Down Under Adventures

Trip Start May 17, 2006
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Trip End Aug 02, 2006


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Monday, July 10, 2006

By Andy, edited by Lynne

Our travelogue resumes on Thursday, July 6, our final day in Sydney. We woke up and made our way to our first destination, the fish market. En route, we picked up a quick breakfast at a bakery. LJ had the banana bread, as she is wont to do in Sydney. I had a croissant, for those keeping score at home.

The fish market was really interesting. Unlike such markets in less developed areas of the world, the fish market in Sydney was very clean, pristine and orderly, which takes a lot away from the fishy experience. Nevertheless, the market was interesting, with lots of large fish and odd smells. In the parking lot, there were a few huge pelicans holding court. Evidently, they are fed remnants and scraps, which keeps them hanging around. The most interesting part of the market occurred several hours before our arrival. They have a fish auction at about 5am each day. We were able to see the auction floor and read how it works (for students of auctions, it is a declining value Dutch Auction). We also saw a flyer indicating that the auction on the day of the World Cup finals would occur "at the conclusion of the game," which would be televised on the big screens normally used to show bids and such. I suppose that otherwise, bidders would stay home to watch and not arrive in time for the auction.

After the fish market, we headed to the Powerhouse Museum, as highly recommended by the Magid family. They noted that their Japanese exchange student some time ago really seemed to love it. The museum was good, but it was really a Children's Museum, with a focus on science and technology. We were probably the oldest guests there without kids. Regardless, the museum was well done, and parts were very interesting. It would have been better with a young one, though.

From the museum, we went to Chinatown, steps away from the museum. Our first stop was Paddy's Market, a marketplace in Chinatown. I'd been there in February, but it was good for LJ to see herself to agree that it wasn't worth much time. The best part was looking at the produce market, and the fish retailers who undoubtedly had bid on their fresh catch at the market hours earlier.

From the market, we headed for dim sum lunch in Chinatown. That was very good. Lynne did all the ordering. We had various dumplings and assorted whatnot, all of which we enjoyed.

From there, we walked up to Hyde Park. We were on our way to the Barracks there, but stopped at the ANZAC Memorial, which commemorates Australian wars and soldiers. That was an interesting museum, covering all conflicts involving Australians up to and including the present Gulf War, which the museum conclusively declared a mistake (effectively) by confidently noting that there are no WMDs.

When we arrived at the Barracks, we realized that we had plenty of time before it closed, and so we made another diversion to visit the Parliament of the state of New South Wales. This nearby building was beautiful inside and out. Unfortunately, it did not offer much explanation for foreigners in terms of how the government works and what was the meaning of what we were seeing. Regardless, it was a worthwhile stop.

After this other unexpected delay, we finally made our way to the Hyde Park Barracks, which were originally used to house the British convicts upon their arrival in Australia. The museum later served other purposes, including a place for immigrants, indigent women, government buildings and so forth. The museum was extensive, and we really enjoyed it. It was great to learn about the convicts transported to Australia and other such history.

After visiting the Barracks, we made our way back to the hotel. We raced there in time to witness a beautiful sunset from our balcony over Darling Harbor, which was certainly worth catching. We watched the sun go down, and enjoyed the beautiful sky for some time thereafter. Thus began rest period.

After rest period, we headed to our chosen restaurant for dinner. En route, we stopped to check email. At this point, we realized with disappointment that friends of ours, Ash and Alison (another married Wharton couple), had hoped to see us that same day and night. They are Australian, and we had emailed them only a few days before arriving in Australia, to check on meeting up. However, we hadn't checked email for a few days, and so we missed their reply hoping to get together with us that same day. What a disappointment. We also realized earlier that we would miss our friend Ari Chester by a day or two in Australia. Like Tyce, he had been "studying" in Singapore for the past month or so.

After checking email, we headed to our dinner at Café Sydney, an upscale restaurant in a historic building ("Customs House") with beautiful views of Sydney Harbor. The concierge called ahead to arrange our "booking" (Australian for reservation), which afforded us a special little appetizer "courtesy of the Four Points," which was very good, as was all the food (albeit very pricey). Most of all, the view was phenomenal. Dinner was over close to 10pm, and so we raced to the Harbor to catch ice cream before the shops closed, which worked out just fine, as we shared an ice cream while sitting by the water.

The final highlight of Thursday was talking to sister Wendy by phone at night (start of workday Boston time) to wish her a happy birthday. It was rather odd to finally speak with her after so much time. I don't think I'd ever gone anywhere close to 7 weeks without speaking with her before!

We woke up very early on Friday, July 7. We had to leave our hotel by 7am to catch our 9am flight to Cairns (which we finally figured out is pronounced "cans," as in "aluminium cans"). Before leaving, we left one of our bags with the hotel, as we'll return there for one night before leaving Australia. So we headed out sharing one bag (plus Jim, the gym bag) for the next 6 days up in North Queensland).

