day 8 down under: the blue mountains, cable cars, koalas, and a harbour cruise

June 24th, 2017

I woke up early on Saturday morning to walk to the nearby Marriott Sydney Harbour to catch my tour bus for the day by 7:45.  I had booked a full day tour of Sydney’s Blue Mountains using Viator on recommendation from my coworker who had been here before.  It was about $140 for the day but it included everything I wanted and more!  There was a packed itinerary but I was so excited to get started!

It was a small group tour so there were only 16 of us in total.  Our tour guide, Andy, was hands down the best guide I’ve ever had!  He was hilarious—reminded me of a slightly calmer Robin Williams in his story telling and cadence.  He pulled up to the hotel and there were heaps of us standing around. “I am looking for one lucky guest… Kara!”  I raised my hand and he welcomed me warmly to the bus where I was the last to be scooped up.  The bus was small but perfect for the day.

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Andy told us our first stop of the day was to be in a little town called Leura at the top of the Blue Mountains.  It would take just over 2 hours to get there so we were stopping for morning tea at a café called Loaves and Dishes in Leura.  There was a big festival going on that weekend, he said, so he phoned in our tea orders and off we went.

During the two hour drive, we were told stories ranging from the history of everything we passed, funny anecdotes about Aussie politics, environmental impacts of their reliance on coal, the reasoning behind the names of all of the places we were seeing (mostly Aboriginal), and we also learned that Andy is a Kiwi from New Zealand but he lives in the Blue Mountains and knows them intimately.  He also went above and beyond and had researched an interesting short documentary on the settlement of Sydney and checked it out from the local library for us to watch “on the boring bits of motorway”.  It was fascinating to hear how it turned from a penal colony first sailed to in 1788, to the building of the Harbour Bridge to keep unemployed men off the streets in the global depression, to today where it is pushing to be a real international capital city.

We passed through some adorable old towns along the way.  Most were named for some of the very first explorers to go over the Blue Mountains to find farming land, like Lawson and Wentworth.

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We entered the Blue Mountains and Andy started to point out the flora and fauna around us.  The gum tree, although not initially the most beautiful tree, makes up 90% of the foliage in the Blue Mountains and is an incredibly important tree in Australia.  Koalas, for example, dine exclusively on various types of gum trees.  He also told us about the leaves of a gum tree: they hang vertically (which was of great surprise to early botanists who had only seen horizontal leaves!).  They also have oils within the leaves that absorb most light but reflect the blue on the ultraviolet scale, thus making the mountains seem blue.  So cool!

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We arrived in Leura around 10:15 and all went in to Loaves and Dishes where our tea was waiting for us.  I had ordered the banana bread, which was lightly toasted with a pat of Aussie butter on top.  I also ordered a flat white to drink which is similar to a latte.  There was an empty chair at my table so Andy sat down and the two of us became fast friends.  We had until 11:45 to eat and wander around the shops and markets in Leura, but Andy and I talked until at least 11:30 like old friends!

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I walked around for the last 15 minutes and visited a few shops that were selling local items.  I picked up some gifts for friends and family and then hopped back on the bus.  Our next stop was Scenic World about 20 minutes away.

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Scenic World is set in the heart of the Blue Mountains and has four activities in total for guests to adventure along.  It is owned by a private family who simply have a license to operate in the mountains but everything is beautiful preserved.  It was originally the site of a working coal mine which Andy told us we would be seeing later.

As an idea of how the entire park looked, here is a map of Scenic World (borrowed from this site).  Just LOOK how steep the railway is…

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When we arrived, Andy told us that we were going to take the Scenic Skyway car across the Jamison Valley and he would drive the coach around and meet us on the other side.  The Scenic Skyway is a fairly large cable car that whisks you over the valley and is really beautiful to experience—if not slightly terrifying!

Check out the cable car (photo from the Scenic World website here)

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The Skyway took about 5 minutes in total and we got our wristbands on the other side.  We had the chance to take some pictures at a breathtaking spot at the tippy top of the mountains.  Just, wow.

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Once we all had pictures, Andy told us the story of an important rock formation behind us called the “Three Sisters”.  If you’d like to read more about it, click here, otherwise here is a retelling of the version of the legend I was told.  The legend of the Three Sisters is an Aboriginal legend involving a medicine man and his three daughters.  Some warriors from another village wanted to marry his daughters, Meehi, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo, but it was forbidden.  On the day they came to take the girls, the medicine man turned them in to three rock formations on the edge of a cliff to keep them safe using his magic bone.  The warriors came to find the medicine man but he had turned himself in to a Lyre bird as a disguise.  But in the bustle, the medicine man lost his magic bone.  To this day, the three sisters sit as pillars of rock and the medicine man still a lyre bird.  The legend goes, if you see a lyre bird in the forest, it’s the medicine man still and forever looking for his magic bone.

