Saturday, 24 September 2016

Wedding

You may have heard that Sarah and I got married! Which means we have just had the distinct pleasure of organizing a wedding! Since no one gives you advice when planning a wedding we thought we'd add our tips. Our big day was centered around a relaxed garden wedding at Sarah's parents riverside location.

Chilling on the lawn before the ceremony. Even the decision to serve champagne before the wedding was somewhat questioned. 
Our biggest hurdle was the house, it was being renovated and no one was sure it would be camera ready in time. The wedding was a big looming deadline for about 6 months of continuous work on the house.






In case you think I'm exaggerating the day before the wedding there was a birds nest of live electrical wires sprawled out across the kitchen floor. I was installing LED lights on the morning of the wedding - talk about last minute! Sarah made the smarter decision of leaving a full day before the wedding and just letting things take care of themselves.

Somehow everything came together just in time. Some early guests started arriving just as I sat down to write my speech for the evening!

Sarah did some spontaneous planning too - she secretly arranged with her brother to arrive by float plane! Pro tip: remember the gumboots!

Don't let people push you into getting or doing things you don't want. If you don't think it adds to the day, don't bother! There is so much going on already, for many this will be the biggest (not to mention most expensive) day of their lives. It is very easy to get caught up in the hype and agree to things that won't really make a difference - just relax and focus on what is important.

You don't want to be on point during the event so appoint a problem solver. They need contact numbers for all vendors, and you need to trust their decisions completely.

The best advice we got was to take some time after the ceremony to just enjoy the moment. Douglas still managed to snap a photo but we were just having five minutes sitting alone on a nearby wharf.




Family friends Gill and Peter helped us on a short photography trip immediately after the ceremony for sunset. It was important for us not to be gone for too long so we had already a good idea of the few spots we would visit. My brother took the photos and we were very happy with them. The contrast between an old run down tug boat and the shiny wedding party worked particularly well.



Organisation


We got a lot of mileage out of Trello. So many things to do, and of course you can't remember them all. We added tips and business recommendations to one board, had one for the planning the wedding and another for planning the honeymoon.

Catering is one of the biggest items and we found a gem in Lolita Catering. Definitely try the food and make sure you get along with who ever will be at the event. We found it really fun choosing the menu and trying some of the options!

Lolita Catering chef Guy came to our apartment to cook sample dishes for us.

Invites and dealing with guest's rsvps is another challenge. We are lucky to have such talented friends, we used Justin Soong's Invite Spring service for sending out "save the date" notifications. Giselle designed and printed our invites and we tracked responses via a google doc spreadsheet. Sarah and I set up a very basic static website with event information, and we had a dedicated email address for rsvps.

Honeymoon

Initially we thought a long Europe trip was what we wanted - however we were both in relatively new positions at work and didn't want too much time off work for a long honeymoon right after the wedding. It didn't make any sense going so far for a shorter time - we both don't like the impact of flying. Instead we opted to spend two weeks in Australia having a sun, sand, and sailing holiday.

As we had friends and family visiting from such a long way away we stayed in Sydney for a few days after the wedding to spend more time catching up with them. This made it feel like the party just kept going for a few more days and was great.

We chartered a yacht in the Whitsunday's and invited a couple of close friends and family to spend a few nights on board with us. It worked out extremely well for us inviting world class sailors to crew for us for a few days!

A couple of top Australian sailors provided to be a decent crew

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Singapore

It is our last day in Singapore and Brian and I are sitting in a cafe called Forty Hands, enjoying the air conditioning and (finally) our first really good coffee since leaving Australia. Every day has been around 34 degrees, has included lots of walking in the hot sun and then getting caught out in a sudden onset of torrential rain!


Brian arrived in Singapore a week ago to attend a conference on big data, called Strata. The same conference that he attended in New York in 2014. Man he gets some good perks!! He and three colleagues were exhibiting their work on machine learning and privacy. I arrived in time to catch him in his nice hotel, with spectacular views. I meant to arrive a day earlier but I stuffed up my flights a little, allow me to explain... 

Brian and I have been married for about three months; during that time I thought it would be a wonderful idea to change my passport to reflect my new name - Sarah Thorne. My passport arrived a week before I was due to leave and I booked my flight the night before - using Mum’s staff travel, lucky me!


