Sydney and Katoomba

Trip Start Oct 18, 2005
1
7
21
Trip End Dec 15, 2005


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Monday, November 7, 2005

Day 14: This was a travel day between Singapore and Sydney. Janell had been a little nervous about flying Gulf Air because she'd never heard of it, but it was just fine...other than the fact that we baked on the runway for about 30 minutes before they finally turned the air on. Nice way to start the day.

After we checked into the hotel in Sydney, we wandered down to the closest watering hole and had our first Australian beers and wines. There is so much to choose from! Victoria Bitter, Tooneys, Coopers, Cascade, Hahn...lots!

Day 15: The hotel manager gave us a great tip. You can either pay A$40 for a cruise of Syndey Harbor on a big fancy boat, or you can pay A$4.80 to take the ferry that is part of the public transportation system and get the same views. It was a great day for a boat ride! We saw the sights of the harbour, including the downtown skyline, the Harbour Bridge, and, of course, the Sydney Opera House. Who can go to Sydney and not see the Opera House? Once we thoroughly inspected that magnificent structure funded by A$120M of the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars, we took a walk through the Royal Botanical Garden. This is a great place for a stroll, a jog, or just sitting under a nice tree. Since we're here in the spring, everything is either in bloom or has just finished shedding the spring flowers. Brilliant! The birds like it, too.

After all that walking, it was time for a nice beer. We found a place called James Squire Brewery at Darling Harbour. This place makes many great beers that would rival the beers made in our beloved Northwest. No kidding! Our favorite one was a suspiciously light looking pale ale that came straight from the tanks to the tap.

One of our goals had been to see an Australian sporting event. Both Rugby and Aussie Rules Football finished their seasons in October, so we saw the next best thing. Basketball! We caught the Sydney Kings vs. the Perth Wildcats. The only player I recognized was C.J. Bruton, who some of you Iowa State fans may remember as the stud point guard who was supposed to play at ISU after finishing up at Indian Hills Community College but was ineligible to play in the NCAA because he'd played professionally in Australia. He got drafted by the Blazers in 1997, but didn't make the team. The stadium was fairly small for the largest city in Australia (roughly 5,000 seats or so), and the music continued even during play. They didn't play much defense, but they sure can shoot. Made for a high scoring game. Sydney blew Perth out of the water - 124-91. Chalupas for all!

Day 16: Today we tried Vegimite. Wow. Yuck!!! I can't believe that in a country that is so similar to ours they actually like something that tastes like that. It is basically a brown salty paste that you spread on toast like jam. But it doesn't taste like jam, or vegetables for that matter. Imagine opening up a jam packet in your favorite diner and looking at a tub of brown stuff, spreading it on the corner of your toast, taking a bite, and then making the bitter beer face as your taste buds get overwhelmed with salty crap. Janell's face was similar to the one she made in Japan during our "traditional" Japanese breakfast.

That past us. We got another great tip from the hotel staff, and we got a day pass to all the Sydney public transportation for only A$15. We went everywhere!

First stop...the Olympic Park. This place was pretty cool. We gave ourselves a walking tour to check everything out. They took the cauldroun where the Olympic Flame was lit and moved it to a small park next to the stadium, turning it into a fountain. They had the names of all the medal winners on plaquards in the sidewalk. After watching the kids run through it for awhile, we walked past some of the buildings where the events took place, including Telstra Stadium (we didn't go in because it was A$27 for a tour). We did, however, fork out A$3.10 to go into the Aquatic Center - bad day to leave swimsuits in the hotel room. It was really cool to imagine what the games were like there.

Next stop...Manly. Manly is a little town right on the mouth of Sydney Harbour with a beach on both the Harbour side and the Pacific Ocean. This place was awesome! We had a nice stroll on the beach and spent a little time watching seagulls pluck sandwiches away from unsuspecting tourists. That was definitely worth the A$15 just for that.

Next stop...Bondi Beach (pronounced Bone-Die). We got there a little late in the day since the sun was going down, but it was still pretty nice. This beach was really big, and it seemed to be popular with the surfing crowd. The area reminded us a little bit of San Diego and Portland's Hawthorne District mixed together. Dinner included a nice view of the beach, a pasta dish for Janell and a nice big juicy...steak for Jason. Mmmm...steak. After Asian food for two weeks, this just might be the best steak ever! We had a nice quiet bus ride back to the train station when it was interrupted by a sudden seemingly unprovoked Turrets outburst from a woman on the bus..."Awp Yors (insert noun expletive here)! (Adjective-expletive noun-expletive)!"

