Monthly Archives: April 2019

Down Under at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

You may think a trip to Manly Beach, lunch at the Fortune of War, and a tour of the iconic Sydney Opera House was enough for day 2 in Sydney but we weren’t finished yet. The opera house is adjacent to the Royal Botanic Garden so following our visit to the opera house, we headed that direction entering the garden through the Queen Elizabeth II Gate.

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Queen Elizabeth II Gate

As we entered the gate, I inquired, “What’s a bittame?” and Jim responded derisively, “Laura, that’s BITE ME!” It never occurred to me they would actually display a pejorative command in a proper garden but we’ve laughed over my naiveté several times since.

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Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

According to the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, the Royal Botanic Garden is a 72 acre (29 hectares) haven surrounded by 126 acres (51 hectares) of open parkland called the Domain. Located between the CBD (Central Business District) and the harbor, the garden was established in 1816 but wasn’t designated royal until 1959. Admission is free and the garden welcomes over 3 million visitors each year. We strolled the paved trail hugging the coast of Farmers Cove for about a mile (1.3km) to Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair. Many trails lead off to other areas of the park, as you can see on the map below but, with limited time, we confined our exploration to the foreshore promenade. (Our route is marked in red below.)

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Along the way, we paused frequently to read markers identifying various plants and to enjoy the spectacular views of Sydney Harbor.

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Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair was named for the wife of Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810-1821. Mrs. MacQuarie loved to walk out to the point to enjoy views of the harbor so her husband had a bench carved from sandstone rock to provide her with a resting spot. The inscription carved into the rock says, “Be it thus recorded that the road, round the inside of the Government Domain called, Mrs. Macquarie’s Road, so named by the Governor on account of her having originally, planned it, Measuring 3 miles and 377 yards, was finally completed on the 13th day of June 1816.”

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Mrs. MacQuarie’s Point

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Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair

By happenstance, we discovered St. George OpenAir Cinema on our walk to the point. The movie that evening was a premiere screening of Everybody Knows, starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. People were lined up for blocks for the gate opening at 6:15. After an action-packed day of sight-seeing, we didn’t feel like waiting until 8:30 for a movie with subtitles. I wished we could have seen Mary Queen of Scots on February 13 but, alas, our cruise departed that day. Other movies during our stay included Bohemian Rhapsody and Instant Family, both movies I’d already seen.

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St. George OpenAir Cinema

This venue operates during the summer months and offers grandstand seating and food and drink including alcohol at tables before the show. We saw many people with coolers and learned you can bring your own food and drink but no alcohol. You may eat your food in the grandstand but the venue tables are reserved for customers purchasing food and/or drink.

The screen is raised over the water for shows and lowered when not in use. The red arrow on the photo below points to the lowered screen. When I return to Sydney, this experience is definitely on my list.

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As we retraced our steps to our condo, Jim stopped briefly on Argyle Street where the Sydney Markets were closing up and snagged some free samples of kangaroo, wild boar, crocodile, and emu. Tired after a long day, we prepared a light supper before getting to bed early. Join us next time for our first activity on day 3 in Sydney — a walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

 

Based on events in February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Australia, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Down Under at the Sydney Opera House

Following a leisurely lunch at Fortune of War on day 2 in Sydney, it was time to see the Sydney Opera House up close. As we strolled toward the opera house along Circular Quay, we enjoyed more of the giant lanterns for the Sydney Lunar Festival celebrating the Chinese New Year.

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The weather was hot but the people sitting outside at Opera Bar pictured below seemed to be enjoying the live music, a cold drink, and the outdoor mist cooling system. I’ve seen outdoor heaters but not coolers and I was immediately a fan in 90F+ (32C+) temperatures!

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Outdoor beer garden at Opera Bar

I had no idea of the drama surrounding the construction of the Sydney Opera House until we went on the tour. We hadn’t planned to take the $40 tour because you can wander around the facility on your own for free. Instead, we wanted to attend a performance at the opera house, but, unfortunately, nothing scheduled during our visit appealed to us. So, in the end, we decided to take the tour to get the back story. This is some of what we heard and saw.

The Sydney Opera House is located on Bennelong Point which was originally called Tubowgule by the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. Tubowgule means “where the knowledge waters meet” and the site was considered a sacred meeting place by the Aboriginals. In the 1950s, this site was selected as the location for the new opera house.

Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s design was chosen from 233 proposals following an international contest that paid £5000 for the winning design. Construction began in 1959 under the guidance of Utzon, with an estimate of 4 years to complete the project at a cost of $7 million. In the end, it cost $102 million and took 14 years to complete. Engineering challenges dogged the project. First, the ground where the building would be erected was unstable and the solution busted the budget early on. Second, the shell-shaped roof went through several iterations until a structurally sound design was found.

Finally, in 1966, delays and costs strained the relationship between Utzon and the government to the point that Utzon threatened to quit and his resignation was accepted. Although Utzon believed the opera house could not be completed without him, it was. Sadly, he would never return to see the magnificent result of his work.

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The pink sculpture is a lunar lantern celebrating the Chinese New Year and the year of the pig

With seven performance venues in the Sydney Opera House, the Concert Hall, the Joan Sutherland Theater, Drama Theater, Playhouse, the Studio, the Utzon Room, and the Forecourt, over 2000 performances occur each year. Photography inside the performance venues is allowed only when no sets or performers are present so I purchased the souvenir book which includes the same photo of Jim and me superimposed over various photos of the opera house.

The Concert Hall is the largest venue with seating for 2679 guests. The mechanical action organ with 10,154 pipes is the largest in the world and only one person in the world can tune it. I thought they needed to engage in succession planning pretty quickly. This is the venue where Arnold Schwarzenegger won his final body-building contest in 1980. Luckily, we were allowed to photograph inside.

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The Concert Hall

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Our souvenir photo inside The Concert Hall

The Joan Sutherland Theater, seating 1507 guests, was renamed in 2012 for the famous Australian soprano who died in 2010. After a live chicken landed on a cellist during the opera, Boris Godunov, in the 1980s, today, a net covers the 70 musician orchestra pit. Due to an innovative design, sets and props are stored below the stage rather than in the wings and are moved into place by mechanical lifts.

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Joan Sutherland portrait outside the eponymous theater

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Inside the Joan Sutherland Theater

The Drama Theatre, The Playhouse, and The Studio are smaller venues accommodating 544, 398, and 300 guests, respectively. These venues are used for theatrical performances, dance, and even circus acts. The Utzon Room is the only interior space designed by the architect before he left the project. Seating only 200 guests, the intimate space is used often for chamber music performances. Finally, the Forecourt is an outdoor plaza in front of the opera house that is the largest venue with a capacity of 6000.

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Forecourt of Sydney Opera House

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Forecourt of Sydney Opera House

The interior spaces outside the performance venues were also impressive and the views through 6223 square meters of glass were spectacular.   IMG_5685IMG_5689IMG_5690IMG_5720

One million sixty-six thousand six roof tiles cover the exterior of the sails (roof). Although the opera house looks white, the tiles are actually off-white because white would be blinding. You can see a closer view below.

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Exterior close-up view of Sydney Opera House roof

The Sydney Opera House is such an extraordinary architectural masterpiece, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. Currently, the opera house receives over 8 million visitors each year and after our visit, I understand why.

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Based on events from February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Australia, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Down Under at Manly Beach

We planned to take the ferry to Manly Beach on Sunday morning, killing two birds with one stone. The ferry would provide us with a highly recommended harbor tour in addition to transporting us to the famed beach suburb of Sydney. The advantage of going Sunday is the price for the ferry is just $2.50 on Sundays although the crowds are definitely denser.

When we arrived at Wharf 5 on Circular Quay, we asked where to purchase tickets and we were directed to the ticket machines inside the nearby train station. Unfortunately, we neglected to inquire how to get a discounted ticket and paid full price for a single-use roundtrip ticket. We later found out we needed to buy an Opal card to take advantage of the discount. We made no mistake by getting an early start, however. We beat the crowds and walked right onto the ferry and found a seat for the 30-minute scenic ride. (You can take the fast ferry which arrives in just 18 minutes but we preferred the leisurely ride.)

Sydney Harbor is a tourist attraction in and of itself. The largest natural harbor in the world, Sydney Harbor attracts boaters, kayakers, divers, recreational fisherman, and over 350 cruise ships each year.

The views from the ferry provided a new perspective of Australia’s largest city. The skyline of the CBD (central business district) was especially impressive and the views of the Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and the Royal Botanic Garden delighted us as well.

