Interrupting Political Commentary For Personal Observations

Several people who are regular visitors to this site have asked for an update on the very lengthy (48 days!) cruise my husband and I are taking. That voyage began on October 8th in San Diego, and has taken us across the Pacific with stops in Hawaii, Tahiti and French Polynesia on our way to Australia and New Zealand. We will fly back from Auckland on November 26th.

I am writing this from Sydney, Australia, looking out over my laptop at the famous Sydney Opera House and the very busy–very beautiful– harbor. By the time this posts–I’ve been working a couple of days ahead, given my indeterminate access to Internet–we will be in Melbourne.

I have no coherent “story” to tell, at least not thus far.. .but here are some impressions.

Our ship–the Noordam–is part of the Holland-American line, and the passengers include a wide variety of nationalities: we’ve met Dutch citizens, Germans, Canadians, Chinese, Japanese…and of course, a number of Americans. I am happy to report that, despite an average age of approximately 110 (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little), I have seen no petulant outbursts, no cranky or entitled behaviors, and lots of good will.

I’ve been particularly pleased by the absence of what I call the “Fox ‘News’ Cohort.” On a cruise we took several years ago, a Princess cruise to Alaska, we encountered several couples who (insistently) shared their conviction that only Fox was a reliable information source. (We tended to avoid them…) We haven’t had many political discussions on this trip, but on the rare occasions when politics has come up, with only one exception (a guy from Florida), everyone we’ve encountered has been refreshingly liberal.

I should mention that there is a daily PRIDE Meetup on the “things to do” menu, for LGBTQ passengers and allies. There are also Catholic and Jewish religious services, and daily “Friends of Bill” meetings. Something for everyone.

Our stops in Hawaii reinforced my lack of interest in that state. I know that makes me an outlier–and I also know that brief stops and taxi tours are hardly a fair way to evaluate a place. And I’m a city girl. Still…color me unimpressed.

What struck me most about the Islands in French Polynesia, Tahiti and Tonga was the mixture of magnificent nature and grinding human poverty. Again–there is very little one can learn about a people’s history or culture in a few hour tour…

Our first stop in Australia was in Brisbane, a city of just under three million people. My impression from that abbreviated visit was that it’s a really nice city: compact, clean and well-maintained, with lots of apartment towers in and around the city center.

Then we got to Sydney. I think I’m in love. (I told you I’m a city girl…)

Before we toured Sydney, the only thing I knew about it was the Opera House, and that edifice is every bit as impressive as its pictures. But I was unprepared for the other incredible architecture, the multiple, immaculate parks, the variety and number of public transit options and the enormous number of glitzy apartment towers.

Some observations, several courtesy of my architect husband:

  • sidewalks were rarely concrete; instead, they were brick or granite–longer-lasting materials.
  • we saw no trash on streets or sidewalks, or in any of the meticulously-maintained parks.
  • the parts of the city we saw were densely developed, and historic structures were incorporated into newer ones with sensitivity.
  • there were dozens of newer buildings, and most of them were spectacular. This is clearly a city that is architecturally adventurous, and that adventurousness has paid big esthetic dividends. It isn’t just the Opera House.
  •  retail stores and businesses all had names familiar to any American–we really do live in a global economy.
  •  population was diverse and people were everywhere–in the parks, on the streets, on the boats in the harbor. (They all seemed young, but then everyone seems young to me…)
  • the people we met were unfailingly helpful and polite.

When I returned to the ship from our tour of the city, I consulted Wikipedia, and learned:

Despite being one of the most expensive cities in the world, Sydney frequently ranks in the top ten most livable cities. It is classified as an Alpha city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network, indicating its influence in the region and throughout the world. Ranked eleventh in the world for economic opportunity, Sydney has an advanced market economy with strengths in finance, manufacturing and tourism. Established in 1850, the University of Sydney was Australia’s first university and is regarded as one of the world’s leading universities.

Coming up, Melbourne and Tasmania–then New Zealand.

It’s an adventure…


  1. Great report. You’re gonna love New Zealand for all that you’ve observed in Australia… and more.

  2. If you haven’t read it before, Blue Latitudes by Tiny Horowitz is the perfect companion for a trip around the Pacific!

  3. How fabulous! You deserve this adventure! I am curious about how your fellow travelers, the ‘non-Americans’ perceive us these days?! Touchy subject though!
    Be safe!

  4. I missed the part where you are homesick – missing Hoosiers and all…

    I am looking forward to your thoughts on New Zealand.