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To get down in to the deciduous rainforest in the Blue Mountains, we took the Scenic Cableway which dove over the edge of the cliff and down to the forest floor.  It was incredibly steep and I was able to get a spot at the very front to experience the drop!  Check out the video below and listen to the reaction of those in the car with me 😊

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At the bottom, Andy invited us to go on a nature walk through the rainforest.  There were a few paths but I went for the longest of them all and was in awe of the beauty of the forest.  There were trees everywhere, deep and green and lush, and the weather was a tad crisp which added to the fresh air all around.  Most of the trees we saw were gum trees, but there were also some fern trees which looked like palms from a distance, and snarling knots of tangled roots and vines everywhere.

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Andy told us to look out for the Lyrebird which resembles a female peacock but is half the size.  It has long feathers out the back but is not very colorful.  He said he sees them a little under 50% of the time he is in the mountains on a tour, but knows when they are near because they mimic the sounds of anything around them.  Lyrebirds know upwards of 20 bird calls and do them in succession to see if anyone of interest is around.

About 10 minutes after telling us about the Lyrebird, someone spotted one!  It was small and not easy to see, but it sang and sang its bird songs.  It was amazing to hear how many it knew!  I managed to get a small video of its singing.  We sat and watched it for a solid 5 minutes before it scurried off to find its match.  What a rare and special treat!

We kept on the walk and came across a small pavilion.  We all stopped for a few moments of silence, taking in the sounds of nature around us peacefully.  I had to get a picture with the best tour guide ever!

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We then found a waterfall and started to see remnants from the old coal mining days.  They didn’t have to dig far to find the coal layer!

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The way back to the top of the mountain was by riding the… wait for it… steepest railway in the world.  We boarded a small car with rows of seats that went up at a 62 degree incline.  Holy crap.  I accidentally was at the head of the pack and got put in the first car— thrill seekers be warned!  This was intense!  We were looking straight down as this car pulled us at an incredible angle up the mountains.  “The coal never seemed to mind so you shouldn’t either!”  Andy said, laughing!

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Safe and sound at the top and needing a stiff drink, I boarded the coach again and we were off to the Conservation Hut for lunch, about 15 minutes from Scenic World.  It was a beautiful little cottage nestled in the mountains and I had bolognese and a long black and a much needed rest.

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With a few minutes to spare, I walked out on the veranda to get a good look at the mountains, and I was met face to face with a kookaburra!  It stared at me, I stared at it, and we just looked at each other for a few minutes in awe.  “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” sure is accurate!

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The last official stop on the tour was the one I was looking forward to the most the wildlife park! We were in for an afternoon of interacting (read: HUGGING) koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats… you name it.  It was an hour back towards Sydney so we trucked along making our way.  On the way, Andy introduced us to an Aboriginal/contemporary musician named Xavier Rudd.  He played 6 or 7 songs and they were so good!  We mused that he sounded a little Paul Simon with a didgeridoo.  When he comes to Sydney, he sells out the Opera House!  I loved the music and bought his album when I got home that night.

We arrived at Featherdale Wildlife Park and had an hour and a half to play with the animals with a deadline back on the bus by 4:30.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  I jetted in the park and made a beeline for the koalas.  There was a law passed 4 or 5 years ago banning people from physically HOLDING a koala (dreams of hugging dashed…) but I was able to add on “koala encounter” for a few dollars extra.  This got me up close and personal with my new Aussie boyfriend, Victor the Koala, and a picture commemorating the event!  Victor happily munched on eucalyptus the whole time I patted his little legs.  SO CUTE.

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After the koalas and my excitement had been curbed, I went to see the wombats (big, fat, furry things).  But then it was time for the kangaroos.  AHH.  There was a big enclosure where tons of wallabies (smaller kangaroo looking animals) and real roos were hopping about looking for food.  You could get a cup and feed them from your hands while they looked longingly at you AND IT WAS THE BEST. Their claws look sharp but they are actually very gentle and sweet little guys!