So I'm in the car with my bags packed, a brand new passport and my recently purchased ticket when the penny dropped. The name on my ticket did not match the name on my passport! 16 hours later, after filling out forms and sending off marriage certificates to Qantas Staff Travel I was finally on my way to Singapore, travelling under my new name, Sarah Thorne.

Under way - and business class!

Four movies and four wines later, I was in a cab and on my way to reunite with Brian - the thorne in my side. After showing off my new outfit we ventured out into the Singaporean heat in search of some food. We visited a night market where we ate satay chicken skewers and tufu curry, yum yum.


The next morning we made an early start - attempting to avoid the sweltering heat in the middle of the day. Our plan was to walk around the Marina Bay and find a nice spot for breakfast. Most shops were closed so we made good progress through the malls around the bay. About two thirds of the way around we stumbled across a food court with plenty of breakfast options. I was very keen to rest my legs so gave Brian the task of ordering. This is where things got interesting.





After  our “breakfast” we sought higher ground to reorient. Level 57 on the floating ship building. As expected, the view was spectacular:










Back at our hotel, we went for a dip in the pool to cool off before checking out of our hotel and heading to our AirBnB place near Orchid Road. Unfortunately we were 35 minutes late, so there was no one to meet us to give us a key. Luckily a friendly neighbour let us in to the air conditioned lobby. While I waited in the lobby, Brian was sent to find an internet connection in order to contact our hosts. One hour later and we were finally in our new apartment. Much to my disappointment, the apartment reminded me of a small cave, with absolutely no windows to the outside world!


We spent the next days trying to fit in as many tourist activities as we could. We got to experience the monsoon season rain - it would start instantly at full force. Walking across a single road was enough to get drenched to the bone! Quite out of character Brian really seemed to enjoy visiting the many Malls around Singapore - although the air conditioning seemed to be the main attraction.

The stand out activity had to be eating - Singapore is a food lovers delight. We enjoyed everything from tapas, pizza and tiramsu in a jar to the incredible night markets. It is well worth going to the Tekka market - really good indian food at very affordable prices. Try the white carrot cake - more like an omelette. We found this really yummy fish thing made out of chocolate and something strange...



We went to the hawker market in china town where we had deep fried sweet potato palls, sugar cane drink (which is not recommended if you don’t have a sweet tooth) and coconut water. We easily spent a night exploring the market in China town - this is highly recommended! Wandering through the many street stalls we found a $30 travel suitcase - we were almost going to pay $300 in the mall. Win!

We visited the Zoo on our last day, both really enjoyed spending the whole afternoon there. Only downside was we stood in a taxi queue for just over an hour trying to leave the zoo. Omg saw a sloth, and it moved!!!



One day was spent at the Gardens by the sea - got very hot walking there! Pedestrian access isn't that great. You often have to walk long stretches of road before you can find an underpass or crossing. Ate at the Pollen cafe on level two, which is inside the flower dome. Eating here will get you free entry into the flower dome.

Getting home was yet again a struggle. Qantas didn't bother to tell us that the plane from Australia had never left so we got to the airport and along with another few hundred people had to queue up and get processed one by one. After about six hours we booked a last minute hotel and had a bonus day enjoying an amazing pool. We spent our bonus day on Sentosa Island which was touristy but cool.





General observations
  • Locals have said that you have to pay around $60,000 for a certificate to own a car!
  • I didn’t see many bikes using the road, but motorised scooters on the footpath seems to be a great way to get around.
  • Price of taxis is pretty good.
  • Food in cafes and restaurants is more expensive than Sydney prices.
  • Alcohol is much more expensive than Sydney.




Thursday, 8 January 2015

The culture of waste

Can we all stop throwing so much "rubbish" away?
refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot 
I ended up buying my lunch multiple times per week last year and it is quite staggering how quickly food packaging adds up. Reusable containers with lunch made at home is cheaper and more environmentally friendly. One of my personal goals is to improve my ecological footprint.

Since moving to Sydney I've really started to notice the problem. Apparently Australia is the second highest producer of waste (following the USA) per person - more than half a ton per person per year[1][2]. About half of the rubbish that ends up in landfill comes from households.

