Síðustu daga á Íslandi með jarðhita, kökum og íslensku vodka!

July 14th, 2017

After our exploration of the Icelandic countryside the day before, the rain returned and we had a leisurely morning at home playing with Eva while we waited for the weather to break.

Ingun had ridden Icelandic horses with her sister growing up, so she found a tour that would take her back out in to the beautiful mountains and waterfalls on her very own horse. She was so excited and we got a few snapchats during her 6 hour riding adventure!

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While Ingun was out, the rest of us decided to explore downtown Reykjavik and do a little shopping.

First we passed by the Icelandic Phallological Museum which had an interesting display of things in the windows.  We might have stopped in just for laughs but we didn’t want to pay admission!

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Alec wanted to grab coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, so my parents and I went back to the big church to show my dad how cool it was!  It was also chilly outside so we went inside the church to escape the wind for a few minutes.  Such a beautiful hall inside!

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We made our way towards the water and weaved through the city all together.  There was a really cool clothing shop that had all sorts of Icelandic clothing words translated in English on a big plaque outside.  The language nerd in me was thrilled!

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Little Eva and I played as we walked and enjoyed the sights of the city.  There were some cute shops and painted buildings which made it look like a perfect Scaidianvian city, even though it was nice and cloudy out!

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We walked for a while until it was about ready for Eva’s nap.  We grabbed lunch on the way home but took it to go, so my mom and Eva danced while we waited and it was SO stinking cute!

Ingun came home that night and told us all about her day.  Unfortunately it rained a good deal (sideways!) but she said she had a lot of fun!  We were all ready for dinner and I cooked in our tiny Airbnb kitchen.  Pasta salad, grilled chicken, and sauteed spinach on the menu.

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By the way, don’t forget the eternal summer this far north!  Check out the level of sunlight at 10PM…

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July 15th, 2017

The next day was the last full day we had in Iceland, so we went to find a geothermal pool to play around in.  Before the pool, my dad and I went out, nice and early, to an amazing bakery we found the day before called Braud & Co.  It was, beyond a doubt, the best bakery I have ever been to in the world.

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The smell of beautiful, buttery pastries wafts down the street at the crack of dawn and we salivated just thinking about them on our 20 minute walk over.  Cinnamon buns, vanilla cream pastries, traditional and chocolate croissants… lord have mercy.  The shop was stunning inside– all wooden and cozy, loaves of bread with hard crusts on the outside next to the buttery delights, and the baker himself visible behind a small window inside the shop.

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You can’t miss this shop for two reasons: 1) the pastries are legitimately mouth-wateringly good, and 2) the outside of the shop is a stunning rainbow that stands out among the other painted shops on the street!  This is easily one of my favorite photos I took on the trip.

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My dad and I walked back with about 12 pastries in hand (we wen’t a little crazy!) and found a little cat who followed us halfway down the block.

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We brought the spoils home and I laid them out on a plate, still warm, and we had the most delicious breakfast.  JUST LOOK AT THESE BEAUTIES!  I only pray that someday I can make things as amazing as these sweets.

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After breakfast, we were lucky that the rain stopped for a little while, so we asked Johannes where we should go for a geothermal pool and he recommended a local bath called Laugardalslaug.  It was not touristy at all and Eva was allowed to come!  Ingun and I needed to grab some swim diapers for Eva, so we stopped for coffee and then trekked to a pharmacy to find her some.  The coffee, from Reykjavik Roasters of course, was delicious and I finally got to take a photo of their coffee flavor wall.  What a beautiful way to draw tastes!

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When we got home, we packed up the family and walked about 25 minutes and arrived at the pool.  We weren’t allowed to bring in cameras to the pool but this website had a great shot of the facility:

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There were maybe 1/4 of the people in this picture there when we were, so it was a lot less crowded.  Off to the right of this photo was a small circle pool where we hung out with little baby Eva who had never been swimming before!  The pool was shallow and really, really warm (around 38ºC) but felt amazing.

