Surprising Armchair Travel to Sydney

In an Aboriginal tale the bat Narahdarn releases death into the world.

In an Aboriginal tale the bat Narahdarn releases death into the world.

I love reading mysteries and I love reading travel books. This month I moved my household and I seriously pruned the contents of my bookshelves. I also found a couple of books that I forgot I had bought to read. One is Jo Nesbo’s The Bat. It is the first of his Harry Hole mysteries. Interestingly, his books are not mentioned in Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go. But is was mentioned on a page of Oslo tidbits in National Geographic Traveler.

Harry Hole is a police detective in Oslo, but this first murder mystery is set in Sydney, Australia. Besides being an entertaining mystery novel, it is making me want to visit Sydney.

Especially in chapter 24, when Harry and his Swedish girlfriend go to the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium at night. I want to have my own experience after reading this excerpt:

“They descended a staircase that wound down to one of the big tanks.

“The tanks aren’t actually aquariums in the true sense of the word, they’ve just enclosed a part of the Sydney Harbour.” Brigitta said as they entered.

From the ceiling a greenish light fell over them in undulating stripes and made Harry feel as if he were standing on a mirrorball. It was only when Birgitta pointed the torch upward that he saw they were surrounded by water on all sides. They were standing in a glass tunnel under the sea, and the light was coming from outside, filtered through the water. A huge shadow glided past them, and he instinctively recoiled.

“Mobulidae,” she said. “Devil rays.”

See sharks at the Sydney Aquarium

You will have to read for yourself about his encounter with a great white shark.

Isn’t reading the best?!

Travel Theme: Fantastic!

My breath caught for a jagged second as I looked across the street at the Traveler’s Bookcase. Like the revelation of peanut butter and chocolate, my two passions are combined in one shop. Travel and books! Books and travel! Fantastic!

Specialty travel bookshop at 8375 West Third Street (across from Joan's on 3rd), Los Angeles

Specialty travel bookshop at 8375 West Third Street (across from Joan’s on Third), Los Angeles

I love looking at unconventional formats in travel books. Natalie Campagno spent more than 30 minutes searching the shelves for irresistible maps and guides to share with me. I went a little nuts. I do not know when I will be back in Los Angeles so I indulged.This is the kind of tactile experience Amazon cannot replicate!

Most beautiful design goes to Love Goa by Fiona Caulfield. It comes in its own fabric jacket and is a joy to handle. Most clever book award goes to the Wildsam Field Guide, Detroit.  I love my Nashville and this one is just as brilliant.  The best new book imparting important information while feeling nostalgic:  The New York Time 36 Hours USA & Canada Southwest and Rocky Mountains. I have already used this one to help plan an upcoming adventure with UK Sarah. Another trend that I am not wild about is the “curated guide” to shopping that is a snobby version of the Yellow Pages. They inevitably have to be so exclusive that they are not likely to include my passions.  So eat.shop new england and San Francisco the hunt did not float my boat.

I went a little crazy tasting the travel books and maps at Traveler's Bookcase.

I went a little crazy tasting the travel books and maps at Traveler’s Bookcase.

Also trending are stylized maps. These often offer a highly selective view of a city. When we think of Berlin is a guide/map with such a high concept geographic map that you could spend most of your time lost if you depended upon it. I will stick to the Railway City Map series. I love my map of Barcelona. It is practical and beautiful.

If you have ever read 84 Charing Cross Road then you know my fantasy: Natalie Compagno and I will become pen pals and I will ask her to look for original or obscure travel books and she will share things she thinks I will like. Only updated to 2015 I will not send $5 bills through the mail. Or send her eggs from Denmark.

If you are anywhere near Los Angeles you have to check out this bookstore because it is fantastic.

For more Travel Theme Fantastic posts: http://wheresmybackpack.com/2015/03/13/travel-theme-fantastic/.

I Brake for Pi(e) Day!

Today is Pi(e) Day.  More specifically it is a once in a century Pi(e) Day 3-14-15 9:26:53.

Joans on 3rd hand pie for breakfast.

Joans on 3rd hand pie for breakfast.

I am celebrating. Not by doing sums (or even finishing my taxes–one of the few times I use math… or Turbo Tax uses math). I am celebrating by braking for pie as often as possible.

I started the Pi(e) party at breakfast. I met my friend Henry at Joan’s on 3rd in Los Angeles. I ordered a ham and cheese hand pie and a nutella pop tart. The hand pie was excellent and more like a stuffed croissant than a pie. The pop tart was closer to pie and so rich I shared with Henry and still could not finish it.

Murray Farms farmstand: the highway sign said "Pie".

Murray Farms farmstand: the highway sign said “Pie”.

Then it was time to hit the road and drive the 6+ hours to Sacramento. I saw a roadside sign 30 miles north of Gorman on Interstate 5 that advertised a farmstand and said “Pie”. I took the exit and within minutes was walking out with a peach pie “for the kids”.

Another hour or so of driving and I entered Fresno County and the destination that would be sure to have pie and a cup of coffee.

A whole peach pie... can it be good if the peaches are not in season? We will find out.

A whole peach pie… can it be good if the peaches are not in season? We will find out.

I love Harris Ranch. Ever since I was driving to and from University of Southern California, I have stopped at Harris Ranch. The bathrooms are luxurious. The store has interesting things to look at and you can buy a small snack if you are broke. For the longest time the restaurant was only an aspiration. As time passed I had less anxiety about the menu prices.

