Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Australian Open Adventure - Day 1

[Composed 1/15/2019]

Farewell New Zealand; hello Australia! Today we start a new chapter in our vacation: catching a few days of Australian Open Tennis action in Melbourne, Australia. While we're almost singularly focused on tennis, we didn't have tickets to the matches until tonight. This gave us a day to explore Melbourne.

The Royal Botanic Gardens were the perfect site to explore before a night's worth of tennis. Not only were the grounds and variety of plants impressive, but I saw a handful of bird species I'd never seen before. You've got to love those crested pigeons; they're like the punk-rock obsessed brother of a normal city pigeon.

On our way back from the gardens we stopped at Lord of the Fries, a vegan / Kosher french fry place for lunch. Oh how I wish we had one of these places in DC, what with their quick and yummy food options.

After a fun day of adventuring we found ourselves in line at the stadium waiting to get into the grounds. Alas, I failed the bag check screening. The guy noticed my DSLR, inspected the lens and pronounced it a no-go because its focal length exceeded 200mm. I had no choice but to cloak it. This left me with a bit of an ethical quandary: should I try to sneak my camera in for the following days of the tournament? Surely once I got by the bag check nobody would notice that my zoom lens exceeded 200mm. Ultimately, I decided to play it safe and leave the lens back at the hotel for future days. I wouldn't get the high quality pics I love to score at tennis tournaments, but I wouldn't be second guessing myself throughout the day either.

One of the first matches we caught today was between Roberto Bautista Agut and John Millman. Millman had a memorable match at the last US Open where he defeated Federer and racked up quite a few new fans, me included. Millman, an Aussie, was being willed forward by the crowd. Every time Millman made anything resembling a passable shot the crowd went bananas. Pour Agut. The match before he had beaten Andy Murray, which may end up being Murray's last match of his career. And now he faced an angry mob as he tried to dispatch a fellow Aussie.

We left the Agut, Millman match when Millman was down two sets. While Millman would end up losing the match, he did give the crowd something to cheer about as he won the next two sets. The final score 6-3, 6-1, 3-6, 6-8, 6-4 was now classic Millman, that man does not give up and I look forward to seeing him continue to play.

I wanted to stay for the Agut, Millman match, but we had to hustle over to the main stadium to see none other than Rafa Nadal. If that weren't enough, Shira surprised me with 4th row(!), center court seats. I know we're relatively early in the tournament, but what a thrill it was to sit 4 rows away from a 17 time Grand Slam winner.

The match between Rafa Nadal and Matthew Ebden wasn't much of a match at all. Rafa trounced Ebden 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. What the score doesn't show is just how intense Rafa played. It's classic Rafa: he starts at an 8 of intensity and ratchets it up from there. Here he is cruising through the match, and he's scolding himself for not making every single point. As the match closed out Rafa looked like he was just about warmed up and ready to play, where as Ebden was toast.

Tomorrow is all tennis, all day. And even I'm a bit surprised to say this, but I'm actually looking forward to it. What a fun night of tennis.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

New Zealand Adventure - Day 9 - The Last Day

[Composed 1/14/2019]

"We're going to pitch, we're going to roll"

This announcement was made by our captain as we boarded the tiny vessel that would be taking us to Kapiti Island. This was not good. I don't like pitching, and I don't like rolling. I like smooth sailing, and judging by churning seas that wasn't an option.

Turns out, the ride to Kapiti Island wasn't as bad as I feared. The captain did his best to turn what could have been a white-knuckled rollercoaster ride into something far more tame. And after 20 minutes we found ourselves on the pristine shores of the island. We got a short introduction explaining the history and rules of the island and then headed out on a one hour guided nature hike.

For most of its existence, Kapiti Island was a bird's paradise. There were no predatory mammals, and seemingly defenseless birds like the kiwi could thrive. And then man showed up, and spoiled that in short order. The scientists of New Zealand, however, worked tirelessly to turn back the clock and have eradicated all non-native species on the island. We noted a number of traps around, which are used to monitor for the presence of pests. It was also a bit strange to hike knowing that the only mammals on the island were our fellow hikers and guides.

Kapiti Island promised to be an ideal place to shoot bird photography, and it did not disappoint. While I didn't catch site of any truly exotic species, there were plenty of pretty birds for me to capture. The hike to the summit wasn't too strenuous, and was more than worth it for the 360° perfect view.

Before we knew it, it was time to be picked up by the ferry and head back to the mainland. As we boarded, the captained relayed some good and bad news. The good news: the winds were actually calmer than this morning. The bad news: because of the tide, it would feel like the opposite. And boy was he right. That white-knuckled rollercoaster ride we missed on the way to the island, we received on the way back. As if to underscore the point, as we approached the shore a massive wave of ice cold water drenched the back of the boat. Shira took the brunt of it, while I took some collateral damage. Admittedly, it was not a fun way to end what had been a pretty amazing day in nature.

This was our last full day in New Zealand. Tomorrow morning, we wake up early and head to Melbourne, Australia for the next chapter of our adventure. Whoo!

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