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Sydney from the harbor

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Sydney Opera House

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Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

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Jim with the Royal Botanic Garden in the background

I love lighthouses and the Hornby Lighthouse is a red and white striped charmer. Constructed in 1858, the lighthouse is located in Sydney Harbour National Park with many hiking trails through the bushland. With more time, a visit would likely have been on my list.

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Hornby Lighthouse

As we approached Manly Cove, we noted many pleasure craft, an indication it’s a popular spot for boaters, too.

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Manly Cove

Our ferry pulled up to the Manly Wharf and we followed the stream of foot traffic off the boat and along the Manly Corso, a pedestrian street connecting the wharf to the beach. Originally built as a boardwalk and named for the Via del Corso in Rome, the street is filled with shops and restaurants.

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Manly Wharf

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Manly Corso

The beach is lined with pine trees and picnic tables in the shade for those, like us, who want to avoid sunburn.

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Jim and Lori

Plenty of sun-worshippers had already staked out their spots on the beach, however.

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Manly Beach

The Spit Bridge to Manly Walk, one of the many stunning coastal walks around Sydney, ends at the Manly Wharf. But instead, we strolled along the Manly Parade which follows the coast from Manly Beach to Shelly Beach. We didn’t go as far as Shelly Beach but we enjoyed some stunning views, nonetheless.

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Jim and Lori on the Manly Parade

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Manly Beach from the Manly Parade

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View from the Manly Parade

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Return stroll on the Manly Parade

Although we only went into the water up to our ankles, we were wet to our waists just after the photos below when a wave drenched us.  We also enjoyed watching those surfers riding the waves behind us.

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Jim and me

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By early afternoon we were ready to take the return ferry to Circular Quay. As I took a photo of a sister ferry passing the Harbour Bridge, we noticed the line of people on top who had climbed the bridge. I’ve enlarged the second photo below so you can see them better. It’s the one regret Jim has from this trip. He decided not to do the climb and has regretted it ever since. The views are incredible from up there but you can’t take anything including cameras with you. Since I’m guilty of thinking it doesn’t happen unless it’s recorded on Instagram, I was content to walk the bridge and I’ll share those photos later. We may have to go back for Jim to do the climb, however.

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One of the ferries on Sydney Harbor

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Back in Sydney, it was time to try another pub. Fortune of War, established in 1828, is Sydney’s oldest pub. With live music in the middle of the afternoon, customers seeking a pint, or a late lunch, or both, packed the place and we gladly joined them.

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Rick, Lori, and Jim outside Fortune of War (Note wisdom on the chalkboard)

We had plenty more planned for day 2 in Sydney so come back and tour the Sydney Opera House with us.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Australia, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Day 1 Down Under

As we sat in the airport waiting to board our 2 pm flight on Thursday, February 7, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa, our friend Rick remarked, “I feel like we’ve been traveling 24 hours and we haven’t even left yet.” Twenty-seven hours later, we arrived in Sydney, Australia at 9 am on Saturday. None of us slept well in our economy seats on the 14-hour flight from Los Angeles but honestly, I found it was easier than an 8-hour flight to Europe. It was long enough that we had to sleep at least a little.

After immigration (don’t forget to get your visa for Australia on-line before you go) and customs, we stopped at an ATM to get some Aussie dollars, then found a taxi to take us to our Airbnb in the historic neighborhood of The Rocks. With four of us, a taxi was less expensive than public transportation but when it’s just Jim and me, public transportation is usually cheaper for just two. We couldn’t check in until later in the afternoon but we’d arranged to leave our luggage at the townhouse while we explored the area. Celebrating the warm weather, we also managed to change into shorts before we set out.

Feeling jet-lagged after our long journey, we wanted to take it easy the first day and stay awake until a normal bedtime to reset our circadian rhythms to our new time zone. (Or at least, that was my plan.)

Research told me the first inhabitants of The Rocks were the indigenous Gadigal people of the Eora Nation who called the area Tallawodahla. The British established a penal colony in the 18th century and the convicts called the area The Rocks after the rocky sandstone they found. Historic buildings in The Rocks have been preserved or restored and today are occupied by restaurants and shops.  On Saturdays and Sundays, The Rocks Markets, where local artisans sell their products, operate from 10-5 so we wandered that direction to check it out.

