Day 8: Sydney (Taronga Zoo)

Today was a much more leisurely day than our other days have been.  We woke up “late” and took a 9:50 ferry to the Taronga Zoo.  We ended up staying there until 3 PM and then decided to head back to the rental to relax.  Well, that relaxing turned into just chilling at the place until it was time for bed, though at one point David took Jonas out for dinner while Rachel and I had dinner here.  It was kind of nice though as tonight was our last night in Sydney and it gave me a chance to pack things up, do laundry, and tidy up a bit.

Jonas – always observing when on public transportation

Photographing the photographer taking a picture of the bridge

The Taronga Zoo was AMAZING.  I have to say this was the best zoo I have ever been to.  I’ve been to the Washington DC Smithsonian Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, and the Tokyo Zoo (and other much smaller zoos).  There were several things I liked about the Taronga Zoo.  First, the way the exhibits blended with the scenery.  There were also several ways one could view the wildlife – for example the Red Panda.  We were able to observe this from above, from below, and even eye level as they have several different vantage points.  Second – the way people were able to interact with the animals.  There were several walk through exhibits.  Some of these included walking among kangaroos and emus.  These animals were not caged, but they did not come near the humans.  Third, I really enjoyed the animals.  I was slightly concerned the animals in the zoo would not have much of an Australian focus, but the majority of the animals show-cased were from Australia.  For those of you in the US you will be happy to know that visitors are learning about the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake and Deer.  We chose to skip the deer exhibit – we see enough in our daily lives.  And finally, the Taronga Zoo has the best zoo views in the world!

One of the many views from the zoo

Rachel probably could have spent the whole day here, but eventually we reached a point of where we were all just too tired.  There were all sorts of native Australian birds wandering around the zoo which made lunch an unpleasant experience as Rachel was terrified of these birds.  They are your Australian version of sea gulls.  There were large birds wondering the food court area of the zoo.  There were large birds on the outside as well.  We originally decided to eat outside but Rachel could not relax due to the birds so I took her inside.  I thought the birds would not be as disturbing there…I was wrong on that point.  As we were trying to eat a large bird hopped onto our table and I was wondering if it was socially acceptable to be shooing large birds away….

Australian “sea gull”


My favorite animals to observe were….anything Australian.  I did particularly enjoy the Tasmanian Devil display.  They were actually bigger than I expected.  I also enjoyed watching the kangaroos. They all seemed so relaxed and they seemed to be observing the people.

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

For Christmas, Rachel wanted a camera…she instead received an instax camera.  While it doesn’t take the best pictures, it does allow Rachel to take a picture and create an instant memory for us…because let’s face it – do I have time to get pictures developed?  Before our trip I bought several packs of film for her and two miniature photo albums for her to store the pictures in.  She took several pictures today of animals that interested her.  Some pictures came out better than others.  But her pictures are a great way to see our trip through her eyes and what she wants to photograph.  She took pictures of the Tasmanian Devil, Zebra, Hippo, Goat, Crocodile, Birds, and the Kimono Dragon.  Her Zebra photo is my favorite of the day.  She’s also taken pictures of the Opera House, Sydney Harbour bridge, and Blue Mountains.  And let’s not forget about her pictures of the suspension bridge at Parsley Bay.

Photograph by Rachel

So far I am loving this vacation.  My husband and I work hard during the year that it can be difficult for us to have a lot of time together as a family.  The kids are *mostly* getting along because they have no choice.  We rarely turn on televisions when we travel (though both kids have some sort of i-device so they can still do things on there…).  We are spending time together as a family and enjoying that time.  The kids have not complained about being bored yet.

I am very sad that today was our last day in Sydney.  I never dreamed that I would enjoy this city so much.  I am so grateful we decided to add it to our itinerary.   I think one could easily spend a month here and have plenty to do.  I felt completely safe walking around.  The public transportation was easy and clean.  The people speak my language.  The city is beautiful, the people are nice, the location is magnificent.  There is minimal traffic in the central city.  Even though it is winter here, we have had wonderful weather.  I think due to these facts I may have to bump Sydney over Paris in my list of favorite cities….it was well worth the fifteen hour plane ride to reach her.

