Some of you have been wondering if I fell off the face of the earth as I haven't blogged in about 6 weeks. But alas, I'm still alive and well! The radio silence was because I went home to Utah for a few weeks to see my dearest friends and family. A big thanks goes out to all my friends that made my trip home special, and also my parents who let me live with them for the first time in nearly 20 years! The good news is that I am back on the road and I have a lot to share with you! I resumed my exodus by returning back to Australia. As of my trip home (vacation from my vacation?) I had only seen the Western portion of this vast country.
So I started my East coast adventures in Sydney. I checked into a nice hostel in the backpackers area of the city where I could walk to most of the major sights. The hostel had several events scheduled throughout the week and conveniently there was a city orientation walk scheduled my second day there. We started our walk by heading through nearby Chinatown and past the beautiful Chinese Gardens to find ourselves at Darling Harbor. It is surrounded with many of the typical tourist sites like an aquarium, IMAX Theater, and art museums. As this was a walking tour and not a sight-seeing tour, we just kept on truckin'. I made a mental note to return to a few places along the way.
We walked through the Victoria building which was a large shopping center filled with high end shops. While I am certainly not on a budget to where I could afford anything there, the mall itself was gorgeous and the crowning jewels were two large clocks hanging from the ceiling in two of the multi-level cutouts. We passed through and walked several blocks down. As we walked in between two very tall buildings I caught my first glimpse of the Sydney Opera House. Much like I felt when I first saw the Taj Mahal, it took my breath away. I took a few seconds to take stock of how fortunate I am to be here!
The sails of the Opera House glistened in the mid-day sunlight and I was giddy with excitement. It was then that I turned and saw the Harbor Bridge, locally known as the Coat Hanger because of it's obvious shape. Sitting there with the Opera House to my right and the bridge to my right I can't even put into words how excited I was. After a few pictures we walked over to the Opera House and ran up the iconic stairs at the front. I had to make a quick stop at the box office to pick up some tickets for a show the following night, more on that later!
Despite all of us staring at the Opera House in awe of it's presence, we had to carry on with our tour. Directly adjacent to the Opera House lay the Royal Botanic Gardens. They are perfectly situated right on the water and consist of rolling hills and winding pathways through lush greenery. Our guide walked us over to a small pond and started throwing bread into the water without explanation. We were all expecting to see some fish and a few ducks go after the bread when we saw a long eel slither past and grab a piece. What?! An eel? In a pond!? Yup, turns out that they don't know why, but eels have infested this pond for many years. They have tried to get rid of them by draining the pond, but once they fill it back up it is full of eels within weeks. Some claim to have seen the eels slithering across the grass at night, but I have my doubts…
We continued on our way to Hyde Park – another iconic site in Sydney. We spent a few minutes watching old men playing chess on an oversized chess set and had a good laugh envisioning treating it like a football game and cheering (or jeering) after each move. Our laughter was catching some scowls from the players, so we moved on and went back to the hostel for the afternoon. After grabbing a snack I went right back out the door for a night time tour of The Rocks. The Rocks is a section of Sydney where it's convict history comes alive.
Our guide took us through a mostly remodeled area and shared stories of what life was like during the 1800s when Sydney was just getting settled. For those of you that don't already know, Australia got it's start into the modern era in the early 1800s when Britain was using it for a convict dumping ground for all of their unsavory characters. There were also people that came to settle here as free men, but they were mostly outnumbered by the convicts in the area where crime was running rampant. The tour was informative, but we were also able to get some great views of the cityscape at night. After nine hours of walking that day, I was ready to head home and get some sleep before I continued my touring the next day.
I started my morning off early and was the first person to visit the Chinese Gardens that day. Most of the tourists don't seem to start their touring until 10:00 AM or so, so I was able to take in the serene gardens without another soul around. Being in this big bustling city it was nice to find an oasis focused on relaxation and relieving stress. I spent more time there than I probably should have, but I couldn't help curling up in one of the many pagodas with my Kindle. I continued on my previous day's path with the intention of going to the aquarium or the IMAX, but once I got there, saw the prices and the crowds, I decided that my time would be better spent elsewhere, so I walked back over to the Opera House to take a behind the scenes tour.
Our guide gave us the full story of how the Opera House came to be what it is today. I only have space to share a couple of things with you, but when Australia decided to build the Opera House, they held an international contest to determine the design. Entries from all over the world poured in from professionals and amateurs alike. It's current design was actually thrown in the trash along with hundreds of others until it was retrieved by one of the judges late in the competition. Despite the fact that it violated several of the rules of the contest, he loved the concept of the sails and thought it would be a great addition to the harbor. Over budget and long overdue, it was opened in 1973.
