Honeymoon: Random Ramblings

Sorry for the lack of posts. This has been due to poor internet access and perhaps a tiny bit of laziness. :) For now, here are just a few random ramblings that have been bubbling around in my head during the trip but which I neglected to mention in previous posts.

I had always imagined that communicating in a country where you have little to no grasp of the native language would be somewhat visual in nature, but I don't think the full extent of that reality hit me until I actually lived it. Jen did quite a lot of pointing, other body language, reading signs and menus, etc. in order to communicate. I'm curious to know how other totally blind folks have coped without knowing the language of their destinations while traveling. Of course, one solution is to try to learn the language to at least a basic level prior to traveling; i.e. a little more than hello, goodbye, thanks, do you speak English, basic counting and a few other words. This is something I hope to have time to do before I next venture overseas.

Smoking seems to be a hell of a lot more prevalent in Europe than it is in Australia. There's still quite a bit of smoking in Australia, but there just seemed to be so much more smoking in Europe, particularly in France and Italy.

We encountered an ATM with a qwerty keyboard in Italy! The only use for this that I can come up with is passwords with alphanumeric characters instead of just a numeric PIN, but I suspect it isn't used this way. I can't fathom any other use for this. I'm very curious to know whether it is ever used and, if so, how.

Venice's lack of land traffic really was very different and fascinating. It felt very strange (and quite pleasant) not to have to listen to busy traffic, wait for cars, cross roads, etc. The "streets" in Venice were mostly just alleyways, some of them very narrow at that.

It seems that many street sidewalks in Italy are extremely narrow, in some cases virtually non-existent! This is rather frustrating for those of us who require sighted guide, which can be quite challenging on a narrow sidewalk, especially when others are trying to pass at the same time.

Wine is so cheap in France and Italy! (I assume this is also the case in many other European countries.) Generally, even at a relatively good restaurant, a glass of house wine costs around €2 to €4. Furthermore, rather than being average as is often the case in Australia, the house wine was almost always good (and sometimes excellent), at least according to our palates. It was also great to see Australian wine on several wine lists during our travels.

Dogs seem to be allowed and taken everywhere in Europe, even in some hotels and restaurants! We frequently saw dogs being walked in the streets throughout our travels, which is pretty cool. I wondered about issues caused by bad dog behaviour, but we never saw any problems, apart from the occasional short barking match.

The pedestrian traffic in Rome was absolutely insane. On some roads, people just amble along, often standing in the middle of the road calmly having a conversation, barely moving at all when a car needs to get through. Moving through the massive crowds was slow and tedious enough on foot, let alone in a cab!

The cobbled streets in Rome were certainly a different experience. We encountered cobbled streets in other parts of Europe as well, but nowhere near as many as in Rome. Some of the sidewalks in Rome were also cobbled. They just feel so different under foot and vehicles even sound different as they pass over them.
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Honeymoon, Part 6: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

We're just spending some time in our hotel room before we go out and celebrate Roman New Year (as I like to call it). The cool part of this is that we got to call our families at Australian New Year time. It's like two New Years in one! In a display of solidarity with the Australian revellers (or gluttony, maybe?) we have cracked open a bottle of wine and bought a bunch of chips, nuts and lollies which we've been grazing on for the last few hours. I'm going to have to summon every Chinese bone in my body (I like to think that now that I'm a Teh I have Asian heritage) to assist me in soldiering on through the thousand-course dinner we have booked for a few hours time.

So yes, we're in Rome, and have been for a few days now. We're staying at the Hotel del Corso, which is right on Via del Corso, one of the main streets in the heart of Rome. The great thing about this is that we walk out the front door and straight into the city. The bad thing (especially for Jamie) is the crowds. Here is a picture of the current view from our window (about 6pm on New Year's Eve) - it's very mild right now. Usually we have to squeeze our way through massive crowds outside.

So apart from the usual eating and drinking..

