Monday, October 29, 2018

Cool time in Olde Sydney Towne

Stepping off the plane Thursday it all came rushing back. We had just arrived in Sydney and after the long flight across the Pacific all we wanted to do was grab a big Aussie breakfast. Right from the very get-go, we wanted to absolutely immerse ourselves in everything Sydney had to offer and we hit the ground running and we haven’t stopped. All right, we have had a couple of laid back afternoons but for the most part, I can honestly say I haven’t walked this much in years. Sydney does this to you as it draws you away from wherever you have landed to see the sights and to soak up the atmosphere. It’s one of the few places on earth where the weather is absolutely perfect and even as our first few days saw cloudy skies overhead, it was still a great time to be out and about!

Five long years had passed since our last trip to Australia and the mere thought of this we both found quite shocking. It had never been our intention to delay our return by this amount of time but now that we are here, it seems like we never left. However, let me just clarify that somewhat. The city we left back in 2013 was a familiar place, but when we stepped back onto Sydney’s thoroughfares, so much has changed. It’s not just the changing shape of the city’s skyline as that’s always been in a state of flux but rather, it has been the little things. The suburban trains look different. Mind you, they look nicer and the walkways go further than I recall. What is standing out is just how crowded Sydney has become. There are masses of people everywhere you turn and when you travel along the main transportation corridors, there are high-rise apartments and flats going for miles. What has been built around the 2000 Olympic Games Stadium is mind-blowing.

Our time in Sydney kicked off immediately upon arrival. There was a huge industry convention that was being held at the Sydney International Convention Center (ICC) for the banking industry and I was going to be writing articles for a daily magazine. I had initiated the conversation with my colleagues at Banking Tech / FinTech Futures and they welcomed me as part of the writing team covering the event. As the convention progressed I found several of my feature stories included in the daily publication, with at one point one story being promoted on the publications front pages. It was tiring but it was engaging all the same.

For the duration Margo came with me to the conference, spending her time at a coffee shop inside the mall straddling the shores of Cockle Bay to the south of Darling Harbor. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I would walk from the ICC to the coffee shop where we would then walk to one of the waterfront restaurants for lunch. In one way, it was a pleasant and gradual way to step back into the hustle and bustle of Sydney business life. On the other hand, we ended up walking miles before finding familiar landmarks and eateries we had once known so well, but with the convention wrapping up just a short time ago, it’s back to living as we do back in Windsor Colorado – working with my clients from early morning through to the afternoon and then spending a leisurely afternoon visiting one attraction or another.

I have always viewed the world as one homogeneous environment crisscrossed with many well-worn pathways established long ago just for the purposes of visiting new places. I have always thought of myself as part of the planet more so than just being from one country or another. Put it down to having done eight international moves but also put it down too to my wife, Margo who brings a distinctly European perspective to life.

Having lived more of her life in cities and inner city suburbs, she is very much at home checking out the displays in delis as well as sampling the local coffee, beer and yes, very strange meats, cheese and olives. Not for her is a fixed routine but rather, a life liberally sprinkled with “tasting times” where samples of other’s daily routines can be enjoyed.   Be it an early morning walk to a coffee shop visited by locals about to board commuter trains or the local ferry boat or a night out on the town, Margo has always been up for the occasion.

This time, in Sydney, we are thoroughly enjoying the hospitality provided by my brother Greg and his wife Robyn. Set up as we are with an office and easy access to a variety of shops, working life has taken on new meaning here in Sydney. Whereas my colleagues in North America are hunkered down for the winter, summer is just around the corner here and that means festival time in Sydney as company after company begins their annual holiday celebrations that for the most part, are celebrated on the waters of Sydney Harbor.

And it’s hard to argue against an invite to join friends, colleagues and associates for a little bubbly along with a couple of Moreton Bay’s ever popular bugs. Talking about bugs, if your preference is for more local fare you can try their cousins, the Balmain bugs, but either way, Sydney-siders fuss over them the same way our friends in the Chesapeake fuss over soft shell crabs and folks in New Orleans fuss over their crawfish; you just have to be here and try them before you pass any judgement over our taste in crustaceans. 

Then again, we have already eaten our fair share of John Dory and Flathead fish grilled and deep-fried and, barely a day ago, we had a late afternoon lunch at a restaurant right beside Manly’s famous beach. There is something tantalizing and simply guilt-laden to be enjoying so much sunshine as we devour yet another fish lunch accompanied by a good dry Hunter Valley rose. I know this may not be everyone’s cup of tea but on this occasion, it was a perfect lunch for the both of us.

After lunch we strolled around to Shelley Beach only to find the Kiosk has been replaced by something serving up much lesser fare. Oh well, Sydney life continues to evolve and businesses keep changing hands. Elsewhere I have posted about the ever changing Sydney skyline mentioning in passing how even though in general it looks familiar, close up so much has changed and there are a lot more changes on the way judging by all the cranes we saw dotting the landscape. While the SIBOS event was being held, we made it a point to count how many cranes we could see and on no occasion did we count any less than ten cranes surrounding us.

But then again, could we have expected anything less? Sydney continues to invest heavily in infrastructure and it shows. It is still very early days in our Australian adventure with a side trip to Hobart, Tasmania, as well as Auckland, New Zealand, very much in the plans, but about those trips I will write in another post. As for right now it’s back to our temporary office to wrap up a couple more articles I need to complete before the weekend arrives. All I want to add at this point is the photo below just as a reminder to all those hunkering down, experiencing the coldness of the onset of winter in North America, down-under, as summer approaches, Sydney is every bit as beautiful and warm as any postcard depicts. Only better in many respects! Only possible regrets to be heard being expressed by Margo or me – we should have made this trip a long time ago!  It’s just so cool to be back in Olde Sydney Towne.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

It might be bigger in Texas but Sydney, here we come!

I love Texas, no doubt about it. Each time we pull out of the garage to head to Texas it’s always the start of something special. I first re-located to Dallas Texas in 1977 and spent nearly three months living out of a condo, right beside Love airfield, somewhere in and around the triangle bordered by Mockingbird Lane, Lemmon Avenue and Inwood Road, which has changed a lot with the passage of time. Just watching the private jets fly into Love Airfield each Saturday morning, one after the other after the other, was more than enough incentive for me to get up and go back to work, come each Monday. So, no surprise here, our first trip of October involved a run down to Dallas for client meetings.

Whether it’s the many lakes that dot the landscape or simply the wide open spaces that are apparent everywhere you turn; everything happens within the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex and whether your tastes see you heading to Ft Worth’s stockyards or to Arlington for a Texas Rangers baseball game or to the billion dollar Dallas Cowboys stadium or perhaps watching NASCAR racers happens to be your thing it all happens in and around Dallas. Of course, the freeway interchanges continue to take our breath away as does the rampant sprawl of industries. For those not familiar with the service roads paralleling the freeways then yes, be surprised, as these service roads can have more lanes than you find on other cities freeways.

For the forty plus years I have been going to Texas it’s always been about the people. And it’s still the people that bring me back to the area. Whether it is for business and a user event (such was the case earlier this year when the HPE NonStop users got together for a HPE and third-party vendor presentations) or a client meeting or simply finding time for coffee with former clients and current prospects, we can anticipate an enjoyable time in Dallas. Well, almost all the time.

Our previous trip in the BMW i8 hybrid resulted in me having a minor fender-bender trying to cross all those service lanes before finding the exit that allowed an underpass U-Turn. But after a couple of days in the body shop, it’s all good and yes, like new! Do we still like touring in the i8? Let me come right out and say this up front - we have never enjoyed any other touring car more than the i8. I'ts fabulous! This trip back to Dallas was in part for redemption and suffice to say, after a couple of days on the freeways, we returned home none the worse for wear. But yes, we still like the people of Dallas.

Our journeys to and from Dallas always mandate a night’s rest in the township of Amarillo. This time, we tried a new hotel that just happened to be alongside The Big Texan Steakhouse so how could we not check out this establishment? We often watch the television show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives or, Triple D, as host Guy Fieri calls it and while this particular restaurant hasn’t been featured as best as we can tell, it certainly could easily fall into one of those three categories. Not strictly a tourist trap as there were mostly locals, it is only a place you go to once or twice. On the other hand, perhaps it’s not the food that keeps bringing me back to that Triple D show but rather, Guy’s 502 HP 1968 Camaro roadster.

Seated in the upper deck, by the railing and next to the trophy head of a Moose, the atmosphere captured what is the essential Texas – loud music, loud conversations, loud clothing and well, everything that is loud! I am not saying Texas is overly noisy but rather, there is an infectious enthusiasm coming from everyone that is hard to repress. I am not one of those individuals who view this as necessarily being a bad thing as after all I was once called an “introvert, in a loud and noisy way!” On the other hand, the sheer joy coming up from the ground floor was every bit as Texan as you could find anywhere in that great state.  

Back in Windsor, Colorado, there were two major events taking place. The first was the completion of the lower level of our house. After five months, it’s all done except for a minor cosmetic tweak here and there. As for the second event it just so happened that the sons of our good friends, Jim and Dale Miller, opened their brew house just three blocks or so from our home and of course, we just had to find our way to the door pretty much as they opened. Indeed, we first arrived two days before they opened to find sons Dan and Tim hard at work but still, with time to pour Margo and me a beer and we do believe that with the tip, it was the very first they received at their bar, the Mighty River Brewing Company.

Since it opened we have found ourselves spending a quiet hour or two over a pint chatting with friends and neighbors. Just this weekend, food trucks begun appearing so now we can grab a little BBQ as the situation dictates. Overall, our little community needed a place like this that we could walk to and now we find that a pizza and pasta place is about to open, what more could we want? Rumor has it that a small café / coffee shop is also planned and that would pretty much complete the creation of the small village atmosphere that Margo and I were hoping would develop in time. It sure makes our small investment in our home within the Highlands Meadows golfing community look a whole lot smarter!

As for our new walkout lower level, it was always our intention to build out a place where we could entertain on a larger scale. Our former home had a dedicated home theater outside of which was a separate bar area and while we found the setup to our liking it didn’t do a whole lot to fostering a cheerful social environment. So now, rather than the traditional home theater room, we build a media room that opens to the bar area where we have included wine coolers, refrigerators and even a small wine cellar. The plan calls for adding a high-top table and stools and a drinks and nibbles caddy.

As for the rest of the space then the major feature is our new office. Much larger than the space we had been using upstairs it now affords us the ability to work together on joint projects even as our former main level office becomes a library and home work area and a quiet retreat for Margo whenever she needs to escape her loud and noisy husband. Overall, this walkout lower level affords us a lot more separation from our area and that of the space where we will entertain. That’s the plan, anyway, and in time we will just have to wait and see how it all turns out. While some of our furniture is in place there are still our paintings to be hung as well as a couple more objet d’art to be deployed. As for drapes and curtains, they will be installed in the New Year.

I like Texas as it’s one of those places where winter rarely has an impact on daily routines. It can get cold and on occasion, Texans are subject to the dreaded ice-storms that turn every one of their freeways into skating rinks. But they aren’t as common as hot August nights and that first time to Dallas was in August and for all of August’s 31 days, the temperature never dropped below 100 F. Not even at night time as I recall – the air mass hovering over Dallas was being fueled by even hotter temps in the gulf.

However, here in Windsor after an all-too-brief autumn, it’s started to snow. Perhaps a little earlier than expected, but looking out of the window this weekend, all we could see was the white backdrop that is so familiar to Coloradans during winter. Fortunately, this will be the last snow we will have to deal with for quite a while. As much as I like driving to Texas, tomorrow we fly to Sydney, Australia, and Margo and I simply cannot wait till we step off the plane to Sydney’s warmer weather. Yes, it’s springtime by the harbor. Well, perhaps in a few days’ time that is as the forecast for our arrival Thursday morning is for thunderstorms.

 It just so happened that many events came together over a short period of time that rather than planning on travelling to Sydney multiple times over the course of just a couple of months, we will be making just the one trip. My daughter Lisa will turn 35, my high school mates will be holding our 50th anniversary school reunion, there is a major financial institutions trade show in Darling Harbor, and yes, we are going to take a short boat trip to Auckland and then on to Wellington to meet with good friends and clients. 

Given all of this it seemed prudent to also plan on staying for the Christmas and New Year holidays as the last time I was in Sydney as the year wound down was way back in 1988. Thirty years away from Sydney except for the occasional business trip, has passed, oh, so quickly. Too quickly in many respects as I have missed too many Rugby tests and too many Cricket matches not to mention the famous Great Race – the Bathurst 1000 road race.

Will there be more than a couple of nostalgic moments? Of course! But then again, I knew that this would take place as the almost-gypsy lifestyle Margo and I have embraced in our later year’s leaves us with little time to simply sit and watch the grass grow. On the other hand, this trip to Sydney will ensure we do get to spend time with so many friends that we haven’t seen in quite a while that perhaps this little piece of home life in the antipodes will be all the medicine we need to remind us both of just how many options we have to where we live and work. And play and entertain. And yes, laugh and cry at all that we have seen and done and all that we have missed out on.

Our bags are packed and shortly our other daughter, Anna, will be dropping by to take us to the airport. Tonight we aren’t flying but rather checking into an airport hotel so tomorrow, there will be no rushing around, madly panicking as we check in at the airline desk. With that, all we can add is to wish all our friends and neighbors here in Windsor, Colorado, a Happy Thanksgiving and the best of times for Christmas and the New Year! See you all again in 2019!