You know that a vacation has been memorable when you realize that time has flown by like a jet and you are dreading packing up all the bits and pieces in preparation to head back home to reality.

This has been very much that kind of vacation for me – even without John I am afraid to admit. I’ve spoken with him once or twice each day, but I have hated going into too much detail or talking at length about my experiences as I feel like it would put a little salt on the wound. But it has been wonderful and I hope that my blog has reflected a true love of Australia and a desire to see oh so much more of it in the near future.

On our last day we spent it at the famous Bondi Beach and also at Centennial Park. Traveling around Sydney can be a little crazy, and Jenny has relied on “Giselle” (her TomTom device) to get us around the city and points beyond. It has helped us out in more than one occasion or we would still be driving around Sydney!

So Bondi Beach first – known the world over, it is a hotspot for the beautiful people, surfers and surfer wannabe’s. The day was the best yet and we ventured out in short sleeve shirts – a first for Mum and I! The sun shone all day long so it was fitting that it be our last! Bondi Beach is very much a typical beach, but as with Mollymook, the sand is fantastic, clean and fine underfoot. The area is also like a big rounded basin but the waves crash in and provide excellent surfing (for the surfers out there)! The water is crystal clear and you can see the shelf drop from bright teal/blue water as in the Caribbean to the dark blue where the sharks lurk in the depths beyond the nets put in place to protect those in the water. Still, never going out there…no way! 😉

And just our luck there is a RSL club there right at “Iceberg’s”. Iceberg’s is a famous restaurant/club /swimming club. The name comes from the swimming club that requires that in order to be eligible to join, you need to swim every Sunday for 2 years to qualify – no matter what the weather…icebergs and all. The swim team is also very competitive during the lifesaving competition that they have every year and plaques, medals and trophies are all around. Also, the pool is famous as it is filled by the seawater that is adjacent and crashes up against the side of the pool when hi-tide is in. We were there in the middle of the day, so no crashing about, but the concept is very cool. All the swimmers wear wetsuits to swim in as the water is the temperature of well, the ocean. [pictures to come – and I got some great ones!]

So after our visit to Iceberg’s RSL, we jumped back in the car and headed over to Centennial Park for a walk around until we met up with Ian for dinner. Centennial Park reminds me of Central Park with a lot less people and less skyscrapers surrounding it. But there are walkers, runners, horseback riders and many playing in the fields. The day continued to be beautiful and we had a good walk around looking at all of the plant life that only grows down here and seeing the larges cockatoos that I’ve every seen (except in a cage or zoo) flying around all above us. There were black swans in The Swan Pond and tropical birds and plant life all around. Interestingly there were no squirrels or chipmunks, or any types of birds that we have at home. I don’t think that small animals like the squirrel or chipmunk would survive here… too many larger predators about.

To cap off the evening… and the trip as a whole… we were back at The Lord Dudley for our last dinner where our adventure began two weeks ago. The Lord Dudley in Woollahra is the English pub that served the Beef and Guinness Pie that Mum has talked about the ENTIRE trip. So it was only fitting that we go back there for our last meal and see if it was just as good as the first one. It was.

I attest to the fact that they’ve had the best meat pies that I’ve ever had. Mum is determined to go home and try and duplicate the recipe. Good luck to her – they wouldn’t give her any hints, only that it had red wine and the waitress felt like she had told us too much by that point. Pies are taken very seriously here and if they enter these in competition, I am sure that they win regularly.

So back to the house in Mosman to pack.

It was a lovely, lovely cap to the holiday and I dreaded leaving for the airport this morning. I was trying to figure out if/how I could call in sick for a week without anyone really noticing… well that would never happen!

Sydney, Mollymook and The Blue Mountains were the three places that we visited on our journey to Australia. We’ve only scratched the surface and I hope to come back soon and perhaps visit Queensland… another jewel of Australia.  With no idea what to expect on this journey, the trip far exceed my expectations.

