Australia: "Home" for the Holidays

Dec 22nd, 2016, 10:19 AM
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Australia: "Home" for the Holidays

The four of us are taking to the air again. Our annual trip this year will take us back to that magnificent island continent called Australia, the land that has become a second “home” to us – in our minds at least (It’s the one country we would settle without any hesitation, and on some days in the past several weeks following the elections - no offense to my fellow Americans; I mean no disrespect - the thought’s crossed our minds.).

We first visited Australia in 2006 and immediately fell in love with the country. There’s absolutely nothing like walking down George Street and seeing those gleaming white sails of the Opera House come into view; the building looks as if it will sail into the blue waters of Sydney Harbor at any moment. This is the image of Sydney and of Australia that has stuck onto our minds, along with the great beauty and diversity of the country, its generous and welcoming people, a laid-back culture, fine weather, and amazing food.

Our two previous trips to Australia took us to Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, the Top End, Uluru, and Kata Tjuta. This visit will take us back to Sydney and Melbourne with time on Tasmania in between. We begin in Sydney, arriving on Christmas Day and departing on New Year’s Day. We then go to Hobart and make our way up the west coast of Tasmania via Strahan and Cradle Mountain. We end our trip with several days in Melbourne, where we will explore the city and take day trips. In all we will spend 21 nights in the country.

The trip back to Australia is three years in the making. We plotted our return during our second and previous visit in 2013. Tasmania was on our minds and we longed for that quintessential New Year’s Eve in Sydney experience that we view on our TV sets year after year. We secured our tickets to New Year’s Eve at the Opera House as soon as it became available in February, and the planning unfolded in earnest from this point forward. We had considered Adelaide and Kangaroo Island as well as Perth and the Margaret River region, but there’s just too much to see and not enough time over three trips let alone one. These undiscovered gems, to us at least, will just have to wait until a fourth or a fifth visit, along with Far North Queensland and the Kimberley, perhaps when we decide to drop down over a cooler month.

Please join us on our third Australian adventure. Questions and conversation are most welcome.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2016, 12:35 PM
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I'll be looking forward to reading your TR. We'll be in Tasmania in Feb followed by Melbourne and ending in Sydney in Mid March.
yestravel is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2016, 01:06 PM
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How wonderful, trip planner1001!

We've put up our Christmas lights for you.
Make sure you go to see St Mary's Cathedral's fantastic light show - and the choir if you're here in time.

https://whatson.cityofsydney.nsw.gov...dney-christmas
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Dec 22nd, 2016, 03:55 PM
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Yestravel, welcome aboard. Please do not be shy about asking questions if I can be helpful to you.

Bokhara2, wonderful indeed! I plan on checking out the Christmas lights; would be awesome if we catch the choir too.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 22nd, 2016, 05:58 PM
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Well, I'm on board too, and trust you'll have a fantastic time.

This might help with dining options in Sydney
http://www.goodfood.com.au/eat-out/n...0161219-gte73l

Looking forward to your story.
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Dec 22nd, 2016, 06:15 PM
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Sartoric, thank you. I must say, having spent the last couple weeks on dinner reservations, I am surprised at the number of dining establishments that are closed multiple days over the holidays. I hope the workers are being paid over this time. Here in the States most are only closed on Christmas Day; it's business as usual both before and after.
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Dec 22nd, 2016, 08:27 PM
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We pay our permanent staff holiday pay. It's the law.

With the greatest possible respect, I don't think I'd be regarding the US as the gold standard in employee relations, especially in hospitality. And I dont want to live in a country where shops & restaurants never close, or only close for one day.

Sydney has enough shoos where the owners do stay open, that there will always be somewhere to eat.

That said, from the queues at supermarkets before a one or two day holiday, you'd think people were stocking up for a month's flood or famine.
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Dec 23rd, 2016, 03:10 AM
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Bokhara2, you are absolutely right about the United States not being the gold standard when it comes to workers' rights and protections; we're at the bottom of the list among industrialized nations really. I'm happy to hear that another country, and Australia no less, is doing things right.

