G'day Mates! How're you going???
Sorry for the delayed updates but we have been on the road for the last several days and haven't come across an Internet cafe until now!
Yes, we finally made it to the Land Down Under and so far it has lived up to the expectations! Reality has also set in, though, as the days of $3 accommodation and $1 meals are over. But we were expecting to put a good dent in the wallet anyway here so we're not too shocked by prices.
On arrival we spent 5 glorious days in Sydney at the Four Points Sheraton on Darling Harbour. Yes, it was free thanks to hotel points and we had a room overlooking the harbour with a balcony. Life is good!
We played the ultimate tourists so I won't bore you with all the details -- and now that Internet access costs more, I might have to shorten the stories (don't worry, I won't leave much out...) The best thing we did by far was climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We got the climb as a wedding gift and have anticipated the event ever since we got the gift certificate. We turned up at the meeting point at 3:30. We and our walking group of 12 people were immediately escorted into a little room with where we signed waivers and took breathalyzer tests (no drinking and climbing allowed...) In case you had any doubt, yes, we passed with flying colors! We were then suited up with weatherproof suits and belts that have safety attachments which literally hook you to the bridge and walkie talkie and headsets so we can hear our guide speak during the climb. Did a test walk over a sample bridge section, then we were off. As L is afraid of heights, we weren't sure if he would make it. But he was a trooper and only hesitated a few times. You basically have to walk up several flights of steps to get to the actual arch of the bridge, then its a gradual climb from there to the top. We were hooked in, so there was absolutely no risk of falling -- and the experience was right up there with jumping out of a plane for me. We could see the entire city from the top and to use the cliche, the boats and people indeed looked like ants. We then crossed over the top (L didn't enjoy that bit as we were literally standing over the bridge traffic...) and climbed back down the other side. Absolute magic! What was more exciting was the climb started in the day, we were at the top for sunset and we climbed down at night.
As if that wasn't enough in a day, we went straight from the Bridge to the Opera House for the ballet, La Sulphide. Yes, friends and family, L went to the ballet. This was my payback for all of the football games that I have watched with him in the last 3 months... He won't admit to liking it, but I thought it was fabulous. Maybe more so because we were in THE Opera House. The interior was a bit disappointing, though. Very stark and boring. Oh well, can't win them all...
Other Sydney highlights...
We went for dinner at Tetsuya, reputedly the best restaurant in Sydney and in the top 10 best restaurants in the world!!! Yes, we splurged- but it was almost our 6 month anniversary, so we gave ourlselves the gift. Coming from a non-chef, the meal was brilliant and the service fantastic. Asian fusion theme, 10 courses -- all fantastic. L enjoyed it as well but will still tell you he's been to better in England...
No city tour is complete without an open-top bus tour. We hoppped on and hopped off at all opportunities with commetary about the city. Best stop? Wooloomooloo Bay where we had lunch one day at Harry's Cafe de Wheels, famous for it's pies. We both had the Tiger Pie. A beef pie with a scoop of mashed potatoes and mushy peas, then topped with a well of gravy. Mmmmmm and a great hangover cure (will get to that later...)
Bondi Beach and Manly Beach - watched the surfers and had lunch at a fantastic beachside cafe. We didn't lie on the beach bc it was a bit chilly and there was so much more to do!
Sydney Fish Market - indoor market full of noise and activity - with stall after stall of fresh seafood. L and I shared a grilled seafood platter for 2 -- oysters, prawn kebabs, calamari, baramundi, fish cake and chips. Also very good for a hangover.
We met up with one of the guys from my Bloomberg training class, Mark Fletcher, who moved back to Sydney about 5 years ago. He took us out to a couple local bars and got us drunkon VB beer. Thus one hangover.
The last day we were there was ANZAC Day. This is Australia's equivalent of Veterans Day with full on parade and celebrations after. Not only is it a holiday but it's also the only day of the year in Australia where street gambling is legal, though for only one game called 2-Up. We decided despite our hangovers that we had to have a drink to honor the Vets. We crossed over a bridge and heard a lot of cheering, so we figured that would be the place to start. Turned out we stumbled upon the World's Largest 2-Up Arena! And the noise was all of the people playing the game, including loads of sailors who were on ground for the night. (slightly reminiscent of Fleet Week in NYC. Ladies, you would have been in heaven!)
Here's how it works. You choose heads or tails and bet with someone in the crowd who wants to be the same amount of money but go for the opposite. The one who bets heads holds the money. Then someone flips 2 coins in the air. If they both land heads up and you bet heads, you win the cash (and of course the opposite as well). If one head and one tails shows then they flip the coins again until the same suit shows. Simple! 50/50 chance of winning, no limits. Great when you're winning! Though somehow we lost -- a lot -- our entire travel fund down the drain in minutes!!! KIDDING! If that was the case would I be writing this now???? But we did lose enough o decide we couldn't afford to go out for dinner. So we just stayed and drank and of course ended up trying our luck again. Don't feel too sorry for us, we did end on a winning note. $40 for L. Woo hoo!
It was completely mad! As the night progressed there were about 300 people participating and of course getting more and more rowdy - thus the hangovers the next day...!
It was very tough leaving the comforts of a hotel and a city -- but we did have the rest of the country to see. Having had our share of public transportation and timetables, we decided the only way to get around the Outback was via camping. So we hired a camper van, picked it up and were on our way.
As you read this we have officially driven almost 2,000K in Lily (short for Lily White Piece of
#) I say, we. L has done all of the driving and deserves all the credit bc I don't drive campervans, manual cars or on the other side of the road... All of the conveniences of home but none of the comforts.
Had been quite a distance and a scenic drive indeed. But believe it or not, we have yet to see a kangaroo or a koala bear! OK, we saw 3 dead kangaroos on the road but that can't possible count...
We first drove from Sydney to Melbourne with a stop at our first camp site. Let's just say, you can take the girl out of the city but... this would take some getting used to. We arrived on the campsite at 5:30, it got dark by 6 and then we had to figure out how to amuse ourselves in the dark as we did not pay for a powered site (lesson learned). No pubs within walking distance, no Ineternet cafes, no DVD player. Hmmmmmm, what to do? We ended up plotting our trip, I wrote in my journal and then we cooked dinner in the camp kitchen. That took all of 2 hours. So, what else to do but sleep -- lights out by 9:30pm! Needless to say, first night in our new home, we didn't get much sleep bc the bed in the van is hardly comfortable. But I must say, it was nice to finally cook for ourselves (ok, L cooked, I watched) and sleep under the stars. I have almost gotten used to it and now understand why camping makes for a great holiday.