*Side note:  Guess what Rachel and I found one minute after it closed?  A gluten-free bakery….sigh…that brought tears to someone.  I already know though where we are having lunch tomorrow, hopefully they have awesome gluten free buns….I guess if we had not stopped at McDonald’s for more gluten free french fries than we might have stumbled upon the bakery before it closed…

Native Australian birds found through out the zoo

Goat.  He wanted his picture taken.

Freshwater crocodile


Cutest Koala there ever was

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Day 6: Sydney

We seem to be turning a corner on jet lag.  I won't say we have passed that corner yet, but we are getting there.  Last night I was so tired I could barely finish my blog post and I slept for 10.5 hours straight.  Both kids went to bed "early" and woke up at a normal time.  As I type this though at 9:20 Australian time Jonas had already fallen asleep around 8 PM while Rachel was still up.

Today we woke up and took a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly beach.  We did not have a lot of time to spend there as we had tickets for a performance at the Opera House.  The kids declared that we would have to come back to Manly beach to spend more time there.  I told them we could possibly do it on Friday, but I want to maybe visit Bondi beach and then take a walk along the water to Coogee beach.  We'll see though what happens on that day.

We spent about an hour and a half at Manly beach and then we caught a ferry back to Circular Quay.  There David met up with us and then we split up with the kids for some food.  He took Jonas to get Fish and Chips, while Rachel and I enjoyed a large McDonald's french fry.  That is a real treat for us as we cannot eat McDonald's fries in the states due to allergens.

After our "lunch" we proceeded to the Opera House for a performance by the Bangarra dance group.  Rachel was the one who originally found this performance.  The performance was called Bennelong, and it was about a well known aboriginal who was one of the first Australian people's to have contact with the British.  We actually saw the show with school groups as originally the show was set to end July 22, but it looks like since we initially looked into it they extended their performances by a week.  The show was interesting and about an hour and fifteen minutes.  I think I would have enjoyed it more had I still not been recovering from jet lag, as the dark lights and the sitting just made me want to nap.

Following the performance, we could have taken a tour of the Opera House with the school groups, but instead we decided to go visit Parsley Bay Reserve to see a suspension bridge.  To get there we took the Watson Bay ferry, then walked about half a mile to Parsley Bay Reserve.  I have to say, this was well worth the visit.  It is a nice little reserve.  The walks made me truly feel like I was in Australia.  The bridge was very scenic, and the water around it was lovely.  It is the type of place you could have easily spent all day there and just enjoyed relaxing there.

When we decided to go there, our only problem was that the ferry was not running past 4:45.  I determined that we could either take a taxi back to our lodging, or we could figure out public transportation.  We opted for the later.  There was a bus stop a half a mile from the park and the bus that went there took a route that stopped a few blocks away from our lodging.  I am extremely pleased with our decision to take the bus.  I love riding public transportation whenever possible in a new city.  I love the people watching and I love the scenery.

Thus – we took the bus back to near our lodging.  Once we got off the bus Rachel was ready to go back to the rental whereas Jonas was getting hungry.  I suggested he come with me to the grocery store which was actually underground in the metro station.  So he came with me while Rachel returned to the rental.

Once again – we did not eat out 🙂  We had dinner back at our rental.  We do not plan on eating in every night, but for now that is what works for us.  The kids are tired, the parents are tired, and we don't want to deal with meltdowns at restaurants (from either the kids or the parents).  We've been out exploring all day, we are still fighting jet lag, we just want to come back and relax.  And even though I'm on vacation as well, preparing meals and washing dishes is never so bad on vacation as it is during daily life.  This is also one of the ways of which we save money when on trips – eating meals in the rental is much cheaper than going out to eat each night….

Now that I've been in Sydney for a few days, here are my observations.

