Retirement Thoughts: Australia

October 31, 2013

I just finished a two week visit to Australia.

This was the seventh and thus “last” continent for me and my traveling companions. We have all been to the others – Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America and Antarctica –  at least once. So a travel goal for retirement (visit all the continents) has been accomplished. This is a mixed achievement of sorts because there isn’t another continent on the list to look forward to visiting. However many adventure opportunities remain (more on this later).

Australia was an easy country for us to visit (other than getting there and back). English is the common language, the people seem in large measure happy and friendly, the food is great, the transportation system works well, the cities are clean and safe, there are a wide variety of sights to see (there are some photos below) and activities in which to engage.

The trip to Melbourne on the southern coast of Australia from our starting point New England was about 22 hours flying time with a pause in Los Angeles and a requirement that we “lose” a day crossing the Pacific Ocean. We were able to sleep fairly well on the way over so the adjustment to a 15 hour time zone shift wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. The way back was another story: we left Sydney at 11:00 a.m., “gained” a day recrossing the Pacific and arrived in Los Angeles at 6:30 in the morning on the same day we left Sydney (4.5 hours before left)! Adjusting back to East Coast  U.S. time took the better part of a week.

Size-wise, Australia is about the same size geographically as the contiguous 48 United States. Our major stopping points in Australia – Melbourne, Alice Springs, Cairns and Sydney – were similar to traveling from New Orleans to Chicago and then to Boston and Atlanta in the U.S. However, there are only about 22.5 million people in the whole of Australia compared to about 313 million in the U.S. Another way to look at it is: the entire population of Australia is approximately equivalent to the population of metropolitan New York City.

Much of Australia’s population lives in its cities (metropolitan Melbourne and Sydney account for almost half of the country’s population) but they are very nice cities in which to live. The (UK-based) Economist  newspaper ranks four cities (Melbourne #1, Adelaide #5, Sydney #7, Perth #9) in Australia in the top ten cities in the world in terms of “liveability” (based on stability, health care, culture, education, infrastructure, climate). The U.S. and UK have none in the top 10.

While I was there, The Australian Financial Review noted there are a growing number of baby boomers who are choosing to retire. They are apparently feeling comfortable enough to do so following a nice rise in home and stock values over the last several years. Looking forward, some Australian economists are concerned about labor shortages as baby boomers leave the workforce at an accelerated pace.

But for people looking to move there, it should be noted the cost of living is high: 137 compared to a base of 100 for New York City according to The Economist newspaper. Australian wine is frequently less expensive in the U.S. than it is in Australia.

A few highlights:

Melbourne is pleasant modern/Victorian city with a river (the Yarra) running through the middle of it. It boasts pleasant gardens, the southern hemisphere’s largest casino, a great aquarium, diverse dining and tram service throughout the city. Here is the view of the city from the highest residential tower


On one of our dining excursions we ate on a restaurant tram that served dinner while you toured the city:


Our next stop was Alice Springs which is the jumping off point to visit Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock. It is a large sandstone formation which is sacred to the aboriginal people. Next to the Sydney Opera house it is probably the most iconic item in Australia.


What the guide books don’t tell you is that flies are FIERCE and that head nets are essential. Fortunately our guide provided them for us.


Next up was a flight to Cairns and Kewarra Beach. This was our jumping off place to visit the Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling and a submersible ride, the Australian rainforest for a cable car ride over the canopy (with occasional stops to the forest floor) and to see some of Australia’s great “salties” – its salt water crocodiles.

In the submersible:


Preparing to snorkel:


Cable car over the rainforest:


A great “saltie”:


Australia has more kangaroos than people but we didn’t get to see any of the big fellows in the wild. We did get to see hundreds of their junior cousins – wallabys – which seemed as numerous as Canadian geese in southern New England.


Our last stop was Sydney (5.3 million pop.) which has the best harbor I have ever seen, dozens of fantastic beaches, lots of history, a great wildlife park, many hiking trails…it feels like a city and nature have come together to make a very nice place to live.

Our hotel afforded a nice view of the opera house,


and the bridge.


We spent several several enjoyable days in Sydney.

But back to where I began this post: new travel adventures. In addition to the seven continents, there five major oceans. I have been on four of them – Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Southern – so I still have the Arctic (and polar bears!) to look forward to.

In addition, while I was visiting an Environmental Center in Orange County CA recently, a fellow walked up out of the blue and asked if I enjoyed traveling to other countries. I allowed that I did and we chatted for a bit about places we’d been. He then invited me to consider joining the local Traveler’s Century Club. He explained this was a group of people who enjoyed traveling and had been to 100 or more countries. A quick calculation on my part concluded I was well short of 100 and the commute from the East Coast for meetings would be burdensome in any case. He explained these clubs exist all over the country which I later confirmed via Google.

