El albergue

El albergue

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Zoo!!!!

Early morning Day 6, Mom and Dad and I were off to Taronga Zoo, which is just a ferry ride across the harbor from Circular Quay. Coming from all the great zoos in California, we weren’t super sure how this one was going to stand out for us, but by the end of the day, we were really glad we had gone.

Although we didn't get to hear its fun chuckle, the kookaburra was so darn cute and fluffy!

We got to see so many different kinds of animals, a lot of them different from ones back home. There were the little platypuses that we almost didn’t get to see because they are so shy. There were sleepy kangaroos and wallabies sprawled out in the shade to avoid the growing warmth of the late spring sun. There were tons of brilliantly colored birds strutting and swooping through the aviaries, cocking their heads at us from their perches on branches and rocky ledges. There were echidnas trundling around among the leaves. There were nimble mountain goats standing at attention all over the steepest of steep rock faces, tantalizing the snow leopard behind the fence nearby. There was a pygmy hippo happily munching away at a pile of straw, with his buddy the cottontail rabbit contentedly nibbling beside him. There were crocodiles, a tapir, and several animals I don’t even know the names of.

Such a funny little pair...

We went on a tour down Big Cat Lane, the zoo volunteer leading the small group imparting tons of information about the zoo itself and the individual animals we saw. It was almost like they were people to her, each with its own story and personality.

We unexpectedly got to watch the bull elephant being put through is paces from afar as we ate our lunch – that sucker is strong! And the Seal Show was lots of fun too. It never ceases to amaze me how intelligent some animals are and how incredibly gifted they are in ways we humans could never hope for. The best show though was the Bird Show. Looking out over the harbor with the city for a background, it was amazing to watch the different parrots, raptors, etc swoop around at their trainers’ command. The finale was especially breathtaking, with flocks of white and black cockatoos sweeping the sky in perfectly coordinated strokes of color.

I just barely managed to capture the very end of the show. Can you imagine a better view for it?

On our way out of the zoo, we came across the enclosure for the female elephants. At this point we were a bit tired out by all the walking and sunshine and noisy, sunscreen-smeared children running around in baseball hats, but we arrested our rush home to sit and watch as three of these huge creatures played like little kids in their special pool. They were pushing each other under, sometimes two ganging up on one, rolling around and swimming to their hearts’ content. The smallest one, although an adult female like the others, was particularly mischievous, constantly provoking the other two to hold her under. Even underwater, she continued to impishly wave the very tip of her trunk over the reverberating waves. It was soothing to watch them playing together, miraculously changed by the buoyancy of the water from lumbering behemoths to weightless ingénues indulging in the simplest of impulses – play.

One last look over the zoo as we rode the Sky Safari cable cars down to the ferry, an evening view of the harbor and the city as we motored through the waves, a little bit of shut eye on the train, and soon we were back home for dinner with my brother and sister-in-law – stir fry and pear pie for all!

Happy day :)

A little trip to the opera

On the fifth day of my parents’ stay in Sydney, the three of us got all dressed up and headed out for a day on the town… Here are a few of my favorite highlights.

Big surprise! Food is at the top of the list!

Highlight 1: lunch at Portabello Café in Curcular Quay.
With a lovely view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, this little spot was perfect. The gulls pattering across the umbrellas overhead were eyeing our food, but ah well, they had reason to. We had a superb Artichoke Panini that just leaked deliciousness and a Smoked Salmon Panini that amazed with its savory delight. But the best part was the Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart. The chocolate shortbread crust was delicately crunchy. Then came an oozing layer of salted caramel, a creamy chocolate filling airier than custard yet more solid than mousse, and crystalline chunks of caramelized pecans. Oh heavens.

This picture does not nearly do it justice.

Highlight 2: South Pacific at the Opera House!
One of Mom’s dreams came true this afternoon, as we stepped into the lovely Sydney Opera House to pick up our tickets and find our way to the correct auditorium with our seats tucked away into an upper corner. It was a great musical, and we had a lot of fun letting the actors sing us away across the seas to join in with Nellie Forbush, Bloody Mary, Billis, and all those other unforgettable characters. I think my favorite song was “Gonna wash that man right out my hair.” It’s just so dang catchy!

Look at that happy face :)

Highlight 3: Dad’s superb chivalry.
To get to and from our seats up top in the Opera House, we had to ascend and descend a cozily carpeted staircase that twisted about between landings that all kind of looked the same. Now, as we were heading out during intermission to walk around a bit and enjoy the scenery outside, we happened to be in front of an older couple. We reached a landing with a door, and Dad, being the extreme gentleman that he is and thinking we had come to the way out, kindly swung it open with a gracious smile on his face. It wasn’t until Mom and I started laughing at him that he actually looked behind the door he had just opened to see… a closet! A slight look of confusion passed over his face, and then he sheepishly swung the door shut as the three of us gave in to a terrible attack of the giggles that lasted until far after we were all the way down the stairs and outside. Even now, almost two months later, just the thought of this brief episode still makes me want to laugh hysterically. So funny!

