Porcupyn's Blog

September 16, 2016

Preview of Itinerary

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 6:31 pm

Here is a preview of our itinerary (as planned, not as finally executed which, believe me you, was not too far off *pats self on the back*):

Day One: Land in Sydney, get picked up by friend who would give us a highlights tour of the city, so we could get a few scenic photos, after which he would drop us off at the airport for our evening flight to Cairns. Once in Cairns, we would take our rental car and drive to our first Airbnb accommodation that was conveniently located close to the Wharf.

Day Two: Early in the morning, we planned to drive in the car to the Wharf, find a parking spot, then head over to the Marina to get to our Cruise to the reefs. Once done with that adventure, we would drive to our second Airbnb accommodation that was outside of Cairns town and appeared to be in a remote location (which is why we didn’t reserve it for two days – even hindsight doesn’t help us figure out whether this was a good decision or not!).

Day Three: We would wake up late and at leisure, relax and just hang around, before leaving to Cairns to return our car then board the plane for Melbourne. At Melbourne, we would once again head towards the rental agency, get the car and drive to our third Airbnb of the trip in Torquay, at the origin of the Great Ocean Road.

Day Four: We planned to leave early in the morning (maybe not as early as Day Two and definitely not as late as Day Three) and get on the Great Ocean Road. Our farthest point planned was Port Campbell after which we would head back. However, though the distance is about 150 km (less than 100 miles), we had been uniformly warned on all websites that it would take much more than your regulation two hours or less! So, we didn’t have a clue how far we might get that day. Chances were we would not yet reach Port Campbell; on the other hand, there were good chances of our going all the way up to Port Campbell way before sunset then starting to head back towards Melbourne. Be that as it may, we decided not to take the chance of reserving our accommodation and then either not arriving in time (then struggling to drive on the “opposite side” at night) or overshooting it (then regretting the time lost by dragging ourselves back). So, we didn’t have any reservations for that night.

Day Five: Picking up wherever we left off, we would drive the remainder of the GOR up to Port Campbell, then take the inland (much faster) roads back to Melbourne. After spending the morning and early afternoon sightseeing Melbourne, we would drive to Phillip Island to watch the little penguins. After watching them, we would drive the rental car back to the airport to return it to the agency. This is how I figured the two days “plus three hours” of rental. I figured that we would be renting the car at about seven pm, and then – two days later – the penguins should be coming home by about the same time. Figure about a couple of hours plus some extra time, and we should be able to drop the car off by about ten pm or so. Once that was taken care of, we would get some transportation – either a shuttle or a cab – to Melbourne CBD and our ho(s)tel for the night, Urban Central Accommodation.

Day Six: In the morning, we planned to get up early, check our luggage into the luggage room at the hotel, then check out of the hotel. We would then spend the whole day sightseeing in the Melbourne CBD area (I really did not research this a whole lot) and maybe go to the top of the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, the Eureka Skydeck. Late in the afternoon, we would return to the hotel, relax for some time, pick up our luggage then head over to the train station for the train that would take us to Sydney.

Day Seven: Once we got to Sydney, my local friend would pick us up and then we would be going to visit the Blue Mountains with his family. That night, they would be hosting us at their home.

Day Eight: In the morning, our hosts would take us to the Intercontinental Double Bay where we would at least leave our luggage if we couldn’t check in. They would then drop us off at either end of the Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach cliff walk, which is one of the famous attractions of Sydney. Once we finished the walk, we would head over to Sydney CBD area where we would spend some time in the Circular Quay area before taking the Manly Ferry, which would give us great views of the Sydney CBD area, especially the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Later, we would spend some more time in the Sydney CBD before returning to the hotel.

Day Nine: As our flight out was in the morning, we wouldn’t really have much time to do anything except to get ready and hail a cab.

Australia Trip – Background

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 6:19 pm

OK, let me start at the very beginning. So, thanks to the information on Clark Howard’s website, I managed to purchase our travel tickets to Australia from Atlanta (not Central Florida) for less than half of what I had ever expected to be paying for those tickets. However, that was just the start – we still needed to figure out where to go and for how long! At the very outset, Mrs. Porcupyn washed her hands off the planning aspect – and justifiably so, as she is very busy with her job and the kids’ extra curricular activities. So I did the next best thing and co-opted Baab into the planning process. The pre-planning was a good thing as not only did it help us put together a decent itinerary, but it also helped us greatly in understanding the lay of the land.

