Blog #13 - Spent Many an Arvo Tramping Around Sydney!

We’re back from vacation!  Thailand that is… 

Last we wrote to you, we were in Thailand for a two-week beach vacation, recharging our batteries, relaxing and detoxing from our month-long adventure in India. 

The break in Thailand was sublime and exactly what we needed.  Almost every day on Samui we did yoga and massage, and we worked really hard at detoxing and getting healthy at the Spa Resort.  No photos, no blogging, no moving, just four wooden walls of a bungalow on beautiful Lamai beach on Koh Samui.  One night we saw a cockaroach the size of a mouse in our bathroom, but hey, at least he left the seat down!  Ok maybe we took a few photos, like the one below on our scooter tour on the last day :)

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We got to Samui by way of Surat Thani, which is a not-so-small town on the mainland, and we did this because (i) we’ve got the time, and (ii) flying through Surat Thani is about half the cost of flying direct to Samui. 

We saved a lot of money this way on the way out, too.  We went from Surat Thani to KL for only $35 bucks!  Yes, this now means we’ve been to Thailand twice, and Malaysia twice… but we did it because the Air Asia flight from KL to Sydney was only $200!

Well, our Air Asia flight to Sydney was on the red-eye.  We flew overnight, in very tightly packed economy seats, and arrived somewhat cheery and bushy tailed the next morning (Vince couldn’t keep his eyes open).

Upon arrival our luggage was sniffed out by very keen “bio security” Beagles.  I wonder how much they pay them?  Following the twenty minute inspection, we were graciously greeted by our host Peter at the arrival gate and were happily whisked away to one of the many gorgeous suburbs of Sydney called Cherrybrook to recoup, settle in, and make our plan of attack.  We only had one week in Sydney to try to experience everything Australian.

Did we mention this was our first time in the Southern Hemisphere? 

Well, aside from Vince’s ‘natural’ sense of direction messed up because “someone put the sun in the north”, it was all pretty much the same.  Except for the drains spiraling the other way, of course… ;)

Now we should explain a few words we picked up while visiting Australia -- the first is “cracker”, which means great, or fantastic, or awesome, so we think.  Our second favourite word is “arvo”, which means, simply, afternoon.  People text it more than they say it.  Either way - love it!  Then our next favourite word is “tramping”, which is just a quirky way of saying hiking.  (Get your minds out of the gutter!) 

But we did plenty of tramping around Sydney, as you can read below.  ;)

Shortly after landing, we had to get straight to a chore: applying for our China visas.  In order to minimize the drama, this time we went with an agent.  These magical people have an office just across the street from the consulate office, and turned our visa applications around on time.  It cost dearly, but when you have a small window of time to play with - basically, you gotta pay up.

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Ok so back to Sydney: on our first night we took a quick jaunt down to the famous Sydney Opera House to get a looky and film a birthday message to Steph’s second Dad, Bob Aldred, who turned 65 that day.  We hate missing special occasions.  For this one we spruced it up with the help of some friendly locals.  You can check it out for yourself:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkocICYEvj4 

This is when we started to fall head over heels for this city.  We both began to realize that that this was a special place.  The people were friendly and happy, and actually talked to other people!  It was very different from anywhere we had been so far (well, except perhaps Toronto twenty years ago ;).

The next day we dove straight deep into the city culture: we went straight to an AFL game (Aussie Rules Football).  It was very much on a whim.  Vince managed to buy tickets on his iPhone and scan both of us through the gate the next day.  There were even “special event” shuttle buses to and from the central train station – so smooth: this city just works!

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As to Aussie Rules, for those who don’t know, it is a highly athletic game that is played only in Aussieland, really.  It’s a mix of soccer and rugby.  The field is oval (same as a cricket field) and uses a smallish version of a rugby ball which players must either kick or punch (the ball, not each other…) in order to pass it, or try for a goal, which, much like a field goal in American football, is a shot through the uprights at the opposite end of the field.  We were also told that you can’t go to an AFL game without having some food at the stadium.  In addition to hot dogs, there was some middle eastern pizza-like foldover called Gozileme, and the obligatory “meat pie”, which was, in short, awesome.

Sydney is divided into several amazing neighborhoods, much like Toronto and New York – each has it’s own sometimes funny name, and certainly distinct personality.

We’ve never explored a city with such gusto as we did Sydney.  We tramped, tour-bussed, ferried, trained, or bussed all over the place. 

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We loved the Rocks, near the main harbor.  It was super-trendy and yuppy-like with street markets and chic restaurants.  Comparable to Toronto's Distillery District.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Surrey Hills where we got to take in some comedy and also see our friend Kirsty Mac perform.  She was so funny, we laughed so hard for her entire set.  A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! 

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We even made our way to the Sydney fish market on our tour bus day.  When the bus announced “fish market” Vince said, hey you want fish?  And just like that, there was lunch.  Oh did we mention the food is out of this world in Sydney?  In particular the seafood.  We’ve never eaten so healthy and clean when out at restaurants (nor could we in many other cities).

So we have mentioned tramping already, but we should be specific in case you are interested in visiting. 

As per Peter and Gaye’s recommendations, we did the “Spit to Manly” walk (10km), which took a whole day and ended with a ferry ride back to the city, landing right next to the opera house. 

A few days later we did the “Bondi Beach to Bronte” walk (6km), which was like being teleported to the set of Baywatch.   

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On our last day, we really ventured afield and went to the Blue Mountains to see the “Three Sisters” and do the Prince Henry Walk (10+km).  The nature, scenery and surroundings were just to die for.  Exercise never looked so good and our feet have never been so sore.  Remember to get a good pair of hiking boots before you go down under.  Best investment we have made so far.

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The day before our “Bondi to Bronte” walk, we were lucky enough to have been invited to stay in Bondi overnight by our friend Kara,  just 14 kilometers from the city centre.  She was so gracious showing us around, and with fine taste introduced us to a very cool and high quality Italian restaurant on the north end of the beach.  Thanks again Kara!

Last but definitely not least, Steph even snuck in a brief visit to the International Chartered Accountants of Australia (ICAA) and saw Jayne, her work buddy, for a quick tour and coffee.  Thanks Jayne!  Its so nice to see friends abroad and catch up. 

We wish we had more time to see everyone we know in Sydney, but with time restraints there were not enough hours in our days.  Sorry if we missed you :( hopefully we will meet again real soon somewhere else in the world. 

What a magical week and what a memorable visit.  We loved being hosted by Peter and Gaye.  They were so generous and so much fun, we were quite sad to leave.  We can’t wait to visit again soon.  Thanks Peter and Gaye!  I’m sure we’ll have the chance to host you in Toronto in the very near future.

Well enough gushing for one week.  We’re now in New Zealand as we write this.  We’re here for the next three weeks, touring in our campervan, but we have already realized this isn’t nearly enough time for this place.

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We hope we have convinced you to choose Australia for your next vacation.  If so, we kindly suggest you begin playing your local lotteries now.  Even if you have money to burn, Sydney is expensive.  A pack of chewing gum costs $3.  Bottled water, also $3 (ahem, this is 10 times more expensive than Thailand).  Bus, train and ferry rides ranged from about $4 to $10 depending on the journey. 

As to food and drink: a bottle of beer in a bar is about $8, a soup can be $12, and a proper main at a not-fancy restaurant is going to be at least $20-$30.  Notably, the VAT (i.e. sales tax) is built-in to the above numbers, and tipping isn’t really a thing here – so if you slice 30% off these numbers, you’ll end up closer to Toronto / New York prices anyway…

Either way, and even though we only scratched the surface, we feel Sydney is certainly worth the time and money.  It is a hidden gem, and a magical place.

Oh, and before we forget and speaking of magical…  Vince’s sister had a baby girl while we were in Sydney, and we are both now Uncle Vince and Auntie Stephie for the first time!  Congrats to Daniella and Mark!  We will never forget this week and can’t wait to meet her in September upon our return.  Real magic!

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