  • People:  The people of Sydney remind me of the people where I am from – very diverse.  There are ALL nationalities represented here and it is very diverse. I am sure other parts of Australia are not like this, but ANYONE would fit into Sydney.
  • Harbor:  Wow – it is awesome.  I see why people settled here. Every way you go there seems to be another awesome harbor or water view.
  • Geography:  I have actually been surprised with the geography of Sydney.  I was expecting the harbor, but then I was guessing relatively flat land.  It is the complete opposite.  It is similar to San Francisco but the hills are not so steep.  Buildings and streets seem to be cut into rocks.  As you go through out the city you see various types of rocks.
  • Transportation: That is GREAT around here.  You can take a ferry to all the major places, and then transfer on a bus or subway.  There is a daily cap of $15.40 for adults and $7.70 for kids.  So once you exceed that amount in a day your transportation is free for the rest of the day.  By the time we took the bus back to our lodging, Jonas, Rachel, and I all had free transportation…so the ride back only cost us around $3.50 for my husband.  I've found the ferries, metro, and bus to all be clean and pleasant experiences.
  • Walk on the Left: One of the hardest things to remember because I just want to walk on the right!
  • Weather:  So far we have been blessed.  The weather each day has been wonderful.  I would say highs in the 70-75 degree range, and plenty of sunshine.  Tomorrow will be colder, but seeing as it is winter here I am thankful for the weather we have had so far.
  • City Traffic: Sydney is the largest city in Australia with a population of over 5 million, but the traffic situation in the downtown area seems nothing like it does in big cities like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Perhaps it is due to the many transportation options available?  Perhaps it is due to the many high rise buildings so people can live where they work?

Overall, I LOVE Sydney.  I love looking at the architecture, the flora, and the fauna.  It does remind me of San Francisco except smaller hills.  I am so glad that we made the decision to come visit here and I can see why many people visit.  Sydney is a place I feel we could stay for a month and still not come close to seeing everything we wanted to see.

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Day 5: Sydney

This was certainly an interesting day….Jonas went to bed super early last night and ended up waking at 1 AM.  Rachel woke at 4 AM.  I woke at 6:30 AM.  Due to the time the kids woke I was worried how our day would go. The kids were real troopers.  They made it to after dinner before going to bed tonight.  Hopefully jet lag will not be as bad for them today as it was yesterday.

Today we ended up walking to the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium.  It was pretty cool.  The major exhibits involved walking through large tunnels to see sharks and other types of fish.  They also had a tiny penguin boat ride.

Following the Aquarium wondered around Darling Harbour. The kids ended up getting frozen cokes and sprites. They charge a whole lot more for those here then they do in the US. We walked on some walkways and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

Next we headed back to the townhouse for lunch.  Then after lunch we headed to the Sydney bridge walk.  We walked to the top of the Sydney harbor bridge, it was pretty cool. They only take 14 people up in a group. Each person has to wear a bridge suit and everything that you take up there is attached to the suit. No cameras are allowed.

We stopped for ice cream on the way back to our rental. Then once we got back I started making dinner and asked my husband to do his best to keep the kids awake while I did that. Rachel fell asleep but she woke for dinner. We finally had the dinner I was going to make Monday night. Following dinner the kids immediately went to bed.

I am hoping the kids and I wake up pretty early tomorrow as if we do we are going to take a ferry to one of the beaches.  If not, we'll come up with something else to do.

Australian jerky anyone?

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Day 4: Sydney

Our flight landed right on time.  There was some confusion as we went through immigration.  We could have gone through the expedited line but the guy told us the electronic passport readers was a faster line.  We waited in that and then someone asked us how old Rachel was and then told us based on her age we had to go through manual processing.  So at that time we went back to the expedited line and continued on our way.

Passing through customs I declared that I had food on me and that we had been swimming in fresh water lakes.  Both of those seemed to be no big deal and nothing was confiscated.

