Sunset over Glenelg Beach (Glenelg, South Australia)
Australian Journal - August / September 2001
August 10, 2001 - Beginnings: As we proceed in our move to Australia, we'll post a running travelogue here. Stay tuned as our adventure begins!
August 13, 2001 - We're really going!: The reality of our move struck home with Clara today, when the men from St. Vincent's came to retrieve our old couch which we were retiring after 19 years of service. This was the only story-reading couch Clara (and Lucy) had ever known, and its departure was traumatic.
August 16, 2001 - The truck is gone: As with Clara, the reality of the move struck home to Tim when he walked out into the driveway this morning - and his truck was missing! He had forgotten that he had sold it the previous night, and that we were now down to Sandy's van for transportation.
September 9, 2001 - The final days in-country: It has been a hectic few weeks - the movers have come and packed up and taken everything that is going by air (it might even be in Australia by now!) and everything that is going by sea (a 40 foot orange cargo box all our own - lots of room to spare). They are returning tomorrow to pack and take away all the stuff that is going into storage. Sandy's van is gone (now she knows what Clara and Tim went through when they lost their couch and truck!) We're living in the hotel (great fun for the girls; Mom and Dad are running short on sleep) and commuting to the house every morning. More things are getting checked off our to-do list than we ever expected - however, there are many that won't get done (still - the house will be in better shape than it has been for years!) We've had several great going-away parties - last weekend, folks from the AST group at Boeing threw us a pool and beer party; this past Saturday night our neighbors had another fine party for us - and today, Clara and Lucy threw a party in our park to say good by to their friends. Meanwhile, we've been talking with the destination service in Australia, and planning our coming assault on the schools of greater Adelaide upon our arrival next Sunday. This coming week should be interesting - we have movers, house painters, carpet-and-window cleaners, and electrical work all scheduled for the same time period! Stay tuned - we're almost gone!
September 10, 2001 - Tickets? What Tickets? When Tim arrived at work, he had a call from Travel that he wouldn't be able to pick up his tickets yet, as had been the plan. It turns out the company renegotiated their corporate contract with Qantas, which resulted in the cancellation of our reservations which we had carefully made 30 days in advance, to ensure we had the seats we wanted - then, when they tried to rebook the reservations - they were unable to get guaranteed seats for all of us! Tim spent much of the day on the phone, trying to at least get seat assignments for the various segments.
September 11, 2001 - A Terrible Day: We walk into the breakfast area of our hotel with the girls and immediately see the images on the TV screen of one of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. We stand there motionless, and then as we help the girls get their breakfast we fumble for some way to explain the event and reassure them. We then head back to the house to meet the packers and learn more details from the newscasters until our small television is packed up. Wondering whether we will be leaving the US or not, we continue preparations.
September 14-16, 2001 - En route: The house is empty; the good-byes have been said; suitcases are packed; Sandy and the girls are hanging out at the hotel waiting to hear about the flights from Tim. At around 11 am, Tim calls and says that the Alaska flight to LA has not been canceled and that he got through to Quantas and the flight to Sydney has not been canceled (although all the other USA-Australia flights have been.) So we pile our mountain of luggage into the rented van and head to the airport 4 hours before our flight is to depart. As we leave the hotel, the manager assures us she has plenty of rooms, in case we need to come back. The lines at the airport turn out to be fairly short - both at the ticket counter and at security, but when our carry-on luggage is scanned, they see Sandy's nail kit and Clara's and Lucy's blunt-tipped children's scissors and tell us that we can't take those on board with us. Sandy heads back out to Ken's Baggage and mails the items to us in Australia via Boeing. Oh, and the ticketing agent informed us that we could not check our bags through to Sydney and that we would have to claim them in LA, carry them from the domestic to the international terminal, and recheck them! So we spend the afternoon hanging out at the airport and noticing how few people there were around us relative to a typical day at SeaTac airport. We manage to get some of our seats swapped so that we can sit together in pairs.