On the left side of the deck there were 5 hot tubs, all heated geothermally, at different temperatures.  Ingun and I wanted to try them all, the hottest being 44ºC.  We could hardly stand it for more than 60 seconds!  The final hot tub was filled with sea water from just down the street and heated to a comfortable hot tub temperature.  It was super cool to lounge in the saltwater.

After we swam, we dried off and got dressed while we waited for the boys to finish in their locker room.  Eva found a chair to push and was a total ham guiding it around the floor!

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We grabbed a quick bite on the way back home and Eva wanted to share my sausage.  Looks kind of like a Darth Vader grip going on there…

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We chilled back home for a while and Ingun went out to shop a little (since she missed the adventure the day before) and my parents went back to check out a small shop in town.  I was wiped out and blogged a little while Alec and Eva napped outside.

Later in the evening, Ingun and I went to Bonus, the grocery down the street, and got ingredients for the last dinner in Iceland.  I made a homemade tomato sauce, pasta, and meatballs (I found the SWEDISH KIND!), and some KILLER garlic bread using a baguette from Braud!

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Just before bed, Alec and Eva had a sweet moment with Eva’s new Icelandic book and he did his very best to read it to her… :)

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July 16th, 2017

I got up at the crack of dawn to take a bus to the airport the next morning.  I grabbed a quick breakfast at the airport of a coconut milk and chia pudding with coconut flakes and sour currants, and took one last snap of the Icelandic fact board that welcomes you as you enter (and exit) the country.  So cool.

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I also took advantage of Duty Free and stocked up on ALLLL the Icelandic vodka.  And a 6-pack of Somersby, of course!  I hardly had room in my backpack but I would have thrown out my clothing to fit in the Somersby :)

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After some technical problems with the first aircraft, we changed to a new plane and off we went.  I got put in Economy Plus (my airplane luck is incredible lately!) and sat next to two adorable Swedes heading to Maryland for a week.  We swapped stories and I gave them a few recommendations while they were in the city.  What a welcome sound to hear my beloved Swedish being spoken so beautifully in my ear the whole flight!

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All in all it was a fantastic trip to Iceland, but the family time was hands down the best part.  I loved seeing Alec, Ingun, and of course, my little niece Eva who stole the show.  I can’t wait to see everyone again this winter at our home this time!  <3

A fallegur dagur á Íslandi: Gullfoss, Haukadalur geysir og Þingvellir þjóðgarðurinn

July 13, 2017

We woke up Thursday morning ready to head out on our adventure at 9AM.  I made some breakfast with Icelandic eggs, bacon, and apple cake to get us started off on the right foot.  Our apartment’s kitchen is… “efficient”, to put it kindly, so I figured out how to make breakfast for 6 with only a few pots and pans.  There was a coffee shop, Reykjavík Roasters, down the street and Alec knew their coffee well so he popped down and brought some back for breakfast.

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I set the food out and had a little friend peeking at me from the end of the table!

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Our Airbnb host was also out tour guide for the day since we had the baby and didn’t want to commit to an 8 hour all-day tour with 100 other tourists.  We were set to leave at 9, but Johannes must have been on Iceland time so we didn’t leave until closer to 10AM.

We piled in to Johannes’ jeep and set out to see three sights: the Gullfoss waterfall, the Haukadalur geysers, and the Þingvellir National Park.  These were three stops on the “Golden Circle”, or a set of popular natural sights that most people like to see when they visit.  We were only going to these three, however, so we joked that it was the “Golden Line” tour :)

Since we had chosen this set of sights, we decided to go to the furthest first, about 2 hours away, and work our way back.  Little Eva took a nice snooze during the ride out.  It was overcast and a little chilly but even the clouds were beautiful!

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We arrived at Gullfoss, or the Golden Waterfall, which is one of Iceland’s most popular and beautiful waterfalls.  It is located in a canyon of the Hvíta River and is made up of water that melted from the Langjökull glacier.  It is truly spectacular; the view from the front is grand and the spray from the falls themselves blanket the area in a soft fog which adds to the mystery of the area.

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There is a path along the ledge where you can walk through the spray to get to the edge of the waterfall for even more spectacular views of the “staircase” and crevice that the water has dug itself over hundreds of years of rushing water.

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Here is the view from the edge of the waterfall, and then another pointing back to the staircase and crevice:

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We climbed back to the front of the falls and up a set of steep stairs to the overlook at the top of the cliffs.  It was a beautiful sight to see!  I snapped a selfie with some of the family…

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…and got my first jumping picture of the trip with the stunning landscape behind me.

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We piled back in Johannes’ jeep and made our way to the next stop, the Haukadalur Geysers.  They were only about a 15 minute drive back in the direction we came.

Haukadalur is a valley with tons of geothermal activity which has caused geysers and geothermal pools to form in various spots.  The biggest geyser is named Geysir, which is actually where our word “geyser” comes from to begin with.  It is said that Geysir has been active for 10,000 years and used to erupt frequently, sometimes as a result of earthquakes (or with the addition of soap!) but Johannes told us it hasn’t had a proper eruption since 2009.  It was nice and quiet on the day we arrived. When it DOES erupt, it can shoot boiling water up to 70 meters in the air!

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Since the geothermal energy also releases hydrogen sulfide, the area smelled fairly strongly of rotten eggs (the sulfur smell) when you got a puff of the steam emitted from the geysers.  Up close, once the steam wafted away, you could even see the hyperthermophiles, or organisms that can withstand incredible heat and live inside the springs.  This one was blue!

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There were several other geysers just a few meters from each other.  The most popular, Strokkur, faithfully erupts every 5-10 minutes and blows water super high in to the air.  I got the end of the eruption in the picture below:

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In total there are about 30 geysers in the valley.  It was really amazing to see them all, and the steam rising from the ground.

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My brother snapped this great jumping picture in front of the smallest geyser, LitliGeysir.  I got one of them just afterwards!

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After exploring for a while, Eva needed some lunch so we joined her in the rest area.  There was a nice cafe and shop with tons of tables and Eva crawled all around and made some new friends (and ate a bunch of our cheesecake!)

Finally, we made our way an hour back towards Reykjavík en route to our last stop. Even from the windows of the car I couldn’t resist taking pictures of how green everything was!  Look at these mountains:

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Our last stop was Þingvellir National Park (pronounced Thingvellir).  Althing, the national parliament in Iceland, was established here in 930 AD.  Today it is still home to a lot of historical artifacts and some truly spectacular natural wonders protected now as a World Heritage Site.

Johannes dropped us at the bottom of a ridge so we could hike around the park. Eva couldn’t find her hat so she borrowed my dad’s.  Newest generation of Capitals fans ;)

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Up at the top of some cliffs we found the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen called Öxarárfoss.  It was hidden away a little bit and surrounded by huge stones and rocks.  I could have stayed there all day!

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It was a spectacular place for pictures!

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And my favorite jumping picture of the entire trip!

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Even turning around from the waterfall in the other direction, the cliffs were green and lush.  I felt like I was in Scotland!

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We walked hiked along to another overlook where we could see the entire beautiful Icelandic countryside in front of us.  Breathtaking.

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At the highest point of the park we also saw the best view of volcanic activity so far: wrinkly and folded hardened lava rocks all around us!  Look how slowly that must have set over hundreds of years.  SO COOL. (Literally!)

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Tired and happy, we got back in to the car and made our way back to Reykjavík after a long day of exploring.  We relaxed for a while and my mom read with squishy Eva while Alec and I went to the Vinmonopolet (liquor store) and found some Thai for takeaway.

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What a fantastic day we had.  We were all asleep by 9!

Ferð til Íslands: komu, könnun og sætasta norska barnið í heiminum

July 11th, 2017

Not too much of a turnaround between Australia and Iceland, but I find myself traveling almost every July back to Europe to explore. Before I show you some of the beauty of this country, I wanted to reminisce for a moment…

I’ve been seeing some “On This Day” memories lately on Facebook… 6 years ago I made my first trip to Stockholm and visited my brother in Oslo:

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Oslo, July 2011

Then 5 years ago I got a reminder of my Spanish holiday in Madrid with family:

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Madrid, August 2012

4 years ago I spent 3 months in Uppsala living the beautiful Swedish life:

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Uppsala, June 2013

3 years ago I went back to explore Göteborg, Lysekil, and stopped in Uppsala (of course!)

