Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Banana Muffins
Let’s Bake!
We all do it, buying too many bananas or just not getting to eat them before they go “banana-bread-ready”.
I came home from my second work hardening shift at Amazon (only worked 6 am – 11 am) and was welcomed by 3 such bananas.  I searched online for a banana bread recipe, and then remembers that I ditched the loaf pan.  So, muffins it would be!
I adapted a recipe from The Plant Strong Vegan. I felt the original had too much sugar, and didn’t have chocolate chips or oats, which I consider a must in any sweet treat!
BANANA CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS
Ingredients:
  • 3 very ripe Bananas, mashed
  • 2 cups Flour (can use for gluten-free flour)
  • ½ cup Organic Sugar, or coconut sugar
  • ½ cup Unsweetened non-dairy milk of choice
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • ½ tsp Cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • ¼ Cup vegan Chocolate Chips
  • ¼ Cup Oats of your choice
Instructions:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt & cinnamon.
  3. In a medium bowl, mash-up your 3 ripe bananas with a fork, and add milk & vanilla.
  4. Fold the wet with the dry and mix well.
  5. Mix in chocolate chips and oats.
  6. Fill muffin cups with approx 1/4 Cup of batter.
  7. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until golden brown and cooked in the middle.
Not totally oil-free eating if you do this, but if you are so inclined:
Top with a dollop of peanut butter and some banana slices
PREP TIME: 5 minutes
COOK TIME: 25 minutes
If you make these, share your feedback in the comments! I’d love to hear how they came out, and if you made any additions/modifications to make them fit for you. (Like using Pumpkin Pie Spice instead of Cinnamon).
~ Nancy

Beeting It

2016-10-01-first-day-beets

In October of 2012, David and I were working our first Amazon CamperForce job.  There was a fellow Camper who had just finished working the Sugar Beet Harvest (SBH), and his description of the job – short term, good pay, lovely part of the country – has always stayed with us.  In fact, we submitted applications in 2014 and 2015, but then declined due to other obligations.  This year was our year to check off another RV’er Bucket List Adventure – The Unbeetable Experience!

So, what is the SBH? The American Crystal Sugar Company/Sidney Sugars hires 1,300 people each year, through a temp agency called Express Employment, to help with the sugar beet harvest in Montana, and the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota.  These migrant workers come in their cars, vans, bus conversions, and RVs. There are also locals who use their vacation time to make extra money.

The actual jobs available for this workforce are described as follows:

Helper and Sample Taker
Collects beet samples and assists Pile Operator in cleaning. Helper will also communicate with drivers to ensure safe and accurate unloading of trucks.
Pile Operator
Maneuvers pile control switches, orchestrates repair work and supervises and assists in the clean up of daily operations.
Skidsteer Operator
Operates skidsteer. Must be able to lift 50 lbs.

Now, to the uninitiated, these job descriptions don’t sound so bad.  Experience will tell us differently.

The shifts are 12 hrs long, generally 8 am – 8 pm, or 8 pm – 8 am.  The harvest work starts on Oct 1, and the worker commitment is for 15 days, or until one is “released”, whichever is first.  In 2015, the harvest in MN/ND  finished in 9 days.

The pay is the big draw.  Starting pay for first year workers is an hourly wage of $12.86 for the first 8 hrs, $19.29 for the next 4 hrs of each workday.  Saturday pay is $19.29/hr for the full day, and Sunday pay is $25.72/hr for the full shift.  If one is dismissed from work early due to weather or other circumstances, they are paid for a minimum of 4 hrs.  Rehires, pile operators and skidster operators make a bit more per hour.  A completion bonus of 5% for first year, and 10% for returners is also paid.  And finally, a full hookup campsite is provided.  The Express Employment ads make these claims:

Fred and Yvonne from AZ
earned over $4600
Kay from NM had an
average wage of $16.42/hr
Butch and Judy from SD
earned over $7100
Paul from SD had an
average wage of $17.88/hr

One can see why people would travel to work the SBH!

Those are the nuts and bolts.  The actual experience is a little bit greater than the parts.