From the get go, we set our sights on Sydney and Melbourne as our two bases as a trip to Perth was out of the question. I priced out car rentals and reserved a car for the week for nearly A$500!! As I could not even place any of the Australian cities on the map at this point, I delved deep into the recess of my mind for my high school geography knowledge of the continent. I recalled that the tallest mountain in the continent was not too high. So, the plan was to hit Mount Kosciuszko enroute to Melbourne then drive back. But one email to Sydney based friend convinced us that it would be a bad idea because a) the mountain would be snowbound which would make driving hazardous for us and b) half of Australia (OK, I am exaggerating here) would be there with their snow gear!

IMG_3736

Next, we looked towards Darwin with its beautiful waterfalls, tropical forests and weather, and lush scenery. However, after a review of the amount of time needed and the travel costs, we abandoned that plan. Our next choice of destinations was Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), so much so that I even reserved accommodation and almost purchased the flight tickets; however, upon further review of the amount of time it would take out of our trip just to get a photo or two with a rock in our background (granted, that is one silly way of looking at it as the area really does have some singularly unique scenery), we had to cancel that plan as well.

Then, we turned our attention to Brisbane, with the nice river that flows through the city flanked by parks with wildlife and a petting zoo area with Kangaroos as well as Koalas. Also, by this time, DS had researched about the NSW Discovery Pass on trains, which was a nice perk for both of us, as we are diehard trainfans. The pass allows for unlimited travel between the cities of Melbourne and Brisbane, and also included the trip up to Katoomba for the Blue Mountains. Even if we purchased the 14-day pass and used it for the seven (full) days we were there, we would be able to recoup its cost. However, in the end, looking at the amount of time we would spend in the train, we decided it would not be worth it to subject Mrs. Porcupyn and Katya to that torturous experience!

Now that even Brisbane was dropped, we looked for other touristy things that smacked of Australia! Lo and behold, the Great Barrier Reef beckoned. Cairns it was, though hindsight being 20/20, a better choice probably would have been somewhere closer to Brisbane, say the Whitsundays area. On the other hand, the second night we were in the Cairns area was one of the best of the entire trip. So, in the final analysis, it did turn out well.

So, to summarize, after deciding to add Cairns to our two main base cities of Sydney and Melbourne, I went about purchasing transportation and accommodation. Here is what I got for transportation:

– Atlanta to Sydney round trip (United)
– Sydney to Cairns one way (JetStar)
– Compass Cruise to visit the Reef
– Cairns to Melbourne one way (JetStar)
– Melbourne to Sydney one way (XPT express passenger train)

Besides these, I reserved cars at Cairns for two days and Melbourne for two days plus three hours (why the “plus three hours”? Hold on to your horses, this is just a sneak preview). For the two JetStar flights, I pre-purchased 20 kg of checked-in baggage per adult as well as window seats for each kid right behind each other. As JetStar had a stated policy (don’t know how well they follow it – details will follow later) that they would seat an adult next to a kid when they traveled together, my rationale was that at least we would all be in two consecutive rows, and we would still get to look out through the window. For the outbound (to Cairns) flight, I had purchased two window seats on the right side and for the flight in the other direction (to Melbourne), I had purchased two window seats on the left – with the hope that we would be able to see the reefs from the air.

And for accommodation:

– Airbnb in Cairns area (Nights One and Two)
– Airbnb in Melbourne area (Night Three)
– Urban Central Accommodation (Night Five)
– Hotel Intercontinental Double Bay, thanks Chase IHG card (Night Eight)

To fill in the gaps, we were unsure where we would be halting on the fourth night, so we kept our options open. The sixth night we would be spending on the train from Melbourne to Sydney, and the seventh night, our Sydney friend had offered to host us.

In addition to all this, I forgot to add, we got our Australian visas (I am referring to the version for US citizens) through their online site. Apparently, there are ways around it (i.e., sites that apparently can get you your visa for less than the officially approved site – this is because the visa itself is free but the agency charges for their legwork), but per online advice, better be safe than sorry and so, we paid up the A$20 per person.

Australia

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 11:31 am

“So, we are finally here at the Great Ocean Road,” I thought, as I took this photo. It had been nearly a year since a co-worker had returned from a visit to Australia for the Australian Open. He had shown some great photos of the Great Ocean Road as well as the Melbourne area. Needless to say, a desire to visit the area had been awakened.