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Uppsala, June 2014

I am finally back to Scandinavia and I missed it so much :)

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For this summer Scandinavia trip, we all decided to meet in Iceland to explore instead of just going to Oslo to see Alec.  For the first time on our family vacation, we had a new member along!  Alec and Ingun brought my 1 year old, absolutely precious, squishy, smiley, and perfect niece, Eva.

My parents and I caught a 2PM flight from Dulles to Keflavik which was about 5 hours in length.  We had some lunch at the airport pre-departure.

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Now that I am not flying bougie first class, I remembered just how cramped coach class feels (haha), but it was not a problem at all for a relatively short flight.

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We landed body time around 8, but it was midnight in Iceland.  Alec wasn’t leaving Oslo with Ingun and the baby until the next morning so we stayed at the Airport Hotel to get some rest.  Take a look at “midnight” in Keflavik at the airport (with the dragon’s egg type sculpture welcoming you to the country!).  It was even darker than it usually is because of the clouds, but this is truly the land of the midnight sun.

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I had completely forgotten (stupidly!) that since I was in Iceland, that meant there would be free access to Somersby, or my all time favorite drink in the world.  Its an alcoholic cider that I used to drink all the time in Sweden.  When we went through Duty Free on the way out of the airport, I made sure to pick up a pack for myself.  #priorities

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In the morning we got up and had breakfast at the hotel.  It was my favorite kind: the typical Scandinavian options with bread, cheese, and jam along with some soft scrambled eggs.  They had a plate of kleinur, or Icelandic donuts, that were not very sweet at all but had a very traditional twisted diamond shape.  Perfect with a cup of coffee!

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Alec’s flight landed and we walked the 2 minutes to the airport to wait for them in Arrivals.  After about 20 minutes, the fantastic trio emerged with my perfect baby niece, Eva, in hand!

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Our Airbnb host, Johannes, came to pick us up and even though he had a relatively large car, we were 6 in total and had a ton of baby luggage.  We just baaaaaaarely fit in to the car hugging the stroller and bags on our laps.  Ingun managed to get a snap from the car:

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We arrived at the Airbnb in the middle of Reykjavík about 45 minutes from the airport. It was what I expected– two bedrooms, a small kitchen (IKEA!), a bathroom, and a living room where I was to sleep.  It wasn’t fancy but its just what we needed for our stay.

Unfortunately it was set to rain every single day we were in Iceland, but we checked the weather and determined that the next day, Thursday, was the best day to spend outside seeing the national park, waterfalls, and geysers since it was the only day with no scheduled rain.

We spent the rest of Wednesday settling in and walking around the city which was only 5 minutes from the apartment and full of cute shops and restaurants.  Ingun and I took Eva out for a walk and a nap and went up to Hallgrimskirkja, a huge church in the city that is famous for its interesting architecture, and around the main shopping street, Laugavegur.

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We walked back home and I played with Eva for a while all throughout the apartment. We brought her a wooden iPhone toy (because she keeps stealing Ingun’s phone!) which was great fun.  I also realized that the snapchat filters work on babies…. game OVER!

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We found dinner at a local restaurant and I had the seafood soup which was DELICIOUS. And then we went back to the apartment and were all asleep by 8 :)

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Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventures to the waterfalls and national parks in Iceland!

day 9 down under: bondi beach, surfers, opals, and darling harbour

June 25th, 2017

On my last day in Sydney, I had a plan to maximize my day to see as many places as I could in the time I had left.  I slept in until 8am and got ready for the day.  The hotel had a really nice breakfast and I knew I would be out sightseeing all day so I needed a good energy boost.  It was pricey, as are most things in Sydney, so I had a bigger breakfast than I normally would have so it would tide me over until an early dinner later on.  I made sure to grab a tiny vegemite to bring back States-side at the end of the meal!

There was banana bread EVERYWHERE in Oz and I probably ate it 4 or 5 times on the whole trip.  Lucky for me, I am obsessed with banana bread.  So I couldn’t pass it up on my last breakfast either!  I also found some smoked salmon and cucumbers (an homage to my beloved Sweden), and soft scrambled eggs alongside roasted mushrooms.  I finished the meal with a flat white which was made perfectly (my coffee-professional brother would be proud!)

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My plan for the rest of the day was to take advantage of my Hop On Hop Off bus ticket, as well as my “Flexi 5” pass that got me admission to my choice of 5 out of a list of 40 attractions in Sydney.  I had purchased the pass Friday morning, before my flight to Sydney was cancelled from Canberra, so I had chosen 5 attractions to visit over two days. Since I only had this one full day in Sydney, I had to squeeze in as many visits as I could.

The Hop On Hop Off bus in Sydney has two routes: City and Bondi Beach.  I looked at the map and planned out my stops.  I decided to take the City tour just a few blocks around the main areas of the city and then swap to the Bondi tour at the Australian National Museum.  I wanted a good chunk of the day for Bondi, then I would swap back to the City tour later and finish at Darling Harbour.

The Hop On Hop Off, as touristy as it is, gave me a heap of information about the city itself and was a nice way to have control over when I wanted to explore or when I needed it to function like a taxi!  Downtown Sydney, although it is filled with high rises, is full of history and was calm and peaceful on a Sunday morning as I toured through it.

PS- take note of the tiny little dots up the side of that building— WINDOW WASHERS. Bless them, I would have had a heart attack.

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Originally I had planned to go to the Australian National Museum using my pass, but when I got there I quickly turned around.  There was a new exhibit, how fun, ALL ABOUT SPIDERS.  Nope.  Bye.

Instead, I walked across the street to St. Mary’s Cathedral which was lit up beautifully in the sunlight on the edge of Hyde Park.  As I got closer I noticed that there was an ice skating rink just in front of it, a pop-up one for the winter, and I was very tempted to rent some skates right there.  But I had a day ahead of me and instead laughed as the Aussies skated in full on winter coats and hats in the 70º weather :)

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The spot to swap to the Bondi tour was outside of the cathedral so I hopped on and continued on my way.  On the way there I saw buildings that have been marked as heritage buildings so they cannot be altered on the outside.  It kept the city’s charm as big modern high-rises came up around the sites.  We also saw the Coca Cola sign in Kings Cross which is the largest billboard in the Southern Hemisphere.  Fun fact: it was built in 1974 and remained lit every single day until it was switched off for the very first time for one hour in 2007 to observe Earth Hour.

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We traveled down Oxford Street where most of the nightlife is in Sydney.  It reminds me of Adams Morgan in DC.  There were tons of pubs and shops and restaurants and was super colorful!  Oxford St. took us directly to Bondi Beach, and I was so excited to arrive!

Bondi comes from an aboriginal word for the noise that the waves make on the rocks. It is a spectacular beach, even in the winter.  It was beautifully sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and a good 72º on the beach itself.  Bondi is one of the most popular beaches in Australia and I can see why– its about a kilometer of gorgeous sand and warm water.

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On the righthand side theres a swim club right on the seashore, home of the Bondi Icebergs. Started in 1929, there was a rule that to gain membership, you had to swim 3 of 4 Sundays of each month in the winter, (May – September) for five years.  If you did, you got access to the swim club which includes amazing baths right on the edge of Bondi itself.  Its a sea pool so the water comes directly in to the pool when the waves are high.  SO COOL.  I was there on a Sunday so the club was absolutely PACKED.

Check out this picture of their pools (taken as a still from this short YouTube video which you should also watch!)

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Here’s my view from up the beach:

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I spent the next hour sitting in the sand, working on my tan, and watching all of the surfers in the water.  It was “winter”, as I’ve said, but I got some funny looks when I showed up with my sleeves and pants rolled up and no jacket :)

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There were no less than 100 surfers out there as I watched, almost all in wetsuits to keep them warm.  The waves were not super high but enough for a fun day on the board I’m sure.  I was impressed as I watched!

 

I snapped some shots of the surfers around me as they paddled out to the waves.  They were of all ages– from young kids to older Aussies who had been surfing their whole lives.  It was amazing to think of this being a regular part of their weekend activities!  I wish I could say the same!

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I soaked up the sun for a few more minutes, not wanting to leave.  What a spectacular place.

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When I finally got up and dusted the sand off myself, I went to explore the town.  It felt like a perfect beachy town with shops, restaurants, and boutiques.  A friend of mine had given me a tip to go find some opal while I was in Oz, and I was excited to find the shop he mentioned in Bondi.  Opal is my birthstone and I have quite a family connection with precious stones and rocks via both of my grandfathers.  My grandpa Wally is a geologist and my abuelito Henry imported stones from all over the world to his jewelry stores.

The store was called Bondi Beach Opals, Minerals & Fossils and as soon as I walked in I met the owner, Edmond Lahoud.  He stopped me in my tracks at how much he reminded me of Henry.  I told him I was looking for a ring and he sized my finger and brought out the most amazing selection I’ve ever seen.  I told Edmond about my grandfathers and he was charmed that I had come by- a fellow mineral lover, he could tell.  He showed me black opals which I had never seen before– they present themselves in hundreds of different shades and colors.  I was drawn to a sapphire blue opal set between two zirconia and it fit perfectly.  Edmond said he knew, as soon as I saw it, that it would be the one I would choose!  I also picked out a white opal necklace for my mom which was set in a gold setting on a gold chain.  Beautiful.

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We talked for half an hour about stones, about his annual trips to Tucson, AZ for the Gem, Mineral, and Fossil show (the biggest on Earth, he says!) and about my grandfathers. He gave me his card and wrote his details on the back.  As I was about to leave, he pulled out a chunk of unrefined black opal (you know its a black opal, he said, because there is a black line on the outside of the rock!) to give to my Grandpa Wally as a gift from one stone lover to another.  What an incredible man!

As it was a Sunday and there were lots of things happening in Bondi, I checked out a craft market that was taking place at the local Bondi Beach Public School.  It had tons of handmade clothing, books, photos, artwork, and jewelry.  There was even a small “puppy parking” spot at the start of the market!  Ha!

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After the market I hopped back on the bus and headed back towards the city. We went through Rosehill, one of the most expensive zip codes in all of Sydney, that had insane views of both Bondi and Sydney Harbour.  We didn’t stop for photos so I didn’t get a great shot of the Harbour, but there were hundreds of sailboats out for a breathtaking Sunday afternoon!

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We wound around the city and I switched back to the City tour to continue on to Darling Harbour where more of the attractions were.  I hopped off and went to explore the bridge that takes you across the harbour to shops and activities.  It could not have been a more beautiful day!

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I started out at the Wild Life and Aquarium attractions which I mistakenly thought was the Sydney Zoo everyone had been raving about.  It only took me about 45 minutes to go through each one (taking my time, mind you) and they were interesting but not as cool as Featherdale which I had visited the day before.  Next time I’m in Sydney I’ll go to the REAL zoo, Taronga, for certain!

There were a few cool animals I hadn’t seen before, and some kangaroos ready for a pat. The aquarium had beautiful sharks, jellies, and rays, but was tiny for an aquarium in a city like Sydney.  I did get to see an amazing Mantis Shrimp, the one that has 100 color receptors (we have 3!).

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After I finished at the wildlife zoo and aquarium, it was about 4:30PM and I was hungry and hadn’t eaten since breakfast!  I walked around Darling Harbour at sunset before the restaurants opened at 5.

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When the did open, I found one right on the water that had a two course dinner offered for AUD$30, about $22USD, and it was a proper Aussie steak. I told myself I’d have a real Australian meal on my last night and I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful setting!  I started with the calamari, which were the biggest and most tender pieces of squid I’d ever had.  It looked as thick as the pieces I’d fish with in Tampa far out in the bay!

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My main course was a med rare steak with a gigantic prawn on top, sitting on potato mash and garlic butter.  So good.

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I hopped back on the bus after dinner, properly full, and went back to my hotel.  I was exhausted but had made the most of my one full day in the city.  Sydney is spectacular and I would move there in a heartbeat :)