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The Little Penguins were getting fed next and their tiny blue bodies waddled around their paddock while the adorable keeper fed them small baitfish (head first so the scales stay flat!).

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I actually follow Featherdale Wildlife Park on Instagram and knew that they had a fresh round of 8 week old DINGO PUPPIES which were the cutest balls of fluff you could imagine!  They really just looked like domesticated dog puppies but there were 9 males in total.  They rolled and wrestled and fought over a bit of food and were generally in great spirits.

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Finally, we saw a Tasmanian Devil.  These little guys patrol their territories so much that they work a track around the outside of it.  They are incredibly endangered, close to extinction, because most are infected with a terrible eczema that causes a disease and they die within 90 days.  There were two brothers who had been rescued here at the park and it was feeding time!  The devil I saw got a huge egg and worked for a good 10 minutes to get all the good stuff out.  We heard a brief story of how they got their names from the keeper: the Tazzie Devils make a horrid screeching sound when they are threatened and the tips of their ears change color and turn bright red.  The Englishmen long ago encountered a Tazzie and in the dark all the could see was a dark figure with flaming red ears screaming at them— they thought it was the devil incarnate!

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We ran out of time at Featherdale but I could have spent another 10 days there with the animals!  But, as Andy said, “we have a boat to catch”.  Off we went back in to Sydney for the harbor cruise.  We made good time back to the city (Sydney traffic is unpredictable), so Andy took us around the 2000 Sydney Olympic sites.  He had come over to Australia himself in 1999 for the Olympics and never left!

Finally we arrived at the ferry and Andy bid us goodbye.  What a difference he made.  The tour felt like the best family and friends together enjoying the day!  The harbor cruise was meant to take us back to Sydney by boat.  It was large and fit a 5 large tour groups plus our small group onboard.  Andy told us to make our ways to the left side of the boat for the best views (he has all the tips!) so I did just that.

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It was sunset when we launched so we enjoyed the sunset over the quadrillion dollar houses lining the shore all the way to Sydney Harbour. Everything was lit up and just gorgeous in the sunset.

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I snapped some shots of the bridge and the Opera House on the way in.  It was like I had front row seats!  What a way to cap of the day!

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It was 7PM when we docked and the tour was over.  I grabbed a chicken katsu burger at The Burger Project at Circular Quay on recommendation from one of my students that I taught in Canberra.  It was really good!

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I finally made my way back to my hotel and crashed on the bed.  It had been an incredibly long and busy day, but every single thing about it was spectacular.  I couldn’t have planned a better day in Sydney!

days 5, 6 & 7 down under: fine dining in Canberra and an unexpected bus ride through the countryside

June 21st, 2017

On Wednesday I had new students come in to my course and they were a super lively crew!  There were more of them this time and they had big personalities which made the day fun.  As usual, we ate through the day: scones in the morning, hot lunch in the middle of the day, and afternoon tea.

After work Wednesday was the first time since I arrived in Oz that I didn’t have plans after work, and I wasn’t bothered by it at all!  I had some work to catch up on, blog posts overdue to write, and a restaurant downstairs that came recommended by locals.

It was called Lilo Tang, a contemporary Japanese restaurant at the base of my hotel. Unfortunately their tasting menu, which looked delicious, was for a minimum of two people so I had to order from the a la carte menu.  I was a little disappointed in the selection but was able to find some interesting options.  Everything was done by small plate so I ordered three for my meal.

I started with the chicken and pork belly yakitori skewers.  These were delicious but such a tiny portion.  There was no hope for sharing that dish and it seemed like a tease for even one person.

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I then ordered Japanese sauteed vegetables which were small broccoli and greens topped with bonito flakes that almost danced as they melted with the steam of the vegetables.  Very tasty.

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The best (and special) appetizer of the evening: waygu beef with burrata cheese.  The burrata just melted on the plate without needing any heat at all.  The waygu was fall apart tender.  That was a delicious plate.

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I went back up to my room at the end of the meal still slightly hungry but satisfied for certain.

June 22nd, 2017

I woke up Thursday morning and decided to get breakfast at the hotel.  It was quite pricey but worth it– it was a proper Aussie breakfast, complete with a little vegemite!  The breakfast is served on the top floor of the hotel overlooking the city of Canberra as it wakes up and the fog rolls over the treetops.

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My last day of the course was the best one of all.  We even ended the day with hugs, exchanging of information so we could get together again, and a very happy instructor!

