Saturday, January 13, 2018

Biking

I made no new year's resolution about biking. Sure, I had some vague plan to continue exercising, but there was no biking on my new year's resolution list.

On the 2nd day of January, my train stopped running. No train, for maintenance purposes, for more than two weeks. Buses were replacing trains. Expect the journey to take 75 minutes longer, said the transit authorities.

So I spent a long time looking at maps. If I rode my bike to the train line just to the north, I could take that train out to a stop near the university, then ride the bike the rest of the way from there. The map estimated about 20 minutes to get to that train line, 20 minutes on the train, then a 20 minute ride to work. That looked totally reasonable. And 40 minutes of biking would be good for me.

It turns out that I am separated from that next train line to the north by a huge gully. I had no idea. At the bottom of the gully is the freeway. There are very few ways to cross the freeway, but a handful of busy roads run past it. So there I was on my bike, riding along a very busy road to the bottom of a gully, to a freeway underpass, to a very steep and very long hill on the other side. The sun was beating down. The cars were zooming by. And I was in lowest gear, riding in the gutter, trying to get up that hill. It was miserable. Worst bike ride ever. And then, since it was a gully not a hill, I had to do a very similar trip in the afternoon in reverse.

The next day I started out on the bike resigned to do the same trip again. But glancing at my watch as I climbed the steep hill to get to the train station, I realised I had just missed the train, and the next one was in 20 minutes. So I decided to keep riding, slightly downhill to the next station. And that took less time than expected, so I rode to the next, and then I crested a hill to see the long bike-only trail that crosses from the central business district to the eastern suburbs. If I took that bike path rather than the 20 minute train, I would be off of all the busy roads. I would ride along the bottom of the gully, and I would pull off before it got too steep at the end. There would be trees and grass and streams, not trucks and asphalt and horns. So I took it. I rode the bike trail the whole way to work, aside from 15 minutes in the suburbs at the end. It took me about 90 minutes to bike to work that day, but there was no steep hill by the freeway with the traffic.

I took the weekend off from commuting. By Monday, I had decided I should just take the bike path from home -- skip all the steep hills. I packed soap and a towel and a change of clothes, and I left very early in the morning. After one hour and twenty minutes, plus shower time, I was there. It felt great. I even passed about a dozen elderly people riding for pleasure on the bike trail. I was fast. I was strong. I was going to do this thing and be in amazing shape before the train was back up and running.

On Tuesday, I got on the bike and ouch. Saddle sore. But again I packed the change of clothes. I rode to the bike trail. After about 15 minutes my saddle was numb. And after one hour and nineteen minutes I had arrived.

On Wednesday, I packed the change of clothes and got on the bike and ouch. Really saddle sore. And somehow, all those little hills along the bike path seemed a lot steeper this time. And although there wasn't that one steep hill at the end, this time I could feel all the little steep hills, and the overall accumulated rise in elevation.

And I started noticing that I didn't look like the other people on the trail. Those other people, they had bright yellow shirts and tight black pants. They carried small light packs, or even saddle bags. And they kept passing me. I could hear them pull up behind. I could hear their pedals stop as they waited while I wheezed my way up the little hill. And then as soon as they could, they whizzed off and disappeared up the trail.

Their bums didn't look sore -- were their seats more padded? They pedaled fast, too. I couldn't pedal like they did. Their bodies were machines that pedaled. Whereas me, I was a machine that pedaled a little, sweated a lot, wheezed, and wiggled around trying to adjust to the fact that there was a giant stick with a plastic seat-shaped-thing up my butt.

The ride on Wednesday was really bad. I kept thinking thought I'd go numb to the saddle-sore thing, like I did the day before. But I didn't. After the first hour on the bike, I tried to rotate my body so that the stick-up-the-butt was poking somewhere else. But there aren't many options for where that thing can poke. And I learned that it's better to leave it where it is than have it poke you in the sphincter. Just saying.