The application process was easy.  While working the Amazon CamperForce booth in Quartzsite, AZ in January 2016, we were once again next to the Express Employment booth.  We turned in our completed applications with the couple there (who, as we understand it, get a $150 referral bonus for each person who completed their work commitment).  Sometime in June, we were called and asked if we were still planning on working.  In August, we were told that we were assigned to a campground in Stephen, MN and would be working in Kennedy, MN, a short drive away.  Our expected arrival date was September 24. This early arrival was because David was expected to be a Pile Operator, and therefore would need to attend training before the actual harvest began.

We drove from Maine to Minnesota, and arrived on the 23rd.  The campground is owned by the city of Stephen, and is actually quite nice. A sign was posted with our name on the site, which happened to be directly next to the wifi router (score!). We have had excellent, unlimited high-speed internet for the entire campaign.

First Impressions
First Impressions
Getting Set Up
Getting Set Up

On Saturday, Sept 24, we drove to the Express HQ in Drayton, ND to complete paperwork and watch an orientation video.  We also had the pleasure of meeting up with two couples that are friends from Amazon tours in Nevada and Texas.

Here is a map to help keep the locations straight.  Yes, we commuted 20 minutes each way to our work site.

We were not needed again until Tuesday, Sept 27, when we received 2 hours of onsite training in Drayton.  This training actually was just a visual, standing around a piler, but there were no trucks and no beets, so we really just got a feel for how cold the wind could be, and how many more layers we were going to have to wear!  We were also issued our spiffy, clean PPE’s (personal protection equipment): a hardhat, a safety vest, and goggles.

David had piler training at Kennedy on Thursday, Sept 29 for 2 hours, and I had onsite training that same day.  For those keeping track, we have now been in MN for 7 days, and “worked” a total of 6 hours.  We were questioning why we had to arrive so early, and how we were going to make our 2 weeks worth of food last, as the local grocery stores did not have much to offer.  But we took advantage of the time to walk around the town, and to batch cook and freeze soups, beans, rice, and muffins in preparation for the 12 hr shifts scheduled to start on Saturday, Oct 1.

There was a mix up on job assignments before we even got to work on our first day. When I awoke on the morning of Oct 1, I noticed a voice mail from the Kennedy site.  Apparently, I had been assigned to the Night schedule, even though no one had contacted me.  I called in and said that I was working days, and we were on our way. When we reported to work at 7 am on Oct 1, I was listed on both the day and night schedule, and David was not listed on the schedule at all.  Everything looked correct when we left training on Thursday, so we have no idea what happened between then and the start of the campaign.

Day 1 ended at 12:45 pm, as the temperature was too warm for the beet harvest. Apparently, the outdoor temperature cannot exceed 68°F , or the beets will be too warm in the pile and rot.  Oct 2, our work day lasted from 8 am to 12:30 pm, again due to heat. This was a bummer for multiple reasons, but primarily because those two days were premium pay days, and thus our opportunity for maximum income was reduced.  But this is farming, and mother nature does not always cooperate. These short work days helped break our bodies in to the process, so it was not all bad.

We were surprised to find that David was not assigned the job of pile operator even though that was the training he received, as there was a returner assigned to that position instead.  In fact, on the first day, David and I were assigned to different pilers. This made life a little more complicated, as the pilers are not close, and one or the other of us would have to walk a good distance to get to the truck for food and water.  This was remedied the second day when we asked the foreman for a switch.  David joined me on piler 3, and that completed our crew of two couples.  David was relief for our pile operator when he needed breaks and for lunch.

Views As We Drove to Work
Views As We Drove to Work

The weather did not cooperate for the SBH for three more days.  We had Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off completely.  We took time to meet up with friends for lunch at a brewery in Grand Forks, ND and to restock the pantry and fridge.  We have now been in MN 12 days, and worked a total of 16.25 hours.