Final stop...Darling Harbour and the James Squire Brewery, of course.

Day 17: We were in the mood for a good hike not involving concrete and bus exhaust, so we grabbed a train to go to Katoomba, the main little town in the Blue Mountains. It was the first cloudy day we had had in Australia. After living in Oregon, what a perfect day for a hike! Unfortunately, the views weren't quite what they are on a sunny day, but we enjoyed the hike anyway. The beautiful part about it is that we could walk to the trailhead from our hotel.

After walking along the cliffside trail for about 45 minutes, we came to the Three Sisters and the Giant Stairway. Well, it was too cloudy to actually see the Three Sisters, so we decided to descend the Giant Stairway. The incredibly steep and long Giant Stairway. How long could it be, right? 900 steps later (confirmed with a travel guide)...we reached the valley floor. We decided against going right and risking missing the last train that goes up at a 45 degree angle and went left to meet up with the trailhead where we started. You know what they say...what goes down must come up (hiking, not breakfast). We're still feeling those 900 steps back to the top. 900! Who makes a trail like that?!?!

A great thing about Australia is the B.Y.O. system. This is just what it sounds like. For many restaurants, you can bring your own! Katoomba has lots of them, and they even tell you where you can go to get a nice bottle of wine or six-pack of beer. The wine store owner looked a little put out when Jason asked him what wine went well with pizza..."Well, any old wine to wash it down would do, wouldn't it?"

Day 18: Since our original Sydney Hotel was booked on Saturday, we checked into Wake Up! upon our return to Sydney. This is a budget backpacker place. Ten years ago, this probably would have been our type of crowd, but it didn't take long to feel like the oldest people who had ever stayed there. Imagine a college dorm with a bar in the basement playing techno music...in a country where the drinking age is 18. At least they didn't ask us for our AARP cards. They did get us a nice discount on the Sydney Aquarium, though.

The aquarium was pretty cool. The first room had a platypus exhibit. They look like a cross between a beaver and a duck. Seriously. Maybe it should be the new Oregon state animal! The shark exhibit was awesome (very similar to the one at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Vegas)! You walk in a tube underneath all the sharks, and there were plenty. There were also many rays there. There were other fish in there, too, that we like to call bait. No feeding frenzy while we were there, though. There was also a very cool coral reef exhibit, and we did find Nemo there.

After the aquarium, we went to an area called The Rocks for dinner. For you Portlanders, imagine about 10 places just like Kells in one area and that's The Rocks. They even had specials on Guinness!

The nightcap was back at the basement bar of Wake Up! It was definitely a back to college experience, except for the guys dressed like Superman and The Mask. Is that how guys pick up on college girls these days? Anyway, we got four beers there for what one cost us at The Rocks. We had coupons.

Day 19: This was our last full day in Syndey, and it seemed like a good day to go see some kangaroos and koalas...at the Sydney Zoo. We had hoped to see some in the wild in Queensland, but we weren't taking any chances that we could leave Australia without seeing a damn kangaroo. Anyway, we grabbed a cab to the zoo and ended up with a very philosophical, and very talkative, cabbie. We got lectures about everything from regional politics to evolution to religious philosophies to how America is screwing everything up. At least it was entertaining.

The zoo is on the North Shore of the Sydney Harbour, and has outstanding views of the harbour and of the city. Also, it specializes in Australian animals, so there were a lot of cool things to see that we haven't seen in North American zoos.

After the zoo, we stopped back by The Rocks for beers and dinner. We found a raucous place with a live band...at 5:30 on a Sunday...and stopped in. Before long, we ended up hanging out with the first real Australian we had met in a week in Sydney, Bruce, and his American business colleague from Chicago, Bob. Jason asked Bruce why everybody in the place was hammered on a Sunday afternoon. His reply? "Because we're Australian!" Needless to say, it was a very entertaining evening.

Day 20: This was a travel day between Sydney and Cairns, so not too much exciting happened. See you in Cairns!
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