Monday, July 26, 2010


Honey, I’m home! I’ve been back for 5 days already but still struggling to get past the “I want to sleep all day” feelings. It’s been a little hectic trying to get back into the groove of things, but I’m very happy to be home, doing a lot of yoga and seeing my friends again, even though I’ve yet to have a chance to go swimming and take advantage of summer! I just need to get a break from work and this hurricane season weather.

It was quite the trip, full of new sights and experiences. Australia is huge and 3 weeks is short, so it was exhausting trying to fit it all in, but so worth it. So let’s see how well I can sum it up here without losing you guys with my usual over-wordiness!

We started in Sydney, where it was WAY colder than I’d expected! (“pack light” were my instructions, Thanks dad!) Our family friends were already there and thankfully were more prepared. One of them let me use her bright orange ski jacket. I may not have been stylish but it saved me for that week.

To get the negative out of the way- don’t expect to find anything cheap in Sydney. We stayed in a place called Hyde Park Inn. This was one of the best hotels for the best price. It was cute and really comfortable for my family of 4.There was a kitchen area with a mini fridge and a microwave, plus water boiler, coffee, tea, and they fill the fridge with breakfast essentials every day, which was awesome. I think it's a good idea to keep food in the room, whether the hotel provides food or not. I like to have snacks while I'm out, but it's also good to have breakfast items, since all those meals out add up and takes valuable sightseeing time. The hotel was very well located, right in the middle of the downtown area, around the corner from China town, and right across from Hyde Park in front of St. John’s Cathedral. Central Sydney is very small, so you can get around by foot, or the free 555 shuttle that comes in handy for tourists by stopping at all the main attractions. The bus system is easy to use and  will take you further and almost anywhere you need to go. I believe bus fare was $2.90 a trip, of course depending on how far you’re going. 

I think it will best way to organize my thoughts will be to divide up my recap by neighborhoods:

The downtown is very much a business hub, bustling during work hours but most things close down after 4 or 5pm and on weekends. As I mentioned, most things are really expensive compared to the US. China town was overpriced fast food joints (where I had a bad dining and service experience), but you can find some nice cafes for lunch, and a multitude of food courts that we discovered the last two days there. They would have saved us a lot of money and hassle, but good to know for next time. They actually have a huge array of your standard choices and healthy food, which I loved. There are several galleries and shopping malls. There’s one that is particularly beautiful called The Strand. It’s all the fancy millionaire shopping but the building is a work of art in itself. My brother also found paradise in the form of a store called "The Hobby Depot" with everything for airplane models, trains, cars, or anything mechanical. I would have also taken home all the puzzles if I didn’t have to worry about fitting it into my suitcase. 

At the very south end between downtown and the Sydney Opera House, you’ll find the Circular Quay where you’ll find all the ferry terminals.

The first ferry we took was to Manly Beach. It’s a 30 minute ferry ride to a really cute beach town that would have been even better in summer! It has a couple of main streets with a lot of restaurants, standard touristy shops, a lot of ice cream stores, bike rentals, coffee places, and a gorgeous white sand-ed, blue water-ed beach.

This is Kevin the koala, acquired at Manly beach, but lost somewhere in Sydney. No worries, he was replaced by more koala friends soon after.

The next place we took the ferry to was the Taronga Zoo. If you need an example of how overpriced Australia is, get this- the zoo is $43 per ticket! I thought it was outrageous for a zoo, but later in the trip after several more museums and excursions, we began to get over the sticker shock. My family argued for a while at the zoo, though. The fathers said we might as well pay because we were there and we were in Sydney so we went in. You take the sky rail up to the top to get in. It’s a beautiful zoo but unfortunately since it was so cold and also because many of the animals are nocturnal we didn’t see too many animals. We did see several exotic birds, a wallaby, the elephants, marsupials, some kangaroos, and emu’s. The cafeteria was also overpriced bad food and really crowded, but after lunch we were lucky enough to catch the seal show, and they were really cute!

 Zoo with a view

On the last two days I spent in Sydney with just my mom, we decided to take the free ferry. We had seen it on Sunday when it was packed and had a crazy line, but we didn’t know what it was for. It was much less crowded on a weekday and we found out it goes to an art exhibition on Cockatoo island for the Biennale, a Sydney art celebration hosted every two years. We decided to take it because we can’t resist the word free! …Bad choice. We got there after 30 minutes of rocking on the tiny ferry to find a bunch of warehouses with a couple of out there works of “art” i.e. A weird noisy video, metal scraps and some old car parts with Christmas lights. It also rained on us. We waited for the next ferry and made our way back. At least we tried it, right?