New South Wales is incredibly beautiful and scenic and it is the very best of what we travel distances to visit in the Northern Hemisphere. Think Laguna Beach/Southern California, Vancouver, Seattle and England all rolled into one… without the crowds, easy and favorable currency and friendly, friendly people. AWESOME!!!!! And I’d say that it remains this way simply because of its remoteness to the rest of the world. This country has the best of it all and remains unspoiled because of the cost, desire or the distance to travel that keeps so many away.

Australia is a hidden jewel right there in front of you… this trip will remain with me for many years to come…

We woke up on Tuesday back in Sydney with the sun shining brightly and the temperature so much warmer that we contemplated not moving an inch. I had booked the Blue Mountains trip at the get-go so John and I could have a few days away together, just the two of us. When the whole thing happened with his back I considered canceling the trip to the Blue Mountains. But, you never know when we’ll get back here, so I kept the reservation and Mum and I were off late morning to the train station.

I know that I’ve said that the Australian’s are friendly people, well they really are. I hadn’t planned on taking the 10:10am train to Katoomba, but it happened that we managed to get to the Central Train Station just in time to make the earlier train. An elderly train station master (and I mean a man in his 80s), used his master key for us so we could get to the platform just in time for the train to depart. And once on the train, a lady showed me how to flip the seat back over so Mum and I could sit together and not be bothered by the older man sleeping behind us. So that was a good start! Such friendly people here!

After two pretty comfortable hours on the train we landed in Katoomba, the largest town in the Blue Mountains. Once a coal mining area, it has been dominated by resorts and inns that dot the landscape all around the Blue Mountains and welcome the overnight guests as well as the day-trippers from Sydney.

The only way that I can describe the area is to think of the Blue Mountains as the Grand Canyon with trees. Lots and lots of eucalyptus trees dotting the landscape in a dense canopy.

We arrived via taxi at Lilianfels, a really old resort right near Echo Point – the main lookout for the Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters. Lilianfels is a lovely English-style hotel with all the amenities of home. The grounds are lush and with Spring springing here, the flowers are in bloom all over the property. The rooms are draped in toile – so not John’s favorite and a-okay with Mum, but very appropriate for the setting. Our room wasn’t ready on arrival, so we had a bit of lunch in the Lounge before taking a walk around the grounds and down to Echo Point which was a 5 minute walk from the hotel.

What can I say about Echo Point except it is totally amazing scenery. For once we got lucky with the weather and it was as clear as can be. The view is reminiscent of the view from the railing of Niagara Falls… the view goes on and on… just utterly spectacular [many pictures to come, I promise!]  We took a few snaps, but the wind really kicked up and we headed to the Visitor Information Center, which turned out to be the usual gift shop with info before heading back via another gift shop to the hotel. I know that everyone hates the typical gift shop variety no matter where you are visiting as much as I, but sometimes they have their purpose – I scored some of the best postcards of the region that I’ve seen… so it was worth the drop in.

Our room was ready when we returned and it is truly lovely with traditional furnishings and incredibly comfortable “Manchester” 😉 The Lilianfels staff is really lovely and they really take their job seriously. You know when you are not just in any hotel anywhere in the world – the staff is attentive and very friendly without being too much and obviously fake. By the evening, Patrick, the Concierge, knew me by name as we discussed dinner reservations in Leura.

So… dinner in Leura was very, very good…. So much better than Rick Stein’s I have to say – and at a much more reasonable price. We ate at Silk’s, which Patrick recommended. The restaurant was a small, French-style restaurant with about 20 tables, no more. For a Tuesday evening, it was well occupied. Mum had the red snapper and I tried my luck at the filet. Both were excellent and we enjoyed a great cup of coffee – I would say #2 on the ranking list of coffee so far….such, such good coffee and I can’t get enough!!!!

There is a whole jargon to the coffee here – and it is nothing like home. I can as most everyone, can walk into Starbuck’s and order anything with ease. In Australia, there is an entirely different protocol. Here’s how I’ve figured it out…

Flat White is an espresso coffee with steamed milk, but no foam. It is “flat” as the steamed milk goes right to the top of the rim of the cup.

Flat White Non-Fat is an espresso coffee with steamed non-fat milk, but no foam.

Flat White mug is the same as above, but a double / sometimes with a splash of cocoa on top.

Cappuccino is just like we have at home.