And now it's time to pack. I must say, the thought of packing summer clothing for holiday travel, especially when it is 30 degrees outside my window (Fahrenheit, or -2 Celsius), feels a bit surreal.
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Dec 23rd, 2016, 11:43 AM
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On your way from Hobart to the west coast, make sure you allow time to visit the Wall in the Wilderness - absolutely incredible wood carvings and well worth a visit. It's on the highway near Derwent Bridge.
Hope you have a great trip - looking forward to hearing about it.
marg is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2016, 01:07 PM
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Toss in a wiindcheater / light jacket - we can have cold snaps, too.
A couple of Christmases ago, we were all rugged up - so much for the planned Christmas Day attire
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Dec 23rd, 2016, 10:22 PM
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Marg and Bokhara2, thank you for your tips.

We just made it to Los Angeles from Washington, DC, and are now on the connecting flight awaiting takeoff for Sydney. Australia, here we come!!!
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Dec 24th, 2016, 08:04 AM
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<>

I hear you. The reverse is even worse - packing for winter in Europe while wearing as little as decently possible during one of the hottest months of the year in Australia!

Very difficult to think about wool socks, thermals and coats when just the thought of packing makes one break into a sweat.

Have fun tripplanner001!
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Dec 25th, 2016, 10:56 AM
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Melnq8, you are absolutely right. I would definitely break a sweat trying to accomplish the feat.

We had a blockbuster Christmas Day in Sydney yesterday. What a joy it is for us just to be here. I will share more when I get a moment - if I am able to divert my attention from Sydney that is! Merry Christmas to all.
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Dec 25th, 2016, 07:33 PM
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Following and enjoying
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Dec 26th, 2016, 12:19 PM
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Northie, thank you. I am glad to have you along.

Airplane Roulette

We traveled from Washington, DC, to Sydney on American Airlines via Los Angeles. Due to heavy rains in the Los Angeles area the first leg of our flight was late arriving at Reagan National Airport, which resulted in a 30-minute delay to our departure for the West Coast. Given our 2-hour connection in Los Angeles we were not worried. The journey was smooth for most of the way. We were about 45 minutes outside of L.A. when the pilot came onboard to deliver news that caused us to stress over the next couple of hours. It seemed that the weather situation in Los Angeles deteriorated as we were making our way across the United States and the airport at LAX called a ground stop. Our pilot had the choice of diverting to an alternate airport until the storm passed or he could circle around in the desert about half an hour outside Los Angeles awaiting further instructions. He chose the latter, the storm subsided a bit, and we were cleared to land at LAX. At LAX we had to wait on the tarmac for a while as a gate became available. In the meantime the clock was ticking and we could not stop thinking about it. It was about 10:00 PM when we touched down, and our flight from L.A. to Sydney was scheduled to depart at 10:40 PM, with no indication of any delays. Our flight from DC finally made its way to the gate at 10:30 PM and we walked over to our flight (luckily the two flights were just across the hall from one another).

At the gate for Sydney we noticed that the sitting area was full and soon found out that our flight to Australia had not begun boarding. We waited about 5 minutes before boarding commenced. By 11:15 PM, boarding was complete and we were on our way…or so we thought. One of the pilots came upon the speaker to inform us that one of his colleagues was also stranded in the desert on another flight and was making his way to Los Angeles. To his credit the pilot kept us informed throughout the time, which made the situation calm. At this point we were much more relaxed too, as we knew we would eventually get to Sydney on the day we intended. The missing crew member arrived at about 12:30 AM and we were off. Sydney, here we come!

The journey across the Pacific was rather smooth and uneventful minus the delay getting off the ground. Our seats were as comfortable as it could be for a 15-hour flight in economy class, the meals were decent, and the entertainment system kept us engaged between naps. We landed in Sydney just over 2 hours after its intended arrival – a minor miracle considering all that could have been wrong.

We passed through baggage claim, immigration, and customs in less than 30 minutes. Our journey into the city was by taxi and it took about 30 minutes as well. We checked into our home in Sydney for the next week, the Sir Stamford at Circulay Quay, just before noon on Christmas Day. I will share more about the Sir Stamford in a later installment, but it really has become my home of choice in Sydney. I felt as though I was really coming home.

We were now in Sydney on Christmas Day! Life could not get any better. More to follow…
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 27th, 2016, 03:05 AM
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Glad you made it safely, tripplanner.