Next up on the agenda was getting a sim card  for my phone.  I researched international costs for my phone using Verizon while we were gone and it was going to be $10 USD per day for very limited data.  Or, I could pay $25 AUD (the equivalent of around $20 USD) and have 6 gb of data and unlimited text and calls.  Seemed like a no-brainer to me.  The Vodafone booth was right as you exited customs.

After getting the sim card we got cash from an ATM and then waited in the taxi queue to catch a cab to our lodging.  You could take the train from the airport, but the cost of that is roughly the cost of a cab. Plus we would have had to walk half a mile from the train station with our luggage….so the cab seemed like a no brainer.

We arrived at our rental around 9 AM. We are staying on Agar Steps, right next to the Sydney Observatory.  We have a two bedroom townhouse which makes it really nice to be able to spread out.  There is also an outdoor space and a park next door. The best two things about rentals versus hotels are kitchens and laundry!

The parents decided to nap, where as the kids decided they did not need to.  Now, we all did get sleep on the plane, but when I was in the cab I realized I was dozing off.  I set an alarm so I wouldn't sleep past 11:45 AM, but then I changed that to 12:15 PM 🙂  We finally were ready to set off around 2 PM.  First order of business was to find somewhere to eat.

I had a printout that had several gluten friendly restaurants.  We decided to try Mexican and eat at a place called Mad Mex.  The first location on my map apparently does not exist there anymore (or we could not find it).  Luckily there was another location a ten minute walk away so we headed there.  Both Rachel and I ordered tacos on corn shells.  After I had eaten my first taco my husband pointed out to me that they looked like they were flour tacos and not corn.  I went back to the restaurant and asked them to double check and at that point the woman realized that they were in fact flour tacos.  Apparently someone had put the flour tacos where the corn ones normally were.  This is my first "known" about exposure to gluten in over a year so I am curious as to what the effects will be…Rachel only had two bites of her taco before we realized, where as I had a full one.  I thought the tacos tasted really good.

After we had our late lunch Jonas was complaining about not feeling well and you could tell the kids were tired.  We decided to split up.  I took Rachel and we ended up riding a ferry round trip, then we took a metro train and got groceries.  

The first place we went to they had no gluten free substitutes so we walked a couple of blocks to another grocery store, which later we realized was actually in the same building as the original grocery store.  When you eat gluten free and you go into a new grocery store, or a store in a different country you spend a lot of time walking the aisles and looking at products that are gluten free.  We found some GF cookies, GF pizza base, and GF bread.

On our way home from the grocery store I passed a wine shop a block from our townhouse.  I dropped the groceries off and then I headed back to the wine shop.  

I asked the shopkeeper to recommend a good Australian Chardonnay.  For kicks I asked him if he had heard about Yellow Tale wine, which is supposedly Australian.  He had not.  I also noticed the price his shop was selling La Crema for and it made me chuckle.  It is a moderately priced wine in the US (between $12 and $18 I think), but in his shop it was $54 AUD.  I need to go back to his shop and see if he sells Cakebread – I'm sure he doesn't but it is a US wine that he really needs to try.

After my visit to the shop I was hoping to make dinner at our rental.  For dinner I had planned on making spaghetti and corn on the cob, per Rachel's request.  However while I was typing this post Rachel ended up putting herself to bed, and Jonas was already sleeping, so it will be interesting to see what happens tonight.  I am curious how jet lag will affect all of us this week. So, instead of cooking dinner tonight I will be enjoying Hoddles Creek Chardonnay and Cheerios. I guess tomorrow we will have the dinner I had planned on making tonight.

Categories: Sydney | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Day 3: Somewhere over the Pacific

We arrived at the airport about an hour later than we had planned to arrive. There was a minor complication that actually had me stressing for ten minutes. When I applied for our Australian visas I accidentally put my dad's birthday as my son's birthday. I realized that right after I did it and I had gone to the Australian website to see what I needed to do to fix it. The FAQ said to just apply again. So I did…and that was the end of that.

