Posts Tagged ‘Sydney’

Byways by the Blue Mountains

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

It's the cliff faces and canyon more than the moutaintops that give the Blue Mountains their beauty.

The cliff faces and canyons give the Blue Mountains their beauty.

We met a family from Sydney who lowered our expectations of the Blue Mountains National Park when they heard we were spending several days there. I can’t recall their exact words, but they sounded apologetic — something along the lines of, “Don’t be surprised to find they’re not really mountains” and, “at least the cliff faces are rather nice.” They also expressed surprise that we wanted to spend more than a day or two there.

Then Morgan and I began to notice that whenever we saw brochures promoting the Blue Mountains, they featured the same photo of the famous Three Sisters rock formation, as if that’s the only thing in the whole national park worth seeing.

Uh-oh, we thought — why did we plan to spend a whole five nights at an eco lodge there? Then we experienced the upside of lowered expectations: We were pleasantly surprised. (more…)

How To Plan A Year-Long Family Travel Itinerary

Monday, February 15th, 2010

After I posted this, I wrote a different — and in some ways, better — version of the story for one of my favorite travel websites, almostfearless.com. That article is called, “The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid While Planning Long-Term Family Travel.” I hope you’ll check it out!

The lookout next to our lodge in the Blue Mountains (click to enlarge).

The lookout next to our lodge in the Blue Mountains (click to enlarge).

The alternative title for this post could be, “How We Ended Up Off A Beaten Path Near The Blue Mountains.”

Our home for the week is at the end of a road in a thick, misty gum tree forest where wild parrots fly overhead and the cliffs of the Blue Mountains plunge into a forested canyon. In the mornings, the parrots flock for a feast of birdseed offered up by Colly and Kyle’s outstretched hands.

"A bird in the hand is worth a loo in the bush" -- the parrots make up for some of the funkier aspects of this eco lodge.

"A bird in the hand is worth a loo in the bush" -- the parrots make up for some of the inconvenient aspects of this eco lodge.

We’re exploring nearby trails, enjoying the offbeat towns of Blackheath and Katoomba, and unplugging at a cabin at the Jemby-Rinjah Eco Lodge, which is deep in the woods with no traffic noise, no Internet access and very few other guests. I love the simple, natural way of life — but I admit I was shocked to discover that the cabin’s toilet lacks what we all take for granted: running water and a flusher. It’s just a seat above a pit, a.k.a. “a roto loo composting system.”  At least I have good reason now to argue that the others should put the lid down when they’re done!

Whenever we find ourselves in a weird and wild place like this, I think to myself, We’re a long way from Piedmont how did we get here? The simple answer is that we reserved this cabin about two months ago. We figured we wanted a rustic setting after two weeks in Sydney, but didn’t want to drive too far or spend money on a flight to elsewhere in Australia. The Blue Mountains National Park seemed like a no-brainer. Our research turned up a New York Times article recommending this affordable eco-lodge, and that was enough to convince us to book it.

As the above example suggests, planning an itinerary is a very unscientific and subjective process that involves looking inward at values and priorities as well as looking outward at the world of possibilities. It’s always a balancing act between dreams and reality — that is, limitless interests versus limited time and resources. Sometimes it’s fascinating, but just as often it’s frustrating. (more…)

Sydney Wet and Wild

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Kyle and Colly steppin' out to see Sydney's production of the musical Wicked.

Kyle and Colly steppin' out to see Sydney's production of the musical Wicked.

When we got to Sydney, our friend Cheryl said she had heard that “Australia is the LA and New Zealand is the SF,” and she wanted to know if it’s true. My answer, based on seeing only Sydney so far, is yes — to a point. Sydney, with its string of famous beaches, has a surf culture that mirrors Santa Monica and a sense of style that channels Hollywood. Whereas Kiwi fashion looks earthy and understated, lots of people here dress as though they’re going clubbing — circa 1985. Morgan, who arrived here before me, emailed me on his first day in Sydney: “Make sure to bring high heels, tube tops and tight clothes since it seems to be what lots of other women are wearing. Sort of reminds me of the Aussie girlfriend in Spinal Tap.

But the LA-SF analogy falls apart when I realize that many of Sydney’s loveliest parts evoke San Francisco. In Sydney’s central business and shopping district, grandly refurbished and ornately detailed Victorian and Edwardian buildings stand next to sleek modern high-rises. Along the bustling waterfront, shops, exhibits, restaurants and, of course, boats are everywhere, as though San Francisco’s stretched-out Embarcadero had been compressed into a few distinct harbor areas.

Sydney also feels like San Francisco because of its large Asian population. But the demographic diversity doesn’t stretch much beyond Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian and Indian. We can buy egg rolls, sushi and curry on every block, but burrito places are few and far between. I can count on one hand the number of black people I’ve seen so far, and the only Latin American I’ve noticed is the wizened old street musician with the rainbow serape who seems to play the pan flute in every major city we visit. And the only Aboriginal I’ve seen yet is on a postcard.

As for the weather, it doesn’t match either city. You could call it “hog” — humid fog. It’s been overcast and rainy most of the time, but sticky hot, and then the sun broke out and it was scorching!

In spite of less-than-perfect weather and a high price tag on everything, we have grown very fond of this city. It’s urban yet easy to get around, flashy yet laid back. Of all the big cities we’ve visited, this is one of the most kid friendly. We’re staying in a high-rise apartment building in the central business district, next to Darling Harbour, where there’s a sprawling playground and easy ferry access. Catching ferries the way you catch cabs or subways in other cities is one of Sydney’s charms.

Here are highlights and recommendations for anyone visiting Sydney: (more…)

Halfway There Together: Surprises and Changes So Far

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Morgan's view of the Sydney Opera House during a recent ferry ride.

The Sydney skyline as seen from a ferry.

As you can guess from the photo, we’ve started the five-week Australian leg of our journey! This past week was a blur as I left Morgan and the kids for a short trip back to California. The three of them transitioned from New Zealand to here, and I rejoined them midweek.

I felt the way this guy looks after I crossed the date line twice in a week. Morgan shot this photo while on a trip to the Sydney Zoo with the kids.

I felt the way this guy looks after I crossed the date line twice in a week. Morgan and the kids saw this koala at the Sydney Zoo.

At first I felt as bushed as a koala who looks drunk on eucalyptus midday. (Little-known fact from Friends of the Koalas: “Contrary to popular belief, eucalyptus leaves do not make koalas drunk. Koalas appear drunk or lazy because they have developed a low-energy lifestyle to compensate for their extremely low-energy diet.” What a bummer to discover — I liked the idea that this lovable species had evolved to be fat, lazy and perpetually buzzed.)

In the midst of the past week, each of us took time to mark the halfway point in our journey by doing the following exercise: write a letter to ourselves and the other family members. Reflect on the trip so far, making note of what memories stand out and our feelings about the past six months. Then imagine the second half of the journey (when we’ll go from Australia to Hong Kong, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey) and write down some hopes and expectations for those months. Don’t share the letter with anyone yet; seal it up and set it aside. Then, on the last night before returning home, open and take turns reading them to one another and reflecting further — not only about where we went and what we did, but also why we did it, how it affected us and what we’ll do next.

I have my friend Carolyn to thank (the one who hosted us in Queenstown, who’s an accomplished educator and world traveler) for suggesting this exercise, because it prompted me to think more deeply about how this trip has changed and surprised us. There’s no way I can fit all those ideas into a blog post, but I’d like to share some.

Here, then, are some surprises and revelations  in no particular order: (more…)