Sunday, July 28, 2013

Day 15: The ultimate cinema experience

The summer of 2011 was a very important one for nerds such as myself. For me, of course, it was the summer I went to Sydney, but it was also the summer where the world watched an era come to a close. I am, of course, talking about the films and books that defined my childhood, and those of many around the world...Harry Potter.

I came to the realization that I would be in Sydney when the final movie came out long before I ever stepped on a plane, and I secretly hoped that Tanya and I would be able to go see it. Luckily, Tanya was thinking the same thing as she wanted me to experience what they call "Gold Class Cinema" at the Macquarie Shopping Center.

For those of you who don't know...Gold Class Cinema is the best and only way one should experience a movie theater...that is if you are made of money because it is rather expensive but also rather excellent. A ticket to a Gold Class Cinema will cost you about $30...and even more if you watch in 3D, which we did not. The concessions are another $30 if you're going on the cheap, but when you're watching the last Harry Potter, and witnessing a piece of your childhood come to and end...$60 is a small price to pay for absolute comfort and first class cuisine.

You could eat your entire meal at Gold Class if you chose. They have everything from small appetizers to full-on entrees that they will deliver to you at your leisure. In order to cut down costs, however, Tanya and I had lunch outside the theater at a little mexican place called Mad Mex. I had nachos, and they were actually pretty spectacular.

Tanya and I had purchased our tickets to the film far in advance to secure our prime seating for the ultimate cinema experience. We then perused the menu, deciding on a sundae and hot chocolate that would be delivered separately...the sundae about halfway through the movie and we were quite full and the hot chocolate near the end.

We went into the theater where our seats awaited us. Our seats, I should point out that were in the form of massive reclining chairs. It was just the two of us to our own row, and it honestly felt like the two of us were just sitting in the living room enjoying what was left of the Harry Potter dynasty.

Ours was a much smaller version of this, but you get the general idea. 
The movie was fantastic. I cried through the better part of the second half and left feeling thoroughly satisfied, and with no regret whatsoever for the small fortune I just paid to experience that film.

I know I keep saying this, but even though we weren't sight seeing or doing anything particularly adventurous, this was one of my favorite days. I will remember for the rest of my life that I saw the final installment of Harry Potter in Sydney, Australia (which, by the way, had a special message at the end from Daniel Radcliffe just for Australia, so that was kind of cool) and it was something Tanya and I shared together. As a huge Harry Potter nerd, it meant a lot that we were able to make the whole experience like a grand send-off party.

After the movie, we went back to Tanya's place to just kind of relax. The rain still hadn't let up from the night before, and frankly, we were still exhausted from the entire ordeal. We picked out some movies from Tanya's collection that I hadn't seen before (can't remember which ones...Tanya spent a lot of time giving me a film education, so they all sort of blur), sat back and simply had a good time enjoying each other's company.

It was a simple day, but still one of the best, as is often the way with good food and good friends, and of course Harry Potter. What else could a girl possibly ask for?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Day 14: A lovely time on the bridge


So this one time I started a blog about my adventure to Australia....that time was nearly two years ago now...and I am very ashamed of myself as the purpose of my blog was to document my adventure before I had forgotten the details. I am still committed to finish provided I can remember it all :/ So here goes nothing.

Tuesday, July 19 in the year two thousand and eleven was truly one of the most spectacular days of my life. No exaggeration. Not even the rain could get in the way of the amazingness of this Tuesday in the land down under, for this was the day that I climbed the Harbour Bridge.

Tanya and I began the day at the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) in downtown Sydney. I had scheduled the afternoon to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb at 3:30, so we decided to stay in the city to make it easier on ourselves.

The QVB was built in the late 1800s, and was named, of course after Queen Victoria. It's now home to a massive shopping center, home to some 100+ shops. It takes up an entire block in downtown Sydney. The architecture inside is just beautiful, and each shop is so unique that window shopping through that place was thoroughly entertaining.

After we got a taste for the QVB, we just kind of strolled around the city shopping for souvenirs that I could bring back for the family. I want to say we also got some licorice from Darrell Lea in the basement of the QVB, but that may have come later.

After a lovely afternoon of wandering around the city, we made our way to the bridge climb. All day long it had been threatening to rain, and I was worried they might cancel our trip up the bridge, but the lady at the desk assured me that would only happen in extreme cases.