On the map below, Windmill Street, where our condo was located, is circled in red and the area of the markets is the red marker. The Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera are underlined in red to show how convenient our location was to those attractions, too.

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The Rocks, the oldest area of Sydney

We easily found the markets but when we spied a pub with outdoor seating, none of us could resist a brief respite.

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Argyle Street in The Rocks with tents from the Markets behind us

 

Pubs quickly became our choice for meals, offering good authentic Australian cuisine at a reasonable price.  I’d read about iconic Australian foods including Vegemite, meat pies, prawns (shrimp to us), barramundi, fish and chips, bbq, avocado toast, fairy bread, beetroot, and kangaroo, to name a few, and I was keen to taste most of them. I’ve had Vegemite before and I’m not a fan so I quickly scratched that from the list. Jim’s kangaroo sausage pictured above tasted like any sausage but it was a tasty snack.

Refreshed, we sauntered on to continue our first look at the neighborhood.

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The Markets at the Rocks, Sydney

Fortunately, our arrival coincided with the Sydney Lunar Festival celebrating the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Pig. All the Chinese zodiac animals were represented by lunar lanterns located around Circular Quay but on our first walk-through, I got photos of the spiral pig and the snake. We also noted this convenient location was where we would board our cruise ship several days later.

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Spiral pig lantern (note flying pigs on top)

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Close-up of pigs

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Snake lantern

Although Jim and I were in Sydney two years previously, our first views of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House were just as captivating this time.

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Sydney Opera House

Campbell’s Storehouses, constructed in the 19th century, line Campbell’s Wharf and house up-scale restaurants and shops.

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Campbell’s Storehouses

The ASN Warehouse, built of sandstone and brick, is another 19th-century building that brings history to life in the area.

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ASN Warehouse, The Rocks

A replica of an Aboriginal pictograph showed recognition of and respect for the Aboriginal community. Many shops in the area sell authentic Aboriginal crafts such as the didgeridoo, a wind instrument created by termites hollowing out a eucalyptus branch. (In my imagination, I picture factories around Australia crawling with termites working hard to ready the eucalyptus.)

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Didgeridoos sold in a local shop in The Rocks

By 3 pm, check-in time at our condo, we were all ready to return. After a little unpacking and settling in, the guys ended up succumbing to temptation and slept in spite of my warning.

Following their naps, we checked out my brother and sister-in-law’s favorite pub for dinner, The Hero of Waterloo.

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Who would sit indoors with this weather?

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The interior of every pub was quaint and historic

The sandwiches on the menu all came with chips which in Aussie English are french fries. What we call chips, they call crisps. Lesson learned.

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My sister-in-law recommended the potato wedges with chili and sour cream which I ordered and they were delicious. With Jim’s chips, however, we were heavy on potatoes.

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Potato wedges

But Rick’s Chilli Lime Prawns took the prize for the best meal of the night. I’m still drooling over them looking at the photo!

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Chilli Prawns (their spelling, not mine)

Following a leisurely meal, Lori and I decided to walk to Cole’s, the nearest supermarket about 1 km away. After a few directional challenges in spite of Google maps on my iPhone, we found the spot on the map but saw no store and no signs. When we asked pedestrians in the area, they directed us through a building and down to a lower level. We never would have figured it out without help but throughout our holiday, we had the same experience several more times. Travel is so educational for these Iowa country bumpkins.

We planned to take the ferry to Manly Beach the next morning so it was early to bed but please come back and join us for another fun-filled day down under.

 

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Planning to Cruise Australia

Our visit to Australia in 2017 was cut short (you can read about it here) and I’ve been watching ever since for a repeat offer of that cruise itinerary.  If you look at cruises of Australia, you’ll notice most itineraries include many ports in New Zealand and very few in Australia. Because Australia is such a large country and I wanted to see more than just one city, I always thought a cruise would be an efficient way to maximize our time and see more. Our 19-day cruise in 2017 began in Auckland, New Zealand with a stop in Bay of Islands before heading to Australia with stops in 6 cities along the eastern and northern coasts, followed by stops in Indonesia and Malaysia and ending in Singapore.