One of the most widely known issues is the reliance on plastic. All things plastic, from shopping bags to utensils, are made from non-renewable natural resources. To add insult to injury the processes that turn the raw crude oil and coal into plastic emits greenhouse gasses. Plastic degrades slowly, estimates vary from 20 years to 1000. An easy way to help is taking reusable bags to the supermarket (or farmers' market)[3], the plastic shopping bag symbolises all that is wrong with today's throw-away consumer society.
Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags a year, that's over 10 million new bags being used every day.


Something like two thirds of our household waste can be composted. Urban gardening is a great use for compost and gives you nice fresh vegetables and herbs!

There are people taking this to the logical extreme - zero waste living. Check these websites out for inspiration:
  • zerowastehome.com - The blog/site of a family living waste-free since 2008. Worth reading through their tips.
  • trashisfortossers.com
This is a fairly hot topic, the guardian has a whole section devoted to waste. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/waste

[1] http://www.transpacific.com.au/asset/cms/Documents/Australian%20Waste%20-%20The%20Facts.pdf
[2] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/1370.0~2010~Chapter~Waste%20per%20person%20(6.6.3)
[3] http://www.cleanup.org.au/PDF/au/cua_plastic_bags_fact_sheet.pdf

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Budget for South America

Thinking of going traveling in South America? Here is our budget for a seven week trip through Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru.

Roughly speaking Chile costs as much as traveling in New Zealand, USA or Europe; Argentina is quite affordable and Bolivia and Peru are dirt cheap.

We shopped around on many websites to find the cheapest international flights. For when we wanted to travel, Qantas actually offered the cheapest return flight at $1700 NZD. The plane was run by LAN Airways.

We had one internal flight with Aerolineas Argentinas which cost us $800 NZD each.

We budgeted about 100 USD per day in Chile and Argentina, and 50 USD per day for Bolivia and Peru. This worked out to be reasonably close to what we ended up spending.

Tramp in the general vicinity of Five Passes

Sarah and I were out for a quiet dinner with my parents last Sunday night. We were talking about the tramps we wanted to do over the few weeks we had down in Te Anau, overnight trips into Lake Adelaide or around the Hump Ridge were mentioned. But there is one trip that has been on my bucket list for more than a decade - Five Passes. Dad pointed out that the extended forecast was the best he'd seen all summer and Sarah was keen to get straight into a longer tramping trip. The dinner turned swiftly into a planning session with me hastily scrawling notes on good campsites and trying to come up with a superb round trip.

We managed to borrow all the tramping equipment we didn't have and get some back-country cuisine from mum's outdoor shop: Bev's Tramping Gear Hire. All set for a five or six day adventure our packs weighed 18 and 22kg. My youngest brother Douglas dropped us off at Deadmans Track (near Gunn's Camp on the Hollyford road) just after midday on Monday. With heavy packs it made for a grueling start to a trip. The DOC website has this to say about Deadmans:
it is a challenging tramping route
It took us five hours of slowly labouring our way up to the Routeburn Track near Harris Saddle. Deadmans was surprisingly well marked and unsurprisingly steep.

We quickly got off the Routeburn Track and skirted our way around Lake Harris into the Valley of the Trolls. After meeting another couple of trampers about to attempt Mount Xenicus we made our way up a steep and imposing waterfall to our first campsite beside Lake Wilson.

Looking over the lake towards the watefall
The view from our tent at the first camp site
The following morning we made our way around the gorgeous lake and North into the Serpentine range proper. The tops travel was wonderful, open and easy going. We could mostly pick our path to avoid the patches of snow although we did get the ice axe out for a short accent.

Looking back down to Lake Wilson

This idyllic tops travel involved some amount of backtracking when we got bluffed out but by the end of the day we reached the first of two lakelets where we set up our second camp. We planned to make it to North Col and onto Lake Nerine on day three, steep rocky bluffs almost prevented that however we arrived around 3pm.

Sarah downclimbing to North Col
Unfortunately it was a very overcast day and rain was forecast for that evening, usually that wouldn't be a problem but the following day's route to Park Pass was described by Geoff Spearpoint in Moir's Guide as:
an unpleasantly steep sidle on snow grass
Geoff is not known for adding any superfluous words and I have first hand experience that snow grass can be evil when wet. With these factors in mind we decided to push on and walk an extra few hours North to Park Pass before the rain set in. The sidling was steep so when it started to rain that evening we were glad to have gotten past. Just to add insult to injury Park Pass was too windy to consider setting up the tent so we had to continue down to the bivy in the valley.

