Dec. 30th, 2014

starlady: (run)
One specific place from this year for[personal profile] juniperphoenix 

Well, I think I'm going to say the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. I went a hell of a lot of places this year and there are many that I could talk about as being beautiful, interesting, and awesome in their own right, but this one sticks out for reasons we shall get to shortly. One thing to say at the beginning is that I was not expecting Sydney to be anywhere near as beautiful as it is. [personal profile] unjapanologist and I kept looking at each other and going, "Is this for real?" because…it's gorgeous. The water is blue, the city is green, and given that our motel was a two minute walk from a ferry stop, we had a gorgeous view of the harbor every day. The Bridge and the Opera House are beautiful in their own right, and the Harbor makes them look even more amazing. Even now I look at my photos and I find it a little difficult to believe that it's as beautiful as they look--but it's more so. (I think October is a pretty good time for Sydney; it was warm, but not hot, and certainly not invent-a-new-color-on-the-weather-map-bats-falling-dead-from-the-sky-climate-change hot.) And I had a really excellent cream tea in one of the malls on George Street.

The Botanic Gardens are next to the Opera House, and we walked there after our tour of and lunch at the same (great, except for the flies). We never even made it Mrs. MacQuarrie's chair, because we got sidetracked by the beautiful flowers and trees and sculptures and scenery and ornamental ponds--the Gardens are right on the Harbor, so we had intermittent great views of that, too. On our way out we saw the Wollemi Pine, the so-called "Dinosaur Tree", which was also really cool--it's a Lazarus taxon and the only surviving member of its genus, as well as critically endangered.

We chilled out for a while under a cluster of trees because we saw a flock of (sulfur-crested) cockatoos. There were also bunches of ibises wandering around in the Gardens, and they were there too. Ditto crows, of course. Cockatoos and parrots are everywhere in Australia, and I love birds, so this was predictable. But one thing I noticed about people in Australia was how outright friendly they were--in Sydney and in Wollongong, people routinely went out of their way to be kind and seemingly thought nothing of it. Knowing that, I mustered my courage when a group of people showed up with a loaf of white bread and started feeding the cockatoos (who were all tagged, and presumably thus known to the Gardens), if I could have one of the extra slices of bread. The woman said yes, and so I stood up, held out my arm with the bread in my hand, and a wild cockatoo landed on my arm and ate the bread out of my hand. (After pretending, of course, that it wasn't interested, in true bird fashion. Its cooler than thou act was ruined when the branch it was perching on just above me broke under it.) I fed a wild cockatoo some bread!!!!!!! And thus my wildest Australia dreams were accomplished, though I still wouldn't mind being swarmed by a whole flock like in that one YouTube video. The wild cockatoos were quite gentle, and compared to their domestic relatives, very quiet. THEY WERE SO SWEET. PRECIOUS BABIES. PRECIOUS BABIES SOME OF WHOSE SPECIES ARE CRITICALLY ENDANGERED DUE TO HABITAT DESTRUCTION. STUPID HUMANS.

Anyway. There were signs around saying not to feed the cockatoos, but as we left the park we saw the same flock munching contentedly on the trees, and I suspect that if humans disappeared tomorrow the cockatoos would not only survive, but thrive. It was amazing. I regret nothing except not getting better shots of the gallahs in Woollongong.
starlady: (run)
I really need a Carmen Sandiego icon. As [personal profile] oliviacirce pointed out, I am Carmen Sandiego.

Airports for [personal profile] copracat 

I traveled a lot this year. A lot. I did the math when I got back from Australia last month and it was the next best thing to 85,000 miles in planes, which doesn't count bus, train, and car trips. I think I was in 22 different airports this year. Many were repeat offenders, so it was hard to keep track.

One thing about airports outside the States is that they almost all have a particular kind of flooring, that kind of (pseudo?) marble or shiny polished stone that you never see in U.S. airports. Most U.S. airports have linoleum and/or carpet in my experience. I greatly prefer the carpet like they have in the terminals in MSP. Spoilers: I think MSP is the best airport in the States and one of the best in the world. It has tons of great food, is super convenient, and has lots of coffee. Of the airports that were new to me this year, I have to say that Baltimore BWI was one of the worst--I flew out of there twice and nearly missed my flight the second time because it's so ungodly far from everything. It's not actually that much better than Dulles in that respect, but it also has shitty and/or nonexistent food options. Blech.

One of the bad things about throwing my lot in with Delta irrevocably is that I have self-exiled myself to SFO Terminal 3, which is a benighted cesspool compared to Terminals 1 and particularly 2, which has just been redone with far superior food, drink, and sitting options. All the SFO ads show Terminal 2. Fuck you, SFO. That said, it's great that it's right on the BART (much like National in D.C., which almost makes up for National being an unreconstructed 70s pit), and it's better than freaking SJC, which is far away from everything and has some of the worst baggage service on the continent for no obvious reason, particularly given the miniscule number of people who fly in there. I haven't taken the new OAK airport shuttle yet, but I'm sure as hell not looking forward to the 200% markup on the fare, which was formerly $3. I thought the bus service was fine.

Also, good lord, but LAX is terrible. On the day I flew out of there Delta's computers were down so I waited nearly two hours to check my bags (good thing I made it from Riverside in 45 minutes flat), and then I was in Terminal 5, which is a hellhole with too many people and too few food options at a nearly 200% markup compared to off-airport prices. The Southwest terminal at LAX is nowhere near as bad, and it was the only one I had experience with until then. Terminal 6 was okay, but when I went through there I was too nauseous to appreciate it or the complimentary food and beer on Delta's LAX-SFO shuttle. The Flyaway is okay I guess, but depending on traffic it can be pretty abysmal. I rented my car at Union Station to save $40, and I'd do it again, but damn, the Flyaway can be slow.

I was delayed into Seattle SEA on my way out of the States for the last time so I didn't have time to go the African Lounge in Terminal A and have Mac & Jack's African Amber, a beer so good that the company refuses to sell it in any form but on tap, meaning you can only get it in Seattle and Portland. The African Lounge itself is nothing to write home about, though I absolutely snarfed my nachos there in 2011 after coming home from Japan and three months without cheese. The BLT was okay, at least, and the beer makes it all worth it.

I've now been through Atlanta enough that I have reliably located a place to get a salad (not as easy as you'd think), and I also have a pretty set routine for Narita, which involves eating at Soup Stock before doing basically everything no matter whether I'm going in or out. Given where I live, taking the Narita Express is also only ¥200 more than other options, and though I'd actually never taken it before this year, I've gotten used to it.

For a while there airports and planes were the only places I got any extended reading in, though to some extent that's abated now that I commute by train. And I must say, it's a lot nicer to be doing your reading on a plane in first class or economy comfort, both of which I now get upgraded to occasionally. Anyway. I spend enough time in airports that I try not to hate them, but it's easier to do that in some cases than in others.

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