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Deaton Family Visit: Sydney and the Blue Mountains

Carol, Dave, and Kristen climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Returning to Sydney, the Deatons set off to further explore the city and the surrounding attractions, starting with a view of Sydney from atop the Harbour Bridge. Sydney’s BridgeClimb remains one of our top recommendations for visitors to Sydney; it’s an entertaining and unique way to see the city and learn about the engineering achievement that is the world’s tallest steel arch bridge.  Having now climbed the bridge twice, Kristen earned her “BridgeClimb Master” certificate of achievement.

Carol and Dave on a Sydney jet boat

The next stop on the Sydney itinerary was a fast-paced jetboat tour of the harbour. Originally designed for the shallow rivers of New Zealand, jetboats have increased in popularity due to their maneuverability and operational versatility. After booking a tour with Harbour Jet, the Deatons set off on their journey past many of Sydney’s waterfront landmarks, including the bridge, Luna Park, Cockatoo Island, and, of course, the Opera House. Along the way, the driver did his best to spin and soak his passengers.

Cockatoos and the Three Sisters

The next day, Kristen and her parents set off to the west to see a couple more Sydney landmarks, starting with the Olympic Park. No longer covered with rides and farm animals, the Olympic Park is quiet on normal days, which makes it easier to explore and take in a bit of sporting history. After leaving the park, the Deatons continued west towards one of Sydney’s most famous natural attractions, the Blue Mountains. Named for the lingering blue haze caused by evaporated eucalyptus oil, the mountains host a variety of wildlife and several rock formations, including the Three Sisters.

Dave and Carol in the Blue Mountains

In addition to scenery and wildlife, the Blue Mountains are also rich in natural resources, the extraction of which constitutes much of the area’s recent history. Coal and shale mining began around 1865 and continued into the mid 20th century, until it was no longer economically viable. Though there are many replica artifacts to illustrate the story of mining in the area, original machinery and hauling equipment, long since abandoned and rusted over, can be seen as part of the scenic walks in the valley.

After a quick stop at the Featherdale Wildlife Park  on the way home, the Deatons continued their touring, getting to know more about our daily life and experiences in Sydney. In particular, Kristen took her parents on a tour of the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) on the UNSW campus, where she spends most of her days. About 20 minutes south-east of the CBD, UNSW is conveniently located close to Coogee Beach for those days when class lets out early.

The Deatons’ two weeks wrapped up with a Sydney Harbour dinner cruise and a few more pictures in front of the Opera House before boarding a flight back to the USA. It was great to show Kristen’s parents around, as exploring Sydney was (and remains) high on our todo list. While we do spend a fair amount of time traveling, it was nice to become more familiar with the city we currently call home.

Dave and Kristen at UNSW

Winter in Sydney: Festivals, Concerts and the Aquarium

A shark at the Sydney Aquarium

Coming from Chicago, it’s hard not to chuckle when people in Sydney complain about winter. Sure, it’s colder than summer and requires an additional layer of clothing, but compared to Chicago, Sydney’s winter is more like a moderate autumn. It never gets below freezing and there certainly isn’t any snow. That said, it’s not comfortable weather for the beach, so Sydneysiders need to find other ways to keep themselves occupied.

Ice Skating in Sydney

We took the opportunity to check out some of the indoor attractions around the city, starting with the Sydney Aquarium. Located on the east side of Cockle Bay near Darling Harbour, the aquarium is home to a variety of native Australian species inhabiting several different exhibits. Separately, each exhibit represents a different region of Australia; together, they host one of the largest collections of sharks in the world. The aquarium is also next door to Wild Life Sydney, so if you don’t have time to take the ferry to Taronga Zoo, you can knock off all of your Australian wildlife viewing in two quick visits.

A diprotodon at the Australian Museum

A few weeks later, we stopped by the Sydney Winter Festival, located just east of Hyde Park in Cathedral Square. Sponsored in part by the Switzerland Department of Tourism, the area was set up to look like an alpine village, complete with little wooden concession huts and an accordion player sporting lederhosen. None of this was quite as entertaining as the centerpiece of the festival, an ice rink. Nevermind that it was 60 degrees outside, people showed up in droves to try out ice skating, possibly for the first time ever. Since most people in Sydney don’t own ice skates, bright orange ones were provided for the brave souls who ventured onto the ice. For the slightly less brave souls venturing onto the ice, orange plastic seals were also provided as seats/walkers.