If you go up towards Paddington you’ll see a little bit more personality. It was one of my favorite areas in Sydney. It starts off as Oxford Street going north from downtown. It’s more eccentric/ hipster (I could equate it with Montrose in Houston). There are a lot of boutiques, coffee shops, and more ethnic eats with slightly better prices. My mom and I fell in love with an adorable coffee shop/ used book store called Ampersand. It was one of the best meals I had in Australia! Homemade lentil soup and crusty sourdough, and you get to eat it in comfy chairs amongst the bookshelves. In my opinion this is the best concept ever and needs to be brought to Houston!

 This bookstore significantly increased the weight of my suitcase

The Rocks was my other favorite part of the city. You get there by going south from Circular Quay down the peninsula into the harbor. My mom and I moved to the Holiday Inn here after the rest of the family went to Blue Mountain. It’s the oldest part of Sydney where the first settlement was. It still has the old cobblestone streets, a lot of far too expensive galleries and shops, but many cute and affordable cafes and restaurants. They have a wonderful Market on Sundays for arts and souvenir shopping. The art museum can also be found here, though we didn't go in, and instead enjoyed a place called the Billich Gallery that can be found inside one of the city's historical sites. It used to be an old sailor's cabin, but now houses much of Charles Billich's work. These paintings were some of the most beautiful I've ever seen! 

 Birdie friends that wanted to steal our coffee

The Botanical Gardens are one of the few things you’ll get for free and one of the things I’d consider a must in Sydney. This place is amazing! It has several sections- the Asian garden, the jungle, the palm grove center with orchids, the rose gardens and a few fountains. On top of the enormous variety of plants, there is so much wildlife! We saw trees filled with bats sleeping and basking in the sun and were lucky enough to talk to some biologists who happened to be there photographing them. We learned there are about 6,000 of them in the park, but sadly, they are being pushed out of the gardens because they damage some of the expensive tropical plants and when they end up in the city, residents see them as pests. However, they also help pollinate the gum trees in the gardens and are a vital part of the local ecosystem. After that we came upon a huge flock of wild cockatoo’s that happen to love people! If you stick your arm out, they come and land on you, most likely expecting food, as many people feed them bread. There were hundreds under this one tree that would spontaneously land on us. One of them particularly enjoyed pecking at my hair! Good nesting material? The wildlife here is so different. They have birds like none I’ve ever seen before. The Ibis birds walk around the parks and city streets like pigeons do here, then there are a lot of smaller colorful birds.

Walking south from the Botanical Gardens and before reaching Circular Quay you’ll find the famous Sydney Opera House. We were able to take a tour, though also quite pricey, but nothing out of the ordinary, and very worth it. You can’t come to Sydney and not see the Opera House! This place is impressive. The design is just incredible, visually and structurally. They have several theaters, studios, and stages, all really well designed. They took us into several and let us sit down while the tour guide went through the stats and history. The architect, Jørn Utzon from Denmark, entered his design into a competition and was chosen for his unique vision, despite only having submitted very rough sketches. The tour culminated in the grand opera theater where you’re under the highest of the sloped ceilings. There are about 3000 seats, an organ with over 10,000 pipes and the whole design is acoustically outstanding. The entry hall to the grand theater is also carpeted in royal purple with gold railings and has a beautiful view of the harbor and bridge from outside. We got to go see a modern dance performance in one of the smaller theaters a few days after our tour. It was called “Political Mother” by Hofesh Shechter {**edited, I just added a link to videos so you can get a feel for the uniqueness of this performance!!]. I thought it was really interesting. It was definitely modern and one of those super symbolic pieces but was meant to stir up a lot of strange emotions. The best word would be frantic. The movements and the dancers were incredibly talented, as was the choreographer. I enjoyed it for those reasons, even though my family found it a little too “modern”.


I didn’t explore Darling Harbor too much, but we did go to the Aquarium there. I can’t say too much about it, since it’s like most aquariums, but about 3 times bigger, and does show case some of the corals and fish native to the region. Darling Harbor is filled with a lot of higher end dining as well as a lot of sports bars. It also has an IMAX and a nice port.

I had heard from several people that I had to visit Bondi beach. It’s an easy 45 min bus ride north from Sydney central. There are a couple of buses that take you through Paddington, which is when I first saw it and decided I wanted to go back to that area before leaving the city. We did a long trail along the coast with some of the most beautiful views! I’ve heard there are actually about 13 miles of trail along the coast that make for incredible runs or walks. The beach was frigid and windy but the water was still filled with crazy surfers. After we finished up the trail we walked into the main street for coffee before taking the bus back. I would have liked to explore the area more but my family is always divided between those of us that love cities and those that would like to avoid them (I love them!). I imagine it is a beach town similar but slightly larger than Manly Beach.

