Sydney, Australia - Fun, Friends, Food and Wine...

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
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Trip End Jun 21, 2005


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Friday, January 21, 2005

Jan 8 - 19, 2005

He Said/She Said:

In an effort to decrease duplication, we are attempted a joint post He Said/She Said: - a monumental task, but we're always pushing ourselves! :) Shannon's musings will be the one's in italics

We completed a whirlwind 10-day tour of Sydney and The Hunter Valley. It was in a word "fantastic" - phonetically "fin-tesss-tic". From the time we landed until the moment we got on the plane to leave, we were having a blast (well, except for the mini-drama I created when our carry on luggage got weighed and we were of course way over). I'll vouch for that!

When I travel my favorite things usually focus on nature & people, but there are just certain cities in the world that can't help but love. Sydney is one of those cities for me - friendly, fun, cosmopolitan and lots of gorgeous beaches & sun (ave over 300 days of sunshine a year - I can only imagine!) FYI, my other 2 favs are Paris (no explanation required! - art, mystique and food!) and NYC (for a theatre buff like myself, I'm completely mesmerized by Broadway!) That said, I doubt I could live in any of them - too big and way too expensive, but I digress....

We had an absolute blast in Sydney...it was crazy expensive as we stayed right downtown in Darling Harbour but there is so much to explore we wanted to be in the heart of the action. We tramped all over Darling Harbor and downtown Sydney from our base. Darling Harbor is great with amazing restaurants, Starbucks (is this really worth it's own mention on the list?!), great little food kiosks, shopping, play areas and of course the Harbor. We were down there for a portion of every day, we just couldn't help ourselves. Not to mention it was a wonderful 30 C everyday. And having just spent 5+ weeks touring New Zealand during the coldest December in 60 years it felt even more amazing.

Did LOTS of wonderful things:

ˇ Took the "City Lights Tour" where we toured the harbour by boat at twilight and saw a whole new Sydney all lit up. The only bummer was it was impossible to take photos from a rocking boat and there were so many beautiful sites to capture. My two favs were the Sydney Opera House so amazing in full-light and the Harbour Bridge still emblazoned with the New Year's lights. It was kind of cool but not a great value money-wise.

ˇ Speaking of the Sydney Opera House, I dearly wanted to take in a performance there, but alas between kids and trying to maintain some semblance of a budget we went to the "Lion King" instead. It turned out to be a great decision...the children loved it and tho' Mark and I had already seen it on Broadway in 2000, we kept commenting on how much more we enjoyed watching it thru the sparkling eyes and giggles of the munchkins beside us. Kayla, of course, informed us of every variation from the movie, identified all the actors which were playing multiple parts and analyzed the theatrical pros and cons of depicting animal life - she really doesn't miss a thing. Tyler - our role-model for accepting things as they are and living in the Now - simply stated with an absolutely ebullient face "That was Cool!" Just love hangin' with those two!

ˇ We climbed the Harbour Bridge for absolutely incredible views. FYI, there are two ways to do this, you can climb the arch for $200pp or climb the pylon for $8. We did the latter. A great choice I believe and fun was had by all including an excellent history lesson on the building of the bridge and the politics involved. Thumbs up on that one.

ˇ We walked for miles and enjoyed taking in the buskers - now these guys are entertaining! I think they do very well $ too. As we were eating lunch one afternoon in a little, out-of-the-way café, one of the kids' favorite guys came in - he was hard to miss with his fiery red Mohawk and flaming torches. He counted his money there...it was LOTS! With the prices in Sydney, if we'd stayed much longer we might have had to consider setting up a "Family Busking Show" :) My fav was the Aboriginal Man playing his Didgeridoo with his partner mixing it with a synthesizer and a laptop to create some very funky beats. Techno meets organic for something really different. Had to buy a CD of that. Yep, something for everyone. Speaking of something for everyone, the day we left, the Latin Festival was starting and based on the rehearsals with the lines of latino dancers, I think we left a bit early!

ˇ Considering we had just come from NZ, we were thrilled that the Lord of the Rings Exhibition was now at the PowerHouse Museum. Very interesting! For a techie like me the "Massive" technology that they used to create free agents for the massive fight scenes was very cool. In a nutshell each of the combatants was a free agent imbued with a particular fighting style dependent on the type of combatant he was, Elf, Ork, etc. and was further programmed to respond individually to whatever circumstances it encountered. Thus, making the massive fight scenes, particularly the one at Helm's Deep seem so much more authentic. All I can say is Peter Jackson and his teams were pure genius when it came to making the LOTR Trilogy.

