First I have a very special thank you for the owners and operators of the Jacob's Creek Winery located in Australia. In June of 2003 my wife, Karen, went to our local State Store to purchase a bottle of Jacob's Creek Merlot wine and found a contest entry form to win a trip to visit the winery. It is still hard to believe that Karen won the trip for two to Australia. Everyone involved with this trip did everything possible to make it a most memorable experience.
I also want to give a very special thank you to some very kind and now fantastic friends whom I previously met through this website. George and Jennifer were so kind, they took a week of their vacation time to literally show us the town. Spending time with them made it even a more unforgettable trip.
We met so many kind and friendly people it would be impossible to thank them all however, I do want to also thank Cheryl. This kind lady went out of her way to help us when we were getting off the plane in Los Angeles. She then invited us to visit a US Coast Guard lighthouse when we returned from Australia. That tour of the light house can only be described as awesome. Thanks Cheryl and Doug.
I can not say that this wonderful adventure did not go without some minor problems. I did have a few stressful moments. The first was trying to acquire my visa which is required in addition to the passport to enter Australia. Karen's went through without a hitch, not mine. We got a phone call from the travel agent advising me to contact the Embassy that they need additional information. I first contacted the West Coast Australian Embassy and was given some information. The woman to whom I spoke then directed me to a webpage where I could download forms. When I downloaded these forms we went into total panic mode. I went to get new passport pictures and many other documents. We spent the entire day filling out the new forms so there could be no question. The following day I called the Washington DC Australian embassy with one final question. This time I was told to destroy the forms, all that I needed to do is to send a letter and a light copy of my passport to Australian Immigration. They only want to make sure that it is really me. There was someone with a similar name and the same birthdate with whom they previously had some problems. I then took that information to my US Congressman Tim Holden's office where they kindly wrote a letter and faxed the information for me. I really was in panic mode since we were to leave in less than a month.
The second stressful moment was when we arrived at the Los Angeles airport. We had a four hour layover and could not find where to go for the Quantas International flight. We asked a few people even a cab driver and were told down the street and around the corner. We walked around with no idea where to go knowing that time is ticking along. Finally we saw a policeman who went out of his way to help. He took our ticket information and went into an area to get specific directions. Here we had to go to the second floor of the building. He stayed with us until we checked in. What a wonderful public servant. And the last stressful moment was when we were checking in for our final flight home. The person who checked us in curbside made a mistake that Karen did not see until after we were through security waiting for the flight. When she looked through the boarding passes Karen's was correct but I had one with the last name of Miller instead of McHugh. She quickly went down to have it corrected. An agent corrected the boarding pass but did not look through all the papers. My luggage claim check was also in the other person's name. Again Karen hurried down to have it fixed. They had to find my luggage to correct all tags. Everything else was so wonderful I do not think I can properly put it into words.
From the time we left our home to the time we checked into the hotel in Adelaide was about thirty-five hours. Two and a half hours ride to Philadelphia and a four hour wait until we boarded the plane. My sister took us a little early because she had to get back for a meeting. Then a five hour plane ride to Los Angeles and four hour layover. Then a fifteen hour flight to Australia and a one hour layover at Melbourne. One hour and a half plane ride to Adelaide and the final drive to the hotel.
The winery was absolutely spectacular. We had a personal guided tour by the manager. Bruce was so warm and friendly. After about fifteen minutes he made us feel like we were old friends. I do not believe that any royalty could ever have been treated better. The first thing that I noticed was the aroma of the grapes in the air. I still can not believe the size of the winery. We were shown a massive storage container that holds a million gallons. Gee, that could keep me busy! I also can not imagine a pile of one hundred and eighty thousand tons of grapes that are crushed each year. After the tour we also met with Tony, the head white wine maker. He explained how the different wines are made and we had the privilege of tasting the fourteen wines that are shipped to Pennsylvania. I did like all of them but the Merlot is still my favorite.
We were then taken to the Jacob's Creek Visitor's center for an incredible meal and some social time. I tried the kangaroo. It reminded me a little of venison but much more tender and sweeter tasting. Karen had lamb shanks with a wine sauce; she only described them as being very delicious. She inquired about getting the recipe so she could make it at home.
The view from the visitor's center was incredible, overlooking some vineyards with the mountains in the distance. When Karen went to take some pictures Bruce described the view to me.
After the dinner, Bruce drove us past the estate and a bed and breakfast on the property. He then took us to a large penned in area of the winery where they have some kangaroos and emus. One emu looking for food, tried to eat Karen's sweater. It was really funny. Bruce tapped his beak to make him let go. Then one of the kangaroos put her front legs on Karen so she could pet her. What a wonderful ending to the visit to the winery.
The next morning we had a 2 hour flight to Sydney. When we checked in our hotel I called Jennifer. Jenny asked me if we wanted to meet for tea. I replied no I would like to go out to dinner. That was the first of many expressions that we could interpret differently. Their tea is our dinner or supper and their light tea is our lunch. We had a lot of fun with the different terminologies.