Another trademark of Sydney is the Sydney Bridge. We had originally thought we’d have to bypass this attraction because all the guide books and information offices tell you about are the guided bridge crossings or tours that cost 100-200$ but no one tells you that you can walk it for free! It seems to be something only the locals know about. My mom and I walked past the rocks and ended up crossing under the bridge only to cross back later on because the entrance has no signs, but we found the stairs eventually. The bridge and nearby streets are packed with runners and all types of exercisers. There were groups doing boot camp classes, people boxing and running, and there’s even a special ramp and sidewalk for cyclists. You can only cross part of the way, but it was enough for us to get our pictures in.

So much for keeping this short, but I hope it's informative. I'll now give you loyal readers time to process (and give myself time to procrastinate) before elaborating on the fairytale city that is Brisbane, and the coral reef resort in Cairns.

After a while, crocodiles! (crocs are from Australia, get it? hehe)

[*edited to add links]

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How I did not die of boredom during a 21 hour flight to Sydney

Cheers from down unda!!
I’ve been here in Australia since June 29th. I’m sorry I did not write sooner, but I’ve been so busy trying to see as much as possible that internet has not been at the top of my “to do” list. This week we’ve arrived at our last stop, Cairns, after spending time in Sydney and Brisbane. The country is so rich in natural beauty, and almost Disneyland like in the sense that it’s so well developed, new, orderly, and ultra prosperous.
I want to devote the adequate space to all of these cities, so first I have to write about how I got here. Let me tell you, it was quite the trek. The 21 hours worth of flight time are honestly the only downside I can see about visiting Australia, but with my frequent travels and desire to visit far off places, I’ve had to learn to entertain myself while lacking resources and being confined to small uncomfortable seats.
So here are some of the things I usually do while airborne:
For long flights like this I sometimes take a sleep aid like Tylenol PM, or my mom really likes Sleep Easy. I don’t want to recommend this for everyone though because it affects everyone differently. I personally don’t like to because I’ll be drowsy for several hours the next day, but being in a daze for a little while can be worth it if it means you can get more sightseeing in on your first day of travel, and it will help you get accustomed to a new time zone faster.
Exhibit A: Our first day in Sydney
I tend to not sleep at all on airplanes. I can manage to doze a little if I curl up in a ball in the cramped seats, but that only lasts until I begin to lose sensation in various limbs. I usually resign myself to spending the night up watching movies. No exaggeration here, I’ve spent numerous flights watching movie after movie in a sleeping pill induced zombie state while passengers snooze around me and I want to cry from my exhaustion and inability to sleep. Despite my usual insomnia, even in my own bed, I miraculously managed to sleep on and off for several hours throughout the 15 hours from Los Angeles to Sydney.
 During the three and a half hour flight from Houston to Los Angeles, I did a lot of reading. Always have plenty of book options! I didn’t choose very well for this vacation. I brought a book by Douglas Adams that was sort of entertaining for a while but nothing special. I also brought Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s biography that my mom bought for me in Barcelona. Unfortunately I’m not even a fan of his fiction writing, so I was bored a few pages in and stopped. On the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney I finished off over half of the Douglas Adams one. I’ve done a lot of book shopping while here so I’ll be set for the flight back. You want to choose one of those books that you can’t put down so time seems to go faster. I also sometimes choose puzzle books like Sudoku or crosswords to keep my mind busy. This is also fun because I never get the time to play these games in my normal day to day. I personally don’t like spending the money on magazines, but do love reading them when they’re available.

On long flights, airlines will always show movies and TV shows. Depending on the company and the type of airplane, you’ll either get the screens in the middle of the aisle or above the seats like I had on this flight, or if you’re lucky, you get screens on the back of the seat in front of you. In the latter case, you’re set with movies you get to choose for the whole flight! I was not so lucky. We had screens in the middle of the aisle and they chose really bad movies. I watched “When In Rome” on the way to Los Angeles. It was my first time seeing it so it passed the time. On the way to Sydney however, they showed “Date Night” and I had barely tolerated that movie in theaters. I also like to bring along music and zone out to some of my favorite music for a while. This sort of mediation/ relaxation is also not something I take the time to do very often so it feels like an indulgence and can be really nice.
Now on the stars of the show! – > yes, I find food highly entertaining. It’s really important for me to plan and pack well when it comes to meals and snacks. I have several reasons for this. First of all because I’m vegan and not all flights offer special meals; second, even when they do offer vegan meals, airplane food is just not that good so I’d rather be prepared. Worst case, I end up with double the dinner. Win/ win. Lastly, even with the airplane meals, I usually eat more quantity and more often. Plus, I’m bored, so why not have a few extra cookies on hand?
There are meals and snacks that are easier to pack, but I like to have good fresh foods so sometimes I’m a little unconventional and just pack a lot of tupper wares with my usual meals. I also like to have fresh fruit like bananas and apples, and snack bars are also good and easy to carry around. Pack extra because it’s better to have leftover snacks that will still be good while you’re touring a new city, than to get hungry on the airplane. Since I love baking, I like to prepare a small zip lock with cookies or something I’ve made beforehand. PB and J’s are also lifesavers and will stay good for a long time. Also, airplanes are very dehydrating, so take advantage every time a stewardess offers you water! And if you need to, don’t hesitate to get up and ask them for a drink also. It gives you an excuse to move around and stretch anyways. I always like to choose an aisle seat for this reason, too. I get up to go to the bathroom frequently if only for the little bit of movement it allows me. Then while I’m up, I’ll stay standing as long as possible and do some easy yoga stretches. 

