Posts Tagged With: Australia

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

Cruising the Tasman Sea

I know this post is long overdue. Honestly, I’ve had a hard time writing about this trip because it was so traumatic. My husband counseled me to skip it and just move on but I felt a need to finish writing about it for closure. If you just wandered into my blog, my mother died early into this cruise and you can read about it here. Anyway, here’s my feeble attempt to wrap things up.

We’ve always enjoyed days at sea while on a cruise. In fact, Jim has been keen to book a repositioning cruise because they include more days at sea than in port but we haven’t found one yet that fits our schedule. We departed from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand at the end of day-2 of our 19-day cruise to sail 1300 mi (2100 km) across the Tasman Sea to Sydney, Australia. We would spend three nights and two full days at sea before our arrival in Sydney, where we left the cruise early to fly home.

The first evening we went to dinner at Cagney’s, one of the specialty restaurants which charge extra. We wouldn’t normally pay extra for a restaurant but we’ve attained platinum status on Norwegian which provides some perqs like waiving the cover charge at specialty restaurants. The food was very good but I’m not enough of a foodie to tell you whether it would be worth the extra cost. The young couple seated at the next table, Derek and Emma from Australia, were delightful company, too.

 

While I may not have the most discriminating palate, I definitely knew our experience another evening at Moderno Churrascaria was a cut above. This specialty restaurant, modeled after a traditional Brazilian steakhouse, showcases meat. Diners are given a card with a red side and a green side. If your card is green side up, the waiter will continue to bring more meat, including beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, until you change it to red. Incidentally, the buffet of cheeses, salads, and vegetables was equally impressive.

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Cheese and vegetable buffet

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My selection from the buffet

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The star of the show

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Green side up

It’s always fun to meet people when traveling and this trip was no exception. One evening we had dinner with the two couples we met while working through the visa debacle which occurred when we boarded the ship. I love the fact that we’ve since connected on Facebook and can keep up with one another’s travels.

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Jim and me with Dale, Michelle, Debbie, and Jerry

And in case you haven’t yet figured out that food plays a central role in any cruise, you can even watch the food as it’s prepared on deck. I especially enjoyed watching the preparation of this seafood dish for lunch poolside.

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My share–Yum!

I tried to walk off some of the abundant food each morning on the promenade deck and encountered many others doing the same. Admittedly, we didn’t use the fitness center this time but on most cruises we do.

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Promenade deck

Lots of activities keep cruisers busy during a day at sea. Fitness and dance classes attract many of the women and cooking demonstrations are popular, too. Or relaxation is also an option, whether reading or simply sunning on the deck.

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Jim reading on deck

If you forgot to bring a book, you can find one in the library. And if sunshine and warmth on deck don’t suit you, you can find a seat in the library, too.

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The library

I’m not a much of a swimmer but the hot tub beckons to me every time. Soothing away all that stress, the hot tub is almost as good as therapy.

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The Norwegian Star is an attractive ship and it’s a pleasure to explore the public areas. While I didn’t take as many photos on this trip, here are a couple of the atrium to give you an idea.

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And since this post is titled “Cruising the Tasman Sea,” a photo of the sea is required.

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Tasman Sea

We arrived in Sydney, Australia early on day-5 of our cruise. We were packed and ready to disembark so we watched our arrival on deck beginning at dawn. The views were outstanding.

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Sydney Harbour at dawn

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Sydney, Australia at dawn

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Sydney Opera House with a cruise ship behind

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Sydney Opera House

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Our last view of the Sydney Opera House as we disembarked from the Norwegian Star

Although this trip ended in tragedy, we are travelers at heart. We will return to Australia and one day visit the other ports we missed on this itinerary.  Life is short; travel like you mean it.

 

 

Based on events from February 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Food, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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