As a last hurrah in Canberra, my coworker had planned a nice meal out at Akiba, a posh yet hipster small-plate Japanese restaurant in the city center.  Darcy had talked about this for the entire time I’d been in Oz, and most of my other coworkers who had made the trip were also treated to the delight that was Akiba.

We arrived Thursday night and Darcy and his wife, plus Nick, Ale and Rafaela joined as well.  We sat outside under heaters at a nice long table.  I was beyond excited for all of the food I was about to enjoy and almost laughed out loud when I read the first option on the menu: “Just Feed Me”.  This was the chefs choice of their 8 most popular dishes so we didn’t have to go about choosing one by one.  I was SO down for that!

I also saw that they had SOMERSBY!  I hadn’t had any since Sweden and I missed it, so of course I had to order myself a bottle.  Tastes like home.

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There are way too many dishes to name and show, but I will point out the ones in the Just Feed Me from the menu above:

  • Kingfish sashimi (very tasty)
  • Pork belly bun (**OMGOMG THIS**)
  • Prawn and chicken dumplings (very tasty)
  • Kimchi pancake (the only of 8 that I didn’t care for)
  • King prawn fried rice (this was really delicious)
  • Beef short rib (totally fall off the bone tender, mmm)
  • Chinese broccoli (a little strongly seasoned but good)
  • Lemon tofu cheesecake (super good!)

Pardon the quality of some of the following pictures– I was hungry!!

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The meal was insanity.  So good, so creative, so filling.  Its a MUST VISIT on your next trip to Canberra! :)

June 23rd, 2017

I got up at the crack of dawn to check out of my hotel and make it to the airport by 6AM.  My flight was scheduled for 8AM but I got there early enough that they got me on an earlier flight.  Sweet!  Except… there was a lot of fog.  A LOT.  It had been foggy most mornings that week, but it usually burned off by 8 and there wasn’t an issue.  Not Friday morning.

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I got a flat white and a muffin and settled in, not knowing what the weather would do to flights out of Canberra.

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There were 5 flights leaving from Canberra to Sydney before noon, and only the very first one got out.  The rest of us were delayed over and over for three hours and then cancelled completely, but no one told us the flights were cancelled.  One woman happened to check online and it had been cancelled for over 45 minutes, but no one at the airport knew.  I desperately wanted to lay down and take a nap on these big, soft pillows….

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I know weather is not anyone’s fault, and for two solid hours no flights were departing OR landing in Canberra, but it was still a huge bummer.  I was just feeling so lucky that this flight was the short one to get me started on holiday in Sydney, not the one taking me to a connecting flight.  Most people missed connections and one woman missed her cruise which left from Sydney Harbour that afternoon at 2PM.

Only those who threw an absolute temper tantrum got rebooked on flights, but not everyone could because those afternoon flights were still on as scheduled.  Instead, the answer from Qantas was: you shall take the bus.  I’m thankful that there WAS a bus option because Sydney is just over a 3 hour drive from Canberra.  But by the time we finally got buses arranged, retrieve our checked bags which were on planes that weren’t going anywhere, and physically load up, it was already 1:30 in the afternoon.  I had wasted 6.5 hours already.  Qantas gave us some water and provided “catering” for the drive.

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On the bright side, I made a few more Aussie friends and we made it safely to Sydney by 5PM.  The drive through the bush was really pretty so it certainly could have been worse.  I lost an entire day (of 3) that I had to explore Sydney but I was better off than some other travelers for sure.

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When I finally arrived in Sydney, I took the Link train to the center of the city and found my hotel. It was a quick train and saved me quite a bit of time (and money!) than taking a taxi or an Uber from the airport.  Looks a little like DC traffic here!

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I stayed at the Radisson Blu Plaza hotel which was nice but too expensive for a low maintenance traveler like me.  Unfortunately I was put on the first floor with the “view” of a nasty parking lot.  But I didn’t spend much time in the room anyway so it wasn’t a huge deal.

I decided to drop my stuff and go walk around Circular Quay, one of their downtown areas on the water with several wharfs and tons of things to see.  I had lost all light at that point as sun had set about 5 but I was able to get some beautiful shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House all lit up at night.

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I found dinner at a small Thai resto inside of the Gateway which is an indoors restaurant area.  It was called Chat Thai, and it had some decent food for reasonable prices.  I got my classic, Pad See Ew, and a Napoleone pear cider. The cider was delicious!  But absolutely nothing beats Somersby so… 😊

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I had a huge full day planned for Saturday, so even though I got to Sydney one week later in my vacation than I had anticipated, I was still confident I could see everything I wanted to see.

Stay tuned for a monster post about the Blue Mountains!

days 3&4 down under: canberra sightseeing and the wonders of schnitty

June 19th, 2017

My first morning in Canberra, I woke up super refreshed and ready for the day.  My client site was just around the corner from the hotel so I got ready and left at 7:15 and arrived just before 7:30.

On my short walk, I noticed that there was an embassy across the street that was flying a blue and white striped flag, but it wasn’t windy so it was laying down on the flag pole.  I looked around for a sign and just underneath it read URUGUAYAN EMBASSY TO AUSTRALIA.  Ha!  My father was born in Uruguay and its not a very big place, but the one embassy this far in to the city happened to be that one!

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Also, to my absolute shock and awe, I saw a real kangaroo hop down the street in front of me.  I thought it was a deer at first but then it hopped high and long.  I could not believe it!  It was so fast that I didn’t even have a prayer to get my camera out in time.  By far the coolest thing I had seen in Australia so far.

When I arrived at work, I got some funny looks as I was in regular business attire and a small jacket. Everyone else I passed on the way and everyone inside were bundled up to the nines with heavy coats, hats, gloves, scarves, you name it.  It was only about 9C outside which is just about 48F.  Not a bad morning but a little chilly.  This is winter for Aussies so I found it funny that they thought I was underdressed!

I had an excellent first morning with my students and we broke for tea at 10:30.  I love morning tea.  I am going to make sure that I bring this back to HQ in DC.  We had coffee, a selection of tea available, and delicious scones with jam and cream.  I was in heaven.

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We went back to work and it seemed like just a moment before it was time for lunch.  They have a small cafeteria onsite so we all went down to enjoy lunch together.  Salads, sandwiches, and a hot food bar with the sweetest staff you can imagine!  It was just what I wanted.  I chose the roast pork and potatoes the first day, chicken and pineapple curry on Tuesday, honey and ginger roasted chicken on Wednesday and a chicken parma schnitty on Thursday!  (I’ll get to the wonders of schnitty later on 😊 )

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The afternoon was just as good as the morning, and we broke for tea again at 2:30.  They sure know how to break up the workday!  This time it was coffee, tea, and a fruit platter which my waistline thanked me for.

I had been invited out to dinner with some of the students who had flown in from various parts of Australia for the course and we agreed to meet at 5:30.  The course ended for the day at 4, so I had just enough time to hop in an Uber and get to the Australian War Memorial while I had an hour left of daylight.  I had heard so much about it and it was absolutely worth going.

The memorial is a little more centered in Canberra and it was gorgeous weather when I arrived to the top of the hill where it sits.  The temperature had risen to 15C or about 60F and it was nice and sunny.  The center of the museum is absolutely stunning, with an outdoor reflecting pool and the Roll of Honour which surrounds the top and has the name of the 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war over the last century.

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I was advised at the front desk to move briskly through since I only had an hour and, armed with a map, I made my way around.  The museum is beautifully designed and very thoughtful in how it was put together.  There were a few sections: WWI, WWII, and Modern Conflicts.  With only an hour, I decided to focus on the World Wars and got to see them from the perspective of Australia and their involvement which was a really neat point of view.  There was an entire area on aircrafts and old planes hung up on the ceilings. Tons of artifacts and exhibits showed old Nazi and Japanese items that had been preserved.  There were videos projected in certain spots, a voiceover track with audio of bombings and stories from the wars playing softly if you wanted to listen to them.  I really enjoyed what I had time to see although I could have spent hours and hours there if I had the chance.

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Even though I only had an hour to look around, I actually came at a perfect time as there is a Last Post Ceremony that happens at the small reflecting pool at the close of the museum each day.  The sun was just setting and the scene was just lovely.  There were a few school groups on a tour of the museum and they had lined the reflecting pool politely to watch the ceremony.  I found a spot at the top of the stairs near the Roll of Honour and had a nice view.  While I waited for the Last Post to begin, I spent some time looking at the names of the fallen etched in to the wall.  There were small, bright, crimson poppy flowers tucked in next to each name, and the effect of seeing all of them together was stunning.

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The Last Post Ceremony happens at the close of each day.  It began with the Australian National Anthem and everyone sang it softly.  Then a serviceman played a somber melody on the bagpipes which echoed throughout. There were a few chosen children from each school group that held wreaths of flowers to place along the reflecting pool in remembrance, as well as relatives of one of the fallen soldiers. After the flowers were placed, a serviceman told the story of one the fallen soldier who had fought in WWII.   The ceremony ended with the Ode, short and somber, honoring all who have served their last post.

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It really was a lovely way to end the visit.  I went back outside to the front where the sun was almost set and took a few pictures of Canberra from the hill with Parliament House in the distance.  There were TONS of cockatoos all around, enormous and very, very loud, that were entertaining to watch as I called for my Uber back to the hotel.

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Back at the hotel, I dropped my work bag and changed my shoes (my poor feet were still in heels after standing for 13 hours!) and went back to meet my students for dinner.  We had a few beers to start and then walked over to Kingston Foreshore, the area by the water I went with my colleague the first day, to pick a spot to eat.  They were a super sweet and lively bunch which made dinner such a fun evening!  We chose a Thai restaurant called Chong Co and had a few more beers and some really tasty food.  The conversation quickly turned to how many weeks of vacation we all had (they get 6 standard with their jobs) and healthcare (of which they loved to poke fun at how much we had to pay) but it was truly all in good fun and I laughed and laughed the entire night!

We walked home in the “cold Australian winter” (it was about 5C outside, or 40F) and I made it back to my hotel happy and full.

Still no jet lag for me!  “Wait until the second night”, they said.


 

June 20th, 2017

I slept beautifully Monday night and woke up refreshed on Tuesday.  What was that they said about jet lag?  Nothing for me!

Tuesday went similarly to Monday with an abundance of scones, a warm lunch, and fruit for tea in the afternoon.  This was the end of my first course so my students hugged and smiled and said goodbye at the end of the day to catch their flights back to their various cities.

My colleague Nick invited me to dinner that evening with his partner, Ale, and their daughter Rafaela who had just turned one the weekend before.  We agreed they would pop round my hotel at 6 and grab some dinner.

Between work and dinner, I caught up on some emails and watched an episode or two of MasterChef Australia (which is excellent), relaxed, and was ready to go.

Nick chose a restaurant in nearby Barton for dinner called Maddies at the Kinsgston Hotel, but more commonly known as the “Kingo”.  It was a short drive but little Rafela and I became fast friends in the car.  She is the same age as my niece, Eva, and was smiley and giggly just as Eva is.

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We started with a few beers and Rafaela equally enjoyed eating the chips we had ordered and tossing them on the ground.  But she was overall extremely well behaved and a lot of entertainment throughout the meal.  There was a footy match on TV just over her shoulder so her eye was caught by the striking green of the grass on the screen, but throwing chips was even more fun!

Nick introduced me to the wonders of “schnitty”, or schnitzel, at the Kingo.  Ale, his partner, is from Chile and she likened it to a milanesa which we eat all the time in Uruguay.  I have had schnitzel many times in many countries but this was THE schnitzel, apparently! There are also a slew of different sauces to choose from. During this small lesson on Australian food, Nick also told me that Aussies shorten everything that they say—footy, shnitty, avo, Kingo… lots of examples during the evening.  But the shnitty I wanted to order had the best name of all: the Chicky Chicky Parm Parm!  It came with a salad and chips.  And it was really, really, really good.

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Rafaela, in her tiny, springy, pig tails, was smiling and laughing throughout the meal.  At the end, she started to get a little restless so Nick popped her out of her chair and off she went!  She is definitely mobile—able to walk and even toddle in to a run!  The Kingo was a perfect spot for kids as it was a casual restaurant/bar with a fireplace, some couches, and lots of tables, so Rafaela was not in the way.  She enjoyed being chased after and made a load of friends in her travels through the tables!

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We made our way back home and Nick dropped me at my hotel.  I was properly tired and tucked in to bed shortly after.  I’d call that a great couple days in Canberra so far!

days 1&2 down under: the great journey to Australia

June 16, 2017

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Australia (for the first time!) to teach a course in Canberra for a week.  I was able to squeeze out a few more days of personal time on the other end, making my trip 10 days in total.

After eating all of the food in my apartment in preparation, packing “winter” clothes, and sending Piper off to “Camp Aunt Jane”, I was ready to make the journey.  My mom dropped me off at the airport and, since I flew business class, I was treated to “executive” check in and security lines.  What a treat!

I had about an hour and a half before the flight and my business class fare got me access to the United Club, so I hoofed it down the terminal to find the lounge.  I found a seat, had some cheese and crackers, a glass of wine, and relaxed.

The first leg of my journey was Washington Dulles to San Francisco, about a 5 hour flight. When it was time to board, I really got to experience the height of premium travel—boarding first, getting to my spaceship seat (which I’ll get to in a moment), champagne before take-off, and a veritable home theatre system at my disposal.

Now, if you know me, you know I really don’t like to fly.  I was truly anxious for the sheer number of hours I would have to spend in transit, specifically over water, to get to Australia.  But boy was this trip different.

Let’s start with the seat itself.  It was really more like a spaceship pod.  I few United the whole way at this was the very first flight this particular aircraft had ever flown commercially.  The business class has been completely redone and was now called “Polaris”.  Business class sections were in a 1-2-1 formation and these “pods” were outrageous!  I had a window seat and did not, honestly, see another human apart from my flight attendant during the entire flight.  The pod had 4 walls, a humongous window, a lay-flat seat that operated with electronic controls, a spare cupboard for my various items, sweet noise cancelling headphones, and about 700 hours of in-flight entertainment on an enormous screen.

At 5:00PM, we took off just before bad weather rolled through and soared up to 36000 feet.  Being so close up to the front of the plane, I had a great view out the window!

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My flight attendant came by shortly after takeoff with a hot towel, and then followed with a warm bowl of mixed nuts and the menu of dinner selections for the flight. She was almost more excited than I was that the plane was brand new!  I quickly found The Office on the TV and settled in.

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I chose the salmon for dinner and was tickled to get real silverware and linens.  Pinkies up everyone!

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I finished dinner and moved on to House Hunters and a lemon sorbet for dessert.

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I knew I had a significant number of hours of travel ahead of me and didn’t want to sleep, so I stayed up in my spaceship pod and watched as many TV shows as I could to stay awake.  It was an absolutely beautiful day to fly and the clouds were incredible!

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We arrived in San Francisco about 5 hours later, about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.  My flight wasn’t scheduled for take off until 10:50 local time, so I had about 3 hours to kill, so I visited the United Club again.  I worked on my class materials for the training course, had a bite to eat, and enjoyed freshening up in a real (non public) airport bathroom.  Thank goodness for travel toothbrushes!

We were immediately treated like kings and queens upon boarding the flight to Sydney.  The international travel manager introduced herself to each of us in these $1,000,000,000 seats, and had memorized all of our names and seat location prior to boarding.  I sat in a window seat next to a gentleman who took this flight all the time, so he knew all of the features and buttons in our seats, but I clicked all of them like a kid in a candy store.  It was the softest and most comfortable seat I’ve ever sat in on a plane for sure!  I am a short person already, but this leg room was luxurious.  No way I would have ever felt cramped!

Let the 15 hour flight begin!

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We were given the menu and my flight attendant came around to ask “what looks good for dinner”.  The appetizers were set (two enormous shrimp with mango salad) and the entree had options– I chose the roasted eggplant ravioli.  By the time I finished the ravioli, I was absolutely stuffed.  We had also eaten on the San Francisco flight after all!  I could hardly eat the cheese plate which was such a shame because they looked delicious.  I flat out refused the pastries for dessert or I would have exploded.

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We finished dinner and I forced myself to watch a movie before going to bed.  La La Land has been on my list for a while and it was one of the featured movies.  By the time I finished the movie it was 1AM San Francisco time, which was 4AM body time, and I was READY for bed.  We had Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, had received an adorable amenities kit filled with a really nice sleep mask, socks, toothbrush, lotions and sprays, and all kinds of things to make you feel like you didn’t want to jump in the shower after 2 hours on the flight.  I also TOTALLY took advantage of the cotton pajamas and got my very own set!

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I reclined my seat until it was totally flat and went to sleep.  For someone who is anxious on planes and never, ever, ever sleeps in flight, I think I slept for a good 6 hours (off and on) and woke up as we flew past Hawaii.

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There was significant turbulence around the middle of the flight which was not fun so I wasn’t able to get back to sleep.  About two hours later I dozed for a few more hours.

I was awake for the last 5 hours of the flight and I was HUNGRY.  I had saved the crackers from my cheese plate and ate those in no time, but I wasn’t able to access my bag since you can’t have luggage at your feet in the business class seats.  My seatmate was totally reclined and blocking the aisle so I didn’t get up to find any snacks.  Instead, I distracted myself with a movie.  I watched “En man som heter Ove”, a lovely Swedish film about a grumpy old man who ends up befriending his new neighbors.  I would definitely recommend it!  I believe it was the Foreign Film Oscar winner this past year.

I was literally about to eat my own shirt when the cabin lights finally came on and we were served breakfast.  I had chosen the omelette the night before and it was delivered to me with blue linens and a mimosa to my seat.  It was, by far, the best meal I was served in all of my business class legs of the trip.  Spicy, warm, filling– it had sausage, beans, peppers, corn, potatoes, and roasted carrots inside with a spicy cheese filling. I ate every single crumb on the tray including the croissant and yogurt. I still dream about how good that omelette was…

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It was still pitch black outside just until about 30 minutes before we landed, so there wasn’t much to see until we began our descent.  It was really beautiful to be landing while the sun was rising in the distance and Australia started to come in to view!

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I managed to see a very familiar and lovely sight from the plane….

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We landed in Sydney at 09:30 Sunday morning local time (7:30PM Saturday in body time). I had just under two hours to pick up my checked bag, make it through customs, re-check in and check my bag, and transfer domestically to catch my flight to Canberra.  It took way less time than I thought and was actually pretty seamless (thanks, ePassport!)  With some time to spare, I went to freshen up.  I totally changed clothes, re-applied makeup, brushed my teeth, and made it to the gate.

The flight to Canberra, Australia’s capital city, was set to be just 55 minutes.  I saw out the window that we were flying on a propeller plane and my stomach dropped.  Damn you plane anxiety.  We boarded via outside stairs (a la the Bluths) and I got a window seat.  By some miracle, the airplane gods had smiled on me this entire trip, and the flight to Canberra was no different.  It was by far the smoothest flight I have ever been on.  We didn’t hit one single bump, the sky was crystal clear, and we flew at 18000 feet the entire trip so it was beautiful to see the ground the whole way.  Out pilot even told us that we were taking a shortcut (!) so the flying time literally was 22 minutes in the air.  The flight attendants still were able to give us bottles of water and delicious sticky date cake in that short of a flight!

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We landed in Canberra at their small, but really nice, airport.

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I collected my bag and called an Uber to head to the hotel.  I had forgotten that Aussies drive on the opposite side, so I was totally out of sorts on the drive.  He was an excellent driver but I kept feeling like he was veering in to traffic on the wrong side of the road!

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Thankfully my hotel, the Burbury, had some rooms ready when I arrived, so I checked in around 10:45.  I could not wait to get in the shower.

My coworker who lives in Canberra had planned to meet for lunch around 12 so I got ready and he came around to pick me up.  We went to Kingston Foreshore, a beautiful area by Canberra’s big lake, to get a burger at Beef & Barley.  I ordered the Hang Ten Hen and it was absolutely phenomenal.  Look at those chunks of chorizo on the grilled chicken!  The chips and slaw that came with it were also delicious.

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We split up after lunch and I went to explore around Foreshore for a few hours.  I was handily beating jet-lag (thankyouverymuch), so the more I was outside and walking around, the better I felt!

Canberra is the capital city and the seat of government in Australia.  Its grown up around a man-made lake.  June is the middle of winter in Canberra, but it was about 65 degrees and beautiful weather.

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Just up from the restaurants was a Sunday craft market that had tons of cool vendors, produce, food, and artwork.  I walked around excited to purchase something, but my credit card didn’t have a pin so I wasn’t able to use the ATM to get any cash out.  Bummer.

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I planned to walk back to the hotel and find the nearest market to get some snacks for breakfast the next day.  On the way back, I found Telopea Park which was calm and sunny.  I spent the next 30 minutes taking jumping pictures (#thingskaradoes) and generally enjoying the weather.

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Back at the hotel, I sorted the credit card pin and “just laid down for a moment”…. and woke up 45 minutes later.  Because I didn’t want to go to bed until at least 7:30, I made myself get up and walk to the market for some milk and fruit.  I just made it before the sun set at 5PM and dashed home to stay out of the dark.

I realized it was about 9AM in Oslo, so I got to skype with my brother and stinking-cute-niece Eva for about an hour before bed.  Alec remarked that my body language was changing as we talked.  I went from sitting straight up, to leaning against the headrest of the bed, to totally horizontal on a pillow.  It was surely time for sleep!

I set out my things for the morning and went to bed at 7:30PM.

And I didn’t wake up until 6AM.

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Stay tuned for my first full day in Canberra!