We board the plane for LA on schedule at about 4:45 pm, and the plane rapidly fills to capacity. All is going well until pushback and engine start. One engine begins spooling up - but there is no sound of ignition. This continues for a while, then the pilot informs us we are going to be towed back to the gate to figure out the problem. There is a maintenance tech waiting as the door opens, and after a few minutes of investigation in the cockpit, the pilot comes back on and says they've got it figured out and it will take 20 minutes to repair. In perhaps 15 minutes, two more maintenance techs appear, and go into the cockpit. This time the pilot says that they really have it figured out now, it is the ignitors in engine 1, and they will have it repaired in 1 hour. Several of us bound for the same Qantas flight ask the customer service agent if she can find out the status of that flight - so that perhaps we can deplane in Seattle if we're going to miss the Australia flight from LA (the next one was not scheduled for two days - and we'd druther spend two days in Seattle than LA). She reports back "No worries, they've slid their departure 1 1/2 hours. An hour passes, the techs leave, the plane is closed up, and we push back again. Engines spool up - no ignition. Back to the gate. However, the third time is the charm - the mechanic comes back on board, runs the tests, and says "Oops, forgot to reset the circuit breakers!" And finally, when we push back for the third time, we make it into the air.
We arrived in LA 2+ hours late; however, there was a lady from Qantas waiting, to escort the dozen or so of us over to the International Terminal. She seemed quite surprised that the Alaska agents had not allowed most of us to check our luggage through to Sydney (although a couple folks had theirs checked through - apparently at least one of the Alaska ticket agents hadn't gotten the word). After sending those folks on, she escorted the rest of us to domestic baggage claim. We grabbed a couple of baggage carts on the way ("How much luggage DO you have!", she asked - "7 checked pieces - plus 5 carry-ons - since we're moving to Australia.") The run from the gate to baggage claim was hard on Lucy - we thought she was going to throw up once - and the tears were never far from the surface. However, we finally arrived at baggage claim. Once there, we waited. And waited. And waited some more - guess since we were among the first to check in, our luggage was at the bottom of the cargo hold. We were the last folks to get our luggage - fortunately, the lady from Qantas waited with us, talking on her walkie talkie every few moments. When we had all our luggage in hand, she hurried us over to the International Terminal - where we had to abandon our bags without receipts to a couple ladies at the Thai Airlines (!!) counter who promised they would get them checked in on our Qantas flight for us. Then it was off and running again for the security checkpoint - this time, Clara was the culprit. Clara (that dangerous 7 year old!) got pulled aside, and searched. Clara's response was "But I only had a penny on me!" We made it through, and ran to the gate - where we had to wait an exceedingly long time, while the gate agents had ominous whispered conversations. Had they given our seats away?? Was the flight canceled after all? However, we made it through, at last. But, as we went through the jetway - Tim noticed that the Alaska agents had not actually given us even our second choice seats which we had assigned when we first checked in (see notes from Sept 10) - and that we were split up - some up on the second level, and some down below. Then, the flight attendant at the door said we had to check our carry-ons - they were too big and too many (5 carry-ons for 4 people in business class - and all the carry-ons were smaller than the published domestic coach limits - never mind the larger international business limits). At this point, Tim started to show a bit of impatience for the first time. Fortunately, the senior flight attendant was nearby, came over, arranged for us to have seats together, and told us our bags were fine.
So we all settled into our comfortable seats and began to believe that we were really leaving for Australia (but wondering when or if we would see our luggage again). Of course, after all that running with two carts full of luggage, we assumed that the plane would be on its way moments after we buckled in. But we sit - and sit - and sit some more. The Quantas customer service attendant announced that they were having some difficulty reconciling the passenger list and the headcount on board, and that everything needed to be squared away for security reasons prior to take off. After a while, the pilot came on, sounding even more peeved than Tim - as if he were about 10 seconds from throwing down his badge and walking off. We begin to realize that with all this time, maybe they will get our luggage on board with us. At approximately 1:15 am Pacific Daylight Time on September 15 (only 2 3/4 hours late, amazingly enough), we pull away from the gate at LAX and depart for Australia! The pilot comes on and says he thinks he can make up much of the time in the air (in the end, he makes up 45 minutes over the 14 hour trip) Our flight goes very smoothly; Clara and Lucy are great little travelers; everyone gets some sleep; and the Quantas flight attendants are wonderful.