I met a family from Spain on the Manly ferry yesterday, who were having a wonderful time with the novelty of Christmas & sun, sand & surf instead of snow.

Hope you have a great time & im looking forward to your next chapters,too.
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Dec 27th, 2016, 04:28 AM
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Bokhara2, the weather here is definitely novel for me although I am enjoying it very much. Thanks again for taking interest in my report.

Christmas Day in Sydney

You know how the saying goes, "When in Rome...". As a city Sydney is defined by its geography on a scale unlike any of its peers around the world except for perhaps Rio de Janeiro. And there is only one geographic feature that gives Sydney its character and reputation above all else: water. Sydneysiders seem to have a special bond with the water. Whether it's surfing just offshore from the city's numerous pristine beaches or pleasure boating in the many coves found within its beautiful harbor or even simply going to and from work, water is a part of almost everyone's lives in this most magnificent of cities.

It's to the water we go. After dropping our belongings at our hotel rooms and indulging ourselves with rejuvenating showers we immediately set out to enjoy the city from the water. We sailed by ferry from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour, admiring the drop-dead gorgeous scenery along the way. Welcoming us back to the city were familiar icons such as the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, Luna Park, and Darling Harbour. What was new to us were the waterfront just south of Walsh Bay, now known as Barangaroo. I immediately noted the new greenery as well as several new skyscrapers that were not there when we were last in the city 3 years ago. We also saw plenty of sailboats in the harbor along with pleasure boats of all kinds. The weather was great; it was the perfect day to be on the water.

From King Street Wharf at Darling Harbour we strolled inland and south, towards Chinatown. It was now close to 2:00 PM and we knew it was too late for dim sum at Marigold. Instead we opted for a lunch of dumplings at Din Tai Fung at nearby World Square; it did not disappoint. The restaurant was busy but there was no wait. The food was delicious, as usual.

Our stomachs fulfilled we walked up George Street passing the Town Hall and Queen Victoria Building. From there we made our way to Hyde Park, passing by what I thought was a fun Christmas display at the windows of the David Jones department store. I enjoyed the whimsical scenes of the polar bears assembling gifts and helping Santa. We also saw several beautifully decorated Christmas trees along the way, although no Santa-on-water-skis-being-pulled-by-kangaroos as some have described.

From Hyde Park we went to the Royal Botanic Gardens for a quick stroll before heading up to the Cahill Expressway and over to the Rocks for our 5:30 PM appointment for our climb of Sydney Harbour Bridge. We had not had the opportunity to perform the BridgeClimb on our 2 prior visits to Sydney and made sure we included it on our itinerary on this trip. And what better time to undertake the climb than on Christmas Day when many of the other places we were interested in visiting were closed for the holiday. The entire experience took just over 3 hours, and included a safety briefing, several stops along the way up to the summit of the bridge, and interesting commentary. The pace of the climb was slow, which broadens the audience who are able to undertake the climb but also allows more active people like us to slow down and appreciate what we were seeing and experiencing.

Climb over, we headed to the Shangri-La Hotel for the Christmas Day seafood buffet dinner. We settled on a hotel buffet after several attempts at other restaurants turned up empty due to the public holiday. Among the hotel buffets on offer, the Shangri-La's seemed the most appealing. Boy were we wrong. While we are not really buffet people we usually find a few items that we enjoy. This was largely not the case on this night. The number of choices were many but each of the items we tasted were mediocre to awful. Instead of the wide selection the buffet may have been salvaged if the organizers concentrated on fewer well-prepared items. Regardless we ate enough and would not let our experience here put a blunder on what was already an awesome day.

We ended our first evening in Sydney with a stroll about the central business district seeking Christmas lights. We viewed the Christmas tree on Martin's Place, walked along Pitt Street Mall underneath its boulevard of lights, and spent a good amount of the outside St. Mary's Cathedral enjoying its light show (thank you Bokhara2 for your recommendation). The crowd was large but not overwhelming. The show was very well done and interesting, and the music lend the whole experience a festive atmosphere. There could not have been a better end to what had been a tremendous day.