ˇ Went to the Sydney Aquarium one day, which was Kayla's request. It was pretty cool and the kids loved it. I think the Duck-Billed Platypus probably won the day as the most interesting creature we saw. BTW, as many of you know Australia was originally added to our travel itinerary due to Kayla's very strong desire (to put it mildly) to see the Crocodile Hunter Zoo. We had to fly through Sydney anyway so we decided 'why not do a short stopover?' What we failed to do was some good old-fashioned homework. As it turns out, The Crocodile Hunter Zoo is no where near Sydney, it is in fact in Brisbane. Oops...it was NOT in our plans to spend the extra time or money for a trip to a zoo! Return airfare Sydney to Brisbane alone was over $1000. Anyway, we were quickly looking for a 'Plan B' and so Kayla and I sat down on the Internet and did some research. She could pick any kind of zoo, aquarium, whatever she wanted as long as it was in Sydney or the Sydney area. Thus, our trip to the Sydney Aquarium. And as it turned out, it is right in Darling Harbor. COOL, a cool grand in our pocket that is...

ˇ I decided to treat myself to a morning by myself (for any of you Artist Way followers, it was my Artist's Date) at the Chinese Friendship Garden. What a positively beautiful, tranquil space of pathways, water, trees and gazebos. I was hoping to find a little space to just hang out and mediate but it was far too busy for that. Nevertheless, two whole hours to myself was completely serene and reenergizing.

ˇ We also ventured onto the Subway and Train Systems of Sydney which turned out to be amazing. It was great to see how well Sydney has done, at least from our perspective, at putting together a very usable and very user friendly mass transit system. No this does not mean I will be riding the C-Train to work when I return to Calgary, I am looking forward to having my MDX at my disposal once again to take me on a moments notice to any part of the city I choose.

We were invited over to some friends, Donna and Lee's, for a BBQ on Thursday and ended up taking over their house for the weekend. They are the warmest, most hospitable people not only feeding us delicious, home-cooked gourmet meals, but as they were going out of town for the weekend just offered us their home. For a family that has been on the road for over 3 months, it was the most generous gift. We cooked, the kids played with real kid toys and loved the huge back yard, we swam in their gorgeous pool, we just did 'normal' family stuff and it was awesome. Mark and I sat out on the deck (which just happens to back on to Reserve with amazing symphony of night sounds) drinking some wine and feeling awfully grateful! Just to emphasize the magnitude of this gift, I should point out we met Donna and Lee once at a party in Canada. Needless to say, we think their family is the greatest and they will take Top Spot in our Family Travel Guide as "Must See's in Sydney" :)

It was so great, they are amazing people, with an amazing place and they have two amazing girls who got along fantastically with Kayla and Tyler. The real bonus for the kids was the pool and it was in their pool that Tyler had a breakthrough moment. The same kid who last summer would barely go in the lake at the beginning of summer and who even while in the Cooks would not put his head in the water was suddenly a fiend. He was swimming on a noodle, jumping in and swimming to Shannon and I, jumping in off the ledge, riding the slide into the pool. He was unstoppable. It was so amazing that we actually remembered to break out the video camera and capture it all. It was like a switch was thrown and all of a sudden he was transformed. It was a very cool moment.

It also, made me appreciate what we have back in Calgary. Our home, our cabin, our life and while we are on an amazing journey, we are also very blessed to have what we have. I/We can't thank Donna and Lee enough for the gift they gave us by sharing their home with us. It was "fin-tesss-tic"!!! We must give full credit here to Donna for this word that has become a part of our daily vocabulary - she's a Canadian, married to a Brit that has lived in New Zealand and Aus for 15+ years. Makes for the most unique, endearing accent and this was a word she used all the time.

Couldn't leave Aus without a little visit to wine country and spent the last few days in Hunter Valley a.k.a. The Huntah. Hunter Valley, is a small wine growing region, only 2-3% of the Australian Wine production, but an area renowned for the quality of its wine, particularly Semillon and Shiraz. It did not disappoint. Absolutely loved it -these smaller wine areas are the absolute BEST to visit. Good quality wine made by small family owned wineries, which are friendly, enlightening and just fun to spend time in. More often than not, you meet the winery owners or at least a member of the family who are genuinely interested in sharing their wine with you. It's not like the big wine regions that staff purely to sell. We had a great time, tho' I think I enjoyed it the most cuz I didn't have to drive :-)

The kids enjoyed it too - they've become very proficient at 'wine smelling' and there were lots of "Skippys" (kangaroos) to be seen hangin' out around the vineyards (our tourist attraction is the vinters nemesis :-) The mothers still had babies in their pouches which made it even cooler. We took the kids to a little petting zoo on the way back to Sydney so they got to see all the indigenous Aus animals all in one swoop (who needs the old Croc Hunter Zoo!)