So, while I may not be joining the Travel Century Club any time soon, clearly there are still many places to learn about and visit. Next up: VietNam, Laos and Cambodia.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price


Humpty Dumpty in Retirement (Revisited)

September 24, 2013

Three years ago this week I published a blog post on Humpty Dumpty in Retirement in which I discussed the reasons why the risk of falling increases as we get older and what we can do about it. The content is still timely if you would like to review it by clicking on the above link or on the September 2010 Archives link to the right.

I was reminded of that post because today’s (September 23, 2013) Wall Street Journal (requires a subscription) has an article by Shirley S. Wang entitled From Athletes to the Elderly: The Science of Trips and Falls, in which she reviews some of the most recent research on how we maintain our balance. Ms Wang cites new insights from a number of research facilities around the globe, all of them quite interesting.

What I found most interesting from the perspective of a senior citizen, was this summation of the body’s three main systems which keep us in balance:

“The visual system takes in information from the outside world and transmits it to the brain. The proprioceptive system, which incorporates sensory systems throughout the body, tells us how the body’s parts are oriented relative to each other. And the vestibular system, located in the inner ear, focuses primarily on how the head is moving.”

As it turns out the vestibular system tends to decline in efficacy as we get older and most of us make up for that decline by relying more heavily on our visual system. Our visual system is slower than the vestibular system so if we begin to go out of balance we have less reaction time to correct the situation before we land on the floor.

Another interesting insight is that when faced with rough terrain to negotiate, walking with shorter steps and a wider stance may be more effective than simply walking more slowly.

All this is important for seniors because The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that falls are the leading cause of death and injury to people over the age of 65. For more suggestions on how to avoid falls, please see the Humpty Dumpty post referenced above.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price

Yoga in Retirement

August 28, 2013

“Yoga is for everyone.” –  Yogacharya B. K. S. Iyengar

I concur. (Full disclosure: I took up yoga at age 55, somewhat overweight, somewhat stiff, somewhat out of alignment and subsequent to two lower-back surgeries and thirty-some-odd years of corporate existence.  It’s been great for me; I’ve seen it help many others.)

What is yoga?  My definition would be “a practice directed at bringing mind and body into alignment and state of well-being.”   Other definitions might focus more on physical exercises, mental and spiritual peace, or something more philosophical.  If you would like to develop yourself in any of these areas, yoga can add real value.

Yoga exercises (asanas) will help you build flexibility, strength, balance.  They can also help reduce stress and improve your breathing.  If you want to also take it to a place more spiritual, that path is available.

While there are lots of books, videos and web sites with yoga guidance, I suggest the best way to begin is with a class.  Even if you have a room full of mirrors, you can’t really see everything your body is doing as you practice asanas.  An instructor can help guide you to a faster, more effective start and help you get the most out of your practice.  Once you get the lay of the land you can replace or supplement the classes with videos or books as you deem appropriate.  My own view is that the classes are a lot of fun and help challenge you try new things and take your practice to higher levels.

Check with your town, YM/YWCA, school system, senior center, hospitals etc re: the availability of classes.

Some other resources:

YOGA The Path to Holistic Health, Yogacharya B. K. S. Iyengar

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price

Become a Docent in Retirement

June 27, 2013

A docent is a person who leads guided tours at an art gallery, garden, museum, zoo or other venue where the visitors would benefit from having someone help them understand and appreciate what they viewing.  Other docents may provide tours of battle fields, architecture or city historical districts.  While most docents are volunteers, there may be compensated positions in some settings.

You may already have sufficient knowledge to perform as a competent docent or you may need to study.  Most docents find that they continue to grow in knowledge and perspective from the questions and comments of visitors.  One of the most interesting docents I have met was at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  He had been a successful business person and Trustee of the Museum for many years and “retired” to be a docent.  His love and enthusiasm for the museum’s collections just radiated from him and he noted that he learned something everyday, frequently from the many international visitors to the museum.

If being a docent sounds interesting, you might take a tour with a docent yourself and focus on what they do.  After the tour see if the docent could spend a few minutes talking about being a docent, what he or she likes and doesn’t like about it, how he or she became one and any advice he or she might have for someone who is thinking about entering the field.

Visit the websites of  museums, zoos, gardens and galleries near you to learn about their docent opportunities. Here are some examples from the Saint Louis Zoo, the Smithsonian and the Huntington Museum of Art.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price

Special for Father’s Day

June 15, 2013

Special for Father’s Day: In celebration of fatherhood, the Kindle edition of  The Successful Retirement Guide will be available on Amazon for only 99 cents throughout Father’s Day week-end (and you don’t have to be a father to get this great price)!

Special for Mother’s Day

May 8, 2013

Special for Mother’s Day: In celebration of motherhood, the Kindle edition of  The Successful Retirement Guide will be available on Amazon for only 99 cents throughout Mother’s Day week-end (and you don’t have to be a mother to get this great price)!

Close Encounter with a Namibian Rhino

April 24, 2013

It was our penultimate day in the country and we were out for a morning drive. We were moving at a leisurely pace in our open Range Rover along a straight and narrow forested road, admiring the abundant bird life, when all of a sudden there was a great crashing noise to the left. I turned to see an adult Black Rhino charging full tilt out of the forest and right at us (seemingly right at me since I was on the left side of the vehicle)! It slammed to a halt about 10 feet away, glared at us, lowered and shook its head, made a huge snort and then…

One of the great enjoyments of my retirement is having the opportunity to travel to other countries and learn about their history, culture, geography, art, architecture, food, beverages, languages, government, social customs and the like.

Recently, my wife and I, along with some friends old and new, were able to visit one of the youngest countries in the world: Namibia. It is located on the southwest coast of Africa, north of South Africa, south of Angola and west of Zambia and Botswana. In size, it is twice the land mass of California but only has a population a bit over 2 million making it one of the least densely populated nations in the world. Its official language is English although about 60% of the population speaks Afrikaans and 30% speak German. There are also a number of tribal languages and many Namibians are multilingual. It has a democratic government and gained its independence from South Africa in 1990. The most important sectors of its economy are mining, fishing, agriculture and tourism.

Namibia is a very dry country. It gets little rain and has almost no surface water. It is home to two of the world’s great deserts: the Namib along almost its entire coastline in the west, and the Kalahari which makes up most of the eastern part of the country. The coast is called the “skeleton coast” due the large number of bleached whale and seal bones along the shore from when they were aggressively hunted, as well as for the large number of shipwrecks that have occurred there since the Portuguese began seeking a way around Africa to get to India and the Spice Islands.

The original people of Namibia were the nomadic San who were gradually replaced by the tribal Khoi-Khoi who were herders. Both the San and Khoi-Khoi were supplanted by the Bantu beginning about 2,400 years ago. In the late 19th century Germany, looking for land in which to expand, annexed Nambia and began taking over the best land for farming, driving the native population into the desert in the process. In 1904, a rebellion by the Herero people was brutally smashed with over 60,000 of them being killed. Following WWI, South Africa was given a mandate by the League of Nations to rule the Namibian territory, but the treatment of the native Namibians was not much better than under the Germans. The United Nations eventually voted to end South Africa’s mandate and, after much regional strife, Nambia finally became independent in 1990.

The capital of Namibia, Windhoek, reflects its heritage as a Germany colony both in architecture and cuisine (beer and sausage). The 500 seat church pictured below – Christuskirche – was built in part to symbolize triumph over the native culture:

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The Sossusvlei region of the Namib desert has the world’s tallest sand dunes, some of them towering 1,000 feet above the desert floor. They are red-orange due a high level of iron oxide. They are best seen early in the morning when early light plays against the sand. If you are feeling strong you can climb them:

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From Swakopmund on the coast it is easy to visit the Skeleton Coast and see shipwrecks and wildlife:

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After a day on the water it can be fun to visit a local tavern for some beer, fried caterpillars and chat with the locals:

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In Damaraland we learned how to track elephants (in part, by analyzing their dung). We were successful in finding several herds of “desert-adapted” elephants, which have smaller bodies and longer legs than the savannah/forest African elephants, and can go for several days without water:

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Our campsite in Damaraland was reminiscent of the Grand Canyon:

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In Twyfelontain we saw 2,500 year old rock carvings depicting African wildlife. These are considered among the best prehistoric art on the continent. There are over 2,500 individual carvings. Some examples:

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Each sunset called for a “sundowner” beverage to toast the magnificence of the landscape:

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Our final stop was Etosha National Park in the north of the country. It is roughly the size of Switzerland and is the third largest animal sanctuary in the world. We saw lions, springboks, wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, jackals, kudu, ostrich, a wide variety of birds and of course, rhinos. A few examples below and then back to the charging rhino with which I began:

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I turned to see an adult Black Rhino charging full tilt out of the forest and right at us (seemingly right at me since I was on the left side of the vehicle)! It slammed to a halt about 10 feet away, glared at us, lowered and shook its head, made a huge snort and then…

and then it quickly made a 90 degree turn to the left and charged off into the forest.

When the Rhino had charged there had been a collective gasp in the vehicle. Now there was total silence. Then our Namibian Tour Leader made a loud snorting imitation of the Rhino, we all laughed with nervous relief and then we moved on down the road.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price