Mocha is just like we have at home / either a mug or as a single (in a cup).

Black coffee is a normal cup of coffee that you would have at home (this has taken me 10 days to figure out how to order, seriously as some coffee places don’t offer it and it isn’t an option — really). One day Mum confidently asked for a “regular cup of coffee” and incredulously the server just looked at her with a blank stare. Ian realized that they didn’t sell regular coffee and helped her by ending up with a Flat White.

Okay… so you may think that that isn’t that hard to figure out… well guess again. Some coffee shops vary the ordering process themselves as chains are non-existent here and every coffee shop has their own lingo that you have to sort out. Sydneysiders LOVE their coffee and take it incredibly seriously as I’ve said. They’ve pushed Starbucks pretty much out of here and that is a mean feat indeed!

This is the last day in Sydney for us before we escape to Mollymook on our Friday, a beach town about 3 hours south of Sydney. We’ve rented a beach house right outside of Mollymook for a long weekend (Friday thru Monday). So before I head off and you won’t hear from me for a few days, here’s what happened today. It was supposed to be a bit leisurely and uneventful, but oh it didn’t turn out quite like that!

Mum, Jen and I headed out via local bus and then ferry from the Mosman Harbor to Circular Quay (the Sydney Ferry terminal). All went well, except we missed the bus by about a minute, so we stood in the brisk (and I mean brisk) wind in downtown Mosman for the next one for about 20 minutes. Uneventful thereafter, it wasn’t until the captain on the ferry came on the loudspeaker as we approached the Sydney Ferry Terminal announcing their apologies for the last ferry being out of service. All the way to the city center (about 15 minutes on the ferry), it was windy and the water was very choppy. So in the end it didn’t matter that we didn’t make that initial bus to the harbor as we would have waited it out for the one that we eventually ended up on.

Onward and literally upward we took a cab to the Sydney Tower. After we arrived we decided to wait a while further and have lunch in the restaurant at the top of the tower as it was overall a better choice financially than just going to the observation deck. We mooched around John Lewis, similar to Nordstrom’s adjacent to the Sydney Tower until our time to ascend the Tower for lunch and the view.

The view is well, spectacular. I managed to post a few photos to my Facebook account via my iPhone, so have a look when you get a chance. Fortunately the day cleared up and we really enjoyed the views from the top. The buffet lunch was quite good and had all sorts of international options. We had a really lovely time at the top……

….until the observation deck stopped moving. The observation deck seating area is on a platform that rotates very slowly — about one full rotation around the city per hour. So about 1-1/2 rotations into the adventure, the platform stopped moving. And then the manager came around and told us to take our time as the elevators have stopped due to the wind. Apparently this is pretty unusual and doesn’t happen very often at all. So… I didn’t want to be a little worried… but I was… as we didn’t want to get stuck at the top of the tower (all 76 floors of it). So… we had to be patient and wait it out. Which we did for another hour or so. Finally the manager said we could use the elevators and recommend that we high tail it to them as there was concern that the elevator would shut down again for safety. So… obviously… we quickly made our departure.

Once back on terra firma we located a taxi quickly and planned to take it to the harbor to get the ferry, but due to the swells and the wind, all of the ferries were not operating. Oh joy…. so after a quick conversation we just too the taxi back to Mosman and we were literally at Ian and Jen’s within 15 minutes. I was a good, $30 (AUS) choice — about $26 USA instead of getting home hours later with the crush of people on the bus. Good, good choice.

So the day turned out very well, but if you ever find yourself in Sydney, I’d recommend that you do not consider the Sydney Tower when it is windy!!!!!

Finally some sun… so much sun that we didn’t take an umbrella (“brolley” here) out with us. Mum needed a bit of a rest from all the walking around, so she stayed behind as Jen and I had a busy day out and about.

We started at the Sydney Fish Market in the morning… oh sooooo cool! The Sydney Fish Market is on the other side of the Sydney Harbor and quite a large facility of independent fish mongers and food stalls galore — as I understand it, the largest fish market in the Southern Hemisphere. So Jenny and I were off in the mid-morning. The Fish Market was pretty quiet, but it was Wednesday, so expected. The market is home to fish mongers that provide raw and cooked food. They have the raw in one area, much like a regular fish counter at a market, and another smaller part holds the cooked fish area where you can buy cooked fish and seafood and enjoy it at their seating area.