On Thursday ... I couldn't do it. I couldn't couldn't. I tried to talk myself into it, but my legs hurt from pedaling. My shoulders hurt from carrying my backpack. My wrists hurt from jostling on the handlebars. And I won't even talk about the awkward places that hurt from having a stick poked up them.

I took the bus. The bus only took about an hour and ten minutes. And I didn't have to shower at the other end.

On Friday, I took the bus.

Now that it is Saturday, my legs don't hurt. My arms don't hurt. My shoulders don't hurt. And those awkward places where the bike seat pokes -- they don't hurt either. Maybe I'll ride my bike on Monday.

Or maybe not. After all, it never really was a new year's resolution anyway.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Early morning flame thrower

At 5.00am this morning, I found myself lying awake in bed, listening to the noise of some sort of machine outside.

At first I thought it might be the helicopter that lands at the hospital on the side of the park. But it wasn't loud enough to be a helicopter.

Then I thought it might be a street sweeper. They drive up and down the road on the far side of the building in the early morning hours. But it wasn't constant enough to be a street sweeper.

What it really sounded like was a flame thrower.

And as I lay in bed wondering why there was a flame thrower outside my window at 5.00am, a sudden realisation came to me.

Balloons! The balloons are back!

For the three summers we have lived here, hot air balloons have often launched from or landed in our park. Now that we are well into summer again, it must be hot air balloon time again.

Since I was awake anyway, I jumped up and grabbed my camera and ran out into the field where I could see them.

There were five of them, dark and massive against the sky, taller than the mature trees lining the field. When the flames came on, they lit the entire balloon.


Slowly, one by one, they lifted.






And floated away.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christmas holidays 2017

One thing we have been good about during the holidays is making sure the step counter makes it up to 10,000 steps. It helps us get out of the house and into the summer.

On 24 December, we walked from the train station along the Gardiner Creek trail to a Christmas party at friends' house, then took the tram home. The tram stop in the city centre was crazy busy, all lit up for Christmas, with hundreds of people lined up at the cathedral for midnight mass. But we couldn't make it to midnight. Even so, 13,578 steps.

On 25 December, we woke up and opened presents (Christmas mess photo below).


We called family. And then decided to walk to the city centre to watch the new Star Wars movie. It was a lovely day, and there were a lot of people out. 12,439 steps.

On 26 December, we walked to the Melbourne Cricket Grounds to see the first day of the Boxing Day Test match against England.


Cricket is a very strange sport. A very strange sport indeed. The match lasts five days, about six hours per day. Apparently the Boxing Day Test Match is an important cricketing event, on many people's bucket lists. I can now tick it off of mine, because Tim had the foresight to buy our tickets many months in advance. As they were just general admission tickets, we had to arrive early to get good seats.

For about an hour before the game, they rolled a machine over the cricket pitch to get it just perfectly flattened.

When the game finally began, there were about 85,000 people in the stadium. Yes, honestly. They were there to watch the first six hours of five days of cricket and they all bought their tickets months in advance.

England versus Australia. Word on the street is that Australia had already won the five-game group of matches. But 85,000 people had purchased tickets, so the game would definitely go on.

Anyway, the game broke for lunch and afternoon tea, but we didn't make it to the end of the day. Around 3.30pm the sun crept up to our seats, and we decided we'd already gotten our money's worth and we'd rather not stay and get fried. We still spent about eight hours, including travel time, at the cricket. Was it that enthralling? Well honestly, I brought along a book. And read it start to finish. And it was lovely. Oh and cricket, too. 10,514 steps.

On 27 December, we went to the beach. It was a hot day. I'm glad we didn't opt for day two of cricket instead. The sand was hot, but the water was cool. Perfect for cooling off, then drying in the hot wind, then heading home on the tram. 10,381 steps.

On 28 December, we were supposed to drive to the tip of the peninsula, but we were tired. I asked if we could just hang around home instead. So we did. We read books, played games, and walked around the local parks. 10,423 steps.

On 29 December, we walked to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). Tim wanted to see the current art exhibit. And it was fun. Below are pictures of some of our family favourites.

Flower clock, just outside the NGV and across the street.