All in all, this is the first Christmas I did not spend at home although the statement is only partially true as I really consider Sydney my second "home". I feel so much so when I'm here. It also felt a bit unusual to be wearing nothing but a short-sleeved T-shirt and a light pair of pants in the middle of December, but I at least I seemed to blend in with everyone else. Most importantly I had the fortune to spend a very special day on the calendar with the three people I love most in this world and we were able to spend it in the city that we all truly love above all else; there are not enough words for me to describe how blessed I felt.

While the Harbour Bridge anchored our first day in Sydney, it was the Opera House that was central to our second. Stay tuned for highlights from our second day in Sydney...
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 27th, 2016, 12:03 PM
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Another Blockbuster Day in Sydney

The Opera House that we love so dearly was the focal point of our Boxing Day in Sydney. We began our morning with a short stroll om our hotel down to the Opera House where we took a guided tour of the building. We took a similar tour 10 years ago although the information we learned and some of the spaces we visited were different. I enjoyed seeing some of the smaller performance spaces along with the two major venues - the Concert Hall and the Joan Sutherland Theater. We also had a chance to visit the Northern Foyer, previewing what will be to come on New Year's Eve. Our guide, Mary Ann, was excellent; she made the tour very engaging and fun and she was funny too.

After touring the place we went to the box office to do our business. We picked up pre-ordered tickets for tonight's Circus 1903 performance as well as the highly-anticipated tickets for New Year's Eve. It was very exciting to have these in hand as we had thought about being a part of these celebrations for 10 years.

Tickets in hand and safely tucked away we surveyed the exterior of the masterpiece some more before heading into the Royal Botanic Gardens for another visit. The morning could not have been more beautiful for such an endeavor. We walked pass Government House and the Conservatory of Music and spent most of our time in the areas of the Rose Garden, the Palm Garden, and Cadi Jam Ora. The Gardens are one of the places we come back to time and time
again. The flora is always gorgeous and the pathways are well-laid-out, making for very easy wanderings.

We eventually meandered towards Mrs. Macquarie's Point for a few obligatory photographs of the city's two major icons and idled for a bit savoring the lovely views. From Mrs. Macquarie's Point we continued along the waterfront passing the Boy Carlton Pool and onto Woolloomooloo Wharf. We enjoyed the art that was on display both inside and out the expansive building.

We stopped at Harry's Cafe de Wheels for some of the famous meat pies and continued onwards into Potts Point and Kings Cross before returning to the city center. We spent about 90 minutes at the Australian Museum admiring its exhibits on Aboriginal and Pacific cultures; the rest didn't interest us very much.

We strolled back through Hyde Park and made a stop at David Jones for a quick bite from its food hall before heading up Macquarie Street to our hotel. There we showered, rested a bit, and changed for our evening at the Opera House.

We arrived at the Opera House around 6:15 PM for our 7:00 PM performance in the Concert Hall. As this was our first time attending a performance in our favorite building in Sydney, we wanted to get there a bit earlier to take in the atmosphere of the building coming alive for its shows. We wandered a bit around its public areas before taking our seats for Circus 1903. We chose this performance as we were interested in something light-hearted. The giant elephants were also speaking to us (we attended a performance of War Horse in New York City which we very much enjoyed). The setting for the performance is early 20th century small-town America and the acts ranged from juggling to tight-rope walking to high-flying acrobatics. The story of pulling together a circus during this era and putting on the production itself was wonderfully told. We had thoroughly enjoyed our evening and would recommend it to anyone who is able to make it to one of the shows here in Sydney or in Melbourne in about a week's time.

We had a nice late-evening dinner at the Opera Kitchen located along the lower promenade of the Opera House following the show. The food here was as good as the shows it puts on. And I cannot think of a more fitful way to end another blockbuster day than dining underneath these famous sails.

On the agenda for tomorrow (day three in Sydney) are the Rocks and Barangaroo but those will have to wait as I need to get ready for our day in the eastern suburbs and Bondi today (I'm a day behind in my report). More at another time...
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 27th, 2016, 12:19 PM
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This is great! thanks so much for taking the time to write your TR. But I think I'll skip the bridge climb
yestravel is offline  
Dec 27th, 2016, 01:19 PM
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Do I understand correctly that you did the bridge climb on your day of arrival?!
Melnq8 is online now  

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