We visited the opera house and decided not to take the tour. There are about two-hundred steps and the tour is pretty fast moving. We made a few stops in Chinatown which started across the street from our hotel. We also saw the Royal Botanic Gardens, Chinese Gardens, and the Featherdale Park. At the Featherdale Park we petted Koala bears and kangaroos and wallabies. We also feed the Kangaroos and an employee placed an owl on my hand. We also took a sight seeing cruise around Darling Harbour. The harbour is so beautiful. Blue water and clean beaches. There is a big harbour bridge which people can pay to climb up and then walk across the top to the middle. I would have liked to experience that but due to my physical limitations and a $250 charge I decided against it. We were told the story that Paul Hogan, Crocodile Dundee, at one time was a rigger on this bridge.
It was suggested by the winery personnel that we make the trip in March through May, their fall and crushing season. Because of this time the weather was getting a little cool. For me living in Pennsylvania I thought it was real nice since we were just coming out of winter. When I was wearing a short sleeved shirt most people there were wearing jackets, which they call jumpers, or sweaters. I was teased a little about not wearing a coat. I believe that there were only two evenings when I found it necessary to wear a light jacket.
Our friends, George and Jenny, took us to the Blue Mountains. That was spectacular. When the sun shone on the trees they looked blue. You were high up looking down into the valley below. We road down into the valley on the incline which was formally used for coal mining. After walking around taking in all the sights and exhibits we went back up on a cable car. I had a slight sense of being home. The coal that was mined is anthracite and where I live in Pennsylvania is known as the gateway to the anthracite region. We also live in what is called the Blue Mountains. There was an interesting rock formation called the Three Sisters. Legend is their father was a tribe witch doctor. They were in love with three brothers from another tribe. The three brothers were great warriors and tried to take the maidens by force. A battle took place and the witch doctor turned the three sisters into stone. Unfortunately, their father was killed before he could turn them back.
We took the ferry to Manly Island. There was a nice beach. Our friends drove us around the coast and showed us a good many of the beaches. Bondi Beach is a very popular beach. The beach had a section made into a wading pool.
The price of food was expensive, as well as the price of souvenirs. Karen and I do not want to eat french fries for awhile. They call them chips. They serve chips for breakfast, lunch and supper. I was first surprised when I had scrambled eggs and French fries for my first breakfast. They have a lot of fried foods. Every where we went there was a coffee bar or cafe. Karen loves coffee; she must have spent $75 or more on coffee. A cup of coffee was $2.50. We had pumpkin with a lot of our meals as a vegetable, no pumpkin pie (my favorite).
The Australian money is a five cent, ten cent, twenty cent, one dollar, and a two dollar coin and some paper money starting at five dollars. Everywhere we went the people were so very warm and friendly. One lady, who worked at a restaurant that we went for breakfast a few times, became teary eyed when we were there for the last time. I told her I would not say good-bye but hope to visit again and will see her then.
Our last evening in Australia was a very warm and equally sad time. We went out for a lovely dinner or tea with George and Jennifer. I think we all had in the back of our minds what would happen later. In the lobby of our hotel we all hugged with a lot of warm and friendly tears. The friendship and bond that we made will last forever. Even writing this part my eyes are starting to water.
When we arrived back in Los Angeles we stayed for three days with my cousin Dick and his wife Patty. We went to Universal Studios. We found it to be both educational and entertaining. We all had a great time. That was my first visit to California. My cousin has been trying to get us out there for about thirty years. We also spent some time with their son Joe and my other cousin Bern, Dick's brother. We plan to go again in the fall or spring, when it is not too hot for Indy, my wonderful Freedom Guide Dog.
The next day we called Cheryl, the young lady who offered us help when we first landed in Los Angeles. She was not home but her husband, Doug was aware that we would be calling. He gave my cousin directions to the location of the lighthouse and set up a meeting time. We met him and their kids what a very lovely family. Then he took us up into the lighthouse. That was also an experience I will never forget. This is a non commercial light house. It was not at all what I expected. I was impressed with the way that it works and the fact that the light is never turned off. It must keep running in case there is some fog. Karen, my cousin Dick and his wife Patty were very interested and really enjoyed the view. Karen was fascinated by looking down the coast at a seal sunning himself on the rocks. Every time a wave would hit the rocks his tail would go up in the air.
Now we went on a little sightseeing tour of the Los Angeles area. Had a great lunch in a restaurant that at one time was a government barge. Back at their home Karen picked some avocadoes from a tree in their yard. That evening we went to a fabulous Mexican restaurant and sadly prepared to come home.
Although it was hard leaving, I also could not wait to get home to my Freedom Guide Dog Indy. He had some anxiety problems with me being gone for almost three weeks. He started getting my daughter up between three and four in the morning. He ripped up a telephone book and left it all around the house that is the half that he did not eat. The evening before her state certification test he ate her study guide. I think she was quite relieved to see us come home.
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