Alas I sat down to order and the restaurant is only serving boysenberry cobbler and it is long on fruit and maple ice cream and short on the cobbler. Delicious but not pie.

The store bakery had an entire cherry pie, so I bought a second pie for the kids: two pies to thank them for watching my dog Lulu while I was out of town.

Two and a half hours to drive before I am reunited with Lulu. If I had spent the day at home I would surely have baked a pie. I am going to try to push through without stopping again. Unless there is an irresistible sign for pie.

Catching a Concert at Oracle Arena

Recently I attended a concert at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. I do not appreciate reminders of my advancing age. This whole experience made me feel old! First, I could not remember the last concert I have been to at a big arena. (I actually tried to recall.) I do remember going to see U2 at Arco Arena (aka Sleep Train Arena) in 2000. It was amazing. They designed a set that created an intimate-like setting for 17,000 fans. The sound waved through our bodies as we all sang along to every song. I believe Gwen Stefani and No Doubt opened the concert but they did not make a big impression, except that they seemed dwarfed by the set. In contrast, the arena erupted with electric lights and excitement when U2 took the stage and did not ebb until after the last encore. The sound was not as good as a concert hall, but it was as good as it gets in a basketball arena.

Needless to say, my bar was set kind of high. Fast forward to 2015 and the Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull concert. My friend Noel put out the call to action on Facebook and a number of us–all Enrique fans–responded yes! Noel was able to get tickets at the box office. In fact, the price had just been dropped to $29 for nosebleed sections.

The Sushi House restaruarnt at 2226 South Shore Center, Suite B, Alameda, Califronia

The Sushi House restaruarnt at 2226 South Shore Center, Suite B, Alameda, Califronia

We agreed to meet for dinner beforehand at the Sushi House in Alameda. It was Valentine’s Day so we expected it to be packed. They do not take reservations so I scrambled out of the car to sign up on the wait list while Noel parked the car. We were seated within 20 minutes.

Bento box includes starters of soup and salad and is enough to feed two!

Bento box includes starters of soup and salad and is enough to feed two!

While the service at the Sushi House is intermittent, the food is abundant and delicious. We ate as much as we could before we had to dash to Oracle Arena to make the show. So glad we carpooled! Can you believe parking is $45 a car?

Because I am an Enrique Iglesias fan, I assumed Pitbull was opening for Enrique and not the other way around. Showing my age, right? Oh, it gets worse.

Some sort of DJ rapper was on stage with a couple of excellent hip hop dancers. They were dwarfed by the sets and we could not understand what they were singing for the pounding bass drum beat that felt like a second heart beat throughout my body. I had to overcome the overall desire to retreat to the outside hallway. Conversation impossible. I also kicked myself for forgetting my earplugs.

The view of confetti falling from our seats in the first row of the highest tier at Oracle Arena.

We were in seats in the first row of the highest tier at Oracle Arena.

After what seemed an eternity, Enrique took the stage. Again I was taken by surprise because I was expecting Pitbull. (Full display of the power of assumptions; and admission that I never read my ticket). He sang beautifully on the ballads and with energy on the pop songs. He had a rapper and several excellent vocalists and guitarists accompanying him. He has a couple of songs on his Sex & Love album that feature Pitbull and yet Pitbull did not appear (the rapper filled in) during those performances. I naively thought maybe Pitbull was a no show. The staging was a bit clunky and old-fashioned. The use of fireworks and confetti felt like it was fulfilling audience expectations rather than inspired by the music.

Enrique saved Bailando for the encore and I loved it. My whole fascination with the Sex & Love album was inspired by my Thomson tour guides’ fascination with the song during the Tour de France. We sang it on the bus several times a day and it conjures up fun memories of Aussies and Americans singing in Spanish through the French countryside.

Enrique wrapped up about 11 p.m. and we all looked at each other, gathered up our stuff to go and proceeded to the lobby. Almost immediately another DJ came on to keep the crowd warm. We then realized that Pitbull’s performance was still to come.  We all agreed that we should at least stay and sample his show, so we sheepishly returned to our seats.

The DJ finally ended and six dancers skipped onto the stage and began to disrobe into essentially lingerie. Then Pitbull made his entrance. I know I have been playing the old fart card in this post, yet I do know most of Pitbull’s music from Zumba and pop radio (I adore!). I am still mystified how he can be the main attraction. Most of his songs “feature” Pitbull, that is a singer like Shakira sings the chorus and Pitbull jumps in with his Miami rap schtick. It is all backed up by a club beat. In fact, people play some Pitbull song to get the party started in clubs and at weddings. Now imagine, 15,000 to 16,000 people have been drinking since 6:00 p.m. (or smoking), and then Pitbull starts his act and turns the place into a giant club. People suddenly feel they have permission to act like they do in a club. Only it feels a little overwhelming because it is 100 times bigger. Whereas Enrique talked to us and invited us to drink with him and sing along in Spanish, Pitbull shouted at us to get up and act up. Except his songs did not sound like his songs because he only sampled a little bit of the chorus. So it was a few bars of Shakira and then all Miami club jabber. A few songs in and I let the group know I was okay with leaving. We were of one accord.

We returned to Alameda and found a Mexican restaurant with a bar still open and enjoyed margaritas and conversation. At last the music was not so loud.