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]


donpadia said...

I loved Sydney!
It is really a masterpiece of urban living, cosmopolitan streets, coffee shops, great parks and exotic animals all in an ideal location right on the water.
If only there was a "concorde" flight to make it closer to the rest of the world!
Next time we should save for first class tickets!

Kaz said...

It always takes me a long time to recover from long vacations, too.

Oh, wow; it's winter there, right, because of the lower hemisphere? I would have been freezing! I'm glad that your friend lent you her ski jacket. Yikes!

Hyde Park Inn sounds like it was a pretty sweet place to stay!

Yeesh, the cost of living must be insane there, with everything costing what it does. I'm glad that, despite the price, you were able to enjoy the zoo. The seal show looks like it was cute!

Omigosh, you would have never been able to pry me out of Ampersand. All those books! And I *love* the smell of books. Sounds wonderful!

The Botanical Gardens look beautiful! Those birds are so vibrant and pretty. =)

And of course, you can't go without checking out the Sydney Opera House!

Thanks for this recap! I hope to visit Australia someday, and you've only strengthened my desire to go! :D I'm glad you had a great trip, despite the cold weather and insane prices. =)

(Sorry; it's not letting me comment with my wordpress account for some reason? Hm. :P)

Abby said...

Your adventure sounds absolutely amazing! I really have nothing insightful or witty to add, as I have never had an experience comparable to the one you described. The colors of those birds alone are so vivid!

Thanks so much for the recap and through sharing. I'm traveling vicariously through you ;)

Astrid said...

Hello! Thank you for thee sweet comment. Wow, I love all of your travels. I have always dreamed of going to Australia. I live in College Station. Not very far away from you! I will be putting up my post it in my bathroom today when I get home. You should, too.

Mitri said...

Beautiful writing, beautiful photos. Beautiful you. :)

I'm leaving on a road trip tomorrow until August 17th, and then I start classes the following Monday. But sometime this fall I really do think it'd be nice to get together sometime for some foodie-isms. :]

Easiest way to contact me is through e-mail,

Anytime you want to talk/schedule a meet-up, be my guest! :D

Kate said...

Can I just follow you around? Like, everywhere?

I love reading about your adventures.

And also, Kevin is pretty cute. Too bad he got lost.