is currently buying US$2.60 and the Jordanian Dinar is buying $US1.40. In ten days I fly San Francisco for work so the strong Australian dollar has made some impromptu shopping incredibly tempting.

Of course a strong Australian dollar spells more bad news for the savings we’ve left in the UK. Yesterday one British pound was buying A$1.52 for several hours before closing one cent higher. Incredibly the rate's been worse in recent months. While we were stranded in Antarctica the pound hit a record low of A$1.51 on New Year’s Eve. Regular readers will recall my lament over the plunging value of the pound. When we first arrived in the UK the pound was buying almost a dollar more than today. As a result Garry and I have simply decided to view our UK savings as a long-term currency investment as we wait for the Bank of England to start raising its base rate.

UPDATE: April 29
The Australian dollar climbed to yet another yesterday. It's now buying US$1.095. Most analysts expect it to reach US$1.10 before the end of next week.  Some analysts are now predicting the dollar will peak at US$1.15 before the year over.  It's hard to believe our dollar is worth 10% more than the US dollar.

Incredibly, the Australian dollar passed the US$1.10 mark this morning.  In less than a month the dollar has appreciated almost ten percent against its American rival.

Wednesday, April 20

La Nina is just the beginning

Autumn is finally upon us. As we head into a five-day Easter weekend (we have an extra day this year comes courtesy of ANZAC day which falls immediately after the regular public holiday) the forecast is for cooler weather and a chance of daily showers most days. Meteorologists say the regular bouts of rain we’ve had in recent months are a direct consequence of the latest La Nina phenomenon spreading across the Pacific. The same weather pattern has been fingered for the severe floods and cyclones Australia's endured this Summer.

I’ve also seen reports that claim Australia’s climate alternates between wet and dry phases every 20 to 30 years. Apparently we’re entering a new extended wet phase. I dread the thought that since migrating to Australia more than two decades ago I’ve enjoyed an unusually dry period that’s come to a screeching halt. Worse still, I could be all but dead by the time the weather starts to warm again.

Meanwhile in London the weather over Easter is forecast to be mainly sunny, with daytime temperatures equal to those in Sydney. In fact, its only the overnight temperatures that seem to be noticably lower. Maybe the weather wasn't so bad in London after all? I've already bought myself an IKEA throw rug to keep warm this winter.  Garry and I went to IKEA last weekend to return some surplus bookshelves we'd bought. As so often happens at IKEA, a trip to secure a $30 refund resulted in us walking out $200 poorer.  

Sunday, April 17

London life has its moments

We’ve just experienced the wettest April day in Sydney for more than a decade. It’s a timely reminder that life in Australia wasn’t as perfect as I’d often imagined while living in London. Since our return home people have been asking me if I miss the UK. While it’s true that I don’t miss the grey skies and drab sunlight of London, I do miss a few things.  Here's a list of things London really does better:
  • The extent and variety of reliable online shopping. Australian retailers are well behind the rest of the world.
  • The underground. Sydney trains are slow to load, always late and still use inflexible paper tickets. I miss my Oyster card.  I read today that Sydney's own Oyster card based system won't be in place until 2014.
  • Low-fat pesto. I never thought I’d miss Sainsbury’s home brand pesto. Sydney supermarkets only offer full fat varieties. However, on the flip side I'm please to have low-fat feta cheese back on the shelf.
  • Cheap European cars. While we were away Australia’s luxury car tax rose to 35% making an average European vehicle up to 50% more expensive.
  • More entertainment options.  Nothing bets the variety on offer in the West End any night of the week.  Sydney definitely has fewer cultural options on the go.

Saturday, April 16

It's done!

Several weeks ago we order a new console table for the entry lobby in our apartment. After some delay it finally arrived today.  The new table has now taken pride of place in its new home.  It looks grand.  Much to my surprise it's made the entire entrance feel more spacious than it actually is. I can confidentally say this is the final touch planned for our apartment refresh; almost three months to the day since our return to Sydney.  There's nothing left now but to enjoy our new surroundings.

Monday, April 11

Family for dinner

My parents have dropped into town for a long weekend.  After a week of rain they've timed their arrival to coincide with four days of sunshine and Summer temperatures.  Garry and I have filled their time with a variety of tourist highlights including lunch at the Fish Markets, an evening at the Sydney Theatre Dance Company, lunch in Manly by the water and a leisurely walk across the harbour bridge. 

Their visit was also a great excuse to ensure our apartment refresh was finished in time for their arrival.  As a result we successfully entertained both sets of parents on Friday evening with a gala BBQ dinner.  We even used our trip to the Fish Market as an excursion to collect fresh seafood for dinner.  I even found time before heading to the airport to dash to the florist and buy flowers for our entrance lobby.  Our extended family dinner was a roaring success and everyone praised our refresh efforts, including Garry's garden lighting.

Lunch at Manly on Sunday was spectacular.  We dined at Hugo's on the ferry wharf.  The restaurant gave us the best table in the house right on the waterfront with uninterrupted harbour views.  We also squeezed in a quick wander to the beach before heading home on the ferry.  The timing of our departure proved fortuitous as rain began falling as we docked at Circular Quay.  This was the only respite in the otherwise perfect weather during my parents entire visit.

Today we caught the train to Milson's Point and walked across the Harbour Bridge soaking up blue skies and sunshine.  A light lunch at The Rocks and a stroll around the bay to the Opera House completed our excursion.  As always the views in every direction was simply stunning, reminding me yet again how pleased I am to be back in Australia.

Friday, April 8

Back in the air

After almost three months on the ground my travel schedule has begun filling once again. I'll be off for three weeks in May on business visiting San Francisco, New York and Hong Kong. In June Garry and I are off to Melbourne for a long weekend break.  We cashed in some frequent flyers points, securing return tickets for less than $22 each.  In July I'll be off to London for at least a week for work.  Then finally, Garry and I head off in September for a two-week road trip through New Mexico and Arizona experiencing the original Wild West.  We're taking advantage of the new Qantas route direct to Dallas for this vacation which will be something of an adventure in itself.

Wednesday, April 6

A few more holiday photos

I recently updated some of the holiday posts I made in January. These now include photos and a few additional links.  I've yet to do the same with posts covering our Antarctic cruise but will let you know when this happens.  Enjoy the photos!

Monday, April 4

Windows to die for

Our new blinds have been installed. They look spectacular. Here's just a couple of quick photos; taken with an overcast sky behind them. They make the apartment look like a million dollars.  Their installation marks the conclusion of a comprehensive refresh we've undertaken since returning to Sydney. It's taken two months but I finally feel like we're home.

Friday, April 1

The outdoor room

Ta da! Here it is. The new outdoor room. Our new dining suite, mega-man BBQ and lounge suite have safely arrived. We think they look grand. In fact the entire set-up looks better I expected and everything seems to fit comfortably on our main balcony. Hopefully you're able to get a sense of the layout and the open space around it. We're looking forward to entertaining our international visitors next weekend. Pray that the weather will also play its part.

Come back soon for photos of the new window blinds currently scheduled to be installed on Sunday.