IMG_4196

My initial research had led me to believe that round-trip tickets could be had for no less than $1500. I concluded that there was no way I was going to visit Australia – that chance had slipped through my fingers the minute I boarded that first flight westbound to the USA for graduate school from India a long time back.

Imagine my excitement when, one April morning, I checked Clark Howard’s website and found out that fares to Australia were available for less than $600 ex-Atlanta! We were looking at a busy summer ahead of us. Waves of relatives were planning to visiting us for a day, week or month. In between those waves, we had hardly much time to spare.

Given that it takes about a day of travel to get to Australia (and another to return), I really wanted to spend at least two weeks in Australia. However, there was no way I could see us managing that much time what with school commencing within a couple of days after the last of our visitors left.

So, I did the best thing I could and sounded out Baab if he would be OK with missing a week or so of school in return for a trip to Australia. While he was thrilled at the prospect of the trip, he did have some misgivings about missing class. Nevertheless, he said OK.

I met with stiff resistance with the rest of the family though. Mrs. Porcupyn and Katya were not in favor of making the trip. After a lot of cajoling, I managed to convince them that spending a week in Australia would not be the end of the world! The trip almost got shot down a second time when I had to (parenthetically) add that it would entail a seven hour drive before and after the flights!

Just before I bought the tickets, I had this thought about the weather! Whoops, I said to myself, it would be winter there … and winter there would be cold, wouldn’t it? Now look, at this point in time, I had no clue how far down south Australia was (though Geography was one of my pet subjects in school, every now and then I get this little nugget of information that I never knew before) nor where each of the big cities was geographically located – though I at least knew their names. Some quick research convinced me that it would probably be no colder than Paris had been during Thanksgiving time (November), which is when we had spent two days there! So, I went ahead and purchased the tickets, though it took more than a day for it all to sink in, by which time I had a) received the ticket information and b) called United and confirmed that everything was A-OK with the tickets!

July 18, 2016

My Plan by Marchette Chute

Filed under: Uncategorized — Porcupyn @ 6:33 am

A long time ago, I had read this poem in school. For some reason, I happened to remember it a few minutes ago. Thankfully, I was able to google it successfully (in spite of my minimal googling skills).

 

Untitled

July 9, 2016

Drainage basins … and more

Filed under: Geography,Travel — Porcupyn @ 8:02 pm

I had not really paid much attention to this statistic before a friend posted about it on his social media. My trivia information was previously limited only to the length of rivers and, to a very limited extent, the discharge. And even what I knew about the discharge turned out to be incorrect for the most part! And when I started googling, I learned more than I had ever hoped to learn. So, here is a summary of what I found out – you are welcome to follow the links and learn more!

A drainage basin is the area of land from where all precipitation drains to a common destination. For example, the drainage basin of a river is all of the land from where it collects its water from (which obviously comes from the skies as precipitation, i.e., rainfall or snow). What is weird, and this is something I was unaware of, is that folks in USA refer to this as the watershed as well (and having lived in the USA for nearly three decades, this was what I was used to as well). However, it appears that outside of the USA, the watershed refers to the perimeter of this drainage basin, not the basin itself.

What was really surprising for me was how the rivers of the world get ranked based on length, water discharge and drainage/catchment basin size. Without further ado, here are the rankings (by river):

By drainage basin:

  • Amazon
  • Congo
  • Nile

By length:

  • Nile
  • Amazon
  • Yangtze

By discharge volume:

  • Amazon
  • Congo
  • Ganga-Brahmaputra-Padma (I don’t know why/when Padma got renamed as Meghna, or have I been mistaken all along? Upon further googling, it appears that Padma becomes Meghna!)

It was a revelation that the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Padma river was number three in the world in terms of discharge volume and that Nile and Missouri-Mississippi were nowhere among the top rivers. I had read about the Missouri-Mississippi being among the longest rivers, but it didn’t make the top five. So now, I wonder how the lengths are/were calculated – were the lengths being combined when they counted it as one of the top three? One thing that strikes me as unfair is how the rivers are named. I don’t recall reading about the Parana river in Geography (maybe because we learned of it as Rio de la Plata). However, it appears to be the longest river in South America behind the Amazon. But what is weird is that it drains into the Rio de la Plata, which is a runt of a river – just 290 km in length! It would be more correct, in my opinion, for the longest river to keep its name throughout (though this might result in the Ganga being renamed as Yamuna past Allahabad!!).