Us eating gelati in the middle of a European Winter night. Idiots.

...we have been doing a bit of sightseeing and shopping. We went to the Colosseum...

This was a couple of days ago. It was very rainy and we were cold and wet, and our tour guide was a sexist moron. If I was in the picture I would be frowning.

and the Vatican...

This was today. As you can see, the weather was spectacular. We didn't have a tour guide. Much better.

and the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele.

"I can feel the lion's toenails!"

We also discovered that there are a number of Braille maps here in Rome - very cool! (Jamie: Unfortunately, I'm still struggling to read them but hey - they're cool anyway.)



We haven't bought much for ourselves over here (apart from the tonnes of food and alcohol we've consumed) but we did decide to treat ourselves to some leather jackets.

"God I'm beautiful!"


They were a bargain at 99 Euro each, and they are made of lamb's leather which I presume is better because the animal it came from is cuter than a cow.

We're here for the next 2 nights, then we go to Florence for 2 days then onto Cork, Ireland. Apparently we both have ancestors from there - hopefully not the same ones...

That's about all I have to say, but here are a few more pictures that we (ok, I) have taken over the last few days:

One of the better street mimes (the guy in front of the bin, not the guy on the left...)

Wine in a poppa! Where was this throughout my primary schooling?!


Jamie posing surreptitiously in front of someone's apartment building in Venice.


A close up in front of the same building.

Love to you all! We're off to eat ourselves into a coma!
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Honeymoon, Part 5: Merry Christmas!

Jen: Merry Christmas from Venice! We have spent today eating, drinking and gently drifting along the canal in a gondola. Same old, same old, really! As usual, we have built our day around a very long lunch - about three hours today, I think - and a couple of bottles of wine. We are now in our hotel room awaiting dinner time!



Christmas lunch.




The high (or low?) point of the afternoon was when I said "Should we get another bottle of wine?" and Jamie replied, "It's Christmas!"

We didn't just eat and drink today, though - we started out (after breakfast) by going to Piazza San Marco. Many of the shops were closed due to it being Christmas day but we still managed a look at the Basilica and the bell tower. I'm loving the calm of Venice - the total lack of cars etc is absolutely lovely, and the gentle (if a little bit smelly) lap of the canal is very peaceful.

Here is a little video of our gondola ride. We have seen a lot of tourists spending their whole time in gondolas with video cameras poised - what is the point??! We only have a few seconds of footage here for you - we spent the rest of the time being a starry-eyed newlywed couple. Enjoy!



Jamie: P.S. We just heard and saw a guy riding past our hotel loudly singing jingle bells in Italian while ringing his bicycle bell. Hilarious!
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Honeymoon, Part 4

Again, blog post by Jamie and captions by Jen!

The remainder of our stay in Bordeaux was very enjoyable, although the weather was pretty dreary, drizzling almost constantly, the kind of annoying rain which doesn't really stop you from going outside but which leaves everything slightly soggy and cold.

On the food front, although we very much enjoyed the rich French meals, by dinner time on Wednesday, neither Jen or I could stomach any more of it, so we randomly decided to eat at a Brazilian restaurant we encountered. This turned out to be fantastic, especially the desserts! We'll be looking out for a Brazilian restaurant when we return home.

On Thursday morning, we visited Bordeaux's cathedral, which is huge! We happened to visit as the organist was practising on the pipe organ, which was a real treat. I love the sound of a true pipe organ, but rarely get to hear one live. I also got to touch some of the big angel statues, which was rather interesting.


A poorly lit photo of Jamie checking out the angel.

I often have trouble figuring out what statues (or parts of them) are meant to be representing, but these were large enough and carved with so much detail that I could grasp them quite easily.