Well, when I went to check in my son they said there was a problem as he had two visas in his profile and as a result the agent could not check him in. She was going to need to place a call to get the visa removed. I was concerned because I was not sure how long it would take to fix…and I was worried he would not be considered checked in and his seat would be given to someone else.

The agent came back ten minutes later and all was well. We then proceeded through security and then headed to the lounge for twenty minutes. The lounge was ok – not as nice as the Delta lounge at JFK. The bathroom was really small – there were only two stalls. And I was not impressed with the food options.

We arrived at our gate right as they were starting to board. We waited in line and took our seats. Rachel and I were in the first row and the men were right behind us. The first thing the flight attended did was confirm that Rachel and I had the gluten free meals.

We got settled in our seats and then we enjoyed a pre-departure beverage. I had champagne, Rachel had a Coke. Take off then occurred around 10:50 pm and we settled in for a fifteen hour flight!

The goal for me on this flight was to stay up as late as I could before falling asleep. This was because we were landing in Sydney around 6:50 AM and I wanted to wake up as close to that time as possible.
By now you may realize that we flew business class to Australia….our four business class tickets cost us roughy $350 for ALL FOUR tickets. We were able to do this as we have saved our miles for years. We also took advantage of generous credit card sign up offers. We knew that if we were ever going to fly somewhere business class that it would be to Australia…that is one of the longest flights you can take and there are not a lot of options on getting there.

Two hours after taking off we received drinks and an appetizer. At first I was slightly excited as the appetizer for Rachel and I had rolls on it. I quickly asked if they were gluten free and then our appetizer was quickly wisked back away. We then received another appetizer….Rachel was being a real trooper…she was extremely tired and was upset when she saw other people eating bread. She really misses good bread…

I asked the flight attendant if Rachel could get her meal a little early since she was starving, and they were fine with that. I was so excited when that meal came out and it was plain chicken, rice, and broccoli. Three things which I knew she would eat.

After dinner the rolled out the ice cream cart. By this time it was 1:30 AM Pacific time. I had vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce while Rachel had vanilla ice cream with whip cream.

Following dinner and dessert I changed into the pajamas. As I walked through the cabin I observed many people were already asleep….yet my kids were going strong. By this time we still had eleven hours plus left of the flight. I changed my seat into a bed and actually managed to sleep for at least seven, possibly eight hours. When I finally got up there was still three hours remaining of flight time.

I drifted in and out of sleep for the next hour and a half. When there was 1.5 hours left of the flight they started waking passengers up for arrival. They asked me if Rachel and I wanted a beverage and we both had a Coke. Less than than two minutes after they handed us the cokes Rachel managed to spill hers all over my seat and my pants. I packed extra shirts for all of us but neglected to pack extra pants…since I figured we were more likely to spill on our shirts than pants….

Breakfast was served and our gluten free meal was actually sufficient enough for Rachel and I. She had some fruit, I ended up eating potatoes and an omelette.

After breakfast service it was time to start cleaning up. I put my contacts in and brushed my teeth. I cannot believe how fast the flight seemed to go by. I didn't even finish the only movie I started….

I am not sure what to expect with customs. I plan to declare everything. I have a mini cooler that contains food and while I think I can bring it all in to Australia I would rather declare it and have them check it than face a fine. Additionally the kids and I have been in lakes in the past week, so our shoes and clothing may need to undergo some scrutiny.

Once we exit customs we have a two things we need to take care of before we leave the airport. We need to obtain Australian dollars from an ATM and I need to get a SIM card for my personal phone. I have a work phone that is enabled for international service but I really only hope to use that when I am on wifi only, and it costs $10 a day for that. If this was just a one week trip I would be fine with that but since we will be gone a while I would prefer to spend $20 AUD for a lot more data.

I have to say this flight flew by. This was my first experience in business class and it was wonderful. Normally when I fly overseas I don't feel rested and feel like I need a nap immediately. However right now I feel like I could go siteseeing. I think we will check into our lodging, change our clothes, and go explore….and then probably come back in the afternoon for an hour nap or two. I wonder how jet lag will be for us over the course of the next week.