Upon landing, I like to go at least splash my face with water in the bathroom, then as soon as I’ve collected my bags- COFFEE is #1 on the itinerary so that I’m ready to begin the sightseeing right away!
I really hope this post was slightly less boring than the plane ride itself. It probably wasn’t but thank you if you read it all anyways! Has anyone else taken absurdly long trips on airplanes? What do you do to pass the time?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

G'day from down under!

Yes, ladies and gents, I'm in Australia! My internet time has been limited but I'm keeping a written account of what I'm doing so I can come back soon and write more in depth about all the awesome things to do in this country because of course after 3 weeks I will have done it all.
Ok kidding, but I will have done quite a bit that I want to share! So far I've spent a week in Sydney, and just arrived tonight in Brisbane where I'll be until Tuesday when we go to Cairns for hopefully much warmer weather. Despite missing my 100 degree Houston and having to layer up in jackets and sweaters, Sydney was gorgeous! I can't wait to show you all the pictures of the opera house, the bridge, and the cool animals. The food is nothing to write home about and the tum is protesting, the family can get stressful, but all that pales in comparison to the natural beauty of this country, and all the fun things there are to do and see.

In the meantime I had to check in because I've been given my first blogger award! Wooohooooooo!! I feel so special :)
Kaz has given me the sunshine award, which means I make her hiccup rainbows apparently. This means I have to pass on this award to 12 bloggers that bring sunshine into my life. Wow, what a hard task! There are so many blogs that I love reading. My google reader probably has well over 100 blogs on it by now and I look forward to perusing through it nightly. I may have to cheat a little since I have to share the internet time with everyone, but I'll try and pass this one to as many people as I can.

1) This is for sure cheating, but I really wanted to point out how awesome The Art of Kaztronomy is. This girl is hilarious. I love her writing style, her cute cat, her ability to make me want to go through the computer screen and steal her food, especially the weird things I get made fun of for. We'd probably also be bff's if we lived anywhere near each other.

2) Clare over at YogiClarebear is such a sweetheart! And her blog is packed full of really interesting information. I've learned a lot about medical issues I had no idea even existed and have found it really insightful and helpful in dealing with my own problems. She's also been a huge resource for yoga knowledge. As I study to start teaching yoga myself, I've been able to use a lot of the sequences she has posted as inspiration for my classes.

3) Just try and not fall out of your chair in fits of laughter when you read Mommy wants vodka. I don't even remember how I found Becky, but she's hilarious, and down to earth, or really not down to earth, hmmm....well, it doesn't matter. Whatever she is, her blog is an instant pick me up.

4) Kate and Maggie over at Eat the damn cake are fairly new but I love the idea behind their blog. I was already a big fan of Maggie's blog so of course I followed her here when she started this joint venture. It's all about positive body image, and not only body issues, but confidence in general. I can definitely use the self esteem boosts and think everyone could benefit from their insights. Kate is also a wonderful writer and sometimes links to her other articles on sites such as the Huffington Post.

5) Zen Habits provides a lot of good tips on how to simplify your life and feel more content and grateful for what we have. Our lives are so rushed and stressful, and  I know I get very caught up in the planning and forget the "living" part of life, so I need reminders to take a breather once in a while.

6) Rebecca is a friend of mine I've known since high school. She's had some amazing travel experiences including two summers in India, and recently spent 8 months working on farms in South America with another bestie of mine and documented her travels here. She has great photos and some crazy stories!

7)What do I know is just all around cool and makes me really jealous because I want to live in the UK so badly. She's done some extensive traveling and always has gorgeous photos and a wealth of information to share. I love the random posts on cows and sheep. And she is always so well informed on politics and world events. Plus she's vegan and has really good recipes. Can we say "well rounded"?

8) I've been reading Maggie's blog since before I started blogging and just love her. We have a lot in common and I'm really glad I've gotten to know her a little bit through email and blogging. She lives in NY now always reminds me how much I want to live there. She's given me a lot of good resources for yoga online and always goes out for good food (more reasons to live in NY!) AND she's getting married really really soon! Congratulations Maggie!

That's all I'm going to do for now because everyone is asleep here! Thanks again Kaz for the award! I'll post again soon with tips on how to entertain yourself during 21 hours of flying, insider tips on Sydney, and later on, all the things I'll be doing in Brisbane and Cairns.
Thanks for reading and goodnight!