The overnight train ride to Venice was certainly a mixed experience. First of all, the train was running late due to bad weather conditions; we ended up arriving in Venice about two hours later than intended. We had a private sleeper cabin. The worst part was the food. The only food available (or at least as far as we were led to believe) was in the restaurant carriage. Dinner cost Eur28 per Person. Major rip off! First of all, we were both tired and the train was already running late, which meant that dinner didn't start until 9:30pm. There was only one (very curt) person serving the entire (rather full) carriage. We were given some very stale bread, which no one ate; Jen saw lots of pieces of bread with tiny nibbles taken out of them, similar to our own. The food was very average (and that's probably being kind) and service was hideously slow; we didn't get out of there until after 11, and even then, we left before dessert (pre-packaged chocolate cake) was served. Breakfast was Eur9.50 per person and was similarly crap. Airline food service receives its fair share of complaints, but this was far worse.

We returned to our cabin after dinner to discover that it had been locked while we were away, so we had to find someone to unlock it. The beds were comfortable enough and both of us did manage to get a few hours of disjointed sleep, although the ride was pretty jerky. Just being able to lie down and rest made it far better than a plane trip for me and it was fantastic to have privacy.

Upon arriving in Venice, we took a water taxi to our hotel.



Much more interesting than a regular taxi!

I knew Venice would be fascinating for me and I wasn't disappointed. The whole concept of a city (or at least a large section of it) where non-pedestrian travel occurs in the water instead of on land is just so different to anything I've experienced. Also, the constant, gentle lapping of the water is quite relaxing. Our hotel is in a terrific location, just metres away from the water and the Rialto Bridge and walking distance from everything we want.


Our hotel.

The room is quite old-looking, quaint and (according to Jen) "girly", with patterned fabric on the walls, an old-style key and other similar cuteness.


Our 'girly' room.

As usual, we started our stay with a fantastic, luxuriously lingering meal. :)

One more thing: just after we arrived in Venice, the following (slightly paraphrased) conversation occurred:
Jen: (excitedly) "Oo! China Town!"
Jamie: "Err... we've just arrived in Italy and you're excited about Chinese food?"
Jen: "Yeah, it's because I'm a Teh now..."
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Honeymoon, Part 3: Culinary Adventures

Note: This blog entry has been written by Jamie, with photo captions by Jen.

On Monday, We rose at around 6am (ugh) to make the trip to Bordeaux. We decided to pack our backpacks with enough for the next two days and ditch our 20+ kg suitcases in luggage lockers at the train station... and Jen subsequently spent a considerable amount of time babbling about how relieved she was to be rid of them. :) Lugging them around has certainly been challenging, so it's nice to travel light for a few days.

Upon arriving in Bordeaux, we ended up walking to our hotel, as it wasn't that long a walk and turned out to be far easier than trying to find a cab or figuring out public transport. Along the way, we grabbed a bite to eat at a place which served a set three course menu for €12.50. We've found this to be a common trend here; a lot of places serve a set menu for an incredibly good price and often even provide some small choice of dishes. We were greeted with complimentary glasses of port. Yum! We only ordered one meal, as I wasn't feeling particularly hungry due to my stupid cold, which made me sad. (Dad, I'm sure you can understand.) Amusingly enough, I ended up eating a substantial amount of Jen's anyway. The meal was delicious!

Continuing our journey, we noticed that there seem to be a rather insane number of vehicles with sirens which either passed us by or made themselves heard from a distance. We've been able to hear these from our hotel as well. There seems to be at least one every 5 minutes! Even if there is some sort of police/ambulance/fire HQ nearby, they must always approach with sirens blaring. I had fears that my sleep would be terrorised by nightmares of A natural and B natural tones alternating at 60 bpm, complete with doppler effect pitch alterations. Thankfully, my fears were not realised. As it is, I'm sometimes not sure whether I'm actually hearing them from a distance or whether they're just in my head...

Our accommodation here is a serviced apartment. Upon entering, we discovered a big lounge room, but were a bit concerned when we couldn't find the bedroom. Thankfully, we discovered that the couch folds out into a rather large, comfortable bed. There is a tiny kitchenette, although it's not really large or well equipped enough to cook much. This is also the first place we've stayed that has provided free internet access, which is fantastic.