Finally, on Thursday, Oct 6, we have the go ahead to report to work at 11 a.m. for an 8 hour shift. We dress in layers, as it is cold and windy.  And the truck won’t start.  The batteries are dead! It took two trucks (thank you, fellow work camper Walt!) to get us moving.  We recharged on the drive into work, but needed a jump at the end of shift to get us on the road back to the closest Walmart, in Grand Forks (1 hr drive). Two new batteries later, and we were driving home, and in bed by 11 pm.  That was a complication that really could have buried us!

From Friday, Oct 7 through Sunday, Oct 16, we worked every day, 12 hr shifts.  What did our jobs entail? Well, here are the tools of our trade:

Got Shovels?
Got Shovels?

And our workstations? Well, they were the sample taking station:

Sample Collection Funnel
Sample Collection Funnel

The Boom:

Boom Chick A Boom
Boom Chick A Boom

The Truck Area:

View of Ground Crew
View of Ground Crew

And the Piler Tower and End Dumps:

Tower and End Dump
Tower and End Dump
David in the Tower
David in the Tower – Very Bundled Up
Piler Control Panel
Piler Control Panel

Now to explain what the actual job entails.  As this was our first year, the couple that was working with us, returners, set the stage for how our piler would operate. Piler 3 had a crew of 4: the piler operator (Karl), the boom operator (Colleen) , and two additional grounds people (David and I). A truck full of harvested sugar beets would come through the end dump and stop.  There are end dumps on either side of the piler, so David was on one side, I was on the other.  I primarily worked the side with the boom and the sample taker.  We would greet the truck, write the number of our piler on the trucker’s receipt, and take a sample ticket from the trucker if he had one.  The operator would signal for the truck to dump his load, and the conveyors would sift the dirt from the beets, sending the beets up the boom to end up in the growing beet pile.  The dirt, or tare, would be returned to the truck and the truck would drive away. We would help direct the trucks forward, backwards, and then clean around where they ignored us.  And repeat.

Before, during, and after the unloading of the beets, we would use shovels to keep our work area and the area where the beets would be piled, clear of dirt and other organic material.  If it rained (and it did), the area would become more slippery than ice. The dirt is amazing, a black mix of clay that is sticky and globs with amazing thickness.  We had dirt and hydraulic fluid raining down on us all day, and were thankful that we were wearing clothing that could be ruined – because it was!

The sample bags would weigh about 20 – 25 lbs each.  I could barely lift one when we first started, but by the end of the run, I had no problem with them.

The shoveling, standing for hours, and sheer physicality of the job surprised us.  We had been told by many previous “Beeters” that it was the elements that would be most challenging. The wind, the cold, the rain all proved tough, that is for sure.  But we layered up, and had really good boots that got us through that part.  We probably could have done with better gloves, but once I layered some good fleece gloves under my work gloves, I was much more comfortable.

The length of shift was tough, too.  12 hrs outside is a long time, but we got to see the sunrise and the sunset most days.  An incredible bonus was the view of the Northern Lights we had one night on the drive home.  It was too spectacular for a picture, so this sunset will just have to do:

Sunset behind pile 1
Sunset behind pile 1

It was a challenge to keep David fueled.  He burns calories faster than I do (clearly), and I worried about how cold he was.  I will let him talk about the effect of the job on his Parkinson’s, if he is so inclined, in a separate post.  For me, I burned about 3,000 calories a day, and lost 10 pounds.  My fitbit showed around 30,000 steps a day.

When the trucks rolled through at a good pace, the time seemed to go by faster.  When we were down to one truck every 15 – 20 minutes, it was tough to stay warm.  But we tried to keep moving and keep cleaning.

We had an outside-of-work challenge thrown at us while at work on the 12th.  We came home to find that there was no water in the campground.  And when we got up on the 13th, it still wasn’t on, so I called the City to discover that they had turned it off and winterized the pipe, with no intention of turning it back on again.  They did, however, leave it on in the shower house. That’s two stalls for women, two for men, for a full campground of 24 hour workers.  Not ideal.  The people at Express arranged for a water truck to deliver water to our rig, but the communication still lacked, and it was Friday before we had a full tank of water to cook and bathe with.  If we had some notice from the City, we would have filled our tank. Lesson learned.  But the situation did cause some to lose work hours while they relocated to another campground.