Exhibit that included smells. Kind of risky.


Room full of giant skulls stacked up to the ceiling.


The entrance said the room was full of European painting. I found the mislabeling as fun as the art.


And eastern sculpture meets western.


Total: 11,255 steps.

On the 30 December, we went shopping in the morning, then spent the afternoon at the Melbourne Museum.


The above photo is actually not the museum itself, but the Royal Exhibition Centre just across from the museum. It is photographical.

The Melbourne Museum is full of all sorts of things, mostly natural history. They have the most impressive collection of insects, spiders, and creepy crawlies I have ever seen. A lot of the specimens in the collection are dead and labeled.



They do have an impressive collection of live spiders, including venomous spiders. There is a tall glass cage crawling with stick insects (it is not hard to find the insects as they cover every inch of glass). Cockroaches. Ant colonies. Native bee hives. Giant millipedes.

I stared into the glass enclosures at the many crawling creeping wiggling things, and my mind knew that I was safe from the insects and they were on the other side of the glass and would not touch me. But my body saw all the creeping things and had a different reaction entirely. My scalp began to crawl. I got goosebumps all over my skin. The reaction became worse and worse the more insects we saw, until the end of the exhibit when I was twitching all over and swatting at puffs of air conditioning. No more insects!

Total: 12,567 steps.

For tomorrow, 31 December, the plan is to walk to the park across the river in the evening for the festivities there, including movie in the park and live music and family fireworks at 9.30pm. From there, we'll walk down the river to the city centre, and stay up for midnight fireworks. Then we'll walk home. Estimated total: 10,000 steps for Sunday plus 3000 for early morning Monday.

Good thing we like to walk!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

UK Photos

I've just been back through this year's blog posts, in an attempt to form some sort of end-of-year summary, and I have realised that I never posted UK photos, although they were promised. This blog jumped from me wandering Kennilworth castle in September, to me back in Melbourne wondering if I had turned off the stove in October. There were no photos from all the spring-break-ness in between, although there was a brief post after the stove in which I showed what our Oxford house looked like.

So I'm writing now. I'm doing it. I'm posting the photos.

To remind you where they are coming from: In September this year, I spent a week in Coventry at a conference, then moved to Oxford for two weeks where Tim and Jonathan joined me in the little house whose pictures I already did post. We had a lovely week and a half together in England, before Tim and Jonathan flew home to get ready to go back to school and I stayed to clean up the rental house before turning in the keys.

Here are some things that we did.

We went to Blenheim Palace. The palace is the home of the Duke of Marlborough. They let us little people pay money to view the grounds, which helps to pay for upkeep. It's a good deal. The grounds are amazingly lovely, just outside of the Oxford city centre. Here is a picture of the entry way.

And the palace itself.
 They have their own little railway line, which you can take out to the pleasure gardens....
 ... where there is a hedge maze.
 Another view of the palace, from the side with the sweeping lawn.
 And the Harry Potter tree across the lake.
 The lake.
 This is all the same property, just outside of Oxford.
 Do you see how this sort of residence might need some upkeep?
In any case, we enjoyed our visit. For the cost of entry, we could become year long members. So I have a year pass to Blenheim Palace.


The next day we went to London. One of my favourite places in the world is the Tower of London. Jonathan didn't remember the Tower of London, so we had to take the whole family back again. We spent the whole day, and we enjoyed it as much as the last time, several years ago.

Here are Tim and Jonathan in front of the Tower of London. Jonathan is wearing a USA shirt. Tim is wearing an Australian shirt. I don't know what shirt I was wearing, but don't we look international?

Ok brief interlude. In the Tube station in London, there were signs telling you to stand on the right. That was such a surprise to me that I took a photo. In Australia, which is another country where people drive on the left, everyone stands on the left in the train stations. But in London, the signs tell you to stand on the right. How bizarre!

