Tuesday, October 22

Bushfire Season 2013

We woke to the following scene on Sunday morning.  A dull ash haze covered the city skyline and a smell of smoke was in the air.  Bushfire season has come early this year.  Four massive fires are currently sweeping through the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.  To date at least a hundred homes have been lost and one person suffered a fatal heart attack while fighting the fires.

Tomorrow's forecast is predicted to be a fire-fighter's worst nightmare.  Temperatures are expected to reach the high 30s, with very low humidity and winds gusting up to 100km/h.  They're already calling these New South Wales worst bushfires in more than a decade. We're in for a long, hot Summer with endless fire alerts.

Gyrate expectations

Ricky Martin burst onto the global music scene in February 1999.  He performed live on television at the 41st Grammy Awards. His energy and rhythm stunned the crowd, earning him a long and loud standing ovation.  In the years since Ricky has sold more than 70 million albums, including 95 platinum records, 6 #1 Billboard albums and 11 Number 1 hit songs.

My parents and I saw Ricky perform live on Broadway in September last year. At the time he was playing the role of Ché in Evita.  His performance was solid but not exactly breath-taking.  However, the audience gave him a rousing ovation which left me feeling rather sorry for the actress who’d played the production’s namesake role.

Earlier this year Ricky signed on as a judge for a local version of The Voice reality television show.  He was instantly popular with the Australian public. It was therefore no surprise when he announced plans for a national nine-date concert tour. Garry and I fell for the bait.  We attended his is second sellout Sydney concert at Olympic Park on Saturday.

We had a great night out despite a nightmare 90-minute commute into a Homebush parking lot.  The concert sound stage included an impressive floor to ceiling video wall and plenty of agile dancers.  However, I’d have to say that Ricky’s showing his age.  His signature swiveling hips looked stiff and often out of sync.  Gone were the astonishing gyrations that captured the imagination of a global Grammy audience. It seems that none of us stay young forever.

Saturday, October 12

The smuggler's curse

I'm guilty as charged.  Last month I failed to declare four jars of Marmite as we came through customs at Sydney airport.  It was an honest mistake.  I'd forgotten that Garry and I had made a last minute purchase in Auckland.  As luck would have it our luggage wasn't searched. 

However, it was one heck of shock to discover the hidden booty as I opened my suitcase. Television reality shows are forever broadcasting stories of reckless passengers who fail to declare food products at the airport.  These omissions can result in an on-the-spot fine of $340; which is considerly more than the shelf price of my four Marmite jars.

In recent months, I'd grown dispondent that Sanitarium Marmite would never reappear on Australian shelves.  Week after week I'd diligently check our local supermarket for a delivery. The shelf remained resolutely empty.  Production of this breakfast elixir restarted more than six months ago in New Zealand.  You'd think that was plenty of time to restock Kiwi shelves and send a few boxes across the Tasman.

It was therefore somewhat ironic when Marmite reappeared on local shelves the day after our return from New Zealand.  Garry had a little chuckle when he spotted the jars in stock.  We'd driven out of our way to collect our Auckland stash and here they were in Sydney less than 48 hours later.  Smuggling clearly doesn't pay.

Four figures and counting

A recent burst of Japanese vacation posts saw this blog clock up its 1000th post.  I must say I'm rather proud of this milestone.  I never imagined for a moment that I'd still be maintaining the site almost eight years later.  It's become a remarkable diary of some truly incredible life experiences.   I'd clocked up more 20,000 visitors before the free counter I'd installed was suddenly discontinued last year.  If you've been reading diligently from the those early days I thank you for your loyalty.

Friday, October 11

Tokyo Skytree

The Tokyo Skytree Tower rises a staggering 634 metres (2,080 ft). It’s currently the world’s second tallest structure, only surpassed in height by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. It’s also the world’s tallest tower, exceeding the height of Toronto’s CN Tower and Guangzhou’s Canton Tower. Skytree has observation decks at 350 m (1,150 ft) and 451 m (1,480 ft). The later deck is reached via a spiral ramp that rises more than 20 metres from the lift lobby.

Skytree was built to relay digital television and radio signals across the Tokyo metropolitan area. It replaced the region’s previous transmission tower, Tokyo Tower, as it signals became increasingly compromised by high-rise buildings in the same area. I vividly recall my first visit to the base of Tokyo Tower. It’s a wonderful structure, whose elegant design was inspired by the Eiffel Tower. However, it was clear at the time that the tower was over-shadowed by many of its neighbours. 

Skytree has no such problem. It stands alone, well clear of any tall structure, less than a kilometre from the Sumida River. Since its opening in May 2012, the tower has become a popular tourist attraction. Media reports claim that an incredible 1.6 million people visited Skytree during its first week. More than a year later, tickets to the tower’s main observation deck continue to sell out on public holidays and many weekends.

As many readers will know, I’m an avid civil engineering fan. Therefore, it goes without saying that I was keen to see the tower for myself. The opportunity to do so came during my recent Japanese vacation. I had a full day to fill before my mother’s flight arrived from Auckland. As a frequent traveler to Tokyo, I’d seen most the city’s classic tourist venues so Skytree was obvious place to go.

Getting there is a bit of an exercise. Skytree sits on a private railway line. This means that most visitors must make numerous interchanges to reach it by train. However, the inconvenient transit was worth the effort. Skytree is spectacular. It’s an incredibly sturdy looking structure. The lifts are ear-poppingly fast.  

At 450 metres the view is simply mind-boggling. You feel as though you’re flying over the surrounding area, with an unimpeded view of the vast Tokyo metropolitan region. It’s difficult to convey in words what it’s like to look dozens of kilometres in any direction and see nothing but a vast sea of buildings.

Tuesday, October 8

Japan in 15 posts or less

I added the last missing link to the summary page that captures the recent Japanese vacation Mum and I enjoyed.  You can access every post from the list displayed here.  Alternatively, start here and click forward using the "Newer Post" link to enjoy posts on our journey as it occurred.

Tuesday, October 1

Lunch on the harbour

Garry and I celebrated a slew of September birthdays last Sunday with lunch at Fort Denison It was perfect day on the harbour; a gentle breeze, blue skies and the Sydney skyline forming an eternally stunning backdrop.

Garry’s parents, Murray and Rhonda, joined us as they’ve both had birthdays in recent weeks, as have I. Garry’s nephew, Adam, also joined us as he’s spending the school holidays with Murray and Rhonda.

We had a wonderful day. As we enjoyed gourmet oysters, fish and chips and kangaroo loin; tall ships, racing yachts and city ferries glided by. Fort Denison isn’t the cheapest lunch venue, however, on warm and sunny day the experience is simply priceless.