Jenny and I stopped by one of the larger fish mongers for a mooch around. The place is pretty darn big and has all the regular fish and seafood including shrimp of various sizes, tuna, swordfish, crab legs, salmon and the largest lobsters I’ve ever seen in my life. But one that will stay in my mind on this journey was the Moreton Bay Bug. The “bug” looks like a critter that is the size of a small lobster’s body, is ugly like a wood lice (really, oh really) and tastes a cross between a lobster and a crab (yes folks, I tasted it). It is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, but I promised myself that I would be open to new adventures and try new things… and well, I’ve definitely stepped up to the plate on this one! A suggestion if you ever have the opportunity to try one is to just eat it and not look at it!

Having fufilled my “trying new things” requirement (eat your heart out Anthony Bourdain!), we moved on to octopus. We had a (cooked) spicy baby octupus with spring onion dish — it needed a little rice to ward off the spicyness… but it was pretty darn good once you got all the legs in your mouth 😉 We couldn’t eat the whole dish between us, so we took it “to go”, but honestly it ended up in the garbage bin on the way out the door to the car as we were afraid that it would stink up the car!

But before we left we had a look around the gourmet grocery and the kitchen supply place that was onsite. Australian’s (apparently) like their mayonaisse sweet… sweet like Miracle Whip at home. Yes, the gross stuff. Not the lovely tast of Helmann’s mayo. Jenny has bought so many jars of mayo just to find that each one is sweet and oh so gross… so much money down the drain… but that is part of the experience of living in a different land. So when Jenny and I came across a $8 jar of mayo that looked promising, we took a chance. Later when we got home we had a blind taste test and fortunately it didn’t turn out to be that bad!

So onward and upward… we left the Fish Market and headed a short distance to the Darling Harbour (proper english spelling for harbor) area for a look around. The Darling Harbour was developed in part for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The harbor is the next one down from the Sydney Quay (pronounced “key”) which is the main entry point to Sydney for the ferries. The area lends itself to a great place to hang out on the evenings and weekends. Per Jenny it is definitely a meet-and-greet area. The area is lovely as the harbor is a combination of the Maritime Museum, The IMAX theatre, private yachts (and I mean some of the coolest yachts), and promenades where people just hang out.

After a shared bite to eat at one of the waterside establishments, we walked around the area and came across a street performer — actually a female contortionist doing an act where she got herself into a box 16″x16″. No kidding… we saw it all and it was quite freaky… not just because of the act, but because she was a very normal looking female (mid-20s we suspected) that was out there earning a dime. She was very professional and did a great job. It is also pretty lucrative, as we think she clears several (and I mean) several hundred dollars after each act with everyone watching her. Granted, this is not a long term career for her (or anyone), but she “worked it” very well and earned every penny for what it is worth.

So onward and upward, after a bit further of a mooch we got back into the car and headed off on errands. We went to Dan Murphy’s which is a chain of adult beverage stores… just like England, you cannot buy alcohol in a grocery store and have to go to a special establishment. Dan Murphy’s is very cool and they even have their own wine bags that hold multiple bottles… kind of like the Whole Foods bags… nice little souvineers for friends to take home with me and they pack oh so well!

After Dan Murphy’s we went on an errand for my mother to bulk up her wardrobe… when packing at home she focused more on the Spring here and less on the fact that they are coming out of Winter. She woefully underpacked, so I found her a great fleece jacket which she hasn’t taken off since I gave it to her last night! Oh the benefits of the Southern Hemisphere as they are coming out of Winter and everything is on sale as we approach it!

Just a quick post for this entry as we spent the day at the Toronga Zoo just minutes from my cousin’s apartment. The day was great — ie no rain whatsoever — which has been a real blessing as every day we’ve been here it has poured at one point or another.