After perusing the gift shop for a bit, it was time for my group to prepare to climb the bridge. Tanya had already gone in celebration of her 30th birthday, so I left her with my things and went on my merry way.

They took our group into a small room where they asked us for some personal information, and then proceeded to give us all a breathalyzer test. Probably the only time in my life I will be asked to do that, but I suppose they don't appreciate drunks on the bridge. They give you a brief safety lesson, and then it's off to train.

Now, when I say training...I mean training. They don't mess around at the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. After the first instruction, our group spent the next 30-45 minutes being trained on how to climb the bridge.

First, we had to get our gear. The guide informed us that is was quite chilly up on the bridge so in addition to our fashionable blue jump suits, we would also be wearing snow pants, a fleece jacket, beanies, and gloves. I was 6 feet around by the time I had all my gear on.

But before putting all that gear on, we practiced on the bridge climb obstacle course making sure we understood how to travel up and down the stairs we would be climbing and how to move our harness across the bridge.

After we finished our training it was time to get on the bridge. At this point, I'm freaking out a little...but just a little. You see...I am dreadfully afraid of heights and although there was no way I was turning back, I couldn't help but feel a little bit anxious as we walked towards the bridge. I was able to see Tanya briefly before we went on the bridge. I'd given her my camera to document the moment just before we embarked.

You think that's an attractive outfit? Just wait until it's all complete. So we got all geared up and started up the bridge. There's quite a long ways you have to walk that is inside the stone ends of the bridge. Mostly stairs...lots of stairs. The anxiety at this point was gradually building, but nothing could have prepared me for the next part.

We weren't allowed to take cameras on the bridge (mostly because they'd probably fall off) otherwise I would show you what I saw at the next point in our journey. There is a walkway just as you exit the base of the bridge that is metal mesh all the way across. This means, that for the stretch of 200 yards, you can see straight down to the cement below.

I think our guide understood that this would be the biggest hurdle for those of us with height issues. So, of course, she took this time to stop and give us a history lesson which, at first, I was like. Seriously?? You're going to stop NOW? But after a few minutes standing there...and not dying...I realized that I was going to be just fine. Like, stop being such a sissy.

After "the catwalk" as they called it, we had to climb a series of stairs which was a little unnerving as you weren't really harnessed in at that point, but more often than not, there were nice Australian men helping you up those stairs and keeping you at ease which worked just fine for me.

Once we were on the bridge, the height thing became a non-issue. I was afraid the wimpy harness would make me nervous, but with the 3 feet between me and the edge of the bridge I figured I'd really have to be trying to fall off.

These lovely people are my group. I didn't get to know them extremely well, but we spent a lovely 3 hours together on the bridge. There were two sisters from Victoria, a Chinese couple and their college-aged daughter who was attending school in Sydney, a couple from Florida with two girls, and a couple from Massachusetts. They were all great fun.

You guys, if you ever get the chance to visit Sydney, you MUST do the bridge climb. It is very expensive. Don't get me wrong. It set me back about $300, but is was so worth it. (I also picked the most expensive time, though.) The sites as you go along the bridge are priceless. It's just beautiful up there, and you will always be able to tell people you climbed the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. I simply cannot describe the euphoria I felt up there. It was unreal.

Here's that super hot outfit I was telling you about. I can't even remember what that thing is around my neck...they gave us a lot of stuff that we didn't really need. I was, however quite grateful for the winter gear as it was pretty dang cold. It never rained while I was on the bridge, though. That would come almost the second I stepped off.

As you walk up the bridge, all you can see is open water and the Opera House off to your right. When we started up the bridge, the sun was just setting. Coming back down, you get a view of the beautiful city of Sydney. By the time we started back, the it was getting dark and the lights of the city were just coming on. They were in full splendor by the time we reached the base. We got the best of both worlds. I was able to see the city from the best vantage point at day and night...but all my best pictures were before it got to dark. This is way my time was the most expensive. I kind of felt like...if I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do it the right way.