The majority of the farms in our location were wrapping up by Friday, the 14th.  Remember, we have a 15 day commitment to receive our bonus.  There were two large farms that were waiting until the last possible minute to harvest, so work extended into the weekend of the 15th and 16th.  We decided that the 16th was our last work day, but could have continued for a couple more days, whether it would be to help process beets or to clean the machines post-harvest.  But we were pretty much out of food and energy, so we fulfilled our commitment, plus one day of premium pay, and should finish with around $2,500 each/$5,000 couple in our pocket.  Eventually.  We are told that the orientation time and the bonus are not paid out until December, but we should see the majority of the pay by October 28.

Here is David’s video summary of our time on Piler 3:

Would we do it again? The jury is still out on that one!

We look forward to hearing what you have to say about this post.  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

I am so glad that we could have this chat!

Nancy

Our Route to get here:

Pumpkin Pie Recipe

pumpkins

It is 42°F outside, and we are taking it easy as we rest up between jobs.  This is exactly when I get the baking bug! David loves pumpkin pie, but I have not made a vegan version yet, and am up to the challenge today.

When we went grocery shopping the other day, we noticed the display of pumpkin pie making supplies – and then read the label on the pumpkin pie filling.  Since we weren’t going to be adding sweetened condensed milk and/or eggs to our diet anytime soon, we decided to just get a couple cans of pumpkin and see what we could do with them.

I searched Happy Herbivore for a pie crust recipe. Found one that is incredibly easy, which is a good thing since I have minimal experience making pie crust.  I was almost going to use the recipe for cornbread and make THAT the pie crust, but changed my mind.

Discovered that I don’t have a pie pan, so a rectangle pan is going to have to do.

I whipped up the crust recipe, then pressed it into the pan.

I was then in search of a no-oil, vegan pumpkin pie filling recipe.  I didn’t find one, so I improvised and married two different recipes together.

Here is what it looks like going into the oven:

Going Into The Oven
Going Into The Oven

And this is what it looked like coming out of the oven:

Baked Pie
Baked Pie

Here are the recipes:

CRUST:

  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 whole banana, cold
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt (I omitted this)

Combine flour and banana (a slightly unripe, still greenish banana is best) in a food processor, pulsing until there are no whole banana pieces left.  Roll out on clean surface, or press into pan.

FILLING:

  • 2 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened plain milk of your choice (I used soy)
  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds, mixed with 1/3 cup warm water (let sit for 15 minutes)
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or sub mix of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves)

Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth.  Taste to adjust spices, as necessary. Pour filling into crust.  Bake at 350° for 60 minutes.  Out of the oven, let cool for 2 hrs or refrigerate until ready to serve.

David’s opinion: Two pieces are gone, so I think that means he likes it!

Happy Tasting,

Nancy

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Can't eat just one!
It’s Fall, the leaves are turning, and I am succumbing to the Pumpkin Spice movement!
Here is a healthy recipe that I found online, and made even healthier by modifying it to be WFPBOF (whole food plant based oil free).  It’s how we roll.  When you make these, please let me know what you think in the comments section.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from recipe by Cookie and Kate
Prep time:  15 mins
Cook time:  25 mins
Serves: 12-14 muffins
INGREDIENTS
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 2 chia seed eggs (2 Tablespoons chia seeds in 2/3 cup water. Let sit for 15 min)
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup milk of choice (I used unsweetened soy)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling on top
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice or cloves
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour or regular whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned oats, plus more for sprinkling on top
  • 1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 325° F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the applesauce and maple syrup or honey. Add chia seed gel, and mix well. Mix in the pumpkin purée and milk, followed by the baking soda, vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice or cloves.
  3. Add the flour and oats to the bowl and mix with a large spoon, just until combined. If you’d like to add any additional mix-ins, like nuts, chocolate or dried fruit, fold them in now.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. The don’t “grow” much while baking, so it is OK to fill towards the top. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with a small amount of oats, followed by a sprinkle of cinnamon if desired.
  5. Bake muffins for 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.
  6. Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack. These muffins come out cleanly when they are cooled, but will break up if you try to take them out too soon.
NOTES
MAKE IT GLUTEN FREE: Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose blend works well instead of the whole wheat flour.
STORAGE SUGGESTIONS: These muffins keep well in the freezer. Store them in a freezer-safe bag and defrost individual muffins as needed.
CHANGE IT UP: You could really go crazy with add-ins here! Fold in chopped dried cranberries or crystallized ginger.  If you are not nut-adverse, try chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts.  And my friend Barry suggest trying peanut butter chips (but they are pretty hard to find in the vegan variety).
Enjoy! 
~ Nancy

