9 Apr 2002 - Qantas or bust
For a little bit of exotic excitement, Lynn and I start off this vacation approximately 2,000 miles apart. No really - Lynn decided to use our flight from Portland to Los Angeles as an excuse to go a day early and detour via San Diego to visit her parents. I stay home and pack instead.
The plan is to rendezvous at the Daily Grill bar in the LAX international terminal around 8 or 9 PM, with explicit instructions that if one of us is a no show, the other is to continue to Sydney and we'll catch up there (which seemed like a good idea at the time, but in hindsight was a bit unrealistic). Amazingly we both saunter into the terminal at exactly the same time and breeze through a very short check-in line at the Qantas counter.
Now here's a stupid thing - even though the departure board shows at least a couple of dozen international flights leaving after 9 PM and the airport is fairly well crowded with travelers, all the eateries close up shop at 9 PM sharp (except McDonalds, but that doesn't count). For someone who hasn't eaten since noon, this comes as a bit of a blow. Sounds like someone is missing a bit of a business opportunity here. On the upside, the bar was still open and I'm told there are lots of carbohydrates in a beer.
We depart at midnight for a 14 hour haul to Sydney, usually a fairly arduous ordeal for us plebeians back in econo-class, but this one was a breeze. The plane was so empty that everyone had a row of 3 or 4 seats all to themselves. Whooppeee! After a couple of glasses of wine I manage to get at least 9 hours of fairly uninterrupted sleep, which is practically nirvana for air travel. One could rave about Aeroflot when you have this many seats to yourself.
We land at 7 AM local time, swan through customs and manage to escape the quarantine inspectors with minor aggravation (Lynn was accused of concealing undisclosed food products, namely one tube of extra strong mints). We pick up our rental car (after Lynn helpfully points out that the next counter down is renting out at ½ the rate we're paying) and head into town.
Tonight we plan on driving directly out to the Blue Mountains and spending a couple of nights there, but it's still only 8 AM so we figure it's a little to early to check in at the cottage. Plan B - time for a Starbucks (there are at least eight in Sydney). Caffeine buzz accomplished, we wander around The Rocks and soak in the sunshine & warmth like a pair of iguanas. It's a beautiful sunny, cloudless morning in Sydney and we happily sit back on a park bench and watch the commuters arrive on the ferries (I still think this is an extremely cool way to get to work).
The Blue Mountains
Lynn calls the cottage that we've booked for the first couple of nights and we're told that it's unoccupied, so we can come on up when ever we want. We hit the road - by this point I'm really craving a nice hot shower.
Our place to stay is Weeroona Cottage in the town of Wentworth Falls. It's marvelous (the Lynn Elsey accommodation expertise strikes again). In addition to a charming, well illuminated little cottage you get 3 acres of gardens into the bargain. For those of you that like to travel in packs of 8 or more, the larger Weeroona House can also be had for just $250 / night (weekdays), which comes with 4 bedrooms and 2 baths and it's beautiful into the bargain. Anyway, enough of the advertising already.
Lynn and I have a spot of lunch at the Conservation Hut out near Wentworth Falls, launching point for my favourite walk last time we were here (the food is excellent too). Later in the afternoon Lynn blows away the cobwebs by taking a quick jog back out here, and I make my usual contribution to the fitness regime by driving out to pick her up. It's at this point I'm horrified to discover that one of the best tracks in the Blue Mountains has just been closed for the next 6 to 12 months, apparently because it's unsafe. Blast - there go my hiking plans for tomorrow!
Lynn writes...'Blue Mountains Redux' As soon as we hit the mountains, Nick morphs into Fitness Guy. Those who know never walk if you can drive Nick, would be shocked at the transformation. Consider this: Very bright, and very, very early on our first morning in the mountains (I’d say the birds were still chirping, but they are always making some sort of clever noise over here) Nick anxiously quizzes me about when we are departing on our Wentworth Falls bushwalk (that’s hike, in Aussie-speak). I say something like, “well, in an hour or two, after I’ve had a chance to wake up, have a cup of coffee.” Nick starts pacing the beautifully polished hardwood floors in our charming cottage. He walks outside, strolls around the garden and returns with a forecast. “It’s gorgeous.” I nod. And return to my toast. “We should probably go before it get too hot, don’t you think?” I nod again. “What time, then?”