We arrive in Sydney with about 2 hours to go before our last leg, instead of the 4 hours we had planned. We expect complete chaos here, since Ansett Airlines, the only other real in-country competition that Qantas has just went belly-up days before - and Qantas is trying to assist the stranded Ansett passengers. We are among the first off the plane, and clear immigration with no difficulty or delay. Then off to the baggage claim, commandeer carts, and begin waiting. As time ticks along, we watch the lines through customs wax and wane, as other travelers retrieve their baggage. Ours is nowhere to be seen - and since we essentially threw our baggage over the counter in LA, we have no idea at what point we should declare our luggage missing, and run for customs and the domestic terminal. However, it finally shows up, all in a group - all seven items, sporting rainbow straps and double lines of lime green tape (to ensure that nobody could pick one of our bags by mistake) - absolutely amazing. We carefully balance everything on the carts, and head for customs. We queue up for the X-ray machine, and add all our carry-ons and fanny packs to the piles - 14 items for them to process through - but apparently everything is kosher (we had nightmares that they would consider the copious medicine bottles and inhalers as suspect, and want to open all the bags - since we had carefully spread these critical items across all our bags to minimize loss in case one bag went missing). However, we pass the X-ray test, and the customs agents begin asking about the medicines we declared. As Tim fumbles out the packing lists of medicines, Sandy rattles off the names - they all appear acceptable, and one of the agents escorts us towards Quarantine, to discuss the horse riding stable that Clara attends in Washington, and whether some nasty little bugs might have hitchhiked over on our shoes. After some discussion, we decide that none of the shoes we have with us have actually been to that stable in the last 30 days, so the agents divert us into the main customs area. We roll up with trepidation, since at every, single one of the customs counters, the incoming passengers are having their bags opened and emptied. We glance at our watches, and assume we'll be catching a later flight. However, one of the two agents working our case takes pity on us, when we describe that we're moving to Australia, not just visiting. It seems the only item of interest is Tim's Scotch. "7.95 liters is rather a lot, you see." However, our friendly customs agent suggests to her colleague that, since they're from our house, and mostly open, and we're moving house to Australia, she'd be willing to let us get by with no duty, etc. "But it's up to you" she tells her apparently senior colleague. He studies the list Tim gives him for a long time, sits down at his computer to run calculations (Tim groans silently at this, since another friendly customs agent he contacted via email last year had provided him with the same software - and the tax calculated by that program was huge). Then he comes back over, apologetically - "I truly appreciate your honesty in telling us of all these things you're bringing in - but I feel I really need to charge you SOME duty - how about if I only calculate duty on the unopened bottles - that would be AU$81 - ok?" Tim can hardly get his credit card out of his pocket fast enough, in fear that the custom agent's good humor would wear off, and he'd recalculate the tax to what Tim initially expected. Once the duty is paid, no more mention is made of Quarantine or the other goods we're importing - and the agents give us directions for the shortest path to the domestic luggage check in. And we're off again.
We push hard for the domestic luggage check-in (it is actually located in the International Terminal where we are), and as we approach, another friendly Qantas agent intercepts us, and asks where we are bound. When we mention our flight, she looks at her watch and frowns. "I don't think you're going to make it. The queues in the check-in here are quite long - your best bet is to load your luggage onto the transfer bus, and check it in at the domestic terminal. Perhaps one of you'd like to run ahead and check the queue length yourself." So, off goes Tim - returning at a jog (imagine that!) to tell Sandy and the agent that the line is only one person long. We take off at high speed (or as high as the carts allow, with Tim running point through the crowds), and into the line. A couple other travelers arrive after us, and cut the line - once again Tim loses his patience and tells them to wait their turn. We get up to the counter, and two agents start processing our luggage at high speed, slapping priority (and HEAVY) stickers on them. We then head out the door to the bus, and a 10 minute ride to the domestic terminal. Into the terminal, through security (no worries, mate - we got rid of all the nasty stuff at the last two checks) and out to Gate 1 - to find a very few people sitting around, and no agent. Tim worriedly approaches an agent at a neighboring gate, and asks if Gate 1 is the correct gate for our flight, and whether we have already missed our flight. The agent gives Tim a "Oh, no, another weird Yank" look, and informs us that the gate agent doesn't show up until 30 minutes before the flight - we're actually EARLY!