After the tour I was even more excited to go to the symphony that night! So I walked back over to the hostel to get dressed up for my night out. I put on my sensibly simple and wrinkle free little black dress and hailed a cab to the Opera House (I am not huffing it over there in heels…). I got dropped off right in front and just short of running I bounded up the stairs and found the entrance only to realize that I was about 30 minutes early. I grabbed a glass of bubbly and waited to be let into the glorious concert hall. Once I got in, I could barely contain myself, but luckily the symphony wasted no time in getting started. The first part was from Fantasia, always a favorite, but after that there was a contemporary violin piece that I didn't care for at all. There was a short intermission and then we came back to enjoy a perfectly executed rendition of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique. It was a beautiful experience and I was so thrilled when I walked out of the concert hall. What an incredible evening!
The next day I had decided to take a tour to get out of the city and do a little bit of hiking. I found myself headed for the Blue Mountains. If the bus ride there was any indication I knew this was going to be a gorgeous day! The mountains get their name from the blue haze that hangs over the heavily forested mountains. The haze comes from the fine mist of oil excreted by the abundant eucalyptus trees. Our day started out with a hike to a waterfall that was just breathtaking. You could not look in any direction without a beautiful view!
We stopped in a charming little town for morning tea and then continued our day with another short hike nearby. There we were treated to some glorious views of Australia's version of the Grand Canyon. Our last stop for the day was at Scenic World with an 1880s railway decending down the 52 degree decline to the valley floor. After taking a scenic walk at the bottom the valley, I took a cable car back up and out of the canyon for some spectacular views. I was exhausted by the end of the day, but it was a very fun way to exhaust myself, so I didn't mind!
The coolest part was meeting a sweet Koala Bear. Like many of you I am sure, I had always heard they were mean! Not this one! She was snuggly and cute. One of the keepers grabbed her sleeping on a branch in a nearby tree and she clung to her like a baby while we cooed and felt her soft fur. After posing for a few pictures we hopped back on the bus for a fun day of wine tastings, chocolate tastings, and a brewery stop.
At the brewery I had some of the best beers I've tasted in a while, and sat and reflected on what was overall a great day. Our tour guide and I began chatting about eating Kangaroo. I had the misconception when I arrived that everybody here eats Kangaroo. Not true! It is eaten but apparently very easy to overcook because of it's low fat content, so most people prefer to buy the more fool proof beef for grilling. However, he did give me a recommendation of a pub that does a great job cooking 'roo. I made a note of it so I could grab some dinner there the next night.
The next day was a gloomy and rainy day, so I waited until about noon for it to clear up, but it never did. I decide to quit being such a princess, grabbed my umbrella and went over to Sydney Harbor to catch a ferry over to Cockatoo Island. It was an old penintentiary and has now been turned into a dual purpose museum of sorts. On one hand you are able to see the penintentiary grounds and look at it as a history museum, but on the other hand, Sydney Arts Council has been very creative and filled the open spaces and buildings with local and international contemporary artworks. Much like contemporary concertos, I prefer the classics, but it still made for an interesting afternoon.
On the ferry ride back to Sydney Harbor I was able to get a few great shots of the bridge and Opera House. After departing the ferry I made my way over to the Begian Beer Pub for my kangaroo steak. I was not dissappointed there! It was cooked medium rare with a savory sauce and served with brocolini and potatoes. Yum! It was paired with a Belgian beer that I am in love with called Leffe Brune. I may have to try to seek that out the next time I am in Arizona…
I left Sydney wanting more, but I know I will be back when I meet my friend Tracy there at the beginning of September. So if you are thinking that I missed some important sights, that's by design! I want to wait and experience some of the sights when I have a good friend with whom to share the experiences.
My Australian adventure continues with a trip south to Tasmania where I will be staying in Hobart for a few days and then renting a campervan to take a trip around the island camping and catching all the Tassie has to offer! I will keep you posted!
P.S. The abundance of pictures of me is due to a request of my Mama…so get used to it! Also, I am now blogging from my iPad rather than bringing my laptop. The bad news is that the app I am using for blogging (Blogsy) does not allow me to add videos…I am still working on the problem and hoping to find a way. If any of my tech genius friends have suggestions, please send them my way!