This was Scott's last day of "work" (does yacht sailing and fancy dinners really count as work?), so I spent the morning on my own. I went for another run in the warmest hotel fitness center ever and had to abandon my treadmill after about 25 minutes because it was seriously so hot in there. There are few feelings more uncomfortable than having to leave a fitness center drenched in sweat then ride in an elevator up 30 floors with a lovely young couple who, unlike you, are not smelly and dripping with perspiration, wishing you could apologize for your grossness. Thankfully I was soon able to make myself look presentable and grab a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant, where I learned that if you ask for oatmeal you will get a blank stare. Asking for "oats" or "porridge" is how you do it down under.
The company hosting the conference that brought Scott to Sydney was having a final hurrah, a boat cruise luncheon through Sydney Harbor. Lucky for me, "traveling companions" were invited to attend. The weather was perfect (we lucked out and had blue skies and sunshine the entire week we were there) and the views of Sydney Harbor were so lovely.
|the Sydney Harbor Bridge|
That evening we went out to dinner with Scott's boss, James, to a bustling restaurant in Milson's Point, by the Luna Park harborside amusement park. The table we sat at was almost directly above the open air North Sydney Olympic pool, right on the harbor. I had my first taste of the kind of seafood Australia has to offer when I tried barrramundi, and it was delicious.
With all of Scott's work obligations over, we were able to embark on our first day of touristy fun! We hopped on a bus and headed out to spend the day exploring the coastline. We began at Bondi beach and did the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, a 12-kilometer round trip walk along cliffs and beaches. It was beautiful!
We didn't stop to swim, or even dip our toes in the water, but we certainly soaked it all in. We had lunch in Coogee before heading back the way we came. The coastal walk was very pleasant and not too strenuous, though there were some hills and sections with lots of stairs. I was again impressed by all of the runners I saw along the path, though who can blame them for wanting to exercise with such a stunning view along the way? Bondi is also a destination for many celebrities who visit Australia. A few weeks after I visited, Leonardo DiCaprio was there, so he and I have that in common.
|Leo and I could totally be friends since we like the same locations|
This really was my idea of fun, not Scott's. He's not a big fan of being up that high, but honestly, it could not have been much safer than it was. When you first arrive, you participate
in a thorough safety training, complete with a breathalyzer test (wouldn't want to go to the top of a bridge while intoxicated, right?). At no time during the climb did I ever feel like I was in danger, but it was still exhilarating! We were decked out in grey jumpsuits, headphones so we could hear the instructions and historical insights we were being given, and a headlamp for when it got dark (we did the twilight climb where you go up while the sun is setting and come down in the dark). Yes, it was such a touristy thing to do, but I loved it! Scott ended up not hating it, either.
Despite feeling exhausted from a busy previous day, we were out early to catch a minibus for a day-long tour of the Blue Mountains. Just about an hour outside of Sydney lies an entirely different world than the one you're used to near the harbor. The Blue Mountains consist of a series of plateaus and gorges. The views were breathtaking and our guide was great.
|the Three Sisters rock formation|
At one point, we hiked down 1000 stairs to a little rainforest situated deep in one of the gorges, going from a desert landscape to a tropical climate in a matter of minutes. Our guide taught us much about the region, and pointed out all sorts of wildlife and fauna along the way.
When we made it back to the hotel, it was time to find some dinner and then crash, as we were completely exhausted! I ate kangaroo, in the form of a burger, and deemed it to be yummy.
We were up and on our way early so that we could catch a train out of the city in order to visit and do a session at the Sydney Temple, which is actually located on a busy street in the suburb of Carlingford. We had to take a train, then catch a bus, then walk a few blocks on foot in order to get there, but it was worth it.
After we got back to the city, we spent the afternoon shopping! I always struggle when it comes to buying souvenirs, because I don't like clutter and have no desire to accumulate knick-knacks. If I'm going to spend money while on vacation, I'd rather have it be for an experience or a fantastic meal. After wandering around searching for gifts to bring back for the kids and my mom, Scott finally convinced me to do a little shopping for myself. I wanted to get something to wear that would help me remember our trip, but I'm not much of a t-shirt wearer and all of the "Australia" souvenir shirts were just not my style. Eventually we ended up in a regular clothing store where I combed the racks for cute stuff, and came up with some great finds! Who needs a commemorative shot glass when you can come home from a trip with a fun new outfit instead?
|Cute outfit, right?|
We also bought loads of Australian candy and treats for the kids. This turned out to be the best souvenir of all for them. Trying candy from other parts of the world is fun -- some taste wonderful, others are so gross.
|Tim Tams are amazing. Turkish Delight tastes like soap|
The day started with breakfast inside a chocolate shop/cafe. I had nutella french toast. At that point, it was clearly going to be a great day.
After breakfast, we walked over to the Sydney Opera House and proceeded to take the hour-long tour through that remarkable building. It was informative and fascinating, and certainly one of the highlights of the trip for me. I had no idea about all of the politics and controversy involved in the construction of that building. While the interior could certainly use an update (red worn-out carpets, funky 1960's design) the architecture is truly marvelous to behold.
|the cheesy photo we got as part of the tour. we were in front of a green screen that was filled in later with images from the opera house|
|fish and chips|
Later that afternoon, we wandered through the Sydney Botanic Gardens, which are located right on the waterfront. It was such a beautiful day and we were surrounded by the most lovely flora and fauna that Australia has to offer.
|the rose garden|
Not to mention the birds and bats! We in the United States consider cockatoos to be quite exotic, but in Sydney they roam around park lawns much like pigeons or seagulls do here. In order to spot a sleeping flying fox bat, all you have to do is look up into the branches of trees that line the garden walkways.
|a cockatoo wandering around the botanic gardens|
|giant flying foxes sleeping just above our heads|
We weren't able to stick around long enough to see the bats' nightly awakening and mass evening flyout because we had a dinner reservation and we didn't want to be late.
I've tried not to spend too much time writing about the food we ate, even though most of it was superb, but I must say that our dinner at Boca was my favorite meal by far. Argentinian food is so yummy, and this restaurant was quaint and had a wonderful atmosphere. One interesting thing about most restaurants and cafes we went to in Sydney is that you can pretty much just seat yourself wherever you'd like. The restaurants are laid out differently than what we're used to in the states -- rather than one big room with loads of tables, instead there are several small rooms, many upstairs or on a back patio. We chose a spot on the rooftop patio, and were the only ones up there the entire time.
The meal was fantastic, the service was excellent, the ambiance was ideal, and the desserts were to-die-for.
|crepes filled with dulce de leche|
This was our last day in Australia and our flight was scheduled to leave mid-afternoon, so we had time for just one more outing. We hopped on the ferry and enjoyed the beauty of Sydney Harbor one last time as we traveled to the Taronga Zoo. With only a couple of hours to kill before we had to head back, we tried to see as much as we could. There were koalas, Tasmanian devils, emus, wallabies, meerkats, wombats, and of course, kangaroos.
The best exhibit at the zoo was an enclosure where you walked along a path and wildlife including kangaroos, emus, and wallabies roamed freely all around you.
|it's a kangaroo!|
|the view from the ferry on our way back from the zoo|
After the zoo, our trip had come to its end as we went back to our hotel to gather our luggage, hopped into a cab and headed to the airport. The flight back was a bit less enjoyable than the trip out had been and I didn't manage to get much sleep. We had a 7-hour layover in San Francisco, so once we got through customs, we settled into United's red carpet club to wait it out. It was mid-day but felt like the middle of the night to my body clock. I struggled to stay awake because I didn't want to have a hard time falling asleep once we got home. Our flight landed in Chicago just after midnight. After being gone for a week I was so happy to sleep in my own bed!
My mom, who had been tending the kids, went home the next day. I was left to deal with massive jetlag and get the kids back in line after a week of being spoiled by Grandma. The hardest part about having a getaway isn't the crazy amount of planning and preparation that goes into being able to leave, it's the feeling you get when you have to come back. Reality is tough to face after a week of being carefree. I am so grateful to my mom for coming to watch the kids, to my dad for letting her come, to all the friends who I asked to help give my kids rides to their various activities. Planning a trip like this is a ton of work, but is absolutely worth it!
That's all for now. I think I might have one more post about Australia coming... with a few more observations about what it's like on the other side of the world. But for now, thanks for reading this lengthy post and for being patient with my inability to get this up before the holidays hit me like a ton of bricks.
Now I'm left pondering where in the world I would want to go next. Not that I think we'll get to take another trip like this anytime soon, but it's still fun to dream.
Where in the world would you go, if you could go anywhere?