We collapse in the waiting area, and Tim goes in search of a drinking fountain; failing that, he looks for an ATM, to get some Aussie cash, so we can buy drinks. The only one he finds is broken. Back to the gate, expecting to find hoards of last minute passengers, after the stories about the impact of the Ansett shutdown on Qantas bookings - but still only a few people. We board the aircraft, and have another one of those "Two people separated by a common language" moments - it turns out we have 4 aisle seats instead of the side by side seats we thought - but no worries again - the plane is so lightly loaded, we can move around to sit together, although the flight attendant gives us a stern look, and says that they don't actually encourage people to move about when the aircraft is lightly loaded, due to weight and balance - "But since the kids are so light, no problem." We are served a meal, and we realize we are in Australia, since we actually get metal knives - on our previous two flights, the meals came with metal spoons and forks - but plastic knives. (Although it seems as if a fork with points is far more dangerous than a rather dull and rounded knife!) The flight goes on schedule, and we roll off the plane exactly at 11:45, into the incredulous company of our destination agent and driver - who thought it was sheerest optimism on their part to come out to the airport.
We retrieve our bags, load up the Toyota Tarago and trailer, and head for the Old Lion Apartments, where we settle in and start unpacking. The sun is shining; the sky is blue; and Adelaide is just as beautiful as Tim and the travel books had described. After 18 months of waiting, we're in Australia at last!
September 17-20, 2001 - Settling In: We managed to keep the girls awake til 5:30 pm Sunday night, and they both slept about 13 hours straight - so they are pretty well converted over to the new time zone. Tim managed to make it til about 6 pm before falling asleep with his book. Monday the 17th, Lyn, the destination agent who had met us at the airport, picked us up for a tour of the city - she was a great fount of information, and was wonderful with the girls. After the day of touring, she dropped Sandy and the girls at the apartment, then took Tim into the city to pickup the rental van. He managed to make it back home in the Adelaidian equivalent of rush hour (a far cry from Seattle!) without incident - although at one point he took the right turn by accident... Then it was off on our first expedition to an Australian supermarket. Another characteristic that will take some getting used to is the fact that stores are open very limited hours compared to the states - generally, they are closed by 5 (or 6 at the latest) during the week, except for Thursday night in the suburbs and Friday night in the city - and most are not open on Sunday (and Tim used to complain about stores in Seattle closing by 8 pm on Saturday night!) We found a lot of familiar items - some with the same name, some with the same packaging but different name (e.g., Sultana Bran instead of Raisin Bran, and Rice Bubbles instead of Rice Crispies), some that are rare in the states (e.g., a whole range of Black Currant-based drinks analogous to the Cranberry-based drinks in the US), and some that are completely different.
Tuesday and Wednesday we spent visiting schools, three each day, with our other great destination agent, Maree. The girls held up wonderfully, and got to experiment with a variety of play equipment and toys thoughtfully provided by the principals of several of the schools for just such a visit. We decided that the administrators and teachers we met at all the schools showed great dedication and ability - and some of them have done amazing things with resources that would be considered fairly paltry in the states. Clara was particularly intrigued by the fact that two of the schools were girls-only; we hadn't discussed this aspect with her in advance, but it turned out to be a big selling point for her. We have narrowed our choice to two schools (both girls-only), and will make a decision after Sandy revisits them both next week to spend some time observing in the classrooms. Both schools also include preschools, so Clara and Lucy will be able to go to school together!
Thursday, Tim decided he really ought to make a token appearance at his new workplace. So, he headed out first thing in the morning, met the new people he hadn't met either in Seattle or on his previous trip to Adelaide, and got somewhat settled in. Meanwhile, Sandy, Clara & Lucy headed off to the Adelaide Zoo - which is only 15 minutes away from the apartment by foot - even at Lucy's speed. They had a good day there, seeing animals both familiar (lions, orangutans, etc.) and unfamiliar (koalas, meerkats, talking parrots). Tomorrow we start looking at houses - we can hardly wait!
