We woke up early Monday morning and headed to the airport. Jake had to get back to work early that morning and Emma was kind enough to drive us. Our flight to Sydney from Melbourne was a quick hour and a half. Anxious to explore the city, we hit the streets to find more adventures. The sun was bright and the temperatures were much warmer than Melbourne, which made dressing less complicated. We stopped for lunch first at the Waterfront Restaurant, located in the harbour, and had a gluten-free pizza and iced teas. Scott chose a lemon flavor tea, while I requested the peach flavored tea. With such a heavy British influence here, iced teas aren’t typical, as they are served hot, with milk and raw brown sugar. So what they delivered to our table didn’t resemble much of an iced tea, but more of a slushy-fruit drink. Still tasty, we enjoyed our beverages and moved on to more sightseeing.
Wandering the streets of Sydney, we were excited to explore the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, famously known for the backdrop of Sydney’s New Year’s firework show. There is a pedestrian path that crosses the bridge and presents great views of the harbour and the Sydney Opera House. After a closer look, we discovered there were people actually climbing to the top of the arch of the bridge, so we checked to see what this amazing experience would cost, and found out it was $258 each. We quickly opted for the free, self-guided pedestrian path over the bridge. The view was amazing and oh so busy with walkers and cyclists. Luckily we took a load of photographs, as this would be our only sunny day in Sydney.
After covering the bridge, we made our way to the famous Sydney Opera House. The architectural design of this amazing structure was incredible. Our Aussie friend, Emma, best described it looking like a bunch of potato chips. That’s a pretty close description, until you get closer and discover all the scales on the “potato chips.” The structure is built on a self constructed peninsula, sticking out into the harbour, at the end of Circular Quay. With my fascination of old photos and Scott’s love of history we found some awesome old pictures of the area before the Sydney Opera House was built. It was definitely meant to be there.
Hot and exhausted from our hike around the city, we stopped for some beer and wine at the Opera Bar for a rest. It was packed. There were so many great areas to choose for the perfect view. Bars and restaurants lined the Quay, with great shade umbrellas and views of the Sydney Harbour. And a cool thing we found, was many of the places had laid fake turf grass to cover the concrete. We have seen a lot of this turf grass in Austin, for the efficiency of saving water on lawns, but not on concrete to cut down on the heat and reflection of the sun. What a brilliant idea!
We had a pre-dinner cocktail at the hotel bar. Our bartender, Amy, was great and shared her Australian life adventures with us. We learned that she, the front desk staff and cleaning staff all made $22 an hour. Her Bachelor’s degree did not entitle her to more money, because everyone working there made the same, unless you were in management, which earned you two dollars more. It took us two days of tipping in Australia to realize, that isn’t necessary because people are paid real wages here. We laughed knowing now why the waitresses and waiters loved us so much!
Hungry, we ventured off to find food and chose a quaint Italian restaurant, Zia Pina, that served gluten free pizza. Within 15 minutes the entire restaurant was crowded and tables were arranged in any manner to fit all the guests possible. If you wanted to get up for any reason, there wasn’t room to walk. Everyone was loud, happy and toasting cheers while a long line of people queued up outside the door. At 9 o’clock the door was locked and the red and white checkered curtains were closed. They could no longer serve the hungry customers still waiting. We were glad to have made it in time.
After dinner, as we walked down the street, the sound of acoustic music caught my attention, so we wandered into the pub for a drink. The Cricket match was earlier and the English were all in town for the event. The English lost in sweep of just 3 days (normal matches last 5 days), so they were all in the mood for drinks. We sang along with all the familiar songs and then wandered off to find another pub. Another acoustic set was playing a few doors down, so we meandered in to check out the scene. There was a large group of jolly English folks and I knew I needed to make their acquaintance. They were beyond thrilled to meet some Americans and expressed their sorrows of losing the Cricket match to the Australians. We danced, sang and toasted many cheers with new English friends. They were ecstatic to find out my name is, Angel. They insisted I copy a pose for a photo with them, which I did, holding my arms up in the air, as they instructed. They were so happy I was agreeable to the photo and then explained that I reminded them of The Angel of the North. There is a metal sculpture holding the same stance they wanted me to mimic. Delighted to know more about us, we told them our last name is Houston. They applauded. The Angel of the North is located near New Castle, which they said used to be Hugh’s Town, which is the origin of the name Houston. So they were delighted that a Scott Houston had married the Angel of the North! The clock struck midnight and we bid farewell to our English friends, from New Castle, as the pub closed.
Morning comes early in Australia. The sun begins rising here at 5:45am. I am accustomed to wearing an eye mask to bed. One of my birthday gifts from Scott was a fancy eye mask that doesn’t actually touch my eyes. Lucky for Scott, just in case it didn’t suit me, I packed my old one, as well, so he has also been sporting an eye mask every night. Even with the eye masks, you can see and feel the morning sun rising.