Port Macquarie NSW

Spotto At The Beach

From Sydney, we headed towards Brisbane, NSW and the Gold Coast.

Our intention was to route through Canberra, the capital of Australia, but we decided to save that for our return trip, since it was more “inland” and we wanted to go along the coastal route as much as possible.

We got a pretty late start out of the caravan park, so our first day was a relatively short one. With the help of our WikiCamps app , The Rock Roadhouse was chosen as our free, overnight stop.  We were the first of the van dwellers to arrive for the night, but were soon joined by many.  Upon arrival, most chose a respectable distance between vans, and all was good in the world until about 11 pm when a rental van of three girls from Germany decided to park between us and our neighbor, and proceeded to open and close their doors and speak at full volume for at least the next hour.  Even in RV living, or camping, we have all had THAT neighbor once in a while.

Vans At Rock Roadhouse

Yes, that is a gas station/restaurant that has been made to look like Uluru. Hence the name “The Rock” Roadhouse.

After a quick breakfast, we headed to the Seal Rocks lighthouse to see what we could see.

Seal Rocks Lighthouse
Seal Rocks Lighthouse

On the walk up the very steep path, we took a break to let others pass:

It's just not a hike without a reptile in our path
It’s just not a hike without a reptile in our path

The views were stunning:

From the Lighthouse
From the Lighthouse

20160503_115701

Back on the road and heading up the coast, we came upon a lovely beachfront town by the name of Port Macquarie.  It had numerous free camping opportunities, as well as a reasonably-priced caravan park.  There were surfing beaches and hiking trails listed as points of interest, so that it became our first real stop for the state of New South Wales.

Here is what Town Beach looked like upon our arrival:

Town Beach at Sunset
Town Beach at Sunset

The first night, which was really supposed to be the only night, was spent in a parking lot along – you guessed it – by the river, next to a hotel.  It was quiet, and had public restrooms just a quick 3 minute walk away.  There were two or three other backpacker vans, and we were treated to an evening show of flying foxes heading out for a hunt.  There seemed to be thousands of them, and David tried to get a picture with his camera on the night vision setting:

Flying Foxes - Nightvision
Flying Foxes – Night vision

Here is what they look like during the day –

Flying Fox Port Macquarie
Flying Fox Port Macquarie

That is a picture I pulled from the internet, as I did not seek them out during the day. Suffice it to say that they are very large, and there is a plentiful colony that lives in a nature reserve in Port Macquarie.  The night show was impressive.

The weather in Port Macquarie is magnificent! One would not suspect it is late Fall, with the water so lovely and inviting, and the days around 80-85 degrees F.

We expected this to be an overnight stop, but the beach and town were just so lovely, that we spent the next 6 days lounging around, hiking, getting caught up on library wifi, and generally feeling like we were really on vacation, or “holiday” as they call it here.

The town is really cute and has a little something for everyone – major chain grocery stores and a mall, a lovely library with free internet, a modern art center that doubles as a visitor center, boutique shops and day spas, as well as numerous ice cream and coffee shops.  The jewel in the crown was the magnificent beaches and walking trails. All of this was within walking distance of our overnight parking places.

One could see why this is the home of the Australian Ironman competition, which unknown to us, was completed the day before our arrival.  The competitors cleared out by our day 3, and we felt as if we had the town and beaches to ourselves.  The township of Port Macquarie was established in 1821, with many buildings from that time still intact.