September 21-23, 2001 - After one week: Our first week has passed, and it has been exciting and busy. We've learned a few things about the differences between Australian and American English, and explored the area a bit. Tim is more comfortable driving on the left. Our house-hunting tour encompassed both older "character" houses and brand new construction. The one we liked best (so far) was in Glenunga; so, since it looks like we're might be living southeast of the city proper, Sandy is going to evaluate one more girls school down there on Monday, while Tim and the girls tackle banking and cellular phones (called mobile phones down under). The girls have had a bit of a rough few days - Lucy had a stomach bug on Friday; then, as she was recovering and graduating from ginger ale and crackers, she had a bit of a relapse - and Saturday night, Clara joined her. Neither Sandy nor Clara got much sleep (Tim and Lucy managed to sleep through most of the drama). So, Sandy and the girls took Sunday easy (although Lucy was feeling well enough to accompany Tim to a newsstand for Sandy's Sunday paper, and then to a park for a bit of play Sunday morning). Tim was busy researching cars, houses, mobiles, etc. on the Internet, in preparation for this coming week's tasks.
The high point of the weekend for the girls was a Saturday trip to their first Australian beach (Semaphore South, northwest of Adelaide proper - it also has a miniature steam train that can be ridden in the summer - looks like we'll be making a return trip in a few weeks!) We managed to hit a fairly low tide by accident, so the girls were able to find lots of unfamiliar shells, seaweed, and creatures washed up on the beach. Hardly anyone else on the beach - it was cloudy and in the low-mid 60s, so it was a bit cool for the locals. While not cruising the beach, we managed to hit a few car dealers, and go for some test drives - another decision to make!
September 24-27, 2001 - A house, a school and a car: Our school and house hunting seem to have come nearly to closure. We were fortunate that there are so many good schools in the Adelaide area to choose from. We gravitated towards the girls-only schools, and would have liked to have chosen one of the two within a few blocks of our new house - but both Sandy and Tim felt that the best school was the one furthest away (at least it is along the route of Tim's daily commute) - Wilderness School For Girls in Medindie. So, Clara is registered to start the final (4th) term of Year 2 and Lucy will start Kindergarten (or Kindie, as it is called here - and it is actually what we would call Preschool in the US) on October 16. Then, in February, Clara starts Year 3, and in mid-year (maybe July) Lucy will switch to Reception (what we would call Kindergarten in the US). Wednesday, we went to the Wilderness uniform shop, and the girls got their first school uniforms - quite a change from the usual trauma and drama of shopping for school clothes - Tim thinks this is quite a good idea!
The selection of houses was not as good - however, we have found a nice house, in a very good neighborhood - which we think will meet our needs. It is located in Glenunga, southeast of Adelaide (To find it, go to WhereIs Online and type in Glenunga, South Australia). It is brand new, and although it doesn't have a swimming pool (much to Clara and Lucy's disappointment!), we've been assured that several of the neighboring houses have both swimming pools and kids of a similar age. It is close to the city, so that Sandy can easily catch the opera, the girls can be involved in many activities, and Tim can catch a ride home from his new single malt scotch club (The Earls of Zetland) with the single malt friend he made over the Internet, Craig - who lives only a few blocks away. In fact, Tim attended his first Earls meeting Wednesday night (much to the surprise of the girls, who are used to Sandy having a Ladies Night Out, but not to Tim having a Dad's Night Out). He greatly enjoyed the evening, and made many new friends.
Another decision was made, and Sandy is now the proud owner of an apple (or fire engine) red Holden Zafira. The Zafira is a mini-people-mover, as they are called over here, and is slightly smaller than the standard minivans such as the Honda Odyssey, Plymouth Voyager, and Toyota Tarago. She likes it because it is slightly narrower than the others, but still seats 7. And also because it is red. Very red. The rear two seats independently fold into the floor (this cool feature greatly impressed Clara and Lucy, who are dying for us to take delivery so that they can have their first ride). The Zafira is based on the Opel / Vauxhall Zafira popular in Europe, and is a German-designed vehicle, modified by Australian engineers to handle the climate and roads of the Australian Outback, and manufactured in Thailand by GM (the engine is still manufactured in Germany). It is brand new on the market here, and remarkably inexpensive (especially in US dollars) for the quality; it has been receiving very good reviews since its release a couple months ago. Hopefully, insurance for the vehicle will be sorted out tomorrow (the first company Sandy called responded "What? You don't have Australian drivers' licenses? Well! Call us back when you do.") However, the Holden dealer was able to find a more accommodating company, so all should be well - with a little luck we'll pick up the new car on Tuesday (Monday is a national holiday here), and then the onus is on Tim to find a car before school starts on Oct 16.
