El albergue

El albergue

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Heating up the holidays

What a strange holiday season this has been. Normally, Christmas is full of coats and scarves, carols and pageants, Christmas decorations and tasty food out the wazoo. And New Years has always involved cozily long dinner parties with lots of games and heart felt toasts when the ball finally drops.

Well, we DID go to a carol extravaganza, put up the tiniest touch of Christmas decorations, and eat at least one special meal. And we DID cheer when midnight finally came and the New Year started with a bang. But there were no hats, coats, scarves, or fires by which to curl up with a blanket and cocoa.

Rather, it has been HOT! I mean, I know we’re in the southern hemisphere and all that jazz, but still, it feels just a tad bit strange when Christmas is just around the corner and New Year’s right on its heels and you can feel the sweat rolling down your back and the sun slowly toasting your skin a darker shade of brown.

Hold on a second here! Who changed the thermostat?! What is this silliness?!!! Ah well, we have made the best of it that we could, haha.

Christmas Day dawned a little cooled by light rain and brightened by a surprise Christmas tree that sprang up in the living room over night. We opened presents and left them strewn all over the floor as we skyped with bundled up family back home in California. We ate popcorn and had a Christmas movie marathon on the couch, and then made a wonderful Christmas dinner of lemon pepper salmon, mushroom risotto, and mango salad, the lightness of the meal in pleasant contrast to the humidity of the day.

Santa came for a midnight visit!

Boxing Day (Dec. 26) we took refuge inside, hiding with our fans from the summery world outside to relax together and discuss the origin of this distinctly British Commonwealth holiday. Oh ok, so the discussion didn’t last much longer than it took to look it up on Wikipedia, but who’s keeping track?

New Years Eve definitely started out warm, but I was determined to join the hordes camping out all day to see the famous Sydney fireworks. Kali had to study, so after lunch Zach and I packed up a backpack full of food and sundries and sweated our way to the train station to join the constant stream of pilgrims going to stake out ideal spots in the many parks with views of Sydney Harbour and the Harbour Bridge. Our destination: Blues Point Reserve, just to the northwest of the Bridge.
Good conversations with a friend help pass the time, whatever the glamour of the place :)

We were prepared for a full day in the sun – hats, sandals, shorts, plenty of water and sunscreen. Bring on the heat, baby! …ehem… strangely enough, a couple of hours into our grassy vigil, brisk winds brought mounds of clouds scudding across the sky, blocking the sun and even dusting us with a light sprinkle of rain, all of which made me wish I was wearing pants!

Yay for cards!!!

Well, fast forward a number of hours over the interim of eating m&m’s, reading, playing cards, napping, and chatting, and the fire works finally came, brilliantly lighting up the velvety black of the lowering nighttime clouds and startling the flying foxes swooping about over our heads. With explosions of color coming from five different points along the Harbour as well as the Bridge itself, it was a fiercely beautiful sight indeed.

All the chill we had been feeling earlier soon disappeared as we wove our way through the immediate mass migration towards the train station. Tucked tightly against our neighbors on all sides, we found ourselves in the middle of rather effective insulation, as it were.

Finally home, we rinsed off the grime of the day and fell into bed, windows wide open and fans full force… and we slept.

All a tad bit different from our normal celebrations back home and a fair bit warmer than the holidays should be, but good nonetheless.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Our time in Middle Earth

Clean. Pack. Train. Wait. Plane. Customs. Hotel. Dinner. Sleep. Day 8 of Mom and Dad’s trip was basically all about the camp shift from Sydney to New Zealand.

There. That’s taken care of, now on to the more exciting stuff of the next day…

Day 9 started with an incredibly tasty Full Kiwi breakfast at a cute little country café along the road. It was so hearty! Bacon, eggs, baked beans, sausage, hash browns, lightly roasted tomato, toast, orange juice, and coffee filled us to the brim and primed us for the day. …mmmm…

Already happy, we kept going from oohs to aahs as we drove past miles of lushly green rolling hills dotted with frolicking lambs and peaceful cows, intermittently partitioned off by stolidly massive hedges, and backed by stately forest growth. So beautiful.

Finally, after a little backroads detour, we made it to the heart of Middle Earth! Hobbiton awaited us.

It may have been a little nerdy of us, but oh boy howdy did we thoroughly enjoy our tour through the jewel-toned heaven of Tolkien fans everywhere. The tour guides were wonderfully friendly and maintained their sense of humor even in the face of a surprise squall that caught hold of our umbrellas and blew them all over. The dozens of hobbit holes were perfectly adorable and fit so well into the rolling topography around them. The gardens were all exquisitely manicured into hobbit-yness, with an incredible attention to details most obvious in the faint footpaths that had been trodden down to and from the laundry lines filled with gently swaying hobbit clothes.

As a fitting end to the tour, the whole group stopped by the Green Dragon for a complementary beer or cider, finding refuge from that squall that had taken us by surprise. Even though it had only been a front during the filming of the Lord of the Rings movies and even burned down for one scene, the tavern had been rebuilt into a cozy, fully functioning retreat in which to prop up one’s feet with a stein in one hand and not a care in one’s head.

After bidding adieu to Middle Earth, we turned our heads once again towards the south, continuing on until we got to the Anchorage Resort Motel by Lake Taupo. Dinner on the outside patio of Dixie Brown’s, with blankets wrapped around our laps and heaters glowing from above, and we went to bed at the charming little motel happy little campers.

Monday, December 23, 2013

City Tour

A few weeks seem to have interfered with the telling of my parents’ visit, and Christmas is now practically upon us… oops. Let’s get back to that, shall we?

So, the seventh day of Mom and Dad’s stay was dedicated to a walking tour of the city. That’s one of the things I love about big cities with high tourist traffic – most of them have really great free walking tours that are generally very informative in a personable way and allow you to pay whatever you are able to. This one we took around Sydney was no exception. The guide was a friendly local who herself had been all over Europe and so knew what kinds of things would be interesting to us poor foreigners.

This public art exhibit from some year gone by has remained
to poetically remind passersby of the empty space left by native
birds forced from their habitat by encroaching developments.

She showed us the model of the city at the Customs House, dished the dirt on the old Governor Macquarie who thought enough of himself to get his name put on every other street and building, explained the Australian coat of arms, and illustrated the beauty of the impressive Queen Victoria Building with her brief history of its development. She also told several stories that we found particularly interesting and amusing.

The QVB - not bad for a shopping center, eh?

The first was this: Long ago, the staff of the old Hero of Waterloo pub used to lure poor sailors in and start giving them free drinks until they were dead drunk. Once unconscious, the unlucky fellows were trundled off to a ship down at the nearby docks. When they groggily woke up, they found themselves basically kidnapped and forcibly conscripted for hard labor aboard the ship. Bummer!

The second had to do with the Opera House. Apparently, the original designer never got to finish overseeing the building of his brainchild because a new ministry refused to pay all the rising expenses. He resigned and returned to his native Denmark with all his family. He was not invited to the grand opening and his name was not even mentioned until years later when he got asked back to oversee the remodeling of a few interior sections. That’s rough!

So pretty... 

The third story was a bit more positive and made us smile… One of the first hospitals in Sydney was actually funded and built by rum merchants! England refused to fund one for the young colony, so the governor convinced all the merchants to build it in exchange for control of the local alcohol market. Who ever thought rum would be the answer to one’s health problems? Haha.

Martin Place, here uniquely decorated by a public art exhibit,
has been the stage for several famous films, including
The Matrix and Superman Returns.