This year is an exciting one. I’ve spent Easter in Australia. Unlike my previous couple of trips, I’ll not be traveling alone, my girlfriend Lilian will be accompanying me on my trip Down Under!
My trip started with a 5 hr 40min plane ride from Toronto to San Francisico. In sunny California, I wait 6 hours before boarding the one and only flight tonight heading to Auckland at 8:30pm PST. Initially, I was prepared for a flight from hell but it turned out to be only a 12 hr flight. The highlight of the flight was the safety video, which usually puts me to sleep but this safety video was actually entertaining. Since the launch of The Hobbit, Air NewZealand’s latest tagline is The airline to middle-earth. They adopted the LOTR theme in their safety video, it started with Queen Galadriel introducing the importance of knowing the safety procedures, then we see guest appearance from the grandsons of JRR Tolkien as Hobbits, Sir Peter Jackson, and of course Gollum.
After traveling for 29 hours, I finally arrived in Sydney!!! Transportation here is relatively convenient and prices are reasonable. For my 8 day stay, I purchased a weekly multi pass for zone one, which costs $44 AUD and gives you unlimited travel within CBD including train, lightrail, and ferries. To get from and to the airport (domestic and international), you need to get a gateway pass that costs $15.90 AUD one way and $24 AUD for return within a week. Within 30mins, I arrived at the Oaks Goldbrough hotel around 10:30am on Pyrmont street. I was so looking forward to a hot shower and a cat nap. To my disappointment, they did not have any room available for early check-in. So I took a walk along Prymont street where I ended up at the Star- a casino, restaurant,and club complex.
Even only being in the city for less than 3 hours, I already fell in love with Sydney. The weather perfect- sunny and dry, just the perfect weather to lounge at a sidewalk cafe to do some people watching. I especially enjoy strolling down their streets lined with quaint little victorian houses.
The streets were rather quiet this morning, with a few office workers lingering on the street after their coffee break.
For dinner tonight, I ventured into the Chinatown across Paddy market. It was busy, even on a tuesday night. I saw a lot of business people getting back from work and like me are looking for a place to grab a bite. The Chinatown here is like little Hong Kong. There are so many Hong-Kongers and mainlanders roaming the street. The male are all dressed in formal dress shirts and fitting dress pants with matching leather shoes. While the women are all dressed in fitted one-piece dresses accessorized with the staple LV or Gucci purse. At the end of the night, I settled for Malaysian food at The Malay Village. This place had people lining out the door since 7pm. One of the vocal point of this restaurant is their roti-chef who makes a show out of making roti from dough. I ordered a Hawaiian roti, which is roti filled with ham, cheese and pinapple. It was meant to be eaten with 3 sauces- sweet-n-sour plum source, spiked tamarine sauce, and a chili sauce. The meal was delicious and it was resonably priced at $13AUD.
My mind refused to shut off-it’s 3am and I couldn’t fall back to sleep. At 6:30am, I gave up and decided to hit the gym. By 8:30am, I was dressed and ready to join the thousands of workforce of Sydney. Rush hour in this city reminded me of the rush hour in Hong Kong island. The working class is definitely more dressed up here than in Toronto. No offence to Torontonians, we’ve got style, it’s just that our style is more laid back. Ladies here are dressed in their one-piece dresses or tight pencil skirts with 4″ heels.
Weather today was bright, sunny and humid, just the way I like it. I got into the office right around 9am, the office is on the 23rd floor with a view of the Harbor bridge. I lucked out today, the Marketing team had a farewell lunch for a colleague at the nearby Australia hotel. They had ordered various delicacies like crocodile pizza. Crocodile meat tasted much like chicken but much leaner. Food was amamzing and company was great.
Following lunch, they had a birthday celebration for March babies. Instead of getting cupcakes like we do in the Toronto office, they had full-on cakes. This month, they had 5 full size cakes- chocolate mouse, carrot cake, fruit cake, strawberry shortcake, and caramel cake. The day couldn’t have been better.
In the evening, I decided to make a trip to Circular Quay to check out the Opera House and The Rocks. The weather was nice and sunny today, with temperature reaching way above 30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t really have any expectations when I decided to visit Sydney cove. When the train pulled into the station, I was stunned and awed at the first sight of the grand Opera House alongside the Harbor bridge. With the sunset as the backdrop, the structures looked surreal.
Throughout my walk, I must’ve seen over a hundred of runners, jogging around the harbor. Many carried weights on their backs. Seriously, I feel so out of shape looking at them. I will later learn Sydneians tops the most active and health conscious.