I manage to buy an hour of time. Then we’re off. It is a fine walk. My favorite part is the corn-on-the-cob trees (see photo), closely followed by squishing through muddy streams in my newest pair of running shoes. Nick’s is probably scrambling over rocks and managing to avoid the muddy streams. Scarily---even though we are now in the heart of Sydney---the gung-ho exercise campaign still rages on. This morning Nick headed a walking tour of Darling Harbour, with a short break allowed at Starbucks. He led the way on a lovely rainforest-y stroll north of Mosman Bay this afternoon. There have even been reports that someone looking just like Nick was seen running in nearby Hyde Park. It must be the Shiraz.
So here we are, back in the Blue Mountains again. The jetlag caught us early last night, but miraculously we were able to get a full night's sleep and woke this morning feeling remarkably good, all things considered. The folks that confidently state that you need a day to recovery from every crossed time zone need to get out a little more often. We're blessed with a beautiful sunny morning and decide to go for a bit of a hike. Our route is forcibly curtailed by the National Pass closure, but it's enjoyable nonetheless, including a section allegedly trail-blazed by none other than Charles Darwin.
Back to Sydney
After a picturesque picnic out at Sublime Point we drive back down into the big city to take up residence for a few days before we part company and head for points afar. It's a beautiful day and also a Saturday, so it seems like every other Sydneysider has decided to head for the hills - our hills. The traffic is a bitch. After two hours and some tense navigational exchanges, we make it to our destination (the Medina Grand Apartments), including a detour via one of favourite wine stores (First Estate) to stock up on some essential supplies. Even though we check in after the appointment time, we're told that our room has yet to be cleaned, but "it's OK, because I've paged housekeeping". We give the lady behind the desk a couple of icy stares and that, combined with the terse conversation she has with Ms. Housekeeping, gets us an upgrade to a spectacular room. A room with a view, no less.
On our first evening back in Sydney we decide to make a pilgrimage back out to Rose Bay Afloat, one of our favorite restaurants the last time we were here. However, I'm sorry to report that in single months since we were here, the place has changed hands and gone decidedly down hill. Now it's chips (fries) with every entree and a pitiful wine list to accompany them. We bale out and spend a the rest of the evening unsuccessfully chasing down a decent meal. Change isn't always good!
The sun takes a vacation on our second day here and we take the opportunity of some cooler weather to do a bit of a walk about. We start by taking a walking tour of Darling Harbour, which is as silly as it sounds. For anyone who's been to a Disney resort, this will bring on a flash of deja vous - lots of themed restaurants, shiny clean boardwalks and lots of attractions for the camera toting tourists.
Later in the afternoon we drive north of the city for some more rustic entertainment and take a stroll around Manly Harbour (all sorts of clever word plays spring to mind at this point, but none that can encompass Lynn's presence, so we'll skip it). As with a lot of the areas around Sydney, much of the prime real estate is given over to public parks and beaches, including the wonderful Manly Scenic Walk, which (time permitting) will take you all the way round the harbour to Manly Beach (but you'd need several hours to do it). If you were adventurous you could take a ferry to Mossman, walk to Manly Beach and take the ferry home from there.
Driving back into the City over the famous Harbour Bridge, I come to the shocking realisation that the beautiful stone towers at either end of the bridge serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Why? Because there's a bloody great big gap between the steel arch and the towers themselves. A bit of background research reveals the truth that the stone towers were included for atheistic purposes only. Given when this bridge was built and the effort required to do it, that's quite impressive. Or really stupid - I'm not sure which.
For our last full day in Sydney, I decide to continue the Manly / Walk-about / Workout theme and take a stroll around the harbour. However, the harbour is a bit on the huge side and walking around it would probably take many days, so instead I'll tackle a little chunk of it.
So, while Lynn goes into the city for a meeting, I take a ferry from the Circular Quay in the city, out to Watson Bay, which is the most eastern point before you run out of Australia and end up in the ocean. From there I plan to walk back along the waterfront to Double Bay (where we're staying tonight). On the map this doesn't look too bad, perhaps a 5 mile walk, but there's lots of bays, coves and other fiddly bits that I suspect will make it a little further.
I was right
Still, it is a beautiful walk. For some bits you're walking the back streets, but much of the walk follows the Foreshore Walk, which is literally at the water's edge. The trail is very narrow with lots of ups and downs, twists and turns. Every time you swear you've taken a wrong turn and are about to end up in some multi-million dollar back yard, the trail swoops off in new direction and you find yourself on the edge of an idyllic little beach, or on a cliff with a magnificent view of the harbour and city. As a bonus, this is a great opportunity to a get a look in on the backside (so to speak) of some of the most expensive real estate in Australia.
Tomorrow Lynn and I head for the airport and then part company for a week. Lynn will be heading towards Adelaide to begin some research into the possibilities of making it a home, while I head north to Townsville where my ship awaits to take me for a weeks diving on the Great Barrier Reef.