    Enjoy Melbourne as well.

  5. Now you know why Australia isn’t keen on massive immigration of MAGA-fleeing Americans! They’ve got a great thing going and don’t want to import any more of our worst traits….

  6. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on Monday, January 6, 1941, in an address known as the Four Freedoms speech, proposed four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” ought to enjoy:

    Freedom of speech (allowing others to speak their minds peaceably)

    Freedom of worship (treating others as you would have them treat you)

    Freedom from want (everyone is entitled to the basic human needs of adequate energy, water, food, shelter, health care, family, and companionship. Society must provide those to anyone who must exist in substandard hardships for reasons out of their control.

    Freedom from fear (personal and family safety and security from natural and artificial causes.)

    All of this is possible with the current human population bolstered by modern technology.

  7. Don’t miss the Un-zoo featuring Tasmanian Devils about an hour outside of Hobart. It’s a treat, oh and by the way you go after dark when the little “devils” are active.

  8. Sounds wonderful!
    Our youngest visited Oz when a kid, with the local YMCA, and loved it; wanted to move there.
    “Grinding human poverty:” When we were in Venezuela, in 1988, we saw natural beauty in the countryside, and women washing clothes at the side of a river; beautiful mansions up on a hill, in Caracas, and tin shacks just a bit down that hill. Reportedly not un usual in third world countries.

  9. Hope you got to see the inside of the Opera House. Do not miss the Art Mob gallery in Hobart – tell Euan hello from me.

  10. Pete,

    Thank you for invoking FDR’s most salient civic speech; the Second Bill of Rights. Too bad it was subsumed by WW II’s conclusion; the Battle of the Bulge was still raging. Then, he died, the A-bombs were dropped at those fundamental, egalitarian freedoms were ignored ever since.

    You’ll NEVER hear any Republican say anything good about FDR or anything he did to make us a great country… then, at least.

  11. Melbourne is big and beautiful. It has a downtown golf course in plain sight of skyscrapers (which I played) but may have been eaten up by developers since I was there. I did not get down to Hobart since (other than a round of golf) I was in Australia on business. Friendly kiwis? Indeed! My wife and I years later after my business trip were having dinner in a Wellington (New Zealand’s capital) restaurant and a kiwi couple at an adjacent table engaged us in conversation and wound up inviting us to dinner at their home the next night. We went. Nice folks!

    While I prefer the South Island and Christchurch over the North Island, both are great and there is stupendous scenery on the South Island. I hope your itinerary includes a run down to the South Island before catching your plane from Auckland back home to the land of the super majority. . . Have fun!

  12. I traveled to Melbourne and Sydney in 1984. While Melbourne is a lovely city–the townhouses with their beautiful wrought iron detailing, reminded me of New Orleans–I absolutely fell in love with Sidney. It has the same bustling energy as my beloved NYC, but with southern California weather. I did not want to come home. However I had an 11-year-old daughter waiting for my return, and I, of course, couldn’t wait to see her and tell her of my grand adventure.

  13. I enjoyed your trip report!
    I loved the beaches in the big island of Hawaii, but the traffic jams were awful. It was disappointing to us as well. I wanted to go to Maui but I didn’t plan the trip.

  14. Enjoy the remaining days and stay calm and safe. I totally disagree about Hawaii. Stationed at MCAS and loved every minute. Of course I did get to fly over the entire state so I am biased.

  15. Lovely report, Sheila. I, too, was disappointed by some aspects of Hawaii when we took our cruise there–namely the poverty and soup kitchens in some areas. Totally unexpected. And I liked the big island best.
    I am SO glad you and Bob are enjoying yourselves. Bon Voyage as your journey continues.

  16. In Melbourne, on Flinders Lane, is a great place–Roule Galette–with amazing crepe and galettes! And don’t miss the Melbourne Museum and the Royal Exhibition Hall. So much to see! And the Royal Botanic Gardens with Guilfoyles Volcano is a must-see.

  17. Sounds like a great trip. I wish I could still travel. These days I travel vicariously through friends. Thanks for your travelogue. Have a great time in Melbourne, Tazmania, and New Zealand.

  18. The un-zoo in TAS is BONARONG WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, definitely a must-see in Hobart! We go back whenever we’re Down Under. Going in the evenings and feeding the animals is truly wonderful! We played with and fed a 4-month old wombat named Judy. How delightful!

    I agree with all who’ve reported the friendliness of the people and the cleanliness. What happened that we’ve forgotten those?

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