Searching for Mr. Good tennis 

It would be hard not to be excited about being back in Melbourne. After all, it’s an artsy but funky town with the Australian Open Tennis circus setting up shop and we’ll be sleeping in the same bed for three nights in a row. Last year while shuffling with the crowd out of Melbourne’s Formula 1 racetrack Marce said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to to do a day at the Australian Open next year?” And here we are, tickets in hand, fabulous boxed lunches from Melbourne’s incredible Queen Victoria Market, and a map of the free tram line.

With tennis it’s strictly a “pays your money, takes your chances” proposition. After all the injuries who knows who will show up for the quarterfinal match Tuesday night? However, being the experienced grand slam tennis buffs that we Escapees are, we came armed with a day pass which gives us access to everything but the big time Rod Laver Court where we think, with a little luck, we will be watching Rafa this evening.

I admit it took a little while to orient ourselves using the little free map which didn’t seem to match reality, at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Let’s just say there were a lot of lost souls wandering around and most of them, like us, were looking for the mysterious #18 practice court where in just under an hour RF, yes Mr. Federer to you, will be practicing! Close up. Just, you know, shagging balls, close up.

Oh my lord, Escapees, how many miles, I mean kilometers, we hiked in the afternoon Aussie sun. When asked, the typical Aussie bloke would say, “No worries, mate. It’s just ten minutes over there.” Well we weren’t born yesterday and we know that ten minutes Aussie is a half hour for us. But we never found over there over there.

In our travels back and forth across the tennis center we started to notice a lot of people were clinging to seat cushions advertising a bank. Oh my god, Marce, free swag! So we added scoring the free blue and white cushions to the mysterious #18 practice court. Every person we asked said, “No worries, mate, she’s right over there, ten minutes and she’s yours.” Well, we are the Schulzes and grand quests are in our DNA. Did you know this place is so big it even has a kiddie park with a its own zip line? After extricating ourselves from the sticky cotton candy crew — of course they don’t call it that — I sat down in total frustration. Roger must have already started by now and the cushion pushin Sheilas were as elusive as practice court #18.

Wait a minute. There’s a huge crowd over there. “Where?” says Marce. Over there under the bridge, not ten minutes away. Pardon me, might I ask where did you get those cushions? Over by the front gate! As I started to hobble over I saw a small blue sign which read Court #18. And there he was, RF himself. Just shagging balls. You know, as you do.

We watched several stars past and present, Johnny Mac, Martina, Berdych. We lazed on lawn chairs by the fountain, ate some Haagan Das, watched a women’s doubles match, a boy’s match, bought a tee shirt.

We found our seats for the evening session up in section Nosebleed right next to the stairs that looked more like a ladder than stairs, for the main event. Rafa was Rafa but to our eyes he seemed a step slow and by the fifth set he had to withdraw with a torn muscle near the hip. Tough to watch.

We saw some great tennis and to end a perfect day we got totally lost in the dark on the way out and had to talk our way back into the park to carefully retrace our way back to our original entry gate and the tram home.

Two slams down, two to go.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Marketing 101

There’s barely anything that puts a bigger smile on my face than a market. A whole corner of my brain is dedicated to memories of favorite markets — Palermo, Sicily; Schlesiches Tor, Berlin; Ft. Pierce, Florida; La Herradura, El Salvador; Papeete, Tahiti; so many others. Wherever we go I seek out the local markets, not just for the freshest produce but for the Cliff Notes on local culture through street food, music, dry goods or housewares on offer, crafts, ethnic influences and traditions. City markets that have been around for decades especially paint a picture of a community better than any guidebook can do.

Our second trip to Melbourne is as brief as our first but we squeezed in a must-do early on the day we planned for the Australian Open tennis tournament. The Queen Victoria Market has been in existence since at least the mid 19th century and today boasts of being the largest market in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s massive, a collection of indoor and outdoor spaces with hundreds of stalls. The older part, the indoor area that includes vendors of fish, meat, dairy, bakers and confectioners and specialty stores reminded us of a more upscale version of our beloved Reading Terminal market in Center City Philadelphia.

The outdoor sheds offer everything from leather goods to toys to socks and underwear. And of course there is produce.

One of the shops put together picnic antipasto for the Open and Jack took advantage of that. We also bought grapes and bananas and bagels with Tilsit cheese for our day at Melbourne Park. As you can imagine, I could have stayed all day, but Roger and Rafa were waiting just a tram ride away.


Filed under Uncategorized

Below the plain

We have a date with the Australian Open and we’re off to Melbourne. We spent more time than expected at the aboriginal cave art sites and arrived in Ballarat too late to participate in the Women’s March event there, or anything else, for that matter. We were disappointed about the march but with the Aus Open on we’ve been just as happy to get takeout food and watch a match on TV.