I attended the Hunter Valley Wine School where I got a great tour (the best I've ever been on) of the Winery and the process for making wine and the differences between Red and White Wine making. The guide was very entertaining and very knowledgeable which made it all the more interesting. After the theoretical portion was complete we got to do the hands on practical portion of the schooling. For that we sampled 4 whites and 3 reds and messed around making our own blends of Cabernet and Merlot. All in all, a great thing to do. Loved it!

We finished off the day with an awesome dinner at a Thai Restaurant where I proved that males at any age can do foolish things to impress a girl. After dinner, we were walking around the courtyard at the front entrance of the winery where they had granite planters with water running in the middle of them. I decided to demonstrate my amazing "Daddy Incredible" powers by leaping over one of these planters. My first attempt went smoothly and having completed my trial and feeling pretty agile I thought I'd really impress Kayla by leaping a tall planter in a single bound.

I took a nice run up and as I went to leap my front foot caught the granite ledge. I did not do a face plant but I cannot begin to tell you how much it hurt, and to make matters worse I was wearing Tevas so it was just my foot meeting the granite. I was hopping around and yelping like puppy who'd just been kicked. It hurt so bad and of course Kayla and Shannon were doing all they could not to break out into hysterical laughter. I can only imagine how funny it must have looked. It was a classic moment and one that reminded my I am 41 not 21. Thankfully nothing was broken and for that I count myself lucky because this story could have indeed ended very badly! :) "Daddy Incredible" indeed, incredibly stupid maybe or in this case perhaps incredibly lucky.

A funny sidebar on the "Incredibles" note, is that we are all identified as different characters - Tyler wants to be Dash - the fast little boy, but Kayla thinks he's more like Jack-Jack - the baby. Of course he doesn't like that. Kayla is Voilet - the teen girl, but Tyler always calls the character "Violent"...perhaps this is some type of Freudian payback. :)

Suffice to say, a great time was had by all. This is only one of three repeat countries for us on this trip (Mark and I had already spent a month here 8 yrs ago, and we are stopping in France and England again) but I can see us coming back again (especially if Donna and Lee still live here :). It's just an awesome place to visit! Cheers, Mates!

Highlights:

1. Donna and Lee, Blaise and Jaz's companionship and home. This is also my #1 pick!! Of course, the kids now want one of those pools in our house when we get home - ya right! These are good people, we can't thank them enough for their amazing hospitality, suggestions and kindness. And our kids got along famously with their two girls Blaise and Jaz. I just can't say enough. It was so amazing to be in a house and to have a yard and to be able to spread out a bit. It made me very grateful for what I have back in Canada. It also brought on a tinge of homesickness as well.

2. Darling Harbor (great food, great buskers, great atmosphere with something for everyone)

3. Downtown Sydney

4. Lion King Live Theatre (awesome with the kids) My #2 Pick

5. The Harbor Bridge and Climbing the Bridge Pylon (amazing views of Sydney and the Harbor(s))

6. Riding the Subway and Train Systems in Sydney

7. Starbucks on every block the man truly is addicted to this NA marketing machine

8. The Sydney Aquarium

9. Playing Texas Hold'em at the Casino

10. Walking around and exploring downtown Sydney

11. Awesome Gelato (I'd forgotten that Aussies love their Gelato)

12. The Lord of the Rings exhibit at the Power Museum. It just seemed odd to have to see this exhibit in Australia and not New Zealand. It is based in Wellington but after a stint at Te PaPa it is now on traveling display. "Isn't it ironic?"... where's Alanis when you need her?

13. Chatswood Mall (shopping, browsing, haircuts and Starbucks see what I mean - addicted) what more do you need on a Saturday afternoon.

14. The Huntah (Hunter Valley Wine Region) - what a great place to taste wine, eat good food and just generally chill out) Tho'you did complain there was no Starbucks :)

15. Wine School (I even got a certificate so I'm officially certifiable when it comes to Wine)

16. Seeing the Skippy's (Kangaroos) in Hunter Valley.

I wrapped up Mark's points 2-17 under the header "The magic of Sydney" - now you see why we usually do separate posts. :)

Lowlights:

1. The "City Lights" Tour by Water Taxi. Kind of cool but not a great value money wise.

2. Could have used another day or two or three in "The Huntah" DITTO for me!!!

3. My own personal Mr. Incredible middle-age moment (see below for details) Oh ya baby!

4. The carry on baggage weight crisis leaving Sydney... ahhhhh! There is no logic here and it makes me crazy.

5. Ka Ching everywhere we went - very spendy city!
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