Lil arrives today! I was starting to feel a little lonely in this big urban hub. Her plane arrived at 7:20am in the morning. I decided to stayed at the hotel to greet her before leaving for work. At 9:30am, there was a knock on my hotel room door. She looked lovely in a laced white top. I met her at the door, gave her a great big hug and told her how wonderful it is to see her. We stayed in the room to chat for a bit before I headed to work around 12:30pm. Since it was the day before Easter weekend, people at the office were handing out Easter eggs going and Lindt chocolate bunnies. I got out of the office around 5pm, in time to catch the crazy rush hour as everyone is trying to get out of the city for the long weekend.
Our original plan was to take a night tour around Sydney cove. To our surprise, we got into the middle of what seemed like a rain & wind storm. A few minutes after getting off the train, we were hit by horizontal rains from all directions. Our summer dresses flew as our umbrellas flipped. The rain drove us back to our hotel .
We ended the night with dinner at Cyren, a grill and seafood house at Darling Harbor. I ordered a petite steak with mash potato and my new favourite drink- Pear cider. The steak was juicy, the meat was so tender it practically melted in my mouth. The mash potato was sprinkled with deep fried onion- yum. The restaurants in the Darling Harbour is very plasticized (my new favourite word) as expected. Prices are higher as expected for a tourist area. I was told the local steak is a must-try. For my dinner at Cyren- the bill came up up to $45 AUD including 10% tip.
I woke up around 3am again this morning but this time I was able to fall back to sleep till 8:30am. Our original plan was to make this our beach day at the Manly beach. Unfortunately, we woke up to cloudy skies loaded with rain clouds.
To stick to our travel budget, we brought some basic groceries to make breakfast and lunch. As with everything, groceries were expensive in the city. A bunch of 4 bananas cost me $4 AUD and 2 lbs of grapes cost me $5 AUD. To get a loaf of whole-grain bread, you should expect to spend about $4 AUD or more.
To get to Manly beach we took the 12pm ferry from Circular Quay. Taking the ferry was pretty frequent, it came every 30min. But don’t expect the ferry to be a quick ride, it took us 45 minutes to get to Manly. When researching for this trip, I noticed there is a big discussion about whether Manly or Bondi is the better beach. The beach at Manly is bigger than Bondi and the waves seems bigger at Manly. At Manly Wharf, you find amazing cafes like the Max Brenner, which offers, in my opinion, the best and richest hot chocolate.
After our ferry ride from Manly to Circular Quay, we took another ferry to Watsons Bay. This ferry ride was a lot quicker than the previous one. We got to Watsons Bay just in time to catch the sunset. We arrived to see a garden surrounded by rows of million dollar homes that looked exactly like the ones you see in magazines.
On the island we got a glimpse of New South Whales stunning coastline. We couldn’t leave the island without trying Doyle’s fish and chips. It didn’t disappoint. The fish was fried in a light beer batter,both the chips and fish were chewy and juicy. Instead of getting a tartar sauce, we got a sweet, thick chilli plum sauce. It was “interesting”…
To end the day, we made a visit to Kings Cross- the red light district of Sydney. The street of Darlinghurst was filled with adult shops, strip clubs, and small pubs. We also found quite a few hostels peppered between the adult entertainment. With rent being so high within the city ($1200 AUD/monthly), being on the outskirts makes sense for low cost accommodation.
Today we set off to visit the famous Bondi beach. It was a glorious day, just perfect for a walk along the coast. The first thing we wanted to do is to head off to a local cafe for a cup of hot coffee under the sun.
We looked out at the crystal ocean, with its aqua blue water. Unlike yesterday, the air is still, the sky was clear and the sun was shinning brightly. At the beach, we saw groups of surfers waiting in the ocean for the next break, from a distance, they looked like a school of fish hanging out in the ocean.
Our plan for the rest of the morning was to take a 1hr leisure walk to the Bronte beach. 20min into our walk, a jogger running in the opposite direction pointed to the sky and said “Jesus!” Despite being a Christian, my initial thought was, he must be nuts. But then when I looked up, I saw a plane making the following message in the sky:
The plan for the evening was to explore Sydney’s nightlife. When we starting planning the night, we realize how seriously Sydneysiders are about work/life balance. Some restaurants were closed and areas like Wooloomooloo and Surrey Hills turned into ghost towns for the entire long weekend from friday to monday. The only things opened were in touristy spots like Sydney cove, Darling Harbor and of course Chinatown.
We ended up at the Opera House this evening and had dinner at the Opera kitchen. I ordered the king salmon with a side of fennel salad accessorized with figs and walnut, the salad was a surprisingly tastey combination. On our search for a bar with live music, we came across the Opera bar. The singer and the band were both amazing so we decided to stay. We partied the night away to covers of pop songs, dancing under the stary sky with the Harbor bridge to the right and the Opera House just above us. Surreal.