Good times, good times...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Blue Mountains

Day four was a Monday, so Zach headed off to work and Kali to study, leaving me and my parents to go exploring on our own. Since we were in the middle of a continent full of gorgeous countryside, we felt we had to get in on the goodness and go visit the nearby Blue Mountains for a little bit of a hike.

We sort of hit an obstacle first thing in the morning though… the strap on Mom’s adventuring shoes had broken the night before! She tried performing emergency surgery with a suture Kali had in her bag from a previous class, but no luck. Happily for her though, Kali’s athletic shoes fit her well enough, so with those shoes on loan she at least had something to trek about in.

Oh no! Not working! The needle is getting all bent!

All ready to set off, Dad took the wheel. He got the swing of driving all backwards pretty quick. Mom and I might have had to let out a “Stay left!” once or twice, but there was no one coming at those moments, so no big deal. Besides, we made it to our destination all in one piece.

The first sight that greeted us was a beautiful observation point built out over the edge of the valley rim. With wide, open spaces and plenty of benches, it was obviously designed to handle crowds of tourists even bigger than the ones currently mingling about with cameras dangling from their necks. There was even a really nice tourist shop where Mom happened to find some good hiking shoes that fit her well and were on sale. Take that, you silly broken shoes!

Off either side of the observation deck, lovely trails curved away into the trees. They were really quite nice, very well maintained, and easy to walk along. The first one we took, to the left, brought us to The Three Sisters. This rocky promontory, according to one Aboriginal legend, is three beautiful sisters who were in love with three warriors from an enemy tribe. The girls’ tribe wouldn’t let them marry the enemy, so the warriors brought all their fighting power to try and take the girls they loved by force. A holy man turned the sisters into stone during the battle to protect them, planning to revert them to their natural form once everything was over… but he died, wounded, and no one else knew the secret of changing them back. So, they have been stone ever since, tragic figures of love lost.

So sad, isn’t it? Don’t worry though, no more sad stuff from here on out. I promise!
The Three (not at all sad or lonely) Sisters

Hiking back to the observation deck and away to the right, we turned aside at every opportunity to go check out all the little lookout points. At each spot, we looked down the sheer cliffs, whose roots disappeared far below in dense forest on the valley floor. And when we looked to the sides, we saw the cliffs continuing round in unbroken line like monolithic guards keeping watch over their leafy domains.

Along the way, we also had to make frequent stops to take in the beauty of the plants and rock formations on the sides of the path. It was just so different from hiking around back in California, although it did sort of remind me of the Grand Canyon in a way.

Those aren't palm trees - they're fern trees!!!

Besides The Three Sisters, the thing we had most wanted to see was Katoomba Falls, but we never found the trail that takes you directly to it. We did get to see its soft, gurgling precursor, the Katoomba Cascades, but we only just managed to get a far-off glimpse of the thin stream of the Falls itself as it went hurtling down the cliff into the trees below.

The Cascades was so refreshingly cool.

It would have been nice to get closer... ah well, still lovely!

At that point, it was time to head back, so we trekked to the car at record speed, found our way to the highway, and made it to the apartment in time to make dinner for Zach and Kali, ending a beautiful day with a beautiful meal.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A little wine and cheese

Day three was a beautiful day! We rented a car to go wine tasting in the Hunter Valley, and it was my parents’ and my first time in an all backwards car – right side driver, driving in the left lane! EEEEK!

There is something all wrong with this picture...

Aside from the vehicular craziness, we had a wonderful time. After a quick stop at the great Hunter Valley info desk for maps and suggestions, our first stop was Pear Tree Winery. It was great! Especially the “Sticky Pig” Pinot Gris and the Tipsy Moscato. The Tipsy Moscato also came in a really neat bottle, so of course we had to buy one.

Pear Tree was a beautiful place, full of beautiful people :)

Next, a quick stop at the Smelly Cheese Shop to pick up some lunch goodies, and then on to Audrey Wilkinson Winery, where we got to enjoy a 360 degree view of the valley below. That, plus some great shiraz and a fun pink cheese with our picnic, really made the afternoon.

Our last winery of the day as a tiny family-owned one called Mount View Estate. The girl in charge of the tasting room set out cheese and crackers for us to go with the different wines we tasted, which were many and delicious. Two that really stood out to us were the Late Harvest Verdelho (amazing!) and the Cerise (such a delicately light red wine)… so of course we bought some before heading back to Westmead for BBQ steak and salad for dinner.

Mountain View might actually have had my favorite wines of the day...

Good wine. Good food. Good day.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Market Day!!!

Gotta find our way to the market!

On my parents’ second day in Sydney, we went to one of my favorite things in the whole world – a giant farmer’s market. We got off the train at Flemington, followed the line of people snaking over an elevated walkway that disappeared between two huge aluminum-sided buildings, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in the middle of the Saturday market scene.

