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Australia, Destinations, Oceania

Ringing in the New Year in Sydney

January 8, 2013 • By

Fresh off a few relaxing days in Adelaide, Patrick and I returned to Sydney where preparations were underway for the 2012 New Year’s Eve celebration. Angus and his darling daughter Ava greeted us at the airport and delivered us promptly to our home away from home for the next six nights. Jill (New York not Darwin) sought out the perfect apartment for us to explore the sights and sounds of Sydney. We would reunite shortly but not before I met up with Kelly Hughes another treasured friend from my Greek Island Contiki trip. Think Jono, Pam, Tommy, Tristan etc.

Kel and I dined at a picturesque spot overlooking the highest arch of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The rooftop bar delivered a rare peak into the nuts and bolts and engineering of the bridge. It’s a known factor that I am an avid fan of said bridge and my Sydney friends work very hard to appease my desire to see the bridge whenever possible. I last saw Kelly on her 30th birthday in New York City in December 2011 (Jill was there too). I was glad to see her again so soon.

The Glenmore Pub was packed with locals reveling in holiday cheer. It seems like no one works between Christmas and New Year’s in Australia. It’s more like two weeks of paid partying. I could get used to this lifestyle. Kel and I ended the evening perched from a Sydney Harbors spot eating ice cream and agreed to make our 2013 resolutions count for something….More travel for sure.

Manly Beach

Manly Beach

What’s the best way to kick off the New Year’s festivities? Answer: A fun/walk along the shores of Bondi Beach. Patrick, Jill and I piled in a taxi and headed straight for the beach. It was already crowded with families staking out locations to watch fireworks. We made our way along the scenic path and enjoyed the ocean breezes. It was hot but that’s to be expected during Sydney’s summertime. The walk is slightly hilly with 360-degree ocean views that make the walk worth the effort.

Bondi is Australia’s most famous beach. It’s home to bikinis, backpackers, beautiful and wealthy people. I gathered that fit bodies must accompany the glamorous life since everywhere I looked I saw abs of steal and protruding muscles. Crowds of people flocked to the beaches and designated paths to get in their last bit of exercise for the year. According to Wikipedia, Bondi is an Aboriginal word meaning water breaking over rocks. That’s more or less the scenario. The beach is about 1 kilometer or (0.62 miles) long. There are surfers, swimmers and sun worshippers filling a large portion of the beach with a handful of cafes and shops decorating the sidewalks. Our walk produced great shots of spraying water, vibrant blue colors of ocean and gorgeous homes that I would be happy to live in if asked. Please just say the word.

Patrick diverted his efforts into preparing for a golf outing with Angus, while Jill and I finished our walk with lattes and brekkie (Australian breakfast) at a cafe near Bronte Beach. We dawdled beachside for a bit before returning to stock up for our New Year’s Eve soiree. Since it’s a well-known fact that I cannot cook, I left the grocery selecting to Jill. We prepared (Jill cooked, I assisted) a plentiful meal complete with an arugula salad, guacamole, cheese, chicken sausage, prawns, and Australian wine.

The Germans (Corinna & Ingmar) arrived around 8:00 pm in time for the 9:00 pm children’s firework performance. Aren’t those Aussie’s clever? Patrick and Jill played DJ on the stereo while we all bounced around dancing and snapping pictures of the Sydney skyline and streams of color bursting in the air. With minutes to spare, we joined the rest of the partygoers on the roof of our building and counted down until Midnight. The adult fireworks were very disappointing compared to my New Year’s in 2010. They lasted a mere 13 minutes but at $6 million a minute I can understand why a 30-minute display might be a bit excessive. Nevertheless I loved seeing the sky illuminated with flashes of light, color and smoke. The entire rooftop was hugging and laughing and saluting this superstitious number of a year. After the fireworks, the celebrations dwindled and we all parted for bed and a fresh start to the New Year.

Jill and I woke up bright and early ready to face the sun and heat. Angus had recommended a new restaurant on the water in Potts Point and I wanted to start the year off right – with more ocean views. Patrick having celebrated in spectacular fashion the night before would not be joining us but we invited our friends from DC who happened to be in Sydney for New Year’s fun. The Bear and the Bird is a must see spot. Located on a yacht club dock, the restaurant is nestled in a port off the Sydney Harbor. From our high top table, we faced multi-million dollar homes inland and outward a brilliant, glistening, beckoning sea.

Since Jill had only arrived the day before, I was most excited to show her the Sydney Harbor and MY Bridge. We changed clothes and made our way through the Botanical Gardens and around the bend of Macquarie’s chair and BAM there in the billowing sun stood the Opera House and Sydney Bridge. We rustled with the Chinese tourists to photograph the scene and headed to the docks of the harbor for a closer look.

I don’t want anyone to get the impression we eat all the time so please note that five hours had passed between our breakfast and this next part of the story. Parched and sweaty from all the activity of the day, Jill and I settled into a table overlooking the Sydney Bridge where we treated ourselves to oysters and wine. My meal was more about the oysters than the wine but they do go together nicely.

The next day Jill and I wandered the streets of Sydney separately. I learned a Starbucks barista makes $18.50 an hour in Sydney (maybe this could be my new career) and Jill learned walking for seven hours through the neighborhoods of Sydney can and will activate a foot injury. Patrick who graced me with his presence finally had an opportunity to see a Koala and a Kangaroo up close…at the zoo. He did see a “roo” up in the wild but I guess from 10,000 feet it doesn’t count. Since Jill bragged about her Koala cuddling in Queensland, I felt it necessary to try to make up for inadequacies in animal exposure. I had no idea Patrick was such a lover of the wild. We did capture a few adorable moments with the Koalas who were fresh off a eucalyptus high and took pity on us and flaunted their moves.