We both very much like Bordeaux, probably more than Paris. It is a smaller, quieter, perhaps quaint place. Many of the buildings are very old with big wooden doors. As we walked down one street in the evening, I kept hearing these doors being closed, reminding me of movies/audio dramas of older times. It is a rather stark contrast to the modern, often automated doors that I usually encounter.

On Monday evening we decided to find another restaurant offering a cheap three course set menu. This is where the adventure truly began. None of the staff spoke a word of English and there was no English menu, so we decided to... make educated guesses/order at random. We had a choice of four starters and four mains.

The menu.

We ensured that we ordered different dishes for each to increase the chance of satisfaction. For the starters, I ordered "Charcuterie" at random, while Jen ordered "Salade au Roquefort", knowing that "Roquefort" was some kind of cheese. For the mains, I ordered "Pave de Bouef", knowing that it was beef, and Jen ordered "Pave de Saunoiy" at random. The beef had a "Roquefort" sauce, so we knew it was some kind of cheese sauce. I raised the objection that perhaps this meant blue cheese (which I don't like much), but Jen smugly pointed out that they'd just say gorgonzola or the like in that case. I theorised that Jen's dish ("Saunoiy") was probably salmon, but Jen smugly retorted that "poisson" was the French word for fish, so it probably wasn't.

So, the starters arrived. Mine was a rather tasty assortment of cold meats, salad, pickled vegetables and paté (I think of it as the French equivalent of antipasto).



Jen's was... a blue cheese salad.


Oops.

Both of us very much enjoyed our dishes, but I now knew that my beef would be smothered in a blue cheese sauce. We still didn't know what the other main would be.

Eventually, the mains arrived. Mine was as expected, and after Jen scraped off most of the sauce, I quite enjoyed it, although it was a little tough in places.


Jen's turned out to be... salmon.


Oops again.



All of a sudden, Jamie became the smug one...


But at least he took it in good humour.



Very good humour.


Amusingly, we had little trouble discerning the meaning of most of the desserts and they were both utterly delicious.


This one had the words 'citron' and 'meringue' in the title.

And this one had something to do with chocolate and fondant.


All in all, the experience was hilariously enjoyable, helped along by a bottle of gorgeous local red wine.

Thankfully, we know how to say "red wine" in French.

Of course, now that I've had some success at guess-work interpretation of French menu items, I'll probably completely fail from now on.


Au Revoir!
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Honeymoon, Part 2: Addendum

Jamie: Just a few things we forgot to write about in the original post.

I'm truly amazed by the efficiency and usefulness of the tube in London. There seems to be no more than 5 minutes between trains and you rarely have to wait even that long. Most of the time, there was a train waiting for us. Even changing lines is not such a big drama because you don't have to wait very long for your connecting train. There was a tube station close to everything we needed, though admittedly, our time was spent pretty close to the centre of London. It seems far preferrable to driving through the awful traffic; we sat on a tour bus for over half an hour for only a few stops and most of that time was spent idling. The metro in Paris also seems to be extremely efficient, although it always seems to be crowded, even in the middle of a Sunday. I'm going to miss this when I get home to Brisbane and its half-hourly, frequently unreliable trains.

In both London and Paris, I haven't encountered a single audio light. I'm told that there are some in London, but as I noted above, we spent most of our time in the centre of London and I somehow didn't encounter a single one. I find this quite perplexing. Are there really so few or are they just at obscure crossings that most people don't use? Are there any at all in Paris?

Music nerd alert: Immediately following our arrival in Paris, one of the first things that caught my attention was the sound preceding announcements at the train station. Rather than the boring old major arpeggio or perfect fifth tones that so often preceed announcements, this was a minor, unresolved, slightly sinister/creepy tune that reminded us somewhat of the X Files. Other pre-announcement sounds heard in Paris were somewhat more cheery, but even so, they were still much more interesting than the norm.

