Monday, February 27, 2012

Shore, Seagulls, and missed trains

Monday turned out to be a nice day as well, so I joined some other backpackers for a day at Double Bay Beach. This isn’t one of the more visited ones, but it is a beautiful (albeit small) beach. There was a wooden platform part way out that was perfect for a game of king/queen of the raft. We spent the day swimming, relaxing, and eating Tim Tams. Tim Tams are a delicious treat which is crème covered sandwhiched between 2 cookies then dipped in chocolate. They come in tons of flavors including honeycomb, white chocolate, and mint which I tried.

After the beach day I went to the Super bowl party with the friends I meet at the pub. On the way I stopped for a famous Harry’s meat pie since I’d been told that was a mandatory experience to have while in Sydney. I have to say people in Australia are some of the most helpful I’ve meet. When I got lost trying to find the address, I asked a stranger if he knew where it was and even though he didn’t he looked it up for me on his phone.

The Super bowl party was fun. It was nice to have that at-home feeling. There were even nachos and wings. And they had an adorable dog. I headed back to the hostel that night thinking it had been a pretty good day- except when I realized I’d gotten burned on my back! That was not fun to sleep on.

The following day I went to see the Sydney Opera house. Amazingly it was not the bright white it always apprears. It’s a slightly off white color with many tiles. Standing next to it was spectacular and then going inside was even better. I took the tour, but I wish I could have seen a show there. The theatres were very impressive.

That afternoon I joined some people from my hostel in walking across the Sydney Harbor Bridge. No, not the top where you have the climbing ropes and pay $200; the bottom footpath. But still, it was a great view of the harbor.

That night I joined my friend from the tour for dinner at Darling Harbor. We wandered around and saw  the pretty harbor complete with a memorial to the Olympics, whale skeletons hanging in the stairwell, and many trendy restaurants. We settled on a place that overlooked the harbor. I got prawns and my friend tried crocodile. I sample his sandwich, and I have to say crocodile tastes a lot like chicken.

On my last day in Sydney I went to Manly beach which is just a short ferry ride from Sydney. It wasn’t exactly beach weather, but it was still a necessary experience to have while being in Sydney. The ferry ride made me appreciate just how big the harbor really is, and how many small islands and pennisulas there are around it. For lunch I grabbed a sushi roll and headed to the beach. The water was very rough and full of rip tides today, so instead of going in, I watched the surfers. I was innocently enjoying my sushi when a seagull swooped down and stole it. Mine! Mine! Mine! I guess Finding Nemo was pretty accurate. Resigning to a small lunch, I took the bus to Spitz Bridge and Reserve- an upper class district near Manly. I hiked around the boat docks and past some of the houses. There was a nature trail that was supposed to be very nice, but it would have taken too long and I needed to get back to Sydney to leave for Cairns soon.

After taking the bus, then ferry, then hike back to my hostel I packed up and headed to the train station. I had plenty of time and unworriedly took my seat with my massive bags of luggage on the train that had just pulled up to platform 6. The train ride seemed to take a lot longer than it had when I went from the airport to the hostel. And there were so many unfamiliar names. Eventually I asked somebody “Is this train going to the airport?” To my horror the answer was no. In a panic I got off the train at the next stop and asked the conductor what to do. They told me what train to take to get back to where I started from then to transfer on one to the airport. I was terrified that I would miss my flight. When I got off the train finally at the airport counter I sprinted (luggage and all) to the bag check in which thankfully had no line. My plane left in just over half an hour. I got my tickets and made it to the plane just before they called my section to board. I sank down in my window seat (yes I got another window seat with nobody sitting next to me) and relaxed. I’d made it. Cairns here I come!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Markets and mountains

The following day dawned still cloudy without the rain. The nice thing about hostels is that it is easy to meet people to travel around the city with. I went out to a café for breakfast (or brekkie as it is sometimes called) with two European girls traveling on holiday. Afterwards I joined them for Paddington and Glebes markets. Glebes was really cool- there were tons of little shops selling everything from picture frames to tea to lockets that open into watches and ipod covers that look like cassette tapes. All the vendors had little tents with all their various wares. I bought a skirt for $2. After Glebes we headed to Paddington which was a nice market and a cool vibe, but more of an art show than a farmers market. The wares were fancier such as knitting, paintings, leather purses, and a delicious chocolate chai that gave out free samples, but most everything was out of my price range. Still, it was fun to see.

I figured that I would be able to see more of the city with a guide, so I took a walking tour of Sydney. The guide was a native to the city who gave the ironic history of the different sights in the town. For example, Governor Macquaries (one of the most influential governors from when Sydney was full of convicts) wanted to build a hospital, but lacked the funding. To afford it he gave three business men the rights to all the rum being sold to the convicts if they in return built him a hospital. This worked successfully, and a large hospital was soon built. Part of it still stands today and has been used as a governmental house. So ironically the government lived in a house paid for by selling rum to criminals.

The tour was great, and afterwards I went on another tour of the Rocks- a historical section of Sydney near the harbor. Then I had beer and chips with one of the other people on the tour. I found it interesting that chips (fries) are served with sour crème and sweet chili. It’s pretty good.

The next day dawned sunny and gorgeous so I went with a tour group to the Blue Mountains. The drive took about an hour in a large van. Our first hike took us to a spectacular lookout that was in sight of several waterfalls.

But wait, it gets better- we walked over to see the falls and on the way passed through rainforest! Most of the Blue Mountains are eucalyptus, but there were some patches left over of ancient rainforest. Sadly there are no kolas in this eucalyptus forest since the trees are in soil with too little nutrients to sustain the critters. The waterfalls were beautiful- clean fresh and cascading down.