I made my way back to land where Tanya was waiting for me. We had made to plans to eat dinner at the revolving restaurant at Sydney Tower. The only problem at this point was that it had begun to rain...and it was coming down hard. We had walked from the parking garage and were now forced to hoof it the 1.7 miles to the restaurant. Normally this would be no problem, but I'm not kidding it was raining HARD, and I had souvenirs I'd bought earlier in the day that needed to stay dry.

This is me after a 25 minute walk in the rain about to eat at a restaurant that charges $65 a plate.

Needless to say, we were very wet and very cold, and my jeans were so wet, they kept threatening to slide off because they were so heavy. But still, we pressed on and paid our $65 to enter the Sydney Tower Buffet which supposedly has the best views of the city at night. 

Here's another little travel tip for you, if you ever make your way to Sydney. While the views at the top of Sydney Tower are quite nice, DO NOT waste your money on the restaurant. I have never paid so much for a meal in my life, and while a large part of it, I'm sure is the atmosphere, I would not have paid $5 for the meal I received. 

Tanya and I went through and got our first round of food...neither of us finished everything on our plate...both thinking we had just chosen poorly and surely the second time around would be better. We were wrong. It was just as bad as the first round. At this point, we both looked at each other and had the realization that we were both thinking the exact thing. Did we really just pay $130 for this?? Really? We started busting up laughing as the entire situation was so sad and so ridiculous. 

We made one final go at the buffet thinking, surely, there's no way they could mess up dessert. Once, so wrong. Tanya picked up a little cup that was labeled "Lavender Pudding". I told her that sounded disgusting, but she was intrigued. I think I got some kind of chocolate equivalent that was the farthest thing from chocolate I think I have ever tasted. 

Tanya took one bite of her lavender pudding, and quite skillfully made me believe she actually enjoyed it and convinced me to take a bite.  If you are like me, you read the words "lavender pudding" and thought, that's just some kind of fancy name for a pudding right? It couldn't actually be lavender flavored. I kid you not, the pudding was exactly what I imagine lavender lotion would taste like. It was waxy and perfumy and disgusting. The second it entered my mouth Tanya was gone, and I nearly choked. We were beyond hope. 

At one point, some poor guy came up and asked if we'd like our picture taken...for only another $15 dollars we could keep it. Having already been in complete hysterics that evening, we couldn't contain our laughter. He surely thought we were laughing at him, but it was just the utterly ridiculous situation we had found ourselves in that you had to laugh at, or else be brought to tears over your poor decision making. 

On the bright side, the view really was amazing up there. The pictures don't really do them justice, but terrible food aside, we had a phenomenal evening at that restaurant...if only because we laughed until our sides ached. 

We continued laughing all the way down the elevator, on the Monorail ride back to Darling Harbour and in the car on the way back to Tanya's apartment. This was probably the most crazy day I had in Sydney. Filled with shopping, adventure and laughter, I couldn't have asked for a better day. 

It was right around this day, however that I started to realize just how little time I had left in Sydney and I remember that night being a little bit meloncholy. I didn't want to leave this beautiful place and the people I had come to know and love. That would all hit me later, though. 

When it all came to a close, Day 14 would always been enshrined in my memory as the day we said..."Ah well, at least I had a lovely time on the bridge." 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day 13: ZOO DAY


Okay kids, so there are a LOT of pictures on this one. I had a hard time discriminating because they're all so good!! (If I don't say so myself). Anyway, Tanya was adamant that we visit Taronga Zoo, and I'm going to be totally honest, I was kind with my dad when he said "The Zoo? The Zoo is just a zoo." Let me tell you friends, this place is SO much more than "just a zoo". I'm SO glad Tanya took me. Not only did we enjoy a peaceful day with the animals, but the views were breathtaking. I'm not kidding, I could not stop taking pictures I was so stunned.

I honestly can't remember Tanya mentioning many details about the zoo. I'm quite convinced she wanted it to be a surprise. Basically, This is the first thing you see as you enter the zoo. (As you can see from the sign clearly marked ENTRY). At this point I was thinking to myself, wow, that is a very lovely view...but come along for a ride dearests for it only gets better from here.

This is one of my favorite pictures of the day. Here, we have a majestic giraffe...with the Sydney Opera House in the big deal. We walked around the zoo for a few hours and enjoying hanging with the animals (of which I have a billion pictures, but I think there is a point where a blog has too many pictures so I held back on posted all of them this time). Then we made our way over the elephants.