On this Easter sunday, I attended the Hillsong Easter service at the Sydney entertainment centre. Given the fame of this mega church, I wasn’t too surprised to see well over 1000 people at the theatre. It was a grand production, equipped with professional audio systems and stage full of worship leaders. Today’s message was based from the book of Ezra- turning glory in ruins to glorious ruins. It’s an analogy to Jesus, as God’s glory, dying on the cross (ruin) and how that turned into our salvation.
For lunch, we went for some good’ol Chinese food at a Chinese restaurant recommended by Anthony Bordain-the Golden Century seafood restaurant. Then we shopped at Paddy’s market- a flea market full of tourists looking for UGG counterfeits, expensive knock-off purses and souvenirs of all sorts. Standard of living here is so high that even counterfeits sold in flea markets are more expensive than other countries.
For our next stop, we headed to Queen Victoria Building. But for this Easter long weekend, 80% of the shops were closed. Lil was a little disappointed but I found it quite pleasant to explore the old victorian buildings without the shopping crowd. Our next stop was Surrey hill, an area just south west of CBD. But it turned out just as quiet as QVB. There were barely anyone on the streets. Still Lilian loved the area. It was close to the city yet far enough to offer a quaint small town feeling.
Woke up bright and early at 6:45am to catch our bus tour to Blue Mountain and area. At the Star Central bus terminal, we were greeted by John the driver. He looks to be in his mid 40s, 5″4, he seemed to have a brown, Mohawk hair style that looked like it was a wig. Here drivers don’t just drive, he was also our guide.
Our first stop today is a lookout at the scenic rock formation called The three sisters. Then we headed off to Scenic world where we get a chance to experience the scenery and visit the mining town of Katoomba within the Blue mountain area via their 3 rides- the Railway, the Cableway, and the gondola.
Blue mountain got it’s name from the eucalyptus trees. The leaves from the trees react with the air giving it a tint of blue when viewed from a distance. The best part of the Scenic world has to be the train ride. It was said to be the world’s steepest incline train ride.
Our final stop was the Featherdale animal park just outside of Sydney. Here we got to see a lot of the Australian native animals including- the kangaroo, koala bear, baby woombats, dingos, crocodiles, pelican, emu, and Tasmanian devil.
Our driver/guide’s favourite topic is real estate. He explained houses near Leichthan and surrounding area just outside of Sydney cost $400K for a 2 bedroom detached home. The condos near the Olympic park, which is at least a 30min subway ride from CBD, costs $600K for a 3 bedroom suite.
For the next part of our trip, we’re heading to Melbourne- cultural capital of Australia!! The building in this city is amazing- Victorian building, accent trams, and tucked away laneway with hidden gems.
Unfortunately, soon after I arrived, I fell ill due to the ever changing weather. After sleeping for 11 hours, the cold & flu symptoms subsided quite a bit this morning. My body still ached but I feel a lot more energetic.
Today we are going on our tour to the Great Oceans road- the main reason why I traveled 20K Miles, across the Atlantic Ocean to Down Under. We met the rest of our tour group at Federation Square- half of which are young chinese students. To our surprise, this turned out to be a 12 hours day. Today is a chilly day with morning temperature at 8 degrees. We drove an hour to Tourquay- the head quarter of Rip Curl and Quiksilver. The sky was blanketed with think grey clouds. Temperature near the coastline plummeted with the strong winds. We got to Tourquay around 9am. The town was still sleeping with only a few stores and bakery opened.
Then we headed off to the resort town of Angleseas with a population of less than 3000. We stopped at Apollo Bay for lunch. At 1pm we started heading off to the Twelve Apostles. The sky was still clouded and windy. Still the coastline was stunning. The grey sky actually heightened the experience by adding power to the waves and changing the water to a light turquoise color.
To absorb the scene, I just stood on the boardwalk listening to the roaring ocean below. In year 2000, 3 of the “apostles” had collapsed, leaving behind only 8. Our next stop is Lord Ard Gorge- the location of a tragic shipwrech leaving 52 dead and only 2 survivors.
Next, we headed to Port Campbell- a quaint little town to home of many hostels. Our final stop is the London bridge. Parts of the bridge had fallen in 1990, trapping 2 visitors, one male and one female. It was said the two striked a relationship after the ordeal.
Dinner at Southgate next to South bank. Restaurant called Bear Brass(http://bearbrass.com.au/menu.html). There I had my first taste of pork belly, their Berkshire pork belly ($17 CAD). The top was baked to perfection, crisp, crunchy served with a touch of vinaigrette that helps to offset the heavy dish.