Our hire car was due back by noon and we anticipated an uneventful couple of hours on the road. The landscape east of the Grampians is as flat and featureless as Nebraska, so we were puzzled to see signs warning of a steep grade and directing trucks and RVs to an alternate route. There was seriously nothing sticking up in front of us to warrant the caution. Suddenly the earth opened up in front of us and we plunged down the aforementioned steep grade into a lush valley of rolling hills of forest and vineyards. We were so taken by surprise that we forgot to take a photo of the abrupt change in elevation, but you can definitely see in this photo how utterly flat the ground is above the valley.

We took a turn directing us to Bunjil’s Lookout, another reference to the aboriginal creator we’d seen depicted in the cave painting the day before. The valley is called Moorabool and I tried to find the meaning of the word — we’ve seen “bool” in other place names — but the sources don’t seem to agree.

At the lookout we watched a young German traveler fold up his rooftop tent and I stopped to chat with him. He was an exchange student in Perth in high school and came back to travel Australia after university. I shared that I was an exchange student too, in Sweden in 1968 and he very politely suppressed the inevitable jaw drop. He’s nearly circled the country in his rig and I envy him for that. He was sad to be coming to the end of his journey, making his way back to Sydney, then home to Germany.

Later we returned our car at the airport and hopped a Skybus to the city. Jack was staring out the window and as we turned onto the highway he said, “Look! There’s the German guy just behind us!” We always feel an affinity for fellow travelers, however they travel, for however long, and wherever.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Things take time in Australia

Rising startlingly up out of the flattest of sun-drenched plains, the majestic Grampians thrust skyward like rocky knives against the blue Australian sky. It’s one of those things where, because it’s so flat, you see them hours before you arrive at them.

By the time we made it to Hall’s Gap, our base camp, we were thoroughly spent thrill seekers and as I’m sure all you Escapees know, only the experienced traveler says tomorrow is soon enough and takes his righteous kick-back. We squeezed in a visit to the Brambuk Cultural Center for the lowdown on our scenic itinerary before checking into our mountain-view motel, chosen because it has lots of Aussie wild life that cozy up to the terraced lawn. We sat with other guests enjoying a cold one and watching kangaroos, parrots and a collection of waterfowl as the sun went down.

I guess our early morning run up the mountain caught this poor little guy on the wrong side of the road.

At first we had the mountain to ourselves but soon the RVs started to arrive. Less peace, but the stunning views remained just as impressive.

At the turn off to the much-anticipated MacKenzie Falls a police car blocked the road and we learned that sadly the falls were closed because of a drowning overnight. We had to scramble to reroute ourselves and instead of following the other cars to the next scenic overlook we took a long detour to the site of some aboriginal cave art that we hadn’t thought we’d have time to visit.

Archaeologists have been unable to date the paintings but they do agree that the area has been occupied for over 40,000 years. The wonder of it! Australia’s native population have continuously inhabited the continent through ice ages, massive volcanic eruptions, giant nasty birds, kangaroos and snakes whose somewhat smaller cousins, presently are still wandering around the continent. Things take time in Australia.

The paintings are protected by a cage, itself a work of art.

This site was a bonus that made us even more excited to see the one we planned all along. If you’ve ever played a computer game like Myst you’d know the creepy feeling we had when trying to find the second site. As we approached the dried out dusty park, we never saw a soul. It wasn’t even obvious where to park the car. Signs were missing, fences were erected, and we began to think that they’d had a bush fire come through here. We are pretty good at sussing-out a situation without any information.

First we found a way around the fencing and maybe it was the paintings that drew us to them but we eventually, after much wandering around, found the site.

We were completely alone with the paintings. The mystery and wonder of 40,000 years of history staring us in the face.
The Bunjil sight is said to be the most significant and featured Bunjil, the creator spirit, with his two dingos in a creation myth but even here there were still no people at all.
There are more cave art sites — there is always more to see — but we Escapees were happy with our day. Things take time in Australia.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

End of the road

Today’s adventure begins with a personal favorite of the night manager of the Warrnambool Motor Lodge. His tip last night for a nice quiet pub with Australian Open tennis on the telly sent us to a massive, expensive, incredibly noisy family fun restaurant. Not our taste. Being the forgiving Yanks that we are, we decided to give him a second chance and followed his tip to visit the Tower Hill Nature Reserve, which requires a small detour on the way to Port Fairy. Finding a room around these parts has been unusually difficult and we just found out that a traveling car racing series has been following us causing no-vacancy signs to light up all over the area. I suspect a spot of price gouging as well, even though we’ve reached the end of a The Great Ocean Road.