There were a few shows that Tanya insisted we MUST see before we left the zoo that day, and the Elephant training one was one such show. We went and paid far too much for a less than spectacular hamburger that had some weird orange sauce on it, and found a spot on a rock just outside the Elephant play area. Here I must pause to mention that Tanya is a zoo expert. She knows how to work the system. The rock we found to sit on was prime real estate because we were able to sit there and eat, but when the show started we could stand on it and laugh at all the people in front of of us who had been standing for the last 20 minutes to ensure a good spot :)

So the show started, and it was really cute. My little brother Brady, the elephant connoisseur, would have loved it. The trainers played all sorts of games with the elephants like soccer and football, plus the guy commentating on the whole thing had a beautiful accent, which I cannot complain about, AND there were baby elephants (need I say more?). Now fully nourished and refreshed, we continued.

So I'm realizing now that my pictures are a bit out of order, because we went to the bird show before the elephant show, but that is okay. One of the first shows of the day was the bird show, and it was located in a little amphitheater. As we rounded the corner to enter said amphitheater, we encountered this stunning vision. I remember turning to Tanya at this point with a look like "You live here?" "You have a pass to this zoo, and you can come ANY TIME YOU WANT?" And then a small amount of jealous rage swept over me, but then I looked over the harbor again and I was over it. It's hard to describe just how beautiful this place is. I wish there were words, or pictures that could do it justice, but there just aren't. So basically y'all will just have to go before you die and experience it for yourselves. I'm not kidding. If visiting Australia is not on your bucket list, or if you don't have a bucket list, pull out a piece of paper and WRITE IT DOWN, dang it!

So here's me just before the bird show started in front of the Harbor. I like to think of it as my "Sydney in Sydney" shot, thanks to a lovely comment by one beautiful Samantha Bertoni on my Facebook page :) I'm pretty much really jealous of the girl in that picture right now. I would go back in a heartbeat.

This is my artsy bona fide photographer shot. My dad didn't understand when I showed him. "Why did you take a picture of a tree?" said he. BECAUSE, Dad, it's a cockatoo, and the Harbour Bridge is in the background. It's artsy and bona fide, don't you know.

Once again, I love this shot because it's like mixing wildlife and a city skyline, and it's just so cool! I'm not sure, because I haven't been to every zoo in the world, but I'd bet this is one of the only places on the planet where you can see something like this.

This cute little gullah took the money from my hand and put it into the box. Pretty much a highlight of my day.

Next up was the seal show. This was really fun. The seals did all sorts of tricks, and were quite successful in drenching a few kids in the front row, which was entertaining. There's something about the zoo, I guess that just makes you feel like a little kid again. I'm a lucky lucky girl that I had such a great friend to show me around, because she knew exactly where I needed to, and exactly what I would love. We are pretty much the same person in a lot of that's good.

Here's another one of them artsy shots. I just couldn't help myself. I'm sure I wore Tanya out. I seriously had to stop like every five steps...oh wait! I see another picture! If I were her, I'd be thinking, "Sydney, you just took a picture of that, but from five steps back." And she'd be right. Mostly, I think I was afraid that if I didn't keep taking pictures that I would forget something, and I didn't want to miss out on reliving a single second of this day.

I know I have a million Koala pictures, but this guy cracks me up. Who do you think you are? King of the eucalyptus tree?

Same thing with this picture. This poor guy is obviously not totally sold on the idea of living in a caged-in area where a bunch a strangers come and gawk at him all day.

So here it is, one of my very favorite shots of the entire trip. It was kind of cool because there was this globe down by the seals, but it wasn't like one you might see at Hogle Zoo, for it was of the southern hemisphere, which is where I was. First time crossing the equator baby :). We spent nearly the entire day at the zoo, and boy was it a day well spent. I was awed and amazed at the beauty that was there. It was relaxing, and pretty much perfect. We were pretty spent after that, but the day didn't end there. Tanya had something else in mind...

Take a moment, friends, and bask in the awesome and magical place that is McMahon's Point. Here is where Tanya brought me after the zoo. We spend a while here. I couldn't bring myself to walk away from it, frankly. We sat and just watched, and laughed a bit at the fact that the very next day I would atop that bridge...above that large body of water...the Pacific Ocean, and we listened for a big to Hugh Jackman sing his heart out about how he still calls Australia home. I can understand why, Hugh. I left a piece of my heart there I think.

At the bottom there is a picture of me at McMahon's point, and for your viewing pleasure, the strange couple taking pictures by the water. They were there before we got there and stayed until after we left...we were trying to figure out their story, but they were just really strange and quite unreadable.

The view was just unbelievable. I mean seriously. You cannot buy that. After a beautiful afternoon/evening at McMahon's point, Tanya took me to this great little Thai restaurant just up the road (however, it was uphill the entire way, and it seemed a lot farther than it was, but the food was totally worth it). We took it back to the car, and it began to rain a bit, so Tanya decided to take me to another place wherest I might enjoy another phenomenal view and experience Thai food for the first time. Unfortunately, we got stuck in some serious traffic, but-Christmas Miracle-our food was still hot a delicious by the time we reached the little hill in the town Tanya grew up in to eat our food. Traffic wasn't all bad, anyway because we ended up driving across the Harbour Bridge which was definitely worth waiting in a bit of traffic.

It began to rain, but we managed to find a closed restaurant that had closed for the day and had a little overhang that we could sit under. The food was amazing, and the view was priceless, but the best part was just being in that moment with Tanya, one of my very best friends in this entire world. By far, this was one of my favorite days of the entire trip. It seriously was as near to perfect as you could get, and a lot of it was dumb luck and spur of the moment decisions that made for one simply amazing day. I don't know if any of you have made it through the forever long ramblings of this post, but Tanya, if you're reading, just want you to know that I love you, and I will always remember this day, and of course the lovely time I had on the bridge ;) That's all for zoo day. Tune in tomorrow when I climb the bridge (!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day 12: Meet the Fisks

So I'm back. I apologize for the long break in between blogs. I have sold my soul to BYU for the time being and have only just know found time to get some more blogging in two months later, at one'o'clock in the morning. But back to business.

So this day was actually rather spectacular. We woke up in the Blue Mountains to the sound of Kookaburras, and just lounged around for a while (although Tanya had naturally been up for HOURS as she does). There was a bit of a decision to make as we had meant to meet the Fisks, one of the other families my dad taught and baptized, and became really close to, but for some reason we had just missed them. BUT, Tanya, being the intuitive person that she is had the feeling that we should go back to her house that morning and try to catch up with the Fisks and see what their plans for the next few days were. So we packed our stuff up, said our goodbyes to the family and went home.

We settled in a little bit, and if I remember correctly I don't even think I bothered to put my contacts on before we left. So we called up the Fisks, and miracle of miracles, they were shopping at that very moment at the Blacktown shopping center just minutes from Tanya's flat. So I rushed to make myself presentable, as I was not about to meet these people my dad had spoken so much about in the state I was in.

And thus began part two of our adventure that day. Tanya was funny. She kept saying how strange it was to be in a shopping center on a Sunday...there were definitely more people there than you would see in a Utah mall on a Sunday, not really surprising, but something I was definitely not used to. We were to meet the Fisks outside of Big W. I remember walking kind of gingerly up to this couple thinking...I'm PRETTY sure that's them, but if it's not, then this could turn into a really awkward moment. Luckily, they mostly recognized me and we shared a moment of...I believe I am the person you are looking for, and we started into the hugs and introductions and stories. The Fisks are LOVELY people. Tanya, naturally became best friends with Sandra because that's just what she does. She looks at people, and they think "This looks like a person I could bear my soul to." And I love her for it.

I should probably put a little explanation into this picture. I really don't have an adequate description of what happening other than that this gesture was supposed to mean something to my dad. It's like a secret mission thing, but I love this picture. I think it's because it makes me think of my dad as a missionary, and I can totally see him having jokes like makes my connection to these great people all the more real.

Arthur told me all about his family, his grandson that they're raising, we talked a bit of politics, and we talked about their hometown of Bathurst. He also told me that if I plan on finding myself an Aussie boy that I should start by looking for a "bush boy" like himself. We talked about my dad a little bit, and of the church. We really talked about everything. It was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon. It really brought home to me just how far reaching the church is. 

I mean honestly, had it not been for the church and the impact it had on my dad's life, so much so that he decided to devote his life to the lord and to a people thousands of miles away, there's NO WAY I would have been standing in that shopping center on the other side of the world meeting these wonderful people. I have this connection with these people because of my dad's faith and, I believe because the Lord has decided that I should. It truly is amazing. Tanya says her favorite quote is that "There are no coicidences in the gospel of Jesus Christ." I happen to KNOW that this is so. Stayed tuned for day 18 which is further proof of this.

So this last picture is a picture of a belt buckle that Arthur gave to me...and it is one of my most treasured possessions. He won it in...I'm going to feel awful if I get this wrong, but I believe it was '89 when he won an International Archery Competition. It has his name engraved on the back, and gosh. It is just super cool. Before we left, he said that he wanted me to have it because I'm just like a granddaughter to him. I seriously almost started crying.

These are two very special people, and I am very glad to have them in my life :) Unfortunately, I've waited a long time to post, and I am beginning to forget things but I believe after leaving the Fisks house Tanya and I just went home and had a girl's night-watched movies, ate junk food and talked. Pretty good day I'd say. However, it did hit me around this time that my adventure in Australia was half way over. But man, did we make the most of the next week...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 11: It's Beautiful in Katoomba

Wow. Okay so this will probably be the longest blog I will ever do in my life, and probably the most disorganized. You don't have to read to the end if you don't want to. True story: all these pictures were taken in one day, and they're only about a third of them. Anywho...we went a wandering the Blue Mountains this misty and rather chilly Saturday, and all I can say is: phenomenal. It's truly like a different world up there. The gum trees are unbelievable cool, and they are everywhere, and then you have parts that look like a little rainforest, and other parts look kinda similar to what you might see in Utah, only with flat tops, and no snow as it was, after all, winter.

Hey guess what? I love this lady. 

But before we began our journey into the mountains, we naturally had to stop at a few shops. This picture was taken at an antique shop in Leura. It was HUGE. Now, I like to shop, don't get me wrong. But Sam and Judith REALLY like to shop. Janne and Rob were the first to tire of the antiques, and as Tanya and I began to fade, we found things to amuse ourselves, including, but not limited to: picking out future wedding presents for each other, mocking the horrid Di and Charles wedding china, and talking to cute little children who seemed amazed by the shop. I also found this rather amusing conductor's hat, and tried it on for fun. Hot right? I know. It just comes naturally.

After the antique shop, it was time to sight see. I was the only "kid" going sight seeing. Everyone else had gone four-wheeling with Tony (bless his heart). Unfortunately, our sight seeing attempts we a little less than successful to begin with. It was SO misty that morning. Any attempt to see anything past the first row of trees was useless. Just to give you an idea of how incredibly difficult it was to see anything...look below. 

After a few hours of pleasant, yet unfruitful driving, we made our way down to Megalong Valley. This picture here, while seemingly random, is one of my favorites-for off in the distance, as was pointed out by Janne after the fact, is a Kangaroo Crossing sign. Not a joke. It's legit. You can barely see it if you look closely, but it's there.

This picture took me back to my childhood. Did any of you ever watch Rescuers Down Under? Remember in the beginning where it goes across the outback and then all of the sudden a random house pops up next to what seems to be Ares Rock? I like to think that there is a curious little boy living in this little hut who will one day rescue a giant bird with the help of his mice friends.


Here is the cute little "tearoom" as it was called that we ate lunch at in Megalong Valley. I'm pretty sure snow white lives here, but it can't be proven. We had some soup, I had something and leek soup. Although I can't recall it's name, I remember it being really good especially since the weather was so crummy outside.

I also enjoyed some delicious hot chocolate, and as you can see, hot chocolate does not always come in mugs in Australia.

An then, just some more beautiful scenery that we enjoyed. The shot on the left makes me think of Emperor's New Grove with the monkey on the branch. Like I said, a new world.

On the right is a waterfall called, funnily enough, Bridal Vale Falls. We saw this at a lookout point around Katoomba that had a really steep drop and a rather flimsy chain link fence between us and death, but the view was pretty.

This picture is of the three sisters, or at least it was supposed to be. It's kind of the big tourist attraction of the blue mountains. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a great shot of it, but what can you do?

And now...for your viewing pleasure...I present: The BLUE MOUNTAINS

And here I am in front of the Three Sisters...can't you tell? I mean honestly. Look harder. 

We found this guy in a shopping center in Katoomba where I actually bought the opals I brought home for my mom and me. Since Koala's are my favorite, I simply had to take a picutre with him :)

There's nothing better than a weekend with people you love in such a beautiful setting. 

After sight seeing all day, we went back to the house and headed pretty soon after for dinner at this great Chinese Restaurant in Wentworth Falls. Judy was kind enough to treat us all to some of the greatest Chinese food I have ever had, and I learned to rock a pair of chopsticks which would funnily enough come in handy later on in the week when Tanya and I became Thai experts. (Well...she was the Thai expert. I was just experiencing.)

This trip, while filled with regular family vacation tension, was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. It was laid back, but full of amazing experiences and sights that one could only possibly see in Australia, and specifically the Blue Mountains, making me once again grateful for the connections I have to this great country, as Judy actually grew up in the Mountain and Tanya, Sam and Janne lived there for most of their lives. They knew exactly where to take me. Back at the house, Tanya and I used the time we had left to book ourselves into the most Sydney-packed week there ever was. Details to come...

Day 10: Murder, Mountains and Milo


So my wonderful family in Australia rented out a cute little house up in the Blue Mountains for family bonding time. It was in a cute little city called Wentworth Falls (which, of course, reminded me of Prison Break). The picture to the left is one of the views we had from the house. It was a blast! Getting up there, however, was...well...let's say an adventure. Tanya and I had a bit of a late start Friday morning before we made our way up the mountain. This, of course, caused us to be stuck in the most ridiculous traffic of all time. Sam and her family were amazingly luck, and just missed it all. At one point, Tanya just put the car in park, turned off the ignition, and we sat on the road for a good twenty minutes before anything started moving.

What could cause such a delay you ask? Well we were asking ourselves the same question when we came to a group of police cars guiding traffic away from the road and through a residential area that was swarming with more cops. They were going door to door asking neighbors about what I could only assume was a serial killer on the loose. It turned out only to be a gas leak...but I'm still not totally convinced that the leak wasn't just a cover for a brilliantly minded criminal whose weapon of choice is asphyxiation and/or exploding buildings.

Whatever the cause of the delay, we were now sufficiently lost and off the established trail, and thus began Sydney's tenure as Tanya's map reader. For the record: I am a fantastic map reader. Tanya, on the other hand, is a horrible listener. She never believed the map reader. No. She knew best. So after several dead ends and a lot of laughter, we finally found our way to the house. We were the first there, as everyone else who missed the traffic was in Leura eating lunch. We decided to meet them up there after picking our rooms and ate at a cute little cafe, which was aptly named: Luera Cafe. I had a delicious, decidedly HUGE and difficult to eat turkey sandwich, and then Tanya bought us the greatest brownies ever to grace the face of the earth. I'm not even kidding. I took like 15 minutes to eat this little brownie because it made me sad to think that it would be gone soon.

Then it was off to the supermarket to buy supplies for the next morning's breakfast. Which brings me to my next picture. Ever since I was little, my dad has had a can of this stuff in the cupboards. I never really knew what it was until a few years ago when my dad explained "Milo" as being Australia's hot chocolate. Now, that's not exactly what it is, but it's kinda the easiest way to explain it. It is also like the greatest drink on the planet, and Australian's drink it a lot, at least Tanya's family did, which I had no problem with whatsoever. My dad didn't introduce us kids to it until a few years ago, and I know it's because he didn't want to share his stash. They don't really sell it here. You have to hunt for it, and when you've found it, it's just not quite the same.

Turns out, in Australia, they don't just drink it. They eat it. In cereal form, in ice cream form, and in candy bar form. Naturally, I found this to be the most hilarious thing ever, as I grew up around the stuff, and had come to love it, but when I told my dad this, he did not believe it for a second. So I took a picture of an entire rack of the stuff in the Woolie's in Leura. Hence, the picture. Definitely one of my favorite "only in Australia" things. In fact, as I write this I'm drinking a mug of Milo in the style of Mrs. Samantha Bertoni herself for I meticulously watched how she made it. It's probably not as good, but I like to call it real life Australian Milo :)

So after our exciting day in the car, and exploring the shops in Leura, we went back to the house and just kinda hung out as you do with any great family vacation. The boys starting watching "football" (rugby) out in the living room, and the girls retreated to one of the back rooms to listen to music and play board games. We had a splendid time. Janne started playing songs on her laptop and had Tanya and I guess the artist. I'm pretty good at that game except when it comes to Australian artists. (Thank you Mom). Then we went to bed. The girls (Natalie, Eliza, Amelia, Lauren and I) all slept in the same room, and we of course talked for a while before any of us even thought about going to bed, so that was fun. Also, my bed had an electric mattress that was super warm. Then...we were woken up by Kookaburras in the morning...but now I'm getting ahead of myself. On to day 2 in the Blue Mountains.

Day 9: A Girls Day

Today was relaxing, and full of all sorts of fun Australian experiences. I woke up kind of late...and I'll blame that on the fact that we'd been so busy all week, although it was mostly because I'm lazy. We bummed around for a few hours (well, I did. Sam was cleaning and ironing and such) and then we headed out to do some shopping and get Sam and the girls' hair cut.

We were very lucky in that we were able to spend the entire day with the lovely and beautiful Judith Smith :) Our first stop was at Studio 10 (I believe it was called). I all of the sudden forgot the name, but anyway, it was a cute little shop on one of the back roads of Sydney. The closest thing I could liken it to here is like a cross between Ross, Plato's Closet and the Gap. It had marked down clothes, but a lot of it was almost one of a kind and really trendy. It was also a lot easier to find things here than in Ross.

I happened upon this really cute leather jacket while we were in this store, and sat and debated over whether I really wanted to get it and add to the bulk of my suitcase to take home, but I had been looking for a leather jacket, and this one was only $30, so I broke down and bought it along with a pair of warm socks for Tanya's apartment. The lady read the total to me, and when she said "$18.50 please" I felt like that was a personal justification from the shopping gods that this leather jacket was meant for me.

We left Studio 10 and made our way to the nearest shopping center. Now a shopping center in Australia is something rather amazing. When it was first explained to me, I understood it to be rather like a mall. It is far more grandiose than a mere mall. First of all, I think the smallest one I ever entered had like four stories and that was because it was a really long building and had been built in the Victorian Era. The one we were at on this particular day, I believe, had 6 levels.

Essentially every store you could possibly imagine, or anything you may ever want can be found in one of this shopping centers, and I do mean anything. A person could go in there, get all of their grocery shopping done, get their hair and nails done, buy things to redecorate their home, finish their Christmas shopping, buy some candy, and send it all in a package at the post office on the next floor up. It was unbelievable.

Now my first thought was that this was the most ingenious thing ever to happen to shopping, but as the weeks went on, I realized that it can be a bit of a burden. I mean, sure, while you're in the shopping center it's great. Everything is close (aside from the fact that you may have to go up and down the escalators a billion times if you don't plan your trip out first), but my biggest complaint would be that if you just had to run to the store because you forgot milk, it would be a hassle to have to go to these shopping centers for it. You have to park in this HUGE "car park" and walk through the shopping center to get to the grocery store and carry said groceries all the way back to the car. Yes. I am a lazy American thank you very much, and that would drive me crazy. It's kinda nice to have Reams just down the street from my house with quick access to groceries.

ANYWAY...I'm sure none of you needed that description of Australian shopping, but you have it just the same. Judith and I had a lovely time just wandering the shops and getting drinks while Sam and the girls' finished their hair, and then we rushed home for dinner so Sam and Judith could make it to Hairspray on time. (Sam had received free tickets from a work mate). So Tanya and I watched the girls, and I am now realizing that this picture does not go with this day, because we actually painted nails on Tuesday (Day 7), not Thursday, but it still kinda applies since we were babysitting and bonding and such. We actually played Harry Potter Uno before the girls went to bed, and then Tanya and I watched part of My Best Friend's Wedding while we waited for Sam and Judith. Then I tried to make sure Tanya didn't fall asleep as we drove back to her place.

I had so much fun staying at Sam's house, and I hope she knows how grateful I am to all the work she put in to keeping me busy and entertained, and for keeping me VERY well fed :). It basically solidified the fact that I now have a second family in Australia. Great Week.