We made our way to the Captain Cook Cruises ferry for our scheduled harbour tour. The tour included a delicious seafood buffet breakfast with coffee or hot tea. The top of the ferry was open aired, perfect for taking photos and you could still hear the scripted historical lecture. Just like New York has a Luna Park on Coney Island, Sydney created their own Luna Park. There were islands about the harbour that served as private gardens, prisons and such. We both loved absorbing the information and had a great time. The ferry tour lasted about 2 hours, then docked and we headed to board the bus tour of greater Sydney. One of the stops was Bondi Beach, a surfers’ dream with huge crashing waves. We poked our toes in the water and agreed, it was way too cold for our taste.
Upon returning to the hotel, we enjoyed another pre-dinner beverage at the hotel bar and visited with Amy. Scott picked up some flyers and we discussed what we would like to see the following day. Blue Mountains came up on both our lists, but we were unsure, as the weather would be cloudy and rainy. Amy convinced us it would be a great thing to see and do, regardless of the rain. So we booked our tour and headed out for another night in Sydney. For dinner we chose another Italian restaurant with delicious seafood, on the Nurses Walk, which was off the busy area of the Rocks. The streets were very narrow and made of large cobblestones. The dish was wonderful, with scallops in a creamy risotto, served with a rocket salad, which is basically arugula leaf lettuce, tomato, parmesan slices and cucumbers dressed in a light olive and lemon zest.
There was a table of four that sitting a few inches away and we noticed one of the ladies was Hispanic. We have seen almost all nationalities represented here in Australia, except for Hispanic. During the meal, one of the gentleman spilt his glass of water in his lap, with some splashing towards me. To make him feel more comfortable, I laughed and said, “Better the water than the red wine!” They all laughed and agreed. We finished our meals and as we were leaving, the gentleman said, “I hope none of the water landed on you,” which stirred up a conversation. We learned they are also from Austin and live downtown on Guadalupe and 5th Street. His wife hails from South Dakota, originally, and was happy to escape the terrible winters up north. The other couple, appeared to be their son who lives in El Paso, Texas and his girlfriend who is from Juarez, Mexico. We visited with them a bit more and then wished them well on their journey.
Our tour guide for the Blue Mountains tour, Paul, looked and spoke like a genuine Australian. He pointed out all the great birds, sights and history as we made our way up the mountain. In the foothills area we stopped at the Featherdale Wildlife Park. Although our visit was quick, it was the most memorable. We got to pet and be photographed with a female Koala. Oh the joy! Goal achieved!
For $2 we purchased two ice cream cones filled with kangaroo food. All the kangaroos knew you would lay down the money, because they were so stinking cute! Their ears moved a lot like cats, standing up and shifting individually from side to side. They loved to be pet and scratched while munching on their grassy treats. If you didn’t hold your hand out flat, when they were eating, they would bite your hand by accident – a lesson I didn’t need to learn twice.
There was one kangaroo that looked like it was sick with the flu. Scott notified a zoo keeper who reported he hadn’t been feeling well for several days. He whisked the kangaroo off for some rest and relaxation. This startled all the kangaroos and like a mighty bird migration, all the kangaroos stood tall to attention and jumped off to flee the zoo keeper. Once out of arms distance, the group of kangaroos kept their eyes on the zoo keeper, darting their ears right and left for any indication of the zoo keeper’s movement. We spotted a female kangaroo with a little joey in her pouch, but unfortunately, the joey never made an appearance. We also pet a wombat. Such an amazing creature. It walks on all fours, resembling part dog and part bear. Of course, you know I wanted to bring one home.
The van shuttle made its way up the mountain. The clouds showed little hope of opening the sky for a grand appearance of the Blue Mountains, nor The Three Sisters, which is a formation of three mountain tops together. The Orphan Mountain is located across from the Three Sisters. Instead of the structured, standard tour, our guide shook it up according to the weather clouds to make wise use of our time. Our hike up the mountain exposed the beautiful rainforest. It felt great to be surrounded by the tall fern palms while listening to the surrounding waterfalls. We ordered our lunch with the tour guide, who called in our order and had it ready for our arrival. After lunch we headed to a village for a little shopping and then made our way to the Skyway tour that would give us an aerial view of the entire Blue Mountains. Upon arrival, us and four others decided against going on the Skyway tour, as the skies were covered by clouds and wouldn’t give us a view outside the vehicle. Lucky us! After everyone was gone, we hopped back into the tour van and the guide took the four of us on a journey to see the Blue Mountains while outrunning the clouds. It was amazing and we felt special getting the extraordinary tour.
Photo travel memoir to be continued …