It's been great to have a break from computing and the like, but nevertheless, I'm finding our extremely infrequent internet access to be difficult. It's not so much the social aspect, though it's certainly nice to catch up with people at home every few days. However, more than anything, we tend to take the ability to quickly Google something for granted. Yesterday, we gave in and spent the €20 (ouch!) to get 24 hours of internet access at the hotel. As an example, this enabled us to quickly find a nearby laundromat and pharmacy, including maps. (Concierge told us that the former didn't exist and that we'd have to go quite some distance to find an open pharmacy on a Sunday. Grrr.)
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Honeymoon, Part 2

Jamie: The trip to Bayswater went pretty smoothly. We caught a shuttle back to the airport and another bus to Liverpool Street Station, from where we decided to catch a cab rather than trying to lug our luggage on to the tube when we didn't really know where we were going. Our hotel (Queen's Park Hotel) was a bit old and quaint, but functional enough and spotlessly clean. The lift was a tiny, slow little box which could barely fit the two of us with our luggage. The room was smallish, though nothing on the Tune Hotel in Malaysia.

Jen: In London, we got to see "We Will Rock You", "Hairspray", "The Lion King" and snow.
Please ignore my bizarre facial expression and look only at the snow.

All four were very exciting. We actually saw "Hairspray" and "The Lion King" on the same day, following a long and moderately boozy lunch at an Indian restaurant, so I fell asleep for a bit of Lion King, which I felt pretty bad about because it was a spectacular show. It was in one of the ballads, I think, and I woke up when Jamie nudged me to ask what had just happened on stage. I don't think he was particularly impressed when he realised he'd just woken me...

Jamie: I found the theatre culture in London to be fascinating. It almost seems like theatre in London is as commonplace as going to the movies at home. This is evident not only in its easy availability (we purchased our tickets to Hairspray just a few hours before we saw it), but also in the enthusiastic response of the audience.

Jen: After a few days in London we made the trek out to the main station and caught the Eurostar to Paris. As it turns out we're really lucky, because apparently all Eurostar trips between London and Paris have now been suspended due to problems with FIVE of them breaking down in the middle of the tunnel, resulting in people being stuck on the train, with no lights and heating, and with food all run out, for up to 16 hours. We caught the Eurostar the day before all this happened, and aren't catching it again thankfully.

The weather in Paris has been cold but really nice - the novelty of snow has not worn off. Yesterday we found some lovely soft snow to walk in, as well as crunchy, slushy snow. (Jamie: Walking on the snow is quite an interesting and pleasant feeling. Sometimes, it almost just sounds and feels like gravel, but at others, it's more like walking on a fluffy, crunchy carpet.)

We spent a ridiculous amount of time playing in the snow.

We also have been trying not to slip on the ice. Special thanks to Sharon and Terry for our fur-lined boots - they are amazing!!


We have been rugging up a bit.

Paris is quite beautiful in parts. The area our hotel is in is pretty average looking but the hotel itself is awesome (it helps that we got another room upgrade). Yesterday, after a cliched breakfast of croissants in a dodgy little cafe:
we caught the tube with the intention of getting off at the Eiffel Tower, but we went by Champs-Elysses station and decided to get off on a whim (OK, it's because of the Art vs Science song which starts with "The Champs-Elysses is a busy street...".) There were Christmas markets there which we spent ages at drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate with Baileys, and wandering around in the snow.