After a breckkie featuring a couple of egg McMuffins at Macca’s we Escapees wound-up the Lagoon Blue Hyundai and were off. It’s not hard to find the Tower Hill Nature Reserve; after all it spans an entire huge caldera of an extinct, one can only hope, volcano. Immediately one plunges down into the bowl along a strange side wall displaying signs of intense geothermal goings on. The passenger window reveled a huge meandering swamp-like lake, on the floor. The whole park has been reclaimed and revegetated after being stripped bare by European settlement in the 1800’s. In the 1960’s using a painting by Eugene Von Guerrad done 160 years ago, as a reference to what kind of trees and plants were there, volunteers planted tens of thousands of trees over several decades.

Official greeters, these two adult emus, posed for us as soon as we entered the park.

On a quiet walk through the park this guy startled us by crashing through the underbrush just to check us out.

Once again our Koala radar was well tuned and we found a couple of cuties doing what they do.

From the lookouts up on the edge of the caldera.

Next up, after a short drive, we entered lovely Port Fairy, said to be the most livable town in the world, looking for lunch. It is nice. Wide tree lined streets, a fort with cannons up on Battery Hill, and last but not least the retro and irreverent Port Fairy confectionary.

Finally we Escapees arrive in Hamilton at our home for the night and take our obligatory picture with the patron saint of Aussie rats.


Filed under Uncategorized

No turning back now

You can’t go wrong anywhere on the Great Ocean Road. We had a google map that we downloaded from a photographer’s blog post marking each favorite overlook or access point and we used that as a guideline. But early on I noticed a long lane out to a point that wasn’t marked and wondered if we ought to explore that promontory too. We turned off the main road onto an unsealed drive. “Four kilometers on this,” I told Jack, as I followed the track on the iPad.

But soon, the road deteriorated into a deeply rutted, corrugated two-track and we bounced and rumbled as Jack eased the Hyundai around the deeper bits and over the humps. I worried about doing damage to the car.

“Should we turn back?” I asked.

“Nonsense! We are the Schulzes!”

And I began to sing.

We are the Schulzes, my friends!

We’ll keep on driving to the end!

We are the Schulzes, we are the Schulzes!

No turning back now

‘Cause we are the Schulzes

On the road!

The track led to a sheltered path and out to a lonely viewpoint. We saw no one else the whole time and had the overlook to ourselves for the last time during the day.

We went back to following our photographer’s waypoints but honestly, you just can’t go wrong. It’s a beautiful coastline and we took the same snaps that thousands of travelers before us have in their vacation albums.

We were driving east to west and at each stop-and-hike point the car parks grew fuller and the trails and overlooks more crowded. The temperature was rising too, and by noon we had topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Our legs grew heavy and our pace slowed.

We always appreciate it when we see scoff-laws ignoring the warning signs.

The closer we got to the money shots the more tourist noise disturbed the tranquility of the wind and surf. It wasn’t just the incessant chatter of people, but the sightseeing helicopters and drones as well. Don’t get me wrong, nothing takes away from the sheer rugged beauty of the vistas, but it’s hard to ponder the forces of nature when there are busloads of day trippers wielding selfie sticks jockeying for position.

Wind and waves are bold sculptors, and you can almost imagine you are viewing in real time the erosion of solid rock.

The oppressive afternoon heat sent us to cool shelter and a quiet lunch. I mean, how much beauty can one take in a day?


Filed under Uncategorized

Where’s Waldo?

Our first full day on the Great Ocean Road was everything we’d hoped for, no crowds, fine weather, and the kind of land-sea interface that makes your heart sing.

The road was built by servicemen returning from World War I both to connect the isolated towns along the coast and as a memorial to the Australians who lost their lives in the war. It is the world’s longest war memorial and attracts millions of tourists from around the world.

We stopped every few miles to hike out to the promontories, ooh and ahh over the views and take dozens of photographs. When we hiked down to a beach we found where all the people were, taking advantage of the last few days of summer vacation before school starts again.

Several people recommended the Kafé Koala as a place where the iconic little bears could be spotted easily. We dutifully endured the less than appetizing food, then ventured deep into the nearby eucalyptus forest in search of the elusive buggers. We saw a couple of fuzzy balls way up in the treetops before finally hitting paydirt, six within fifty meters or so along the forest road, and a bonus fearless kookaburra, not laughing.

We could have watched for hours, especially since they weren’t sleeping but rather quite active, shimmying along the branches and nibbling leaves. Eventually our necks cried out in protest and we reluctantly tore ourselves away.

At the bottom of the forest road we stopped to watch a couple of tourists feeding beautiful parrots and cockatoos across from the Kafé. All in all, a pretty spectacular day. But have lunch somewhere else.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Trains and boats and planes

Vacation day finally arrived. Our mooring owner picked us up on EV and took us a couple hundred meters to the ferry dock where we joined the morning commuters, all dressed in black and busy with their mobiles. From the ferry to the train to the airport and before we knew it we were in a hire car on the road to Geelong for lunch with Elizabeth, one of the three sisters from Christmas Day, and her husband John.

