Australia, Sydney, Uncategorized

Sydney: Coogee to Bondi Walk And Stairs Insanity (Day Three)

There are two walks that Sydneysiders recommend the most to visitors: Coogee to Bondi, and the walk by Manly beach. I asked Sal which he wanted to do, as this was his last full free day in Sydney (he’d be working during the day from here on out while we were here). He chose Coogee to Bondi. I had read it was a moderate walk and a section had some stairs, but was doable. We asked the concierge, and were told it was about an hour walk. Foreshadowing!

But first we needed to fuel up and have breakfast at Gowings Bar and Grill. It took us a bit to figure out the restaurant was in a hotel and a few floors up. The place was funky and welcoming. The restaurant had good views and the food was very tasty and hit the spot. I’d definitely go back again.

We enjoyed our breakfast and talked about how we needed water for the hike, and Sal needed more caffeine; the jetlag was strong with that one. We stocked up at a cafe by the bus stop and waited — we just missed a bus by less than a minute. It didn’t take long, though; the buses to Coogee are frequent. It was a pleasant ride. The walking path was easy to find — just follow the crowds! The views? Simply stunning. I can’t stop mentioning how great Sydney is with the benches, and they are very much needed on this walk. We took a few breaks. You walk along the coastline most of the way and there are many hills and many stairs. After every bunch of stairs when you are at the top of the hill we’d say, “oh, this is probably the last set!”, and it never was until the very end at Bondi beach. Eventually, when we would start going down, we’d be worried because we knew it meant we’d have to go back up again! We were on to their games.

Coogee-to-Bondi-map1

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Australia, Sydney, Vacations

Sydney: There’s No Way I’m Climbing That Bridge (Day Two)

The top tourist attraction is the bridge climb in Sydney. It’s where they strap you in a safety harness and connect you to cables so you don’t die if you fall. It’s where you walk up a narrow walkway and go up about a gazillion stairs to get to the top. It’s where it’s super windy because you are very, very high and on a bridge, dinkus. It’s where you can’t even take your own camera, because if you drop it you’ll probably kill the people below you. Or something. A few of our friends told us it was a “must do!”. These friends obviously don’t understand how afraid of heights I am. The fact that it costs $200 USD to do it is just the icing on top of a horrible cake. I’m afraid of heights, and I like my life, so no bueno. I don’t need to pee my pants in front of total strangers. Or have a heart attack. You can, however, walk the bridge at the pedestrian/car level and still have great views. And it’s free! So we decided to do that instead.

We woke up to a sunny day after our 9.5 hours of sleep. We still woke up when it was dark, because we went to bed at 7:30 p.m. like centenarians. We found a little French cafe near the hotel for breakfast and it was the first time I’d ever had a chocolate croissants right out of the oven. Game changer. Apparently the chef had started baking later than normal, so I was the benefactor. Very lucky because it was oh so good. We finished eating and went to pay and the woman asked us what our plans were for the day. Like I said before: these people are genuinely friendly. She said if we return to the restaurant she wanted to hear what our favorite things were that we did. So she was friendly AND smart, luring us back into her establishment for a chat about Sydney’s best attractions. Madam, you already had a guaranteed repeat customer at ‘warm chocolate croissant’. We headed out and made it maybe four blocks before stopping for more caffeine (for the walk) and a snack. Hey, we still weren’t working at 100%, so…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

We stopped at a little park on the way, as I kept spilling my tea trying to walk and drink at the same time. No comments on that one, please. Anyway, at the park look who showed up:

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bin chickens

I tried to shoo him away, but he noticed I was eating. Then I made the brilliant decision to give him a tiny bit of my treat. Real smart. And by ‘real smart’ I mean ‘real dumb’. He started following me. Did I mention these guys aren’t exactly tiny, and they are aesthetically challenged? I started high-tailing it out of there (pun intended). Sal helpfully laughed and took a pic.

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(Nic you would hate these creepy birds. They even scare me a bit.)

As you can probably guess, we left after this incident. We made our way to the stairs to get to the pedestrian walkway for the bridge.

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Australia, Sydney

Sydney: Initial Impressions (Day One)

We landed in Sydney at around 7:30 a.m. There is e-immigration here, which was new to me. It worked for Sal, but not for me, as my picture didn’t match (probably because I had my glasses on). It didn’t matter, because I only had to wait about 2 minutes to get it sorted and go through. Easy peasy. No stamp, though — boo! To top off the good luck, our suitcases were the first and fourth ones off of the belt. That has never happened to us before. Someone was throwing us a bone after the extremely long travel day. Customs just took our forms and waved us through. We’ve never gotten through customs and immigration in a foreign country so quickly. Thanks, Sydney! Points awarded!

We got out cash and decided to get an Uber and save a little money for the company, since this part of the trip is a work trip and they are paying. The Uber app didn’t tell us where to go to meet for pickup, but the airport is well signed and it was easy to find and not far from where we exited Customs.

It was an 8 minute wait for the Uber, which is about normal-ish back home at the airport, I guess. Our driver was a nice man originally from Cambodia. I don’t know if it was the jetlag or his strong accent, but I understood about 62% of what he said. (Those were the mathematically precise numbers my jet-lagged mind determined that I was comprehending.) He would say something and I would wade through the fog that was my brain at that point, and try to translate it. I did a lot of agreeing and saying, ‘ahh!’. Lord only knows what I was agreeing to 38% of the time. I did ask him if he could take us past some kangaroos. I’d like to think if he would have been an Australian native I wouldn’t have asked him that, but I doubt it. I guess we’ll have to wait until we get up north!

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Asiana, Australia, Flights

Who Keeps Farting In This Plane?

We had never spent so much time to get somewhere.

1.25 hours to JFK
+45 minutes through TSA (ridiculous!)
+14.5 hours to Seoul
+3.5 hours in Seoul
+10.5 hours to Sydney
—————————————-
A really long time.

So on the ride to JFK we ran into traffic. Luckily we had a nice, fun driver to keep us distracted.

TSA was a complete joke. They were the worst I’ve run into, probably ever. So incredibly slow. They were pulling people’s bags if there was food in them to scan. There were more bags pulled to the side for searches than actually went through. One embarrassed woman had nine small bags of pretzels. I didn’t have food, but I had tums and my bag was scanned. Seriously? Tums?? It was at least 10 minutes between when my bag was pulled and when someone finally started checking it. I was biting my tongue the whole time. Thankfully we always leave early for flights because I’m paranoid about stuff like that happening, so time wasn’t an issue.

We flew Asiana again. I’m not going to lie, I was slightly concerned after my flight with them last time. My goal was to stay awake the first flight and hopefully sleep the second. Oddly enough, the only time I felt like the flight was dragging was when there were four hours left. I only watched one movie. I listened to podcasts and read a bit. I wasn’t that interested in the available movies. Sal got a few hours of sleep. The flight itself was fine; I did note that I am not really that much of a fan of Korean food. I prefer Thai/Indonesian/Vietnamese. The plane was a newer model, though, which was pretty good and it even had a little ‘lounge’ area with a small wall of couch seats (with seat belts) and windows.

This was our second time in Seoul in a year. We had a transfer there last year on our big Asia trip, but that time we got there late at night and this time it was in late afternoon. The place was hopping.  We’d already decided to do some wandering and get some steps in to stretch our legs. It’s interesting that at a certain point in the airport they have the exact same stores again, in the same order.

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Is it just me, or does this bear look a little jetlagged, too? At the very least he’s not happy to be at the airport.

There was a quartet playing; we heard Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars, and Lionel Richie while we stopped and walked around. Eventually the crowds and stores were the same so we headed to the lounge. It was super crowded and we were quite sleepy at that point.

The second flight was in an older plane, and it showed. The bathrooms weren’t as nice and the seats themselves were pretty uncomfortable. This time I got the western food and it was not very good. Luckily I was still full from the first fight. I kept smelling gas (not petroleum) on this flight. It was bad. Thank goodness I had a scarf to cover my nose when it got so bad my nose hairs felt like they were curling. I couldn’t sleep until the mystery farting stopped. Sal fell asleep pretty quickly. He claims he wasn’t the guilty gasser. I was listening to music and playing a game on my phone when I started hearing a familiar sound: Sal snoring. I didn’t have the heart to wake him up and eventually he stopped. I slept a few hours on the flight. Not as much as I wanted to, but at least I got some sleep.

We arrived in Sydney extremely tired, but when we landed we got a second wind. It was exciting being in Australia for the first time and on a new-to-us continent. Next up: Sydney!

 

Australia, Planning, Vacations

An Unexpected Upcoming Journey

Once we decide where we are going each year, the first thing I check is if we need any immunizations. For the most part, the shots aren’t really a big deal. However, when we had to get the Japanese Encephalitis vaccinations (multiple spread over a period of time) before the big Asia trip, I got a little sick each time. This immunization basically expires after two years, so my goal was to never have to get it again. Luckily Japan was high up on our list of travel destinations, so Japan it was.