Our flight to Cairns was on JetStar, which is QANTAS' low-fare unit. The flight was fine. Despite having to board after all the families with children (and there are tons of them, due to the school "winter" holidays), we managed seats in the exit row. I slept most of the way, much to LJ's chagrin since I claimed the window, which is something I do on rare occasion on our short flights, since I am such a gentleman. Upon arrival, we claimed our hire car, though Europcar revealed that our rate is significantly higher than what Expedia quoted. We'll fight that battle later. Our new car, Getz, is a real winner after Chico, from South Africa, so no complaints there.

We drove to Port Douglas, where we'd recently arranged three nights at an apartment hotel. It was the first hotel that we hadn't arranged before departing the US. I took care of this one within the past week, but we are very happy here. In fact, we had booked this for three nights, but we extended it to four after a day or so. We have a studio apartment here, which is much like a hotel room with a kitchenette. And laundry! It is really very nice, and very well located, as it is within convenient walking distance to the main drag and the beach.

After settling in at the hotel, we made our way to the town and walked around there a bit. We had a late lunch (pizza and salad). We then did a little research into planning our time here, figuring out options for snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, and looking into bike rentals (aka "hire") and the like. Our hotel manager was very helpful in setting up various dinner reservations, and making suggestions for tours and the like. We also stopped by the supermarket, where we picked up groceries for breakfast and some snacks. Before returning to our apartment, we stopped at the local DVD hire shop. We chose Mystic River. When we brought it to the counter, the girl said, "Do you want to hire this video?" I wanted to say, "Well that depends, is it a hard worker?" But I just said yes, and we were on our way. Lynne pointed out that, as far as we can remember, this is our first time renting a movie together. Three plus years, and our first rental. I guess it goes to show that we aren't really into the films.

We returned to our apartment for rest period, and we enjoyed some of our snacks at that point (humus and pita). After readying ourselves for supper, we headed to the local Thai restaurant, which came very highly recommended by our hotel staff. When we got there, we realized it was BYO, and so I headed across the street to the bottle shop and picked up a wonderful white wine for just ten Australian dollars. The Thai food was fantastic (even after Thailand), validating the recommendation of several people who suggested it to us.

When we got home, we put aside our movie and instead watched the final episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm from the Season 3 discs that I was recently given by one of my favorite aunts and uncles. The season finale was uproarious. For those who are fans, it featured the opening of the restaurant in which Larry is an investor. It was also refreshingly nice to watch the DVD on the "big screen" (tv) rather than the laptop.

On Saturday, July 8, we enjoyed a very leisurely morning, waking up late. At that point, I began making the bed, without being prompted. LJ voluntarily pitched in, without being asked. It was a surprisingly conflict-free process, and in retrospect, I realize that this was the first time we had to make a bed since mid-May. I guess we have really been spoiled by hotel living! At that point, I went down to the reception to have the manager help us make arrangements for lodging accommodations for after we depart here. After our four nights here, we will spend two nights a bit further north, in a lodge in the rainforest, before heading back to Sydney for a night. This stretch of 6 nights was the only bit that wasn't settled before leaving the States, but it seems that it should work out swimmingly. When I returned to the room, LJ had taken care of her responsibility, which was to set up our breakfast. We enjoyed cereal and French bread, and I had orange juice. It was great to have a meal "at home."

After breakfast, we got a relaxing start to our day, leaving at 11am. We were headed to Mossman Gorge, part of the rainforest. It was just a short drive, but before arriving there, we realized it would be fun to prepare a picnic lunch. We decided to find a grocery store to pick up what we needed, and we were hoping to find a store that would provide a few other things, such as an underwater camera, a beach towel, and the like. We thought we'd find everything under one roof when we spotted a Woolworth's, but it turned out it was just a supermarket, as opposed to the Woolworth's we were familiar with. So we just picked up some groceries for lunch (sandwiches) and continued on our way.

We arrived at the gorge, which included a hiking trail of about 3km. The walk was beautiful, weaving through the rainforest, approaching a river, overlooking mountains, etc. There were signs throughout, explaining the bits of nature and such. The trees were huge and very impressive. It was really fun, and nice to be walking about. When we completed the circuit, we sat at a picnic table and had our lunch before heading out.

As we drove back to Port Douglas, we passed a sign indicating the way to a vineyard a few km off the road. We spontaneously decided to check it out, and we are sure glad that we did. We followed the signs to a tiny vineyard (17 acres) making wines from different fruits. It is run by a couple who offer wine tastings that include a dozen of their varieties. We had a really fun time tasting all of their wines. None are made from grapes, and some of the flavors are very unusual, such as ginger, lime, orange and the like. The proprietor walked us through each variety, carefully explaining each one in layman's terms, and encouraging us to take notes and comment. It was really fun. We bought a Jaboticaba (!) for tonight's dinner (based on his suggested pairings), and also picked up a little something for a friend of ours who will be hosting us one night in the near future.

After our tasting, we continued our drive back to town. We stopped to check out the beach. We saw only a tiny portion of Four Mile Beach, which is a short walk from our apartment. It was very windy, but the beach seems really nice, and we hope to get back there in a day or two.