The zoo is quite good and we saw lots of native animals to Australia and I’ll post the pictures as soon as possible as my computer is woefully slow and I figure that this blog content is more important than the pictures. So for now you will have to use your imagination. The Toronga Zoo is undergoing a massive rennovation and they look to be about 80 percent done. The zoo has been updated with larger areas for the animals and new, cleaner and more modern facilities for everyone. What draws everyone to the zoo is that it is in Mosman and cliffside with the most incredible views of Sydney. Again, please use your imagination for now (sorry).

As you enter the zoo you are at the top and throughout your visit you work your way down the cliffside taking stairs, ramps, escalators and ramps. You start with the smaller animals such as birds and as you wind your way down throughout the day you see the larger and larger animals that are the biggest draw. Toronga Zoo is also home to koala bears and for an extra $20 (or so), you get a one on one experience with them. I didn’t choose to have this experience, but I know from watching the Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown, you dawn a white plastic rain poncho and wear gloves and a mask for your encounter. It is not for your protection, but for the protection of the koala bears as they are very susceptible to disease.

At the bottom of the zoo are the elephants which we missed. There is a recent baby elephant to the community and they are the largest draw. We were able to see the adult elephants on our way up the cliff as we ascended via gondola to the main entrance. The ride up took about 5 minutes and it was quite spectacular. It was a beautiful sunny day and a wonderful experience.

So I am caught up as today is really today, Sunday for me, Saturday for you all as you sleep into Sunday morning. Okay, the time change is hard… 14 hours… no actually 15 hours now as we had Daylight Savings last night so we are at a 15 hour difference as Australia has “sprung ahead” into Spring and we will shortly “fall back” into well, the abyss of Winter. It will then be a 16 hour time difference with the Eastern US timezone and it will be even more difficult to SKYPE with Ian and Jen. It is truly strange being in the Southern Hemisphere at times. John and I have had 3 calls so far and it seems we spend more time coordinating what time we will next speak more than discussing anything else. It is a logistical challenge for sure… but we’ll figure it out eventually.

So today started out as any vacation would… until a certain mother needed the power converter for her curling iron. And you can probably guess what happened next… the 220v step down here to our 110v power needs somehow fried Mum’s curling iron which blew out my power converter. Even better, no power for the laptop or the iPhone. I am dead in the water. And tomorrow is Labor Day here and NOTHING is open. Fortunately I am able to use Ian’s laptop (which I am currently on) to check the occasional work email and work on this travel blog. That is also why you haven’t seen any pictures (mostly in the rain) so far as well (sorry for that) as my camera only hooks up to my laptop. So first order of business will be to get a new converter (if at all possible) and number two will be to get Mum a new curling iron now that she has fried it.

Dodging the rain we took the ferry from Mosman harbor to downtown Sydney. The residents and visitors use the ferries as daily commuting to avoid the crazy traffic over the bridges and tunnels. And at $3.20 per person Australian (that would be less than 3 dollars US) per journey, it is incredibly affordable. So we walked down the hill to the ferry and missed the Sunday hourly ferry by about a minute. Bummer… but in the end we sat at the cafe and had a cup of coffee before taking the next ferry.

Can I just say that the coffee is incredibly good and the Aussie’s take their coffee VERY seriously. Ian tells me that there are only 3 Starbucks in Sydney as the local population pretty much pushed them out in favor of the local mom and pop’s. The coffee is really, really good and I savored the smooth richness of the coffee until the next ferry arrived.

One of the things that I love about Sydney is how they commute to work — very much like Seattle. The ferries are half the size of those in Seattle, but they run all over the area ducking into the small harbors and pick up all walks of life. The best part is that a single fare (one trip, one direction) is only $3.20 AUS. That is a real bargain… and it all comes with a spectacular view as you drive around to the main terminal harbor taking you right in front of the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. It was a rainy, overcast day (again), but the surreal view of Sydney from this position that you’ve only ever seen in postcards and on TV is quite impressive.

So after disembarking, we walked about 10 minutes to the Opera House. As we got closer we took our traditional tourist photos along with all of the other tourists in the area — looking for that key photo that sums up the entire vacation. Mine will be the one of myself, Ian and Jenny in front of the Opera House laughing our heads off as Mum works the camera. Classic family photo and one I’ll cherish.