As Port Macquarie became our home for 6 nights, between the great caravan park and the urban camping friendly parking lots, we averaged $7.60 AUD/night.  Of course, that does not factor in our daily shared $5 AUD soy decaf flat whites.  Yes, David has not only stopped giving me grief about drinking coffee, but I am sharing my drinks with him.  It is a change in attitude I can live with!

Some of the highlights of our time here:

  • The Town Beach and an ocean that I actually went wading into, multiple times. (I don’t swim, and rarely go into bodies of water, so this was really meaningful to me. I even got knocked down by a wave, but got back up and still played some more:
Port Macquarie View
Port Macquarie View
  • The Koala Hospital and the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail were both sources of entertainment. The Koala Hospital allowed us an up-close look at the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured koalas.  It is the only facility of its kind in the world, and is run by donation and volunteers.  The Sculpture Trail comprised of 50 unique koala sculptures placed in various places around town and the outlying area.  These sculptures were created to celebrate the largest coastal koala population on the east coast of Australia.  While I did not go about seeking these out, I took a snap of each one that I encountered along my way:
Koala Trail
Koala Trail
  • The Coastal Walk from Town Beach to Lighthouse Beach was a doozy through beaches for all kinds from surfing to fishing to dog-friendly to naked, with a rainforest canopy and a goanna sighting at a birthday party! The reward for hiking 10 kilometers across beaches and through rainforest paths: steps to the lighthouse!
Tacking Point Lighthouse
Tacking Point Lighthouse

On our final morning in “Port”, we shared Town Beach with our mothers, as we called them to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day.  One last look:

Mother’s Day beach photo
Mother’s Day beach photo

It’s been two weeks since we have seen Hannah, and I am ready to invade her space again.  We probably won’t take more than 3 days to get back to Melbourne; at least that is my hope.

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy

Sydney

Botanical Gardens

We arrived in Sydney on a Sunday afternoon, and expected traffic to be less hectic.  Along that same thought, we headed to famous Bondi Beach. After paying $7/hr for parking, we walked around, took some pictures, and wondered what all the fuss was about.  I guess we are a little jaded, or maybe because the beach wasn’t filled with sunbathers and merry makers, but we just didn’t see the draw.  It felt excessively touristy, but we did find the pool at the edge of the beach a neat touch:

Lap ool at the beach
Lap pool at the beach

It took us over an hour to get out of the city and into our caravan park. It was so nice to be parked in a lovely site at Lane Cove River Tourist Park. The park staff was very helpful at check-in, the amenities blocks were clean and plentiful, and we were given a nice site with lots of room. The park was quiet, while also providing free internet access in the game/TV room.  For $37 a night, it was a bargain for the location alone.  Everything else was icing on the cake.

We headed into Sydney on the train the next morning.  Thank you, Alex and Sarah (previous owners of Spotto) for the Opal card with credit on it! We will pass these on to Hannah to use up the balance when we leave. The trip took about 30 minutes, and it was a relief not having to deal with traffic, parking, etc.

A free walking tour of Sydney started at 9:00 a.m., so we joined it.  Our tour guide, Lydia, grew up in Sydney, and had historical tales and secret passages to share with us.  The tour was 3 hours in length, but we left it halfway through, as we were near the Harbor at that point, and wanted to go at a quicker pace than the tour.  But we would recommend it to future Sydney visitors, as it is a great way to learn about the city.

Here are some of the places we visited:

Birdsongs
The Forgotten Songs art piece

Forgotten Songs was an alley art installation. “Forgotten Songs commemorates the songs of fifty birds once heard in central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by European settlement. The calls, which filter down from the canopy of birdcages suspended above Angel Place, change as day shifts to night; the daytime birds’ songs disappearing with the sun, and those of the nocturnal birds, which inhabited the area, sounding into the evening.” If there weren’t so many people talking as we walked through, we would have really enjoyed it.  And we tried to find this on our way back to the train station, but could not locate it.

Seal of Australia
Coat of Arms of Australia

A little tidbit about the Coat of Arms of Australia: the two animals, the kangaroo and the emu, apparently cannot walk backwards.  Well, that is what our tour guide told us!