After the beach, we decided to check out a football game that we'd seen a sign for on our way into town the day before. We made our way to the field, not knowing what to expect. We parked the car and meandered over to the pitch. There was a small crown on hand watching the game as they drank their beers. There were tons of families with babies and little kids. We watched a bit of the game, not even knowing the name of the sport! We later concluded that the game was Australian Rules Football, and the local team, the Port Douglas Crocs, was being slaughtered by the mighty Visitors. We walked beyond this pitch, where we found a second field with another game in progress. This was a different game, which I soon concluded was rugby. The local team, the Port Douglas Reef Raiders, was in a much closer contest, though we saw them lose the lead to the Visitors as well. We watched this game for some time as well before heading out.

Before returning home, we stopped at a bar/restaurant called "On the Inlet," which was suggested by Larry Magid and family. We were only there on a scouting trip for the next day. We had been told that we needed to go there to watch the feeding of their enormous grouper fish. So we stopped in to ask what time we should return for the feeding the next day. After this scouting trip, we took one final detour before returning home. We drove through a little neighborhood here, by some beautiful homes, and up to a lookout point, which afforded a great view of the beach and surrounding areas.

At that point, we finally got back to the hotel for rest period. In addition to our snacks, we relaxed and watched Mystic River (two thumbs up). We also did a load of laundry, which was another novelty after so much time.

Dinner Saturday was at Gone Bananas, a local "Mediterrasian" restaurant. It was also highly recommended by several sources. Soon after sitting down, we were each served great shots, which our server proudly introduced as "Chocolate Cowboys." They were chocolatey, with some liqueurs in them. It only seemed odd in retrospect that we were served such dessert like drinks, unordered, before our meal. After consuming them, we asked again what they were. The waitress (not the one who brought us the drinks) seemed embarrassed and said, "They were meant for another table. It was a mistake." We got a kick out of that. The dinner, as accompanied by our newly acquired Jaboticaba wine, was fantastic. For our "entrée" (Australia for "appetizer"), we had a calamari unlike any we've had anywhere before. It was very soft, and not at all spongy or rubbery. For our "mains" ("entrees," in American English) we shared lamb, as well as the famous Barramundi Wings. The latter is a fish, which we again enjoyed despite our opposition to most fish.

Sunday (July 9) was also a most eventful day. We again awoke at about 10am and fixed ourselves a breakfast of cereal and toast. By 11am, we left and went to the local bike hire shop, where we were outfitted with some sporty wheels for the afternoon. Our first stop was a very short ride down the street (it is a small town) to where a weekly market is set up on Sundays. The market featured crafts, jewelry, juices and assorted massage therapies. We walked throughout the market, and LJ bought a cutting board and some earrings. I am sure she will tell you how great they are. On the same grounds as the weekly market is a beautiful church that we went into. Behind the altar is a big open window looking out over the ocean.

We continued our bike ride for a few kilometers, seeing some beautiful houses, and tons under development, along the way. From there, we rode right onto the beach. During low tide (as it was in the afternoon), the beach is huge, and it is almost non-existent during high tide. While we were there, the sand near the water was very hard packed, and it was very easy to bike along, which we did. We rode a bit before pulling over and enjoying a snack that we had packed: turkey sandwich, fruit and cookies. Along the beach, there were tons of little round sand pellets, as well as deep but narrow holes in the sand. Eventually, we spotted the tiny camouflaged crabs crawling around and into the holes. Until that point, the whole setup was a mystery.

Our next stop was the local marina, where we looked at a range of boats, from big yachts, to tourist vessels and sailboats. After walking around there a bit, we returned our bikes and walked back to the water. Our destination was On The Inlet to see the feeding of the huge groper fish (several in fact) at 530pm. We arrived at 4pm to secure great seats, and killed time enjoying drinks with a bucket of prawns. Eventually, feeding time rolled around, by which point a huge crowd had assembled. There were three enormous groper fish that came in to be fed the carcasses of some fish from the restaurant. It was quite a scene as the fish splashed about grabbing their food. Still, we were a bit disappointed as it had been our understanding that the fish jump clear out of the water, as high as six feet up, to grab their food. [LYNNE: Six feet might be a slight exaggeration, but we did expect the fish to jump more than they did.]

After this event, we returned to our home for rest period. We then made our way to a restaurant in town, Salsa's, that has been recommended by everyone. It was delicious. We shared a soft-shell mud crab appetizer (entrée) which was fantastic. Our more interesting main dish was kangaroo (gamey and good), and we also shared a seafood curry (good, but less interesting). Afterwards, we made the obligatory ice cream stop [LYNNE: Although the first ice cream in Port Douglas], and then hit the sack in preparation for a big day at the Barrier Reef on Monday.

LYNNE:

I think Andy has done a pretty good job on this entry. We are leaving Port Douglas shortly and heading to Cape Tribulation. Since we want to take full advantage of the internet we purchased here and send the blog before we leave, I'm going to spare you from more reading for now. We hope to send another entry in the next few days, which will include our day on the Great Barrier reef and any other adventures we have in Cape Tribulation.

Until then,

Lynne & Andy
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