We didn't make it to the Eiffel Tower (I saw it from a distance and that's enough - it looks really ugly...) and instead went to the Louvre. This was a highlight of the trip for Jamie...not. Having Jamie there was actually really awesome because it turns out that blindies get free entry into every museum and art gallery in France so we got to jump the queue and get in for free. And he didn't even die of boredom, because we got those headphone tour things so as we wandered round he could listen to all the socio-historical stuff. We did a 45 minute tour called "Masterpieces" which included Venus de Milo (the highlight for me - amazing)
and Mona Lisa (not so breathtaking). I could have spent days there but that would have been a bit crap for Jamie. Today we found a chemist (we both have colds, unsurprisingly considering that it is below freezing!) and a laundromat (the only trip to a laundry we will need to make, thankfully.)
Note the tasteful picture of Jennifer Lopez in the background.

We then stepped into a gorgeous little bar/restaurant and ate and drank for 2 hours.

I finished with the cheese platter and will not be needing dinner tonight.



Jamie had pannacotta, and I think he nearly cried when he got to the last spoonful. It was a magical journey for him.




So now we are here in our hotel room packing for Bordeaux. Well, I'm blogging and Jamie is complaining about packing. We do have more photos, but can only access the ones on my iPhone at the moment. Au revoir!
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Honeymoon, Part 1

Jamie: Our honeymoon has begun! :) This is the first of several posts about our experiences. They're primarily intended for interested family and friends, but I figure I may as well post them here for all to see.

We're flying with Air Asia, our first intended destination being London. We had about an 11 hour stop over in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. First of all, the Air Asia flights have actually been far better than we were expecting. Even without the larger seats, we weren't hideously cramped, although I wouldn't want to be particularly tall. (There are some advantages to having less height. :)) We'd been told there was no in-flight entertainment at all, but it seems that there is now, although you have to pay extra for it of course. The food is fantastic, which is a refreshing change from most airline food.

Anyway, we arrived at the KL low cost terminal some time after 4am on Monday. We had booked a room in the nearby, no frills Tune Hotel just to have a shower and get a few hours sleep... or so we thought. After spending forever getting through customs, we decided to walk to the hotel rather than organising a shuttle bus, as it is apparently only about 5 minutes walk. Big mistake. We made it eventually, but dragging our 20+ kg suitcases over grass, busy roads, narrow pathways and a fence proved to be quite strenuous and exasperating. :( (Jen: It didn't help that even at 4am the temperature was about 25 degrees and the humidity was absolutely disgusting.)

Upon arrival, we discovered that for some reason, we didn't actually have a booking. I remember Jen going through the process, but obviously, it wasn't confirmed properly or the like; unfortunately, our error, as we couldn't find any record of the confirmation either. Worse still, they were fully booked. Terrific. We were told that a room would become available in about 4 hours for the refresher package, which allows for a 3 hour stay to freshen up. Having no other option and being exhausted and in serious need of a shower, we decided to wait.

In the meantime, we went to the hotel's 24 hour cafe to grab a bite to eat. A rather random place indeed. We were going to buy a breakfast sandwich, but they didn't have any bread. We opted for Rendang noodles in the end, which turned out to be fantastic. They just used a pre-packaged frozen meal, but as we discovered, even frozen meals in Malaysia are absolutely delicious. Why can't frozen meals in Australia be that good?

After several hours of waiting on a couch in the lobby, me dozing on and off, we finally got our room. And whoa, what an experience! These rooms are intended to be extremely low cost, no frills rooms for stopovers and the like and we had read about how small they were in reviews, but that didn't prepare us for the reality. There was literally barely enough room to walk around the bed! With two suitcases, climbing over the bed was the only option. Having said that, the shower was good, the bed was comfortable and there was air conditioning, so it certainly served its purpose.

At about 1pm, we caught a shuttle bus back to the airport to catch our flight to London. We had the joyful experience of waiting at the departure gate listening to almost continuous, loud, extremely distorted announcements over the PA system. Arrrg! :) As I write this, we're about half way through the flight.

Jen: The flight from KL to London was great - for me. I slept for about 8 hours, so time flew and I felt pretty good. Poor Jamie barely got any sleep at all, so he was pretty delirious by about 3 hours before landing. I convince him to put in some earplugs and try to get some sleep (before that he hadn't really tried because "Trying to sleep is more frustrating than not sleeping") but he did manage to doze off for a fair while. We arrived in London at about 10.20pm, collected our stuff and went to wait for our hotel shuttle in the 2 degree freezing cold, which was fairly invigorating! We were pretty excited by the time we arrived at the hotel (by sheer lastminute.com mystery deal coincidence we ended up at the Stansted Hilton) and were taking photos while waiting in line. The man at the desk offered to take it for us, and we told him we were on our honeymoon. He checked us in and said "I think you'll like this room...". Upon arriving to our room we discovered that he had upgraded us to the Presidential Suite! It has a big bed, 2 bathrooms, 2 massive plasma screen TVs, a lounge room and free wine! Is it terrible that the free wine was the most exciting part for us? Rather than going straight to bed we stayed up until 2am drinking a beautiful Chilean Cab Sav, eating room service and watching TV, until we both hit a wall and crashed.
We've now just had a lovely breakfast and are back up in our Presidential Suite with an hour and a half until we check out and travel into Bayswater to check into the hotel we will be at for the next 3 nights. So far the honeymoon is going very well. We are taking every opportunity to introduce each other as "my husband" and "my wife". I was very excited when I got to call room service and say "Good evening, this is Jennifer Teh from room 201...". I can't believe we still have a month to go!
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Skydiving

On Saturday, for my buck's celebration, Michael (my best man) arranged for my groomsmen and me (minus Mick, who's in Melbourne) to go skydiving. I think Michael was more nervous about doing it than I was initially. That was to change a bit later. :)

I awoke at 5:35 (yuck) to get to the skydiving office by 7. Jen helped me fill in the paperwork and was horrified by some of its content, including something along the lines of "accidents can and do happen". :) Meanwhile, Matt slept in and didn't make it to the office in time, but thankfully, an arrangement was made and he was able to join us. We met our jumpmasters and were shown how to move our bodies upon exiting the plane.

Soon enough, we were harnessed and taking off in the plane with our respective jumpmasters. Even being in the plane was a bit of an experience; I've never taken off in a small plane before. I was a little nervous by this stage, but it wasn't until maybe a minute or so before the jump that I truly began to get nervous. What the hell was I doing? I was told later that Michael's jumpmaster looked back at me at one point and noted in amusement to Michael that I was starting to look rather worried. :)

Time to jump. Michael went first and then it was my turn. The wind swirling around me, my jumpmaster (Steve) at my back, I had my feet out of the plane, I got my body into what I hoped was the right formation... and then we were falling, belly first, the wind rushing by me with awesome speed. For a few seconds, I had a bit of a freak out. Holy crap! I'm falling! Belly first! Is this okay? For some reason, I hadn't imagined we would fall belly first, as the formation is taught upright. It makes sense in hindsight, but it just hadn't clicked. My technician mentality set in. Was my body in the correct formation? Am I doing this right? Moving my body in that state was so... different. My control freak mentality couldn't do anything about this either. Steve corrected my arms a bit and then I relaxed slightly. Wow! Incredible! The wind rushed by; it was pretty much impossible to talk, though Steve managed it somehow. Unfortunately, my ears didn't like free-fall so much. Eventually, Steve deployed the parachute. We were jerked upright and then...

All was calm and still. My legs were dangling in mid air! Wow... again! But there were even bigger wows to come. After a bit of floating, Steve turned the parachute... and then we were soaring through the air. This was probably the most amazing, elating part for me, this feeling of literally flying as the wind rushed around me and then coming to a graceful stop. The fall was exhilarating, but this was incredible in a different way. Steve let me have a go at steering the parachute, which was pretty cool.