The itinerary now offered by Norwegian Cruise Line has changed somewhat. The cruise no longer begins in New Zealand which we visited during our 2017 cruise so that was fine with us. Malaysia is replaced by Semarang, Indonesia, on the itinerary which was a disappointment to me (and an even bigger disappointment when we saw Semarang but more on that in a future post.) This was the itinerary:

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I booked the cruise on April 27, 2018, when the price was $6352.80 for an ocean view cabin for my husband and me. In 2017, we paid just under $5000 so the price seemed a little high but I knew if the price came down, I could rebook. I checked periodically and finally in August, the price went down to $5834.36. Then September 1, the price went down to $5134.36 and finally toward the end of September it hit $4187.20. Each time I rebooked at the new price keeping the same cabin and our original amenities which included free internet minutes and a $50 credit per person for a shore excursion at each port. If you haven’t done this before, you call the cruise line and say, “I see the price for my cruise has gone down. Can you help me rebook at the new price?” Simple but we saved a lot of $$$.

Fortunately, we saved on our cruise fare because I was sure an open jaw airfare to Sydney and back from Singapore would be expensive. I decided to check on a multi-city fare with a 3 day stop in Tokyo to visit our friend, Tomo. (More on Tomo later, too.) I could hardly believe my good fortune when I found this itinerary on Delta for the rock bottom price of $1246.43 each. Tip: When you see a good price, don’t hesitate; book it because it probably won’t be there long!

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With cruise and airfare booked, it was time to work on accommodations in Sydney, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Sidenote: Many people have asked me whether I use a travel agent for my trips. I research and book everything myself. I enjoy the planning part of my travels nearly as much as the travel and I have a vested interest in finding the best deals.

My brother and his wife visited Sydney in 2018 so I asked them whether they would recommend their Airbnb accommodations. They heartily endorsed the three-bedroom condo located in Miller’s Point in the heart of “The Rocks” but cautioned us there wasn’t aircon. They were there in April in the middle of a heatwave but we thought a heatwave in February was unlikely and the location just couldn’t be beaten. It was pricey but we were traveling with friends and hoped a third couple would join us to share the cost. In the end, it was just the two couples but we were all glad we stayed there in spite of temperatures in the 90s, no screens on the windows with resulting mosquito bites, and a cost of $442 per night.

 

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Jim, Rick, and Lori outside our Airbnb in Sydney

Next, I looked at hotels in Singapore. In 2017 I reserved a room at the Holiday Inn Express but had to cancel it when our trip ended at Sydney. I couldn’t find a better price including breakfast in a better location so, against my better judgment, I booked it again. I usually avoid staying at American chains when traveling abroad, preferring to experience local culture and accommodations instead. This hotel was gorgeous and you’ll see more of it in future posts.

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Interior of Holiday Inn Express, Singapore

Finally, I researched Tokyo lodging. Tomo was staying with us in the US at the time so I had his guidance in selecting a hotel. In spite of that, when he looked at the hotel I booked he said the hotel I selected was in the area where Japanese mafia or yakuza could be found. Sure enough, I read reviews indicating the red light district was nearby! He directed me to another area where we enjoyed the Mitsui Garden Hotel immensely.

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Mitsui Garden Hotel in Tokyo

In between searches for lodging, Lori and I looked at cruise excursions and quickly decided several were not to be missed–snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, a visit to Komodo Island to see the dragons, and the opportunity to hold a koala. We also scheduled a tour to the Blue Mountains from Sydney. We decided we would schedule any other tours or excursions as we went.

Last but not least, I attacked the challenge of packing for a month in a carry-on suitcase. Fortunately, we had laundry facilities at our condo in Sydney and our platinum status with NCL provided us with laundry service onboard but careful selection was important, nevertheless. When I mentioned my packing issues to Lori, she said, “You did a packing post before this cruise two years ago. Why don’t you just look at that?” You can see that post here. When I looked at it, I discovered I had selected almost the same clothes this time around! But this time, I decided a month-long journey required more than 3 ounces of shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, and sunscreen so I decided to buy those items in Sydney.

We were ready. But of course, any time you plan to travel in Iowa in February, you have weather issues and this trip was no exception. Two days before our departure, we received an email warning us of impending weather issues that could affect our flights. I spent some time researching options and in the end, we decided to travel to Des Moines a day early and let the chips fall where they may. After a nightmarish drive through ice and snow to Des Moines, our flights the following day were unaffected.

Come back next time for our arrival in Sydney.

 

Based on events in February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, open jaw, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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