We checked into our first lodging with plenty of time for a preview run at the Great Ocean Road before day’s end, the stunning Point Addis and famous surf spot Bell’s Beach. Surf conditions weren’t great but there were still a few hopeful souls waiting for break that never came, at least while we were watching, sheltered from the sharp wind behind dense beach shrubbery.

Torquay is all about surfing and many clothing and equipment manufacturers have outlet stores here. We thought after nearly six years traveling the ocean it was high time we got wetsuits. A young dude at the Ripcurl Outlet patiently helped size us correctly and ignored the uncontrolled giggling coming from the dressing rooms as we both struggled to don and then doff a full suit. Ripcurl, even at outlet prices, was over our budget but we both got suits at other shops and now we can snorkel a little longer before getting chilled and Jack can clean EV’s bottom without getting covered in sealice and other itchy underwater things. I’m not sure having a wetsuit is going to make Jack willingly volunteer for bottom cleaning duty, but at least it removes one barrier.

Tomorrow is the true beginning of our Great Ocean Roadtrip.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Squeeze play

Being in one country for this long has made us complacent about the calendar-watching that’s normal when traveling by boat. Cyclone seasons and other weather patterns impose a strict framework on when and where a sailboat can safely go, and our decision to wait out two cyclone seasons in Oz shoved that whole awareness out of conscious thought for the past year. Now, as we approach the end of the second cycle we’ve become painfully aware that not only have we failed to explore, as we meant to do, the far reaches of this country we’ve grown to love, but we note with sadness that our time with precious friends is also growing short.

We’re spending much less time in Sydney than we did last year and our friends Diana and Alex have travel plans too, so we’ve tried in the last couple of weeks to cram in some quality time before we scatter to other parts. That quality time has meant hours of good conversation and bread-breaking both in their gemütlich kitchen and in EV’s cockpit. We’ve done our best to encourage them to buy another boat and continue the cruising life with us. In fact we’ve begged. But as we’ve all learned, this life brings us together and tears us apart. The memorable, even life-changing experiences we share cement our friendships but they don’t make it any easier to know our time together is coming to an end.

I know I’ve been sentimental lately and it’s because we’re also saying goodbye to some of the first people we met when we started cruising. Meryl and Walter of Flying Cloud are moving back to land after their journey from the States to Australia. We first crossed paths in Oriental, North Carolina, during our first year aboard and spent our year in the Caribbean crisscrossing tracks.

That same year we met Snow White, What If, Anything Goes, Macushla, Field Trip, Two Much Fun, True Colors, Moana Roa and Shamara III. There are surely others, but of the ones we spent the most time with, many came to the end of their cruising ambitions and moved on to other adventures, one lost his boat, one is pausing to address health issues. Only two are still actively cruising but not in areas we’re likely to intersect any time soon. I’ve been marking the end of that chapter of our cruising life, the year many of us were still new on our boats, still figuring out the lifestyle and the boat systems, meeting at strategic places to share our frustrations and celebrate our successes, all the while singing variations on the theme of How Lucky Are We?

While I’m wallowing in pity at the prospect of saying goodbye to friends, we’re starting to feel our touring time running short. With the glorious Australian summer in full heat we know it’s too hot to travel to the desert regions so we’re planning to head south again. But first we have to find a safe place to leave EV for a couple of weeks. Last year we had no trouble securing a mooring near our friends on Toucan but this year it seems every available affordable mooring or slip has been spoken for. Our anchorage in Rozelle Bay has been cozy and good holding but we can’t leave our boat at anchor while we travel, nice as it is.

I’ve been afraid to start booking flights and hotels without knowing the boat has a place to live, but we have a bucket list item to knock off — a day at the Australian Open in Melbourne — and that only happens in a short window. Eventually I had to have faith that a mooring would become available and start booking the trip.

While that was happening, we developed a leak in our kitchen faucet. Alex took us on a day-long shopping spree and we picked up a new tap but when Jack installed it the leak got worse. What??? We called Mark from Erie Spirit, anchored nearby, and he came over to lend an extra pair of eyes and a few more neurons to help solve the problem.

As with any boat problem, fixing one thing leads to another problem and fixing that just leads you further down the rabbit hole. Thank goodness the whole thing got mostly sorted, leaving us with a very small seep from the drinking water filter canister, which will have to be addressed later. At least for now, there’s no more flooding under the sink and the kitchen is back together again.

I finally found us a mooring up the Parramatta River, sturdy and safe, but when we moved the boat four days before leaving on vacation, stormy weather moved in and we were stuck on board in 35-40 kts of wind with no place to land a dinghy.

Let me tell you how happy we were to get off the boat and head for the airport! The next couple of weeks will be a completely different adventure. And we deserve it!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The view from the back porch

Close enough?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized