Tag Archives: Oz

Blue Mountains

So Tuesday was probably our busiest day of the whole visit. While wandering around the harbour, we had found the booking office of a tour company which offered very reduced rates for coach tours departing the next day (I guess a full coach is better than a half full one if it is going on the tour anyway), so we duly booked a trip up to the Blue Mountains. We went down for breakfast at about 0715, and the coach collected us about 30 minutes later. We rendezvoused with a few other coaches, all of which had been collecting passengers from various hotels dotted around Sydney, and then everyone switched to their particular tour, and we all headed off in different directions.

In my mind, coach tours are for the elderly, school groups and ‘special’ people, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a very varied age range, and a jovial, well  informed and particularly garrulous coach driver who took care of us for the day. He gave a running commentary about everything from the origins of modern Sydney via the history and development of the highway system around Sydney, to the  cost of housing in every neighbourhood and area we passed through.

Our first stop was at Featherdale wildlife park, in the outer reaches of Sydney suburbs. As zoos go it was nice enough, and the tamer wildlife was free to roam at will, with ‘refuges’ that they could retreat to if they didn’t want human interaction. There were wallabies, kangaroos, koalas, a large variety of birds and various snuffling beasts that were wandering about, plus a whole host of other Australian beings in cages and displays. We got to stroke koala’s, and feed various other marsupials who were very friendly and curious. One highlight was a mother wallaby with a baby sticking out of her pouch.

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We left the park, and the ceaseless commentary picked up again. We were now headed for Leurah, a quaint and sleepy town up in the mountains, where we were given an hour to have lunch. Our home-made sandwiches were supplemented by a lovely coffee in an old café – the mountains were about 10 degrees colder than Sydney, so warm drinks were appreciated. After lunch we herded back onto the bus and trundled off again.

The Blue Mountains get their name for the blue-ish haze that often settles over the valleys and, when viewed from afar, makes the whole range appear to be blue. The sun warms the Eucalyptus trees, which emit tiny droplets of oil, and these produce the hazy blue tint. The region is really beautiful, as well as being historically very important. It was the opening up of a route through the blue mountains that allowed the early settlers to expand their colonisation of Australia beyond the boundaries of Sydney. For a long time they were thought impassable, both due to the rugged terrain and the ferocity of the locals, but eventually three explorers  found a way through, and opened up access to the rest of the continent for the settlers. Until then, many believed China to be hiding behind the massive range of mountains, but instead very suitable agricultural farmlands were opened up.

After stopping at a lovely view-point, to gaze at the Three Sisters (a lovely Aboriginal tale surrounds the shape of these large rocky outcrops) and also to buy a hat to keep Jelly Beans ears warm, we went into the visitor centre at Katoomba. You have a choice of walking down into the Jameson valley, Going for a trip across the roof of the valley in a sky-car, going down via a cable car,  or taking the worlds steepest railway, which is what we did. The railway was originally built to support the coal mining activity in the valley, but quickly got used for visitors who wanted a quick way down. It goes down an incline of 52 degrees, and is very steep indeed.

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At the bottom, we walked along a boardwalk tough the lovely trees, and were followed by a curious bird for much of the way -it was a large crow or avian of similar design. After a lovely walk, we got the cable-car back up to the top, and again indulged in a warm drink and took some pictures, while staying out of the ever-strengthening wind.

The coach stopped at another lookout vantage, we took more pictures quickly (in order not to be blown 1500 metres down to the valley below), and then headed back toward Sydney. At the outskirts, we detoured into the Olympic park, and had a quick tour through the area, looking at the various stadia and facilities that were built for the 2000 Olympics. The driver then dropped us at the local ferry wharf, and we got the ferry back to town. Whew!

Grey and Dull

Every now and then, Sydney has a grey, wet day. I guess it just needs to highlight how fantastic the weather here is by giving a little contrast once in a while. So we woke up to a very dull, drizzly sky, and decided that perhaps it would be best not to do too much walking or outdoor-ing. Instead, we looked out of the window, and our eyes alighted upon the Aquarium and Wildlife-world below the hotel, so that was that. We were going to meet the wonderful creatures of Oz.

First we tackled the aquarium. The first creature on display was duck-billed platypus. It was hiding from us, so we decided to move on, but as we left we heard the squeal of excited Japanese girls, and went back to be confronted with a really strange looking creature swimming to and fro in its tank. I didn’t get any pics, but it is worth looking up, as it is most curious. The only egg-laying mammal, it defies description.

We wandered through lots of tanks of different coloured, shaped and sized marine animals, and then went up to the ‘mermaid tank’ to see the Dugongs. A close relative of the manatee (well known to our Florida branch of the family and those who have visited there), it is a sea dweller who, it is thought, gave rise to the mermaid legends. They are rather strange looking creatures, and eat an enormous amount of food. I think that only horny sailors who had been at sea for months without fresh food ro much water would mistake them for lovely sea-maids, but perhaps standards were different in those days. The aquarium employ 4 dedicated staff, who work full time on feeding these 2 dugongs, who eat between them over 200Kgs of lettuce a day. I know that lettuce isn’t their usual diet at sea, but apparently they like it, and it is difficult to get the seaweed and kelp in the quantities that these 2 need. The staff feed them continuously from 8 am until closing time at 6pm.

They also had a shark tank with some mean looking critters, and a bunch of other wierd and wonderfuls. We spent a few hours, then headed out for a quick lunch, before returning to the wildlife world. Neither of us are fans of zoos, but the entry was part of the aquarium ticket, and we were keen to meet some of the well known Aussie mammals. I think that Darwin was having a joke on the rest of us when he created sonme of these creatures – and their names are pretty cool too. Wombats, Koalas (who aren’t even bears, but actually marsupials, which means they came originally from Mars), Wallabies, Kangas and Roos, Bruces and Sheilas, Possums, Echidnas and many others. We gawked and ogled, and fell in love with the very cuddly and very sleepy Koalas. I thnk that I want to be a Koala when I grow up. The don’t do much at all, except sleep and eat a bit – heaven.

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In the evening we went up to Sydney Tower, which is a massive mast in the middle of Sydney with a restaurant and observation deck high above the city. We had a pleasant meal while the restaurant revolved at a slow pace, taking about 45 minutes to complete one revolution. The views were marvelous, and we felt like we were on top of the world.

Bondi

One of the names that most people know in reference to Sydney, and even Australia, is Bondi Beach. Surfers everywhere speak about it, and tourists who have been speak in hyperbole about it – so we thought we would go for a visit. Jelena and I met through a mutual friend, young Keith. Now when young Keith was even younger (when the world was still in black and white), he spent some time living in Sydney. He put us in touch with a good mate over here, so we met up with Mal and Carol for a coffee. They live near Bondi Junction, so we got the train over, and they picked us up on the way to Westfield,a large and thoroughly modern shopping mall.

We had coffee and some goodies, and chatted for a long time, finding out all about Keiths darkest secrets. Then Mal and Carol gave us a lift to Ben Buckler point, which overlooks the northernmost poing of the mile-ling Bondi beach. The view was spectacular, and set the scen for the rest of the day. Our plan was to walk down the coast, along a trail that has been laid out to cater for just such a meander, and which mostly hugs the costline for a long way.

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After taking in the view for a while, we climbed down to the rocks and pools below the pint, and Lena went off to investigate the ocean spray, which was also spectacular. We then ambled down to the beach, and all the way along to the south end. At the far end of the beach is a club called Icebergs, so named because the members swim daily at 6 am, all year round, and put large chunks of ice into the water before doing so. Don’t ask why, cos I don’t know, but I think somebody spent a bit too much time drinking beer in the sun. Anyway, not to feel left out, we went into the club and decided to join in the mood, by drinking beer in the sun. The view, once more, defies description, but basically the floor to ceiling windows, and balcony, overlook the whole of Bondi. We were sat about parallel with the surfers below, and had lunch (fabtastic burgers) while enjoying the sun and the view.

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Once we were done, we headed out again, and walked down the coast along paths, cliffs, boardwalks and roadways. We walked a total of about 8kms down the coast, via beautiful coves and bays such as Bronte Bay, Tamarama Bay, Clovelly Bay, as far as Coogee bay. We got their around dusk, and had a beer in a very loud, very large hotel, filled with backpackers and tourists and 80% of the population of Ireland. It was too noisy for us, so we hopped onto a bus back to town. We went back to the hotel, then wandered off to find some food. We found a queue outside a Malaysian place, so decided (both of us becoming bery British) to join the queue. If so many people were prepared to wait for this food, it must be good. And it was.

The make Roti’s in a traditional Malaysian way. The dough is spun very thin, then fried on a large flat metal stove, tih or without goodies inside the roti. Delicious, cheap, and well worth the 40 minute wait in the queue.

Lena in Oz

So Lena arrived yesterday for a ten-day visit to Sydney. I went to meet her at the airport at silly o’clcok in the morning, and she was pretty tired after about thirty-something hours of travel. We went back to the hotel and Lena had a few hours of sleep while I did some work. After I woke her, we headed out for a walk, and went down to Circular Quay and the rocks. We wandered about for a bit, then walked over the harbour bridge to the north shore.

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Sat in a street-side cafe and had a drink, then walked down to the jetty, and caught the ferry back to Darling Harbour. Quick shower, then we headed north again to meet my colleagues for a Friday night out. We went to a pub which was huge, and sat outside under a massive oak tree shivering our bits off – it was pretty cold for Sydney. We finally found enough place to get 14 of us onto a table inside, and had a lovely supper. Basically, you chose your cut of raw meat, then went to the grill where you cooked it yourself. I made lovely steak for me and Lena- somehow hers turned out better than mine. Not sure how that happened, but anyway….

We spent the evening playing pool, drinking beer, and generally having a good time. Had a good sleep, then headed out this morning after breakfast down to Darling Harbour. We walked through Tumbalong park, and had a ride on the big Ferris wheel, which gave us lovely views of this part of the world. We then went into the Chinese Garden, a gift from the people of Guangdong Province, which was magical.

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The garden was beautiful and very peaceful. After a nice quiet walk, we had some tea and Dim Sum, then headed through China Town to Paddys Market. We only bought one small souvenir there, which was pretty good, then briefly came back to the hotel before hopping on to the ferry to Circular Quay once more. We got there after a beautiful ferry ride, and headed to the market on the Rocks. We ate some sushi, and looked at shiny things and more Aussie souvenirs, before walking around to the Opera house, where we had a couple of glasses of wine while watching the sunset against the backdrop of the Harbour Bridge and the whole bay. Most lovely indeed. Then train-ed it back to our part of the world, where we went to my favourite steak-house for a proper piece of nicely cooked meat. Fab. Now we are back in the hotel, with tired legs and full bellies, getting ready to rest before another busy day tomorrow. Aiming to head to Bondi and surrounds.

Be good

Pyrmont

On a beautiful walk at the moment. Walked via Darling harbour around the shore and explored Pyrmont. Fab views, glorious sunshine, now about to have a beer, some olives, and then pasta for lunch, sat outside a cafe baking in the sun. Paradise.

Dances with Eels

Back in Oz – been here a few days, Was not nearly so badly jet-lagged this time, only spent a day or two as a zombie, then reverted to my usual inert and inactive lively self once more. I need to get back inot the habit of blogging – a couple of weeks off and I have become very remiss.

Anyway, worked the back half of last week, then had a weekend to re-orient myself. I went out to Newtown on Saturday, which was fab. It is a very bohemian and alternative centre, with all kinds of shops and eateries. Lots of second-hand book stores, and a fair amount of art-deco shops, about 200 Thai restaurants and a bunch of others. Walked up and down King St enjoying the sites and sounds, had a haircut and a cup of cofee in a cafe, then headed back to the city.

On Sunday I caught the ferry which went to Parramatta. It is the furthest stop up-river that the ferries go – at that point the river is less than 25 metres wide. The trip is very picturesque, and the different waterways look very exciting – I would love to spend a few days on a boat exploring the harbour. It was low tide, which meant that the ferry couldn’t actually do the final bit of the trip, so they put us on a coach for the last 15-20 minutes.

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Parramatta is a sleepy town,  with quite a developed CBD, but not a lot happening on a Sunday. I had lunch at a lovely Lebanese restaurant on the river, then walked along the river to Parramatta Park and had a great stroll around there for an hour, before walking back to town and getting the train back to central Sydney. Apparently Parramatta means “the places where the eels lie down” or some such in the aboriginal dialect.

Swimming in the rain

Riga is so hot at the moment, it was about 33 or 34 today, so we decided to go to the seaside for a swim. On the way, the skies opened up and we have had a tropical storm. This didn’t stop us, but we were already totally wet by the time we got to the sea. Still, we changed into our costumes and had a lovely rainy swim. Drying out now in a cafe with a beer.

Where’s Brad

So after my long schlep home, I have bounced on again. Lena and I flew to Riga this morning at an hour that was too early even for sparrows. It is her birthday on Monday, so we are here to celebrate with her family and friends. Just been for a swim in Lake Baltezer, which was glorious as it is very hot here – was 34 degrees this afternoon.