Tim and Jonathan in front of the Tower bridge.
 Oh, I took a photo of Big Ben while we were in the neighbourhood.
 Here is a raven at the Tower of London.
 And here is the traitor's gate leading out to the Thames.
 Another Tower photo. This one probably should have come first, but I seem to be uploading these somewhat at random, and since I'm three months late in posting the photos I'm not going to sort them around again.

In any case, if you find yourself in the UK, I strongly recommend a visit to the Tower of London.

Ok. Moving on.

We were staying in Oxford, so naturally I took several photos of Oxford. There are garden photos, including the Christ Church gardens.
 The River Cherwell.
 The Oxford University Parks.
 The River Thames.
 And Port Meadow...
 ... where there are cows.

The other fun and long weekend adventure that we took was a trip to Salisbury. Our other very favourite thing to do in the UK is to visit the Salisbury Cathedral, and take a tower tour. Back in 2001, Tim and I took our first tour of the Salisbury Cathedral tower. I think we walked in, and they were just organising a tour, so we paid about three pounds to join along, and it was Amazing! So this year, we booked well in advance, and planned carefully, and paid about ten pounds per person. And it was still Amazing! I strongly recommend it.

The reason it is so amazing is that you get to see the medieval architecture up close and personally. The cathedral was not designed to have a tower. The tower was added later. And for the past 700 years they have been trying not to let it fall down.

This is a picture of the medieval town of Salisbury.

And here is the cathedral, horizontal view.
 Cathedral, vertical view.
 Inside, looking out at the courtyard.
 Some of the lovely windows.
 And then we climbed up.
 And up again. This is inside the roof.
The next is looking out over the inside of the cathedral, from the height of the clerestory windows. I always want to be up at the height of the clerestory windows when I go into a cathedral. I picture a choir of monks up there singing, with the best views. It turns out there really isn't much up there. Definitely no monks. But still the best views.
 Between the ceiling and the roof are lots and lots of solid oak beams.
 You get a good view of stained glass windows from the tower tour.
 Supports to hold it together.
 Bell.
 And the view from the tower is amazing!
 This is what it looks like inside the very top of the tower.
Another view across England.
Selfie. It's kind of scary to turn your back to that steep drop to take a selfie. Hence the thumb in the corner. I wasn't going to try to fix that and take another.
We stayed for Evensong, which was beginning just as we climbed down. And then we took a picture of the outside at dusk as we were leaving.
Still one of my favourite places in the UK.

But what do you do, you ask, while waiting for your afternoon tower tour? Is there anything to see near Salisbury, in the morning, for example?

Why yes. Yes there is. You can take a bus from the Salisbury train station to Stonehenge.

There it is on the hill.
 Tim and Jonathan, listening to their Stonehenge audio tour.
 Some stones.
In a henge.
 You can wander around the burial mounds near Stonehenge as well.
 Or drive around the little English roads nearby.
England really is a nice place to visit.

Wow, you say. There are indeed a lot of photos here. Did you do anything else? Do you have other photos?

Well, I was working the two weeks, but Tim and Jonathan did a few fun things like take a cruise down the River Thames, visit the natural history and art museums, and the history of science museum. I don't have any photos of any of that. I do have photos of one more adventure: We all took a bus outside the city to see the arboretum.

 Here is Tim, contemplating the wind-swept field.
 And Jonathan, resting at that field.
 Some trees, I guess. It was an arboretum.
 We liked the many-pointed leaves on this Japanese maple tree.
I don't remember why they were reaching up in this photo. Maybe to show you how tall the tree is? It is tall.
And finally one more lovely picture of a flower


Ok. I will finish with three final photos. In England, the mailboxes are labeled with the symbol of the king or queen who was reigning when the box was installed. So you can figure out how long the box has been there by looking at the symbols. And collect them all!

This one is from king Edward the VII, who reigned from 1901 to 1910.
This one is more modern: from Queen Elizabeth the II, who is currently reigning and has been reigning since the 1950s.
And this one is from Queen Victoria, who reigned 1837 to 1901. That means it is a very old post box. Mail is still collected on Saturdays at 11.30am, however. 


The end. I am up to date on England photos from September and early October.