We were so tired that we quickly assembled the tent and cooked dinner in the tiny bivy. Our tent reached the rock roof so it was a bit claustrophobic. After dinner I thought I smelt smoke so walked around the large rock that we had called home - turns out the real bivy was on the other side! A party of two trampers were enjoying the large spacious shelter with a small fire. Although there was plenty of room we couldn't muster the energy to move around from our cave.


The next day was a pleasant stroll down the valley to Theatre Flat for lunch, before a grunt up to our last camp at Sugarloaf pass.

Our final day wasn't as easy as I'd assumed it would be, we just had to walk back to the divide via the nice smooth Routeburn Track. After slowly making our way through tussock and alpine scrubs the highway of the Routeburn was quick underfoot, but boy oh boy did it go on and on! We kept up a good pace until Haris Saddle then started to slow down as our feet started hurting. We made it out by dark but hitchhiking proved impossible so we had to set off the SPOT to get Douglas to come pick us up after work. As after any long tramp the shower was much appreciated - even though it was at midnight!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Observed Traffic Rules of South America

South American Driving Habits

Most countries in South America share a few driving attributes:
  • passing on blind corners
  • passing where there is barely any visible road
Roads were generally in poor condition and speed bumps were frequent yet unmarked.

Chile

Chile has the best quality roads observed in South America. Suffers from overuse of road signs especially around road works. Roads have lanes and cars stay in between the lines, indicators and speedometers appear to be fitted to most cars.

In some northern parts of Chile vehicles will actually stop for pedestrians. Don’t rely on this as in Santiago pedestrian crossings are simple decorated pieces of road; to be admired as one speeds through the pesky people walking there.

Argentina

In theory you need an international driving license in Argentina - the rental car company didn’t bother checking though. Navigating through the large cities is quite scary, as adhering to lanes or speed limits is a foreign concept, once you’re out on the open road driving is very pleasant.
Fortune favors the brave. Most intersections are uncontrolled and he who hesitates gives way. Uncontrolled intersections often seem to have police standing on a corner, just observing the mayhem.
The laws of physics as applied to traffic are specially adapted for Argentina:
Cars with momentum keep their momentum.
Note large trucks will always have momentum.
The family car has been somewhat replaced in Argentina by the family motorcycle. You can often spot three people to a single motorbike.
Railway crossings can be scary - the arm only covers one lane and the drivers have no problem crossing in spite of the lights, bells and lowered arm!

Bolivia

The home of Death Road, Bolivia delivers some very alarming driving experiences. Roads were often gravel and always potholed. As we drove to the Death Road we witnessed an overloaded truck crash into a cliff - due to drivers taking double shifts and drugging up on Coca leaves.



Cars own the road, pedestrians are advised to run. The three or four lane roundabouts are often a safe crossing place as they appear to remain in a constant state of gridlock. In the slow traffic cars get extremely close to touching as they volley for position.

Honking is done regularly to indicate to pedestrians that a car is coming and they had better move. The horn is also used very liberally in an attempt to speed up traffic; the rule of thumb seems to be: when stationary, honk. The exception is when passengers are alighting a colectivo or taxi in the middle of the street, in this case the horn is used in conjunction with a shouting co-driver to attract a new passenger.

Peru

No sealed roads anywhere in sight in Peru. The rule of thumb seems to be bigger goes first, stop signs and the occasional traffic lights are only there for decoration.

Plenty of honking occurs although it is much more subdued than in Bolivia. Many vehicles will honk when approaching blind corners on single lane roads, or at intersections, simply to indicate they have no intention of stopping. Also taxis use the horn to attract customers, assuming that if you are walking down the street with hundreds of taxis passing you by you wouldn’t be capable of noticing one without a helpful honk to get your attention..

On the few wide roads cars will stop anywhere and pass anywhere. Three lane roads were often reduced to a single lane or even blocked of completely because of double and triple parked taxis and colectivos.
Peruvian buses and colectivos don’t care too much for seat allocations or maximum number of passengers. A two hour minivan ride wouldn’t really be worth while for the driver without managing to pack 20 paying passengers in. Buses will often have people standing and sitting in the aisles - even on extremely long bus trips.



Have fun!