Town and Country

Where to start?  So much has happened since the last time I was able to write.  First of all it’s been hard even getting to my computer.  Most evenings I’m just so tired after a full day of activities and Amy is on the computer “Skyping” with her boyfriend, Alex.  I probably would have been too tired anyway, regardless.

We spent a great day in the rainforest after we went for a snorkeling trip on the Great Barrier Reef.  Amy spotted a platypus which is very rare and hard to spot…I saw the splash it made. Did I tell you that the resort we stayed in is owned by two Swiss chefs who cooked for us every night for dinner?  It was sooooo nice I can’t stop raving about the food.  I’m sure I put on several pounds.  That place was magic.  I don’t know if I mentioned walking out after dark into their front yard and seeing the starry night… we could see the Milky Way and I spotted the Southern Cross.  It was unforgettable.  I don’t think I have ever seen the sky that full of stars… we were so far out in the country there were no lights to compete.

There were also wallabies and pademelons all over the place and they would let you feed them (the chefs put out boxes of sliced sweet potatoes).  We found out they like cashew nuts, and one of them decided to check out our room as well.  That was fantastic!

We flew to Sydney and had one of those “airport” experiences when we flew out of Cairns.  There was a gate agent who insisted on sticking to the rules like glue and we had to check some bags that she wouldn’t let us carry on — cost us $30.  Ah well… once we got to Sydney we were picked up by my brother-in-law Peter, my sister-in-law Diane, and my niece Carol.  We drove up into the Blue Mountains.  We checked into a house that was in the little town of Katoomba.  It is a beautiful house, don’t know how old, but they have remodeled the interior very nicely and it’s quite comfortable.   We had four bedrooms, two full baths, kitchen, great room, and a sun porch.  Also the back was a huge garden, not as nice in the winter but must be fantastic in summer.  They also have a barbecue and a large outdoor seating area in the garden.  We didn’t make use of it since it’s winter here, but even so it was a nice touch.

Our first day was rainy so we made our way to Jenolan Caves.  We toured two of the caves (there are about a dozen) and had lunch in the hotel.  The hotel lunch was ok, the building is quite grand but it’s out of season so I’ll bet they’re just not making as much of an effort.  We hiked up and down several trails, and saw some beautiful scenery.  But wait, there’s more.

The next day was beautiful weather so we went for a “walk” as Pete called it.  Well… in my dictionary walk means having a nice stroll.  What we did was hike The National Pass.  Beautiful scenery, for sure.  Lovely wild and unspoiled Australian Gum (Eucalyptus) forest.  Even though the trails are groomed and well equipped with hand rails and such, it’s a challenging hike for those of us flat-landers from Florida who have no concept of walking up and down and up and down multiple stairs and inclines.  We hiked for more than two hours and were rewarded by some spectacular views.  By the time we were finished, I was flat out finished.  I didn’t think I would ever be able to walk another step.  I kept saying, “Keep on climbing, keep on climbing…”  We enjoyed a nice lunch in the “Conservation Hut” and then just a short walk (this time) back to the car.   Then we visited Echo Point and saw a rock formation called “The Three Sisters.” Very pretty, and then we drove a bit further over and went to Scenic World, which features two cable-car rides, and a steep railroad that takes people down into the valley much like the coal miners used to ride in the olden days.  They say it’s the steepest railway incline in the world.

On our third day we got to experience the “Winter Magic” Festival in Katoomba.  They had over 40,000 people come in from all over, special steam trains from Sydney came up, vendors lined the street, and they had an unique small-town parade in the afternoon.  Not sure why, but lots of people dressed in costumes.  I saw some very original and funny ones.  In the afternoon we went to the Zig-Zag Railway, which was an engineering marvel in it’s day.  It’s run now by volunteers who love working with old steam engines and trains.  I made dinner that night.  The other nights we went out.  One night we ate at the Swiss Cottage, and Amy and I shared Raclette and a chocolate fondue.  If you’re in the market for a business opportunity in Katoomba, the Swiss Cottage is for sale.  Any interest?

When it was time to leave, it was hard because that is such a nice area!

We got to Sydney and found our accommodations in The Rocks area.  This is the old, historic part of Sydney, with lots of hilly streets and little lanes and alleyways.  The houses are older and there are no high-rises.  There is an arts & crafts market every weekend…and lots of good restaurants and cafes.  It’s also close to the harbor bridge and Circular Quay with the Sydney Opera House.  So the accommodation had a lot of promise and potential.  Well… as I said, there always has to be something funny.  The house was a narrow row house that had been remodeled in an…let’s say… interesting style.  Every wall downstairs was painted black.  The kitchen was all stainless steel.  Ultra modern… lean on furnishings in the downstairs.  The upstairs had three bedrooms, all furnished with basic Ikea furniture.  The floors were the original hardwood and there were some area rugs.  The bathroom was tiny.  There was no vanity, just a bowl sink.  The shower was huge, but if I had designed it I would have made a smaller shower and put in a decent vanity with some shelves.

Anyway, the first night there was pretty comfortable, but we noticed a few cockroaches in the place, and I figured it was par for the course in an older building in the city.  Then on the second night when we came home there were cockroaches everywhere, upstairs, downstairs, in the dining room, everywhere.  It was disgusting.  We packed up and left immediately… I was so grossed out.  We ended up in the same hotel suites property we used in Melbourne, which has a beautiful view of Darling Harbor and the Harbor Bridge, and it’s still in the Rocks area.  We have to fight to get our money back from the first place, because they are trying to deny there were any roaches or there was anything wrong.  We’ll see about that!  Never mind that the place had no freezer (fridge with no freezer???) and the dishwasher didn’t work and that the laundry was wet after being in the dryer for 2 hours.  It’s always something!!

We’ve been in Sydney and have seen and done so many things that have been fun, and have had such a good time that even a cockroach-infested apartment couldn’t put a damper on things!!

The highlights:

  • We climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  Easy as compared to our hike in the Blue Mountains.  But we did it in the pouring rain.  That made things interesting.
  • Sydney Aquarium and the Tower (not as good as the one in Melbourne, but impressive nonetheless).
  • Sydney Opera House — Impressive on the outside, but I was not as impressed with the interiors.
  • Shopping and Restaurants — some good some not so good.  Prices are high.  Love the wine.
  • Bondi Beach — rainy day, but still an impressive beach.  Lots of nice real estate to see along the way.
  • Whale Watching — fantastic and saw several whales on their way north.

We are looking forward to our last day tomorrow.  Pete, Diane and Carol will come into town and we’ll visit the famous Rocks Market, and have a farewell lunch.  Then Amy and I will hit the cheesy souvenir shops to see what fun things we can find to bring home.  I already have some great souvenirs, but it will be fun to see what else we can find.

I have posted more pictures, but only up through our time in the Blue Mountains so far.  I’ll try and put up more tonight, but it’s not always easy to get on my computer. 😉

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