I started my research and started to come up with a broad itinerary. I downloaded an app and every day I’d spend a bid of time trying to learn how to read Japanese. Of course I spent a lot of time on TripAdvisor, as well. Things were coming together until…

Hub found out he was going to speak at a conference in Sydney.

Now Australia was on the list, but it was not high on the list. It’s very far. But it would have been silly not to take advantage of the fact that we could combine work and vacation, meaning work would pay for a significant amount of expense. So Sydney it was/is.

Suddenly I had to start from square one with the research, and semi-quickly, because we were leaving in three months.

Did you guys know that a lot of things are trying to kill you in Australia? And speaking of that, don’t get me started on the crocodile stories. I made the mistake of doing some research, and now my Google news feed blesses me with any new horrifying crocodile stories that happen in Australia. Great!

But the more I researched it, the more excited I got. And all of the sudden, it’s next week. We will be on planes for over 24 hours. Whew. This will definitely be the furthest we’ve gone. I will try to take you along for the ride and hopefully share some of the amazing things I expect we’ll be seeing and doing (WiFi permitting).

So buckle up, people. We’re headed to the other side of the world.

Click here!

 

General

Thank You, Anthony

As I said in an old post, I inherited my love for travel from my Grandma. She used to go to Europe pretty much every year, and bring me back a doll or some other keepsake. She or my Grandpa would tell a few tales of where they’d been or what she’d seen. Honestly, I don’t remember much, but I do remember the general feeling of excitement and adventure.

I never thought I’d be able to travel beyond the U.S. or the Caribbean. The first time I went to Hawaii, when I got married, was a bit of a dream come true as I never thought I would make it there unless I was extremely lucky. I was indeed.

When I moved from middle America to the East Coast it was ait of a shock, but it was ultimately a very good thing for me. I was exposed to new things that I hadn’t experienced in the Midwest. I moved to a neighborhood where I was most certainly the minority. I started trying new foods that either weren’t available back home, or that I was just too scared to try. I fell in love. I got married and we slowly started to do some traveling. Most of it was to our families. As we got older and had more expendable income, we traveled more often.

We started watching travel shows, and came upon Anthony Bourdain’s shows. This tall, geeky, self-assured man would travel to places I didn’t know that I wanted to go to. Each episode not only offered some crazy food he’d try and moan about, but more importantly showed landscapes and people that were simply amazing. I remember watching several of his episodes in Thailand and Vietnam and thinking, “Maybe we should go there?”. It was something I hadn’t even considered before.

Bourdain made it less scary to go to places where people didn’t look like you, and taught you that it was actually silly to be nervous about these places in the first place. The last episode I remember watching was him in Vietnam actually *driving* a motorbike. Not just riding it. And he looked totally comfortable.

It’s really odd to me that I had no idea the impact he had on me until I found out about his death. I didn’t understand why I was so upset. I mean, I always thought he was a good guy with maybe a little bit of jerk thrown in, but why was this so unsettling when obviously I never knew the man? I came to the conclusion that if it wasn’t for his shows I probably would never have gone to Asia or to Africa–the two best trips of our lives so far. Hell, I probably would never have gone further than the 100% comfortable places, and I would have missed out on so much. I would have missed all the best bits.

So thank you, Anthony. You opened up the world to me. RIP.

Sylvia's Stones, Vacations

Remembering Sylvia

I think in an old post I referenced Sylvia, but I never really explained how she’s part of our trips now. I know this is a travel journal, and not really all that personal, but as Sylvia is very much a part of our travels now I thought this post was overdue.

Exploring new destinations is so important and interesting to me, personally, that I love hearing about my friend’s trips or reading trip reports, etc. Not all people are like that, but my friend Sylvia definitely was. She used to love hearing about our trips in detail, and I loved reliving them with her.  When some friends and I (all from the US) visited Sylvia (in Canada) a few months after my trip to Africa, I was still high from the experience. Sylvia was basically a shut in at that point due to poor health, so one evening I asked if she wanted to see some videos we had taken on safari. The videos ranged from several seconds to several minutes, and there were over 70 of them. I had no idea we had so many, and I repeatedly told her we definitely didn’t have to watch them all. I thought it might be extremely boring, but she wanted to see them. We watched every single one and she truly enjoyed seeing the African terrain and marveled at the vibrant colors and the animals (especially the elephants).

Almost two months to the day after the visit Sylvia passed away. I truly struggled after that as I loved her dearly and she was the first close friend I had that passed away.  img_93276702323451657016472.jpg

I wanted to think of a way to keep Sylvia’s memory alive, and one day as I was looking around on Etsy I discovered these small marker stones that people get engraved to put on headstones, etc.. All of the sudden I knew exactly what we should do: get some stones made in Sylvia’s honor and start leaving them in the new places we traveled to.

img_20180525_1347432528280045699207948.jpgI wasn’t sure if it was crazy doing it, and to be honest I didn’t care. Sometimes it was tricky, sometimes it was teary, but it always felt right.

The first five stone placements can be found in the next post, or right here.

Sylvia's Stones, Vacations

Sylvia’s First Five Stones: France, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand & Vietnam

Stone 1 (France: Château d’Ussé)

We rented bikes and rode to the chateau that was said to have inspired the look of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. It seemed the perfect place to put this first stone. We knew right away that putting the stone indoors would be wrong, plus we didn’t want to take a chance of someone finding it and throwing it away.

We wandered the grounds until we found a spot that was hidden away by a brick wall/doorway. The spot overlook the water and a quaint bridge, and was in the front of the castle. Sylvia definitely would have approved.

 

Stone 2 (Indonesia: Indian Ocean)

To date, stone 2 is the only one I asked for permission to place. We were on a diving/snorkeling trip and I wanted to make sure it was OK to leave a stone in the ocean and it wouldn’t be considered littering or whatnot. It was interesting trying to explain to my guide what I wanted to do, as English wasn’t his first language (although he spoke it quite well). He eventually understood, and on one snorkel when I said ‘how about next to that purple coral – she loved the color purple’ he explained that the coral would move away. He then suggested putting it in an anemone where fish already lived so it could be in an actual home. He said it wouldn’t hurt the anemone as it was just a rock. I loved the idea, so he dove under and placed it inside. Watching this video puts a smile on my face as I remember those clown fish that live there, too, and now they have a special rock representing a special lady. I think it would be a miracle if human eyes ever saw that one again.

 

Stone 3 (Singapore: Orchid Garden)

Singapore is the greenest big city I’ve ever been to. It’s spectacularly clean, with gorgeous parks, gardens, and green spaces. We went to the orchid garden and it blew our minds with the sheer volume and variety. I knew this was where the stone belonged. The problem was we didn’t want anyone to mess around with the stone, so we needed to hide it.  It was quite a busy area and because there were so many different turns and twists inside the garden, I doubt I could find this location again. I’m sure that the people who take care of the plants there could very well find this stone, but I’m hoping they leave it. A purple flower for Sylvia.

 

Stone 4 (Thailand: Private Island)

We were on a private island south of Phuket. No cars, no traffic, private pool, breathtaking views. Bliss. Such a peaceful spot deserved a stone, so we put it with the other stones around the pool, with the amazing water view. A beautiful place to rest.

 

Stone 5 (Vietnam: Rice Terrace)

Vietnam was somewhere I didn’t expect to like, but I fell in love with it. The people are kind and welcoming and the food is amazing (and I didn’t have Vietnamese food before the trip, so that was pretty lucky!). There were so many different spots that I could have left a stone, but the rice terraces with the beautiful views and amazing tiny village below was the spot of choice.

 

Asiana, Masterpiece Trip 2017, Saigon, Vietnam

Happy Anniversary! Worst. Flight. Ever. (Long last day Saigon and Transfer to New Jersey)

Our flight wasn’t leaving until after midnight, so we had a full day and night to spend in Saigon before the long flights home. We decided the last day would be spent with a little sight seeing, some pampering, shopping, and finishing up with another motorbike tour.

We had to see if our custom stuff was done first, so we went to the tailor’s place to see if our stuff was ready. Unfortunately Sal’s wasn’t there yet so he’d have to go back later. Mine was there, so I went to try it on. I got into the little room and could barely fit the dress over my hips. I was like, “what the…how much did I actually eat at that beer tasting?!?” Then I noticed the sleeves were missing, too. Finally I figured out he had accidentally given me the sample size and not my fitted dress. We all got a good chuckle out of that one. The actual dress fit great and I loved it. Sal’s still wasn’t ready and he’d have to go back later and get his. I was slightly worried he wouldn’t get his in time, but it all worked out in the end.

We strolled a bit and checked out the Post Office.

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