Darth Vader on stage at the Sydney Opera House

We left the Winter Festival and walked down the street to the Australian Museum, another attraction we hadn’t yet visited. The museum had a few interesting exhibits on Aborigines and extinct Australian animals, but was otherwise not especially remarkable, so it’s not recommended for shorter stays in Sydney (unless it rains the whole time you’re here).

The following weekend we had tickets for a performance at the Opera House.  But not just any performance, this was the Sydney Symphony Orchestra playing the music of John Williams, including classics like the themes from Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, E.T., and the Raiders March from the Indiana Jones trilogy. The highlight, however, was the last quarter of the show, where they performed an entire suite of Star Wars music. And what performance of Star Wars music would be complete without people in costume? The Sydney Symphony Orchestra did not disappoint, bringing Darth Vader up on stage during the Imperial March. There’s more than just opera at the Opera House… when you visit Sydney, make sure to book a show. I can’t guarantee you’ll be as happy as Kristen in the picture below, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy the experience!

Kristen and Ryan with Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper

Vivid Sydney and our First Official Visitors

Customs House lit up for Vivid Sydney

Regular readers (who manage to keep up with my erratic posting schedule) know by now that Sydney is a city of many festivals. If you look hard enough, there’s something going on somewhere in the city almost every day of the year. That said, things to tend to calm down a bit in the “winter”, a term I use loosely coming from Chicago. Winter in Sydney is more of what I’d call a moderate autumn, but it still gets a bit chilly and tends to push people indoors. As a result, the beach and park festivals aren’t as prevalent, so the city puts on other events instead.

Sydney Skyline during Vivid Sydney

One of the most visually interesting events during this time was Vivid Sydney, a festival of “Light, Music & Ideas”. There were many displays all over the city but, as usual, the best ones out there were found in and around Sydney Harbour, the home of Sydney’s most famous landmarks. Hotels, office buildings, museums and other landmarks all came to life as giant projector screens, with animated light shows bringing new life to the facades. The Customs House, for example, filled up with water, flexed in and out, and broke to pieces before turning into a giant microprocessor (courtesy of Intel, the sponsor). Even the Circular Quay train station got in on the action!

Sydney Opera House during Vivid Sydney

As usual, the centerpiece of the display was the Opera House, which hosted a variety of different light shows. Some were more fanciful, showing sea creatures swimming around. The best displays, though, were the ones that highlighted the building’s structure itself. Light turned the famous sails into fans, glass mosaics and geodesic curves. I took plenty of pictures; prints are available if you’re interested! Look for an upcoming picture post to check out more shots.

A night out with Nicholas, Tarrah, Kristen and Tessa

A few weeks later, we welcomed our first official guests (a few friends had come through as part of separate trips). Tessa and Tarrah visited for a couple weeks and traveled to Brisbane and Cairns before returning to Sydney to tour the city and surrounding areas. While here, they held koalas, went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, and got to meet some of Kristen’s friends. They and Kristen also climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, an extremely touristy and fun experience that we recommend to all incoming visitors. As is frequently the case, the two weeks flew by, but it was great to see familiar faces and share part of our life in Australia.

 

Tessa, Tarrah and Kristen climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Pictures from Australia: January to April 2011

As you might expect, especially if you’re familiar with my itchy trigger finger on the camera, we take far more pictures than you see on the blog. If you’d like to check them out, you can find them on my Flickr page. I’ve recently uploaded a bunch of sets for your viewing pleasure… the shots from the Power Plant Exhibit are particularly cool. Finally, if you use Flickr, you should definitely add me as a contact!

Darling Harbour – January 2011

Bondi Beach, Sydney Harbour, Manly – January 2011

Sydney Harbour, Coogee Beach, Chinatown – January 2011

Symphony in The Domain – January 2011

Lunch at the Scarborough Hotel – January 2011

Australia Day – January 2011

Sydney’s Hyde Park and Botanic Gardens – January 2011

Power Plant Exhibit – January 2011

Chinese New Year in Sydney – February 2011

Sydney Miscellaneous – February-April 2011

Sydney’s Royal Easter Show – April 2011

Australia Day: Celebrating the arrival of the First Fleet

Me and Kristen and an opera house

Australia has a number of national public holidays, some of which you may celebrate (New Years Day, Christmas Day) and some you may not (Anzac Day, Boxing Day). There are also state holidays that may happen at different times on the year (or not at all) depending on what state you happen to be in. One of the most popular holidays is Australia Day, held annually on January 26th to celebrate the arrival in Sydney Cove of the First Fleet. Sailing from Great Britain and containing close to 1,500 people (including 778 convicts), the 11 ships reached Botany Bay between January 18-20, 1788.