Too soon, it was time to land gently on the beach. Throughout the day, I kept wishing I could do it again. We spent most of the rest of the day (about 12 hours!) celebrating in more traditional ways. :)

The next day, Michael called to tell me of a headline in The day's Sydney Morning Herald: Skydiver dead after 13th jump. Nice. Later reflection led me to think about how it would have been if things hadn't gone so well, particularly thinking about that feeling of free-fall. <shudder> Jumping out of a plane really is pretty insane. Funny that I didn't think about that so much before. I've been thinking about the experience quite a lot in the past 24 hours, both in wonder and a bit of trepidation. I think I'd still probably do it again... probably... :)

It was certainly an extremely memorable experience and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to do it. Thanks guys!
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Object navigation: why is it okay for VoiceOver but not NVDA?

Since VoiceOver came to Mac OS X, many screen reader users have joyfully sung its praise - and there's certainly a lot to praise. Some who were previously Windows users have taken the plunge and moved to Mac OS X completely, never looking back. Others use both operating systems or perhaps dream of no longer being dependent on Windows for certain software. This is all fantastic, but as an NVDA developer, there are also aspects of this that frustrate and exasperate me.

Right from the start, NVDA has used "object navigation" in order to review the user interface, particularly to provide access to elements which can't be otherwise accessed using the keyboard. In short, every element in the user interface is generally represented by an object. These objects exist in a hierarchy or tree of objects. Object navigation allows the user to explore this hierarchy by moving between objects and then descending/entering/interacting with objects of interest. For example, entering a list would allow you to see its list items. This is in contrast to the "flat review" (or "screen review") method that Windows screen readers have traditionally used for review, whereby the user can review the content of the screen in a flat fashion from top to bottom, left to right, similar to the way a simple text document would be read. While this might seem more logical at first, it's worth remembering that a sighted user doesn't necessarily read the screen in this ordered fashion. Instead, they are more likely to focus on specific elements of interest, which in some ways is more akin to object navigation. As always, both methods have advantages and disadvantages.

On the Mac, there is only object navigation; there is no concept of flat review of the entire screen using the keyboard. (In the latest version of Mac OS X, you can explore the screen in this fashion using the trackpad. However, NVDA's tracking and reading of text under the mouse allows you to do something similar.) It seems that Mac users are quite happy with this approach, and yet we are constantly bombarded by NVDA users with complaints about the difficulty of object navigation and requests for flat review functionality in NVDA.

So, here's my question for those of you who are either full or partial Mac converts. Why is object navigation quite acceptable on the Mac, but yet not acceptable in Windows? It sometimes seems to me that some of the same users who frequently sing the praises of VoiceOver then turn and complain about the lack of flat review in NVDA. Perhaps I'm wrong and those users who want flat review would not be comfortable using VoiceOver. Even so, it sometimes seems that people are willing to accept a different approach on a completely new platform, yet are unwilling to accept it in a newer product on an existing platform. It's certainly true that NVDA's object navigation needs to be cleaned up a bit (removing extraneous objects, etc.), but I don't think this is the whole story.

ON the web, this gets even more interesting. Due to the non-linear fashion of web pages, Windows screen readers have had to provide their own "flat" representation of web pages. They then override the cursor and other keys to navigate within that representation. Aside from the technical issues associated with this, working with interactive controls on web forms requires a separate mode of interaction (named forms mode, focus mode, etc.) where the screen reader lets the user interact directly with the control by allowing cursor and other keys to pass straight through to the control. (Some screen readers can automatically switch to this mode when appropriate, but there are still two modes.) This is becoming more of a challenge with the ever growing number of web applications, where more keys are required to work with the application. Object navigation solves this problem because the cursor and other application keys are never overridden by the screen reader, so the screen reader doesn't interfere with the functionality of web applications.

Again, VoiceOver uses object navigation on the web and VoiceOver users appear to be quite happy with this. NVDA currently does what other Windows screen readers do, but again, would you be happy if we abandoned this approach in favour of object navigation? It would certainly solve this web application problem once and for all. I get the impression that NVDA users would be unhappy if we changed this.

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