As for the Opera House, the exterior is made up of flat, white tiles, so it looks like scales all layered together. The interior is a combination of the cement supports with wood panels. I have to say that minus the wood decorative panels, it reminds me (dare I say) of the RenCen in Detroit. Actually, I think that the structures were built about the same time, so it may not be all that crazy. Ian stayed outside and Mum, Jenny and I took a quick look around and picked up a few souviners at the gift shop and that concluded our visit to The Opera House.

Back again past the Harbor Terminal, we popped up our umbrellas again as another storm approached. We walked up and around the other side of the harbor to the area called The Rocks. The Rocks was named as it is a rocky outcrop, but over the years it has been built up with shops and cafes. We popped into a little cafe for a quick lunch and then came across a weekend market — perfect — shopping! Needless to say my cousin was a good sport, but shopping is the last thing on his daily list of things to do. With three women about, he had little choice 😉

The market is just like any weekend market lined on one side with cafes and bars. It is a popular place with the locals and tourists and the bargains are pretty good. I picked up a few gifts that will travel home well. Throughout the day we saw a number of  Aboriginal works of art — some traditional (beautiful paintings and carvings) and some not so traditional (handbags and pillows). There were also a number of street performers in traditional Aboriginal garb and makeup making music from their long, wooden instruments that make different sounds depending on how you blow through the pipe. The music is very, very different and one that resonates with you after you’ve left the area.

So we headded back to Mosman central via ferry and then by bus. Ian and Jenny live just off the bus route and within a minute’s walk of the village area — it is a great location. Jenny made dinner as Ian watched rugby… she had planned for a traditional English dinner, but didn’t realize that she had bought corned beef insteat of roast beef! I am not a big lover of corned beef and cabbage, but I honestly will tell you that I quite liked it roasted. We now are calling it Beouf Suprise! Ian remarked that it is so revolutionary that it will be a new culinary trend for the future! Calling Julia Child!

My cousin Ian and his wife Jenny live in Mosman, a suburb of Sydney which is in state of New South Wales (NSW), which is over the Harbor Bridge on the “North side” as it is called. The area is lovely (even in the pouring rain) and reminds me of a combination between Laguna Beach in southern California and well, England. I don’t know why I say England except it could be a combination of the homes and shops and how they are set up in small villages, as well as the fact that my cousin is here and I’ve pretty much always seen him in England except when he is in the States for a visit. But seriously — it is the beauty of Laguna Beach without the threat of mudslides and fires. Lots and lots of greenery and hills by the coast and it is just lovely.

Previously before Ian and Jen moved to Mosman they had an apartment down by the harbor on “South Side”. Ian’s job with Red Bull placed him in a harbor community that shared accommodations with a Mr. Russell Crowe. Unfortunately during the time of their residence near the harbor, Mr. Crowe was in England filming the new Robin Hood film and was not available to be the neighborly type and bring over a pie or bottle of wine to welcome Ian and Jenny to the neighborhood. What a shame, indeed. In the need to escape the hustle and bustle of Sydney, they moved to North side (the north side over the Sydney bridge) and have rented an apartment to also accommodate the influx of family and friends descending from our trip onwards through the end of their 2+ year assignment. The apartment is modern, lovely with all of the “mod-cons” (modern conveniences) of home including a rooftop terrace with a peek-a-boo view of a harbor. We are fortunate, indeed.

So after a big catching up and getting a bit settled in, we were off to grab some lunch. In reference to the tie-in to England, Ian and Jen took us to The Lord Dudley in Woollahra. Full disclosure: The Lord Dudley is an authentic English pub — right down to the fireplace, wood benches, tables and the food. English pubs are known for their fine English food: fish and chips, meat pies, and more and more international food including Indian and good American fare. This isn’t bar food, this is proper English/French (with a little) Indian cooking and a regular of all Brits on a Sunday lunchtime with family. This is home to me. And that is probably why I referenced England in my last post. Yes, surreal indeed. 3 of us had a meat/guinness pie and it was truly amazing. Every bit of it… and definitely helped me sleep that evening through most of the night. Right now jet lag seems to have missed me, but from my trips to Beijing, I know that Day Three will be a killer.