Categories: Sydney | Tags: , | 1 Comment

100 days to go

100 days to go, 100 days to dream. Time is seeming to fly super fast now. I have dreams regularly about our trip. I have a few smaller trips between now and then which will really make the time go by fast.

What is left to do? Well, most everything is paid for already in regards to lodging. The only places that are not fully paid for yet are our place in Nelson and our place in Auckland. I plan to pay for Nelson on May 1 and Auckland on June 1.  We also have one hotel room that we have not paid for yet. Other than that, all hotels/apartments have been paid for so we won’t have that expense when we return. That is usually the biggest travel expense and it has been nice to spread it out over the last few months.

Airfare – fully paid for. We bought our tickets over to Australia/New Zealand using frequent flyer miles so those were relatively cheap. But I had to buy flights within Australia and New Zealand. I bought those in the fall once I knew our itinerary.

In regards to car rentals – one has been prepaid and two I was not able to prepay. And honestly I can’t find a better rate than what I booked so those probably won’t be prepaid before we go. I can deal with that though.

Activities are mostly all booked and paid for. This month I can book our Alcatraz tickets (yes we are spending a day in San Fran before we go) and our Sydney Observatory tickets. Our lodging in Sydney is right next to the Observatory so we will do that one night. I have two excursions booked but I cannot pay for them yet as they could be cancelled if the weather does not cooperate. I call those excursions the Pandy Excursions. Pandy was my great aunt that passed away in November but she taught me that you only live once and sometimes in life you need to splurge. So those two excursions, if they happen, I will dedicate to her since they will be our splurges. In fact, my motto on our trip will be “What would Pandy do?”.

I still can’t believe we have reached the 100 day milestone. It seemed so far away when I booked our first plane ticket at 330 days away. My brother gets married in 33 days and then the kids get out for the summer in 71 days. Those two countdowns will make the countdown to our trip fly.

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Bangarra Dance Theatre

In the last week my daughter has been looking through a Pocket Sydney guide and listing places she wants to go to. Those sites include a prison museum, aquarium, zoo, and a temple…to name some things. She also asked me if we could see a show put on by the Bangarra Dance Theatre company. I quickly googled them and learned it is an indigenous Australian dance company which has received numerous awards.

Thus, I looked to see if they had any shows for their Bennelong show when we were in town (held at the Sydney Opera House). Unfortunately their last performance is July 22. We arrive two days later. However I noticed that they had a school performance show on Wednesday, July 26. I sent them an email and asked if we could purchase tickets even though we are not a school group – you have to buy tickets through the Opera House’s Creative Learning office.

I received confirmation today that they were fine with me ordering tickets. As a bonus, they also offered a tour of the Opera House either before or after the show. Thus I added that onto our tickets. For a family of four we are paying $105 USD total and that includes four tickets to the show and four Opera House tours. Priced separately, Opera House tours cost around $75 USD for a family of four.

One reason I am super excited about this show is that it a great learning experience for the kids. It will teach the kids about Australian history, and it will also be held in one of the most famous buildings in the world. The show description is:  

In a tumultuous time of Australia’s history, Woollarawarre Bennelong (a senior man of the Eora from the Port Jackson area in Sydney) and his community left us with a legacy that transcended ‘first contact’. Inspired by true events, this theatrical dance work highlights the extraordinary curiosity and diplomacy that led an Aboriginal community to survive a clash of cultures; contributing to the establishment of positive relationships between the Eora and the British.

Featuring a unique Australian dance language and some of the country’s most acclaimed dancers, Bangarra Dance Theatre celebrates the continuation of life and culture through the power, artistry, passion and physicality of dance. Students will love this brand new contemporary dance work that will leave them in awe of Australia’s history, choreographed by Artistic Director Stephen Page.

I guess to balance the Aboriginal culture of Australia I need to find something in New Zealand to introduce them to Maori culture too. Perhaps on the flight home I should ask the kids to compare and contrast the two 🙂

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