First, we had to pass through a big flea market with lots of 2nd and 3rd hand stuff. I bet you could find just about anything you wanted there. Stereo? Check. Pots and pans? Check. Engine tools? Check. Babies? Check. Just kidding! But seriously, there was a lot there.

Weaving our way through all the wares, we entered the eye of the storm. Imagine a huge warehouse with massive doors open to the sunshine, and tables and booths crowded into every inch of floor space, covered with leafy piles of greens, ruddy groupings of apples, dusty pumpkins, exotic mushrooms, and so much more. Throw in at least a hundred vendors, a few of them testing out the strength of their lungs as they shout out prices for their boxes of produce over the hubbub of several hundreds of customers talking, excuse-me-ing, and discussing the goods they see in such messy splendor before them. All that noise rises up into the metal rafters far overhead, gets all stirred up together, and comes echoing back down to add back to the already confusing mix.

So much fun!

How could you not love this place?!

There were, of course, a few other things on our plate for the day, like the artisan market we went to in The Rocks with Zach and Kali later in the afternoon. This market, although a fair bit pricey, had tons of fun things to see. My favorite part was talking with a goofy licorice salesman as Mom searched for a nice picture to take home.

Just a few too many options...

Also enjoyable were going to the new city campus for Hillsong Church, grabbing dinner with one of Kali’s classmates and his wife in Chinatown, and watching the weekly fireworks in Darling Harbour. A little stroll around the Harbour, an extra big scoop of gelato from a friendly server, and a really cool little water park made the day complete.

But the best part was definitely the market at Flemington.

Sure do love me some fireworks

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Parents in Paradise, Day 1

I just realized the other day that although this blog was in large part created to document travelling adventures, I had utterly failed to write about the biggest trip in my recent life. Maybe it was just the overwhelming number of days and experiences to write about that made me put it all off and forget about it… Whatever the reason, over the next couple of weeks I will be posting about the 16 days I spent with my parents as they travelled around Sydney and New Zealand.

Their first day here, Mom and Dad were troopers. They made it all the way out to the suburb where I’m living with my brother and his wife, navigating a new (to them) public transit system all by themselves early in the morning, and even though eyes kept drooping and feet were hurting, they made it through a fairly full day of activities.

Kali took us to campus before her classes started, so we got to go look around and see a little bit of the University of Sydney. It’s a really nice campus, with large green spaces and a fun mix of modern and old-style buildings. In fact, it kind of reminded me of my alma mater UC Davis with how open and green it was… although the mixed-in Harry Potter-esque buildings were a deal more stately than ol’ Mrak Hall.

It was interesting to walk through Graffiti Tunnel and see all the layers and
generations of paint applied by students down through the years.

The Quandrangle - so cool!

After a surprisingly delicious lunch at a rather unprepossessing hole in the wall called Darling Thai, we headed to the train, getting a little humid along the way from the surprise shower that spattered us all over with big, sloppy, dripping drops. Not enough though to dampen our spirits.

Our adventuring goal for the day was to explore the Royal Botanical Gardens. We walked north up The Domain, full of wide fields and huge old sinewy trees, then stopped for an hour at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which really merits at least two or three hours to fully visit just the free exhibits. We finally made it into the Botanical Gardens and got to see a few of the areas before Mom’s feet could handle no more, at which point we sat for a few minutes in the lovely little herb section before heading over to catch the train in Circular Quay.

These trees looked like the perfect place for hide and seek.

So many plants!

I really liked these flowers... they smelled so wonderfully sweet too.

"Go away for a minute and look at those flowers, Laura. Please, please, please just let us sit for a while!"
Once home, we made dinner for Zach and Kali and had a little bit of family time in the living room before Mom and Dad shuffled off to their bed, telling me over their shoulders that although I had been a horrible slave driver during the day for not letting them nap even once, they were now going to sleep, so there.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Waiting Game

When one moves to Australia for a year with the Work Holiday visa, one has lovely dreams of cuddling koalas, trekking through gorgeous jungle, exploring the streets of world-famous Sydney, and easily finding a job when needed to keep the journey rolling. One does not generally think about how such a move goes when the job is needed in order to finance even the beginning of the trip. Or when such a job is hard to come by.

When the list of jobs applied for keeps getting longer, and replies are few and generally negative, one single interview seems like a beacon to which cling all one’s hopes and dreams. That interview might become a second interview… ecstasies of joy threaten to burst out from the more sensible restraints of a common sense saying the goal is not yet fully grasped. …and then comes the final negative. A bit of a blow.

But hey, that blow may be ameliorated by another hint of a working possibility in the near future. And if the near future doesn’t come for a couple more weeks? One must hunker down, so to speak, laptop at hand and finger on the pulse of several career sites, applying here and there and just about darn well everywhere. Hoping for a nearer and surer relief.

Go to the gym. Do laundry. Apply for jobs. Clean. Make food. Read. Apply for jobs. Make food. Wait for replies. Apply for jobs.

Wait for replies.

Seasons pass and mountains fall, and still one sits and waits.