Afterwards we drove to a new destination and hiked to peak with another lovely view. A lunch of meat pies followed, with a trip to the famous Three Sisters Peaks after that. The Three Sisters was nice, but it was over flowing with tourists. I wasn’t sad to leave it and drive to the next location.

The final spot was the exact opposite of touristy. The van parked on the side of the road and we took a small path half hidden in the bush. A short hike took us to a secluded rock overlooking a valley composed entirely of trees and mountains. Nothing man-made was anywhere in sight. The only thing disturbing the silence was the calls of bell birds.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rainy Days in Sydney

Cloudy skies greeted me as I walked from the train station to my hostel. Since it was only 9:00 in Sydney I couldn’t check into my room yet, so I had to put my bags in the storage room. I packed what I needed for the day and set out to see the city. Without really having a plan or direction, I headed to what I soon discovered was China town. There is a very high percentage of Asians in Australia, so there is a pretty thriving China town.

Finally I could check in. The hostel I stayed at is called Base Sydney. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a hostel, but it was nicer than some hotels I’ve stayed at. I shared a room with 7 other girls. There were bunk beds reminiscent of summer camp and a bathroom shared with all the girls on the floor.

From here everything went downhill. When I got back to Base I moved my stuff up to my room. There was no elevator from the storage room one floor underground, so I assumed that I would need to carry my 100 or so pounds worth of luggage upstairs. To make this even more of a challenge I was on floor 4 which is the 5th floor by American standards (they count our 1st floor as the ground floor). I managed to carry my bags up the 5 flights only to be told when I got up that there was an elevator. I heard there was a tour at 2:30, so I headed town to the main desk. Unfortunately I realized after leaving the room that I’d locked my key inside. I was already late for the tour, so I figured I’d just get let in later. When I got to the desk they told me the tour did not leave from the hostel, but from a point a few blocks away. Being completely unfamiliar with the city I could not find the tour. I decided to just wander on my own for a bit. Shortly after beginning my wanderings the rain began to fall.

Why must everything go wrong at once? I ended up in Hyde park with the realization that I was alone half way across the world in a country where I didn’t know a soul. I felt very alone at that moment and it was nearly midnight in US. I called my boyfriend and he comforted me. He even offered to make me an itinary of things to do and to book tours for me. I told him it wasn’t necessary, but the thought was nice. I headed over to St. Andrews Cathedral and said a quick prayer.

I honestly believe that it helped because after that my day looked up. I got out my map and made a plan of what to do. My goal was to see Mrs. Marquaires chair- a lookout spot over the harbor. The path would take me through the Botanical Gardens which was another sight on my must see list. Although it was still raining, the gardens were spectacular. There were so many beautiful flowers, trees, and other plants. And then the animals- there were bats, ibis (these white birds with scaly black heads and long noses that are so ugly they are cute) and even cockatoos which are wild in Oz.

I took a detour to stop at the Art Museum which contained a mixture of aboriginal works and other pieces from around the world including Monet. After my adventure in the museum and park, my feet were killing me, so I decided to wander around and find dinner. I had my mind set on somewhere authentically Australian, so I headed to Bells Hotel which looked like a promising pub full of people socializing on a Friday night. I ordered schnitzel with chips. The chips which turn out to really be French fries were consumed with tomato sauce which is what we call ketchup in the US.

Australians really are some of the nicest people. By the end of the night I’d made my first friends in Oz. I played a game of pool, and was recommended to try a VB shanty (beer with lemonade). I also meet a sweet couple, the husband who was from America, who invited me to their super bowl party later that week. Even being on the other side of the world wasn’t so scary. I took a taxi back to my hostel. I think I will like Australia.

P.S. These entries are very backlogged because I did not have internet access for the weeks that I traveled around.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The journey to the other side of the world

After a long series of hugs and goodbyes exchanged with my family I waited in the busy security line at the Philly airport. I’ll miss them, as well as my friends and boyfriend. I wanted to make my last meal in the States as American as possible, so I got a Philly Cheesesteak. It was good, but still not the classic ones you can get in the city. My flight was scheduled to leave at 5:55 pm.

To my delight I get a window seat with nobody in the seat directly next to me. For the next 5.5 hours I attempt to stay awake and read or play minesweeper and solitaire on my ipod. I figure this is small potatoes of a flight compared to the next one. I stared out my window as we approached LA. I’ve never been there before. The view from the sky is spectacular. It looks like the night sky sparkled with stars but with flowing rivers of white lights.

There is around a 2 hour layover before I board the Qantas plane. Its 11:40 local time, but felt like 1:40 to me. The airplane is the biggest one I’ve ever flown on or even seen. It has 2 levels!!! There are 3 seats by each window, and aisle, then four in the center. By some lucky coincidence I got yet another window seat AND no body sitting in the seat next to me. I took full advantage of both blessings during my nap. The food was good for airplane food, and dinner included an Australian wine.

I watched ‘Just go with it’ (an American rom-com) then passed out. I’m not sure how long I slept, but when I woke up I decided to watch another movie. I plugged in my headphones to the TV in the seat ahead of me, and low and behold country music filled my ears! Some American country, but mostly new Australian artists. I’m a big country fan and was unaware of this awesome new source of good tunes.

After a breakfast of omelet, yogurt, and fruit salad, the plane flew over Sydney. Just seeing the city was spectacular with its many terracotta rooftops and trees. We touched down and I went through customs. My first thought was WOW- this is the other side of the world. I quickly found a Vodafone booth and purchased a pay as you go phone then got cash out of the ATM. I have to say Australian currency is prettier than American. I took the train to my hostel. I am here!