Another interesting way to rank the rivers would be by depth (another parameter I had not thought of previously, until I read about the Congo being the deepest river). So, here are the rivers ranked by depth (well, I stopped after Congo as it appears that this is not a verified figure for rivers and even for Congo, it does not sustain this depth for a long time):

  • Congo

Fast fact: Did you know that the flow of the Amazon is so powerful that no bridges can be built across it?

Trivia question: Which river flows through the most capitals (of countries)?

December 10, 2015

Whatever happens in Las Vegas …

Filed under: Family,Geography,Humour,Travel — Porcupyn @ 7:02 am

… obviously, stays in Las Vegas. But I surely can talk about what happened outside of Las Vegas, no?

During the Thanksgiving hols (for kids, more than us parents), we had an opportunity to claim a decent hotel rate and airfare, so decided to take the plunge and plan a trip to Las Vegas. Mrs. Porcupyn and I took three days off work apiece for this purpose.

The original plan was to leave on Friday evening, the week before Thanksgiving, and return next Friday, i.e., Black Friday. However, Katya’s soccer schedule interfered (which, in hindsight, was good – she managed to participate in her first non-loss game). As a result, we rescheduled to leave on Monday morning and return on Saturday night.

Our initial thought was to hang around Las Vegas for three days and then head over to San Diego and spend three days there (or the other way around) before returning. However, the changed schedule resulted in the loss of a day. Besides, by this time, I had realized that though Las Vegas proper might not be my cup of tea, there was plenty to do in the surrounding area by way of nature. So, even a week exclusively devoted to a stay in Las Vegas appeared to fall short of stuff that I wanted us to do.

So, we decided to limit ourselves to Las Vegas. In spite of starting to plan a couple of months before the trip, we soon got bogged down in our respective schedules, with the net result that even the week before, none of us had a concrete idea of what we were going to do, except fly out and back!!

In a frenzy during the week prior to our departure, I managed to ask around (on and offline) and get information about the basic nature attractions in the general vicinity that could be visited as a day trip. Here was our short list (some of the names might not be the official ones):

  • Red Rock Canyon
  • Zion National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Death Valley
  • Hoover Dam
  • Some place with sand dunes (that I had read about somewhere but did not remember when and where)
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Arches National Park

As you can see, the list got out of hand pretty quickly. There was no way we could have gotten to some of these places with the five-six days we had in mind, and even to those we would have gotten to, we could not have done much.

So, we decided to play it by ear based on weather conditions. Fortunately, the weather was not going to be too bad – I had worried that we might run into snow and/or ice/sleet. In hindsight, once more, it appears that I had not done my homework properly – even the weather we encountered was apparently colder than normal. It was ironic to face weather in the 40s in Las Vegas while friends visiting the Atlantic coast up north got 60s!! Oh well … [more to follow]

October 30, 2015

Human interactions in the smartphone era

Filed under: Communication,Peeves — Porcupyn @ 7:48 am

Several times in the last few months, I have been burned by my electronic interactions with fellow humans. Specifically, as a Soccer (and Swimming) Dad, I communicate with other parents via email – to me, it is better than using the phone for two reasons: one, I am never in a position to claim the Extrovert of the Room award at any place or time, and two, I never know what would be a good time to call another parent (he or she might be driving, in a meeting, eating out with family, yada yada yada).

So, I whip out my laptop (most of my communication happens at home, as I don’t typically use a smartphone on the road, though I possess one … finally) and type in an email. Maybe because I am at home and typing on a laptop with all of my fingers, or maybe that is just the way I am, my emails are typically one or two paragraphs long (maybe as long as this post – up to this point).

Invariably, I have received responses that are a sentence long … or shorter! A few times I have asked a question or two in my e-mail that has not been answered. I used to wonder whether it is my email, my face, my kid or what it is that resulted in what I perceived to be failure of communication. Needless to say, more often than not, that is the last email in the chain and I do not bother to respond.

This article makes it appear that I have not been alone at the receiving end of such responses (and at least, I ought not take it to heart as much as the person in this article should).

A close friend recently forwarded me an email exchange with a startup CEO. My friend is a casual investor in startups, and works in finance.The CEO of one of his portfolio companies sent him (along with other members of a syndicate) an email asking for introductions to venture firms.

In an effort to be helpful, my friend offered to introduce the CEO to one of the top venture firms in the world.

The CEO’s response responded with a brief email containing only two words: “please do.”

After receiving the brief response, my friend asked me an honest question: “is this how everyone in tech behaves?”

Another similar article.

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