Teaching the Aussies American football

Of course, depending on your perspective, the landing of the First Fleet might not be something that merits celebrating. Due to the negative impact of this event on the indigenous Australians (Aborigines), the day has also been called Invasion Day and Survival Day, among others. This hasn’t really caught on (I suppose it would be a bit difficult to market), but protests and demonstrations occur most years.

Nonetheless, Australia Day is like Independence Day in the United States, a day of picnics, drinks, music, festivities and fireworks, all of which we planned to take part in. We started the day with a picnic in Rushcutters Bay Park, near the Potts Point neighborhood of Sydney. Assuming that they would be difficult to find in Australia, I packed a black and yellow American football alongside my Terrible Towels for occasions just like this.

Australia Day bands in The Rocks

After spending a few hours at Rushcutters trying to teach the Aussies how to throw a football, we worked our way over to The Rocks, one of the historic areas of Sydney, to meet up with Kristen’s classmates and see a couple of the bands. From there we walked to Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay for dinner and the fireworks. During dinner the bar was televising a cricket game between the UK and Australia, so with the help of one of Kristen’s classmates, I now understand the game (more or less).

Australia Day Fireworks at Darling Harbour

As in the States, the night ended with fireworks, always a crowd-pleaser here in Australia. I think there were a variety of fireworks shows all over the city, but we opted for the ones in Darling Harbour, which are nice and close to our apartment. And, as you might expect, they offered some nice opportunities for yours truly to work on his night photography skills. I unfortunately didn’t have a particularly ideal vantage point, but I think I was able to get a few decent shots… you be the judge.

With Kristen's classmates and one extra

We stopped for a group picture on the way out… see if you can figure out which one isn’t part of our group 🙂

Day 2 in Sydney: Bondi Beach, Sydney Harbour and Manly

Despite waking up at around 3am, Day 2 (Sunday, January 9th, for those of you keeping track) was poised to be much more productive. After a solid night’s sleep (if at odd hours), we were much better prepared to take on the day. We made plans to meet up with Darren, Amanda and their three kids for brunch, so we got moving early, if you count 9:45am as early, and drove over to Centennial Parklands Dining in Centennial Park.  Afterward, Darren and Amanda kindly gave us a tour of the eastern suburbs before dropping us off near Bondi Beach, one of Sydney’s most popular tourist destinations.

Kristen at Bondi Beach

After soaking in the sun for a bit (and finding some cheaper ice cream!), we boarded a bus back into the city. We had originally planned to just check out Sydney Harbour from Circular Quay (pronounced “Key”), but upon reviewing the ferry schedules, we found that there was a Manly ferry every 20 minutes, and if the sign says it’s famous, how could we miss it?

If the sign says so, it must be true

We picked up tickets ($13.20/person round trip) and hopped on the 2:40pm ferry for a quick 20 minute ride over to Manly. We quickly found out why the ferry is famous. Not only does it take you to a great destination (which we’ll get to in a minute), but you get some fantastic views of Sydney Harbour, the Harbour Bridge (which you can actually climb), and the Sydney Opera House. Cool!

Yep, we made it!

We arrived in Manly and, after a quick walk through The Corso, a pedestrian-only street lined with restaurants and shopping, we found ourselves at what is currently our favorite beach in Sydney. A retaining wall near the beach provides ample shade for yours truly and the sand and surf are fantastic. Should you come visit (and you should), you can bet that we’ll be sending you to Manly Beach to get you out of our hair for an entire day. You won’t regret it!

Manly Beach

We spent a couple hours at Manly, dined on some excellent fish and chips (the seafood, as you might imagine, is top notch), and then realized that we forgot the sunblock and decided to call it a day. You can bet we’ll be back though, and I’ll be sure to take some better pictures.

On the way out, I found a candy stand in the ferry terminal, which, at $3.50/100g ($16/pound) is a little steep, but great in a pinch. Expect a more thorough review of the candy stand soon 🙂

For those of you interested in all things gummy and chocolatey

Given that we were running on a full night’s sleep, today was much easier to handle, and though we still went to bed early, if we were more ambitious we could have pushed it (although I’m naturally an evening person anyway). If you’re aggressive about it, you can probably overcome the jet lag in 3 or 4 days, although it’ll still probably take close to a week before you’re feeling comfortable on the Aussie schedule.