Since the girls are now fully recovered from their illnesses, and able to run all day and eat whatever they want, it became Sandy's turn to get sick. Yesterday, her ear started hurting quite badly, and by this morning, she was convinced she had an ear infection. So, a call to our destination agents for advice on doctors, and then Sandy arranged an appointment with a local medical center. It was our first experience with Australian medicine, and it was very good - they saw her the same day she called the office, and on schedule, spent plenty of time with her (diagnosing a severe outer ear infection), prescribed an antibiotic which we had never heard of (perhaps another case where the common language is not completely common), and off we went to the chemists (Australian for pharmacy). Both the office visit and the prescriptions were very cheap by US standards (now we have to run the gauntlet of our US insurance company). We're hoping the antibiotic works quickly, so she'll be in top shape for our first Aussie barbie on Saturday (hosted by the aforementioned Craig and his wife Rosemary).
While Sandy was at the doctor, Tim and the girls explored Walkerville on foot. They chanced by the Walkerville Lawn Bowling club, where many of the members were practicing (including a number of ladies in white outfits and bright red sweaters - Sandy would have fit right in!). While they were watching, one of the members walked over and invited Tim and the girls in for a bit of bowling. Since they had to pick Sandy up, they had to decline, but this is typical of all the Australians we have met - they are uniformly friendly and helpful, and we have yet to meet anyone who is curt, or unfriendly. It would be hard to say the same for people wandering around an American city - even one as friendly (and one which we are so fond of) as Seattle.
September 28-30, 2001 - Australian Rules Football: Friday, Tim went in to work (early, for a telecon with Seattle - since Seattle is 7 1/2 hours ahead at the moment, telecons have to start early in Australia, and late in Seattle. Sandy & the girls spent the day around the apartment, as well as doing a little shopping and visiting a new park within walking distance. Saturday, everyone went to the Craig and Rosemary's house for a wonderful meal, some single malts (for Tim and Craig), a visit to a nearby park (with lots of trees for Clara & Lucy to climb), and to watch the Grand Final of the Australian Rules Football season. Craig's team (Essendon Bombers) was leading at the half, but by the time Craig & Tim finished sampling some single malts, the 4th and final term (or quarter, in US football) was underway, and the Brisbane Lions were pulling away to an unassailable lead. Craig tutored Tim on the rules of the game, so Tim can at least follow the action now, even if he cannot yet appreciate all the fine points.
Sunday, Sandy tackled Australian driving for the first time, and had no problems. She drove from the apartment, to the Wilderness school, then on to the new house, and finally out to Glenelg, where Tim & Sandy traded places for the trip into the city for some shopping. While we were sitting in a parking spot, looking at the map and discussing where we wanted to go next, a friendly Australian couple apparently thought we were confused over where we were, and came over and offered to provide directions - yet another example of the helpfulness of the Australians we've met. We headed into town, to Rundle Mall, the shopping heart of Adelaide. There, Sandy got to visit David Jones (the Australian equivalent of the Bon - and then some) where we explored Australian refrigerators and other appliances. Clara & Lucy got their long-anticipated trip to an Australian toy store (which turned out to be a Toys 'R' Us, oddly enough - and which had an amazing selection of Polly Pockets not available in the states, which made Clara's day), and Tim got to cruise a couple book stores and load up on books about Australian birds, marine life, etc. Then it was retrieve the van from parking (without a parking ticket, unlike Tim's last trip to Rundle Mall in May 2000), to a food store (the first one we tried was closed, since it was Sunday, but we persevered and found one open), and then home.
Since tomorrow is an Australian holiday (Labour Day), we're planning to let Sandy get in a lot more driving time, by making a loop through the Adelaide Hills, including the Toy Factory of Gumeracha, home of the largest rocking horse in the world (approx 60 feet tall).
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