Of course, we visited the Sydney Opera House.  One can’t miss it coming over the bridge on the train, and it was a major part of our visit.

Opera House Selfie
Opera House Selfie
View from afar
View from afar

One can’t really see the size when viewing it from across the water.

Getting Closer
Getting Closer

But once upon it,

An Entrance Door
An Entrance Door

It is clear that it is many pieces.

Here is an up-close view of the outer shell of tiles whose reflection makes the buildings shine:

Tiles
Tiles

It was a beautiful day and we walked all over the downtown and harbor area.  On our way back to the train, we spotted these fellows enjoying a game of chess:

Park Game
Park Game

Now that we have experienced Sydney, we are pretty much finished with going into downtown areas for awhile.  The highlights of the day were the meandering walks through the botanical gardens and the trek around the harbor and around the opera house.  The lowlights were definitely the search for vegan food (we ended up with veggie sushi) and the packed malls.

We are now off to the Gold Coast, in search of some sun and white sand beaches.

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy

Unexpected Sites on the Road to Sydney

Tawny Frogmouth

We decided that while Hannah recovers from her torn plantar fascia injury, we will transform from parents to explorers in a van, and really make the most of our time in Australia.  We set our sights on Sydney, a mere 1,000 kilometers to the northeast.

One our first day out, we came upon a town by the name of “Stratford on the Avon”.  Since David (and the other Keane’s, including his father Harold) grew up in Stratford, Connecticut, we decided that this was a must-see.  We were not disappointed.

This Stratford has an art walk, complete with an audio guide, an MP3 player, and a speaker, all available for pickup at the local theater.

Here is the Globe, the first stop on the art tour:

Stratfords Of The World
Stratfords Of The World

And the marker for Connecticut:

Bonus Points if you can name this helicopter maker

Here are some of the art pieces along the 1 hour walk:

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It was great to spontaneously take part in the tour of the town, and we were invited back for the weekend Shakespeare Birthday celebration that is apparently the highlight of the year.  We weren’t sure how far down the road we would be, but kept it as an option.

That night, we had a truly beautiful free camp site thanks to the town of Metung at the Chinaman’s Creek park.  Here is the view that awaited us in the morning:

Metung
Metung

Our next destination was Raymond Island to go on the Koala Walk.  A short ferry trip:

Ferry across the inlet
Ferry across the inlet

And we were on Raymond Island, following the Koala Walk.  Koalas were introduced to this island in 1953 when Australians were concerned that the population was dwindling. The koalas that live on this island are very used to people, and are not spooked by the many walkers and photographers that come over on the ferry to take the short 1.5 km walk. As you can see here, David was able to get very close to his subjects:

David Keane, Wildlife Photographer
David Keane, Wildlife Photographer

Here are some of the special koalas we spotted on our hike around the island

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In addition to the koalas, we spotted many birds

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And about the birds on the main photo: these are the Tawny Frogmouth.  What we first thought was just the top of an old tree, came to light upon closer inspection.  They were very well camouflaged! We thought they were maybe owls, but a little research and we discovered their true identity.

A first time sighting for us
A first time sighting for us

On the ferry back to the mainland, we spotted many jellyfish, and had fun trying to get a good shot. Not the most cooperative photo subjects!

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So Jelly
So Jelly

Our next two days were pretty much just travel and find a pretty place to stop for the night.

First, along the famous Snowy River:

No Sign of The Man From Snowy River
No Sign of The Man From Snowy River

And then in the town of Genoa, where the town provides a superb free campground:

The Chicken Whisperer
The Chicken Whisperer

We stopped in the little town of Tathra, NSW were we came across the cutest coffee shop/bakery  called “The Wharf Locavore” and treated ourselves to a cup of tea before we tackled a little hike.

Just look at how cute this place is:

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And the tea:

Fresh Lemon Verbena
Fresh Lemon Verbena

Yes, I could have stayed there all afternoon with those views and the tempting pastries.  But, we are just hours away from our Sydney-area destination, and we must move on.

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy