Sunday, June 26

Direct to Dallas

I’m currently scheduled to fly to London for business in late-July. This next flight will be another round-the-world ticket that has me stopping in New York and Hong Kong on the way to and from the UK. My itinerary includes the new Sydney to Dallas non-stop route Qantas began flying last month. The 13,800km flight is currently recognized as the world’s third longest non-stop commercial route. Garry and I will also be flying the same route again in September when we head to the USA for our grand southwest road trip through New Mexico and Arizona.

The photos above were taken in 2005 when Garry and I stopped for several days in Dallas. It's a bronze sculpture in Pioneer Plaza, a downtown park, that depicts long-horn steers being driven to market. The incredible artwork contains more 70 bronze steers and 3 trail riders, each cast slightly larger than life. The animals make their down a small hill, across a shallow stream and on towards the park's open ground.

While in the USA next month, I’ll be taking a weekend side trip to Memphis, Tennessee. My interest in this city was pricked a few years ago when I found myself in transit at Memphis airport. While waiting for my next flight I read a summary of the local sights and vowed to return. I’m hoping to visit Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley, sail on the Mississippi in an old paddle and steamer and tour the infamous Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. These days the motel houses a museum devoted to the American Civil Rights movement.

The following weekend while en-route to London I’ll be dropping in to see my brother and family in Austria. My visit will be a mini-family reunion as my parents will also be visiting at the same time. Phew! July's going to be a busy month.

Friday, June 24

Sealing the deal

We purchased our Sydney apartment more than seven years ago.  At the time we were aware of several water leaks that had plagued its early years.  Over the years numerous repairs have progressively resolved each leak, with one exception. Despite several attempts nobody has found the source of a persistent leak that appeared during unusually heavy rain. That is, until now.

Earlier this year, the building's Body Corporate finally agreed to undertake a series of extensive leak tests. Specialists were called in to spend the day dousing our external walls in a curtain of water. Two separate leak sites were subsequently identified. Everyone's confident that the source of the problem has finally been found.

As a result, this week we've been woken to the sound of builders hammering away outside.  Brick by brick a series of faulty water seals are being removed and replaced by new, modified alternatives. By the time they've finished we'll be ready to take on Noah's flood without so much as damp patch to show for it. 

The repairs are an impressive affair.  A temporary hanging scaffold platform has been swung from the roof of our building, giving the builders access to the entire outer wall.  We've watched them chiseling away as their platform gently sways seven vertigo-inducing floors above the courtyard below.

However, their good works got off to a bad start.  Garry returned from a job interview earlier in the week to find that the glass skylight in our bathroom had been broken by a careless scaffold labourer.  We've now got a second repair to endure before our home is finally waterproof.  We've waited seven years for these repairs, what's another month?

UPDATE:  September 7, 2012
It's been more than a year since our leaks were repaired.  I'm pleased to report we've absolutely no water penetration problems since despite Sydney recording one of its wettest Summer's on record in the months that followed. Our home is water-tight and we're loving it! 

Friday, June 17

Images of Melbourne

Garry and I enjoyed three days of sunshine in Melbourne although the day time temperature never rose above 14C.  Fortunately, we came prepared with winter coats we'd brought with us from London.  We spent three days enjoying great food, exploring central Melbourne's Fitzroy Gardens and leisurely cruising up the Yarra River past more of the city's picturesque parkland. Central Melbourne is far greener than I'd ever appreciated and the former Olympic precinct on the Yarra's northern bank has been dramatically transformed into an appealing public space.

Dinner on Saturday night was particularly enjoyable.  We caught a tram out to South Melbourne on the shores of Port Phillip to join a former work colleague for dinner. Much to our delight we discovered a completely new area of Melbourne. Who knew that Port Melbourne boasted such a large, expansive white-sand beach; less than 15 minutes by tram from the city centre?  Dinner was at The Graham, an contemporary gastro pub in a old stone building, located on a quiet residential street. The service was exceptional, as was the food and wine.

On our final day we came across Cook's Cottage in the midst of Fitzroy Gardens.  This small stone cottage, sitting in the heart of the gardens, was once the home of James and Grace Cook, the parents of English explorer, Captain James Cook. The cottage was originally built in 1755 in the North Yorkshire village of Great Ayton.  In 1933 the cottage was sold to Russell Grimwade, a Melbourne businessman and philanthropist, who arranged for it to be deconstructed and shipped to Australia. More than 253 cases and 40 barrels were required to transport the building to Melbourne where it was reassembled in time to celebrate the centenary of the city's European settlement in 1934.

We were also captivated by the street art in Hoiser Lane.  This narrow, cobbled lane of featureless buildings and back entrances has become a cultural institution.  Local and international street artists vie for the opportunity to “tag” its walls with fascinating spray paint art.  We were surprised to learn that its graffiti-covered walls and art-installations have become a popular backdrop for fashion and wedding photography.  Thanks to our hotel’s location we found ourselves wandering pass the lane’s entrance several times a day.

All in all it was a lazy few days where we simply kicked back and enjoyed the sights in Australia's second largest city.  Here's a few pictorial memories.

Monday, June 13

Are we stranded?

A recent volcanic eruption in Chile has thrown Australian air travel into chaos overnight. In scenes reminiscent of last year's Icelandic volcanic ash cloud disruption in Europe we've woken to news that flights in and out of Melbourne were cancelled overnight. Tens of thousands of passengers have been affected as the three-day holiday weekend draws to a close.

Currently flights covering the lower southeast corner of Australia and across the Tasman have been disrupted as a dense ash cloud lingers 8,500 metres overhead. We're scheduled to fly from Melbourne at 7pm this evening however Qantas says no decision on the resumption of flights will be taken before noon today. We could be in for an interesting evening!

UPDATE: 9.15pm
We've arrived safely back in Sydney after an uneventful flight back from Melbourne.  There were long queues waiting at the airport in Melbourne for new flight assignments at both the Qantas and Jetstar counters. At least one staff member from our Sydney office was caught up in the chaos and is now stranded in Melbourne for another 24 hours.

• Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
• Location: Bourke St, Melbourne,Australia

Saturday, June 11

Down South

It's a three-day holiday weekend in Sydney. With a extra day to hand Garry and I have decided to head south for a change of scenery. We've cashed in some frequent flyer points and made our way to Melbourne this morning. Our trip was well planned as three continuous days of sunshine are forecast for Melbourne, while Sydney prepares for a daily shower or two. Since arriving, we've already trawled through the opening hours of the nation's annual Winter sales and enjoyed a leisurely lunch soaking up the sun on the bank of the Yarra River. This evening we'll catch a tram to South Melbourne and the shores of Port Phillip where we'll be joining friends for dinner in an old stone pub.

• Posted from my iPhone

Sunday, June 5

The Banana Republic

Cyclone Yasi ripped through North Queensland in early-February this year. It was Australia’s most powerful cyclone in living memory, recording wind speeds reaching 225km/h at its peak, and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The nation’s banana crop was hit particularly hard. In the months since, the fruit’s price has soared. As of yesterday, our local supermarket was selling bananas for a staggering $13.98 per kilogram, or more than $30 per pound. Elsewhere I've seen them selling for at much as $15.00. Prior to Yasi’s arrival bananas were going out the door for less than $5 per kilo.

However, the soaring price of bananas, while understandable, isn’t the only retail price that’s stunned us since our return from London. In fact, almost every price tag has been something of a shock, regardless of the retail category. For example, our cable television bill has doubled, our internet bill is almost three times more expensive and our first utility bill was mistaken for an accounting error. In short, Garry and I are beginning to appreciate that fresh food and most retail items were significantly cheaper in London.

Nationwide, Australia's retail prices are becoming a contentious subject. As the Australian dollar rises in value, offshore online shopping has began increasingly popular, and frequently cheaper than buying locally. We’ve already noticed identical items online that are significantly cheaper than prices we’ve seen in local stores, even after shipping costs are added to the invoice. Given the tyranny of distance and its impact on freight costs you’d expect price tags to differ. However, the difference has become so extreme that it’s clear something else is driving up local retail prices.

Numerous theories abound. Retailers claim that commercial rents are three or four times higher in main street Australia. The minimum wage, and thus the cost of labour, is also higher. There may be some grain of truth to these claims. Commercial rent typically represents up to 25% of revenue in Australia, while global brands typically pay less than 10% in the United States. Last week the minimum wage was increased by 3.4%, or $15.51 an hour, to $589.30 a week for a full-time employees. By contrast, the current minimum wage in the UK, set in October 2010, is £5.93 per hour for adults aged 21 or older; less for younger workers. That less than A$9.20 per hour.

However, higher commercial rent and labour costs cannot account for the entire price differential. Analysts suggest that Australians, use to higher prices generated by a weaker dollar, are still willing to pay the same retail price even though the wholesale cost of imported goods has fallen 40% or more. Personally, I’m waiting for the new banana crop to mature.