Patrick and Jill reunited at the Woolloomooloo wharf and home of Russell Crowe, while I conducted more thorough research on the Sydney markets. I threw in a Chinese chair massage for good merit. We had to lie low in preparation for our big bridge climb on January 3 so neighborhood sushi seemed like the best meal for a calming night.

The Sydney Bridge Climb

The Sydney Bridge Climb

The Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb
Knowing exactly what to expect on the bridge climb, I greeted the afternoon with enthusiasm while Patrick and Jill seemed anxious. I took them to my favorite lunch spot on the Rocks (Sydney Harbor Pier) at a place called Peter Doyle’s. It’s really one of the few places where you can eat outside and enjoy views of the Opera House and Bridge. We hustled through our meal to reach the Bridge Climb check in desk by 3:45pm. It was probably more time than Jill and Patrick wanted or needed and their nerves nearly got the best of them. The gift shop sweatshirt caused Patrick to start to sweat after he read 1,332 steps would be involved and Jill’s stomach started doing summersaults and she couldn’t confirm or deny nerves or bad food. I couldn’t help find the humor in all of it. Patrick started regretting his excessive exercise that morning which included physically debilitating steps (as far as Jill and I were concerned).

Alas, the moment of truth. Our guide took 14 climbers into a room where we confirmed emergency contact information and participated in a Breathalyzer test. No drunks permitted to climb. If you ever find yourself on this climb, it will make perfect sense. HA!

We all passed the test and paperwork phase and were then fitted with a climbers jumpsuit equipped with hooks and belt hoops. There can be nothing left to chance. Sunglasses and hats are the only items permitted on the climb and they must be securely attached. If anything is loose or dangling it could fall onto the cars, trains or people using the bridge below. We suited up, received a security belt with more hooks and latches and then practiced a simulation of climbing a staircase on the bridge. Our group successfully completed the task and we lined up to start the climb. Jill ushered the group to the starting point and I followed with Patrick and 11 others behind me. A few climbers from the UK, two couples from the USA (a 30th Birthday) and one honeymoon couple would make the climb with us.

To me, climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge is the ultimate Sydney attraction. We enjoyed 360-degree panoramic views of the city, the Opera House, the surrounding landscape. Standing on top of the outer rim of the Bridge with cars zooming below you, with 90 feet of water below that and perched 440 feet above it all is pretty awesome. Our guide shared a few fun facts and figures that I could barely make out so let me provide you with a few from the website:

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is 3,770 feet long (1,149 meters) and 161 feet wide (49 meters) and 440 feet tall (134 meters). The construction started in July 1923 and the bridge opened in March 1932. In 1998, a private company ran the first public Bridge Climb and it’s one of the country’s top tourist destinations to date. The New Year’s Eve fireworks are also launched from the Bridge’s center. This year a butterfly and a lip were the focal point of the display but we couldn’t really see the middle center of the bridge from our rooftop. People think it’s scary to climb the bridge. If you are afraid of heights, this is probably not right for you but the walk is easy, the steps more like railroad ties and it’s certainly worth a few butterflies in the stomach to appreciate this experience.

After an hour and a half climb and taking in breathtaking views, we descended the bridge and tore off our gear. I am now a master climber since this is my second time. I would do it again and again if only the price stopped surging. Jill and I made some picture purchases and I bought an architectural poster of the bridge where I could insert our pictures. I am very excited to hang it in the home I hope to have one day.

Patrick suddenly courageous and independent planned to see a concert. He said the venue was similar to something at home but the drinking age meant there were loads of 18 year-old over-served teenagers bopping about the theater. The band was good and he preferred seeing a performance to chitchatting with Jill and me. He also had an opportunity to explore a new area of the city- one I didn’t even know existed so there’s that!

Our last few Sydney Days
Jill and Patrick were clearly ready to go home. Jill missed her dog Farfel and her apartment. We have been traveling for nearly two months and Patrick had never really traveled in this manor before and so far from home. I wanted to show them one fantastic last day. We took the ferry to Manly Beach to catch a few rays of sunshine and a seaside lunch. Both my fellow travelers were agitated at the walk I took them on before feeding (Jill was sick, Patrick annoyed). Neither liked that I walked significantly ahead of them (I was trying to hurry them along) and I sensed it was time for me to let them be. Patrick darted back to the city for souvenir shopping while Jill and I napped on the beach before returning to the city. Manly Beach is quaint and normally less busy than Bondi Beach. Since it was still holiday time, all the beaches were packed with teenagers and families not making it the most relaxing of times.

Our last night in Sydney, my friend Kelly took us to a neighborhood called Newtown, which fashions itself a Greenwich Village type of area. It has fun bars and great food with an underlying seedy/trendy element to it. Our friends from DC caught up with us for their last night as well and we toasted to the end of a trip, old friends and new and more importantly the good fortune that we have to be able to experience travel, culture and time together.

Our Roundup
Jill endured sleeping on a couch for six nights. Patrick adopted a new sister (Jill) and another mother (me). Patrick finally acknowledged the existence of the spreadsheet (the document I keep to track expenses) and Jill and Patrick placated my cleanliness issue by sharing a bathroom. I learned it’s personally challenging for me not to control every situation and I most appreciated Jill’s adaptability throughout the duration of our travels. She had to deal with two Glynn’s. She thought I was particular but after spending time with Patrick acknowledged maybe it’s a family thing.

We all have our quirks, our issues, our concerns, our way of living our lives. Travel brings out the best and worst in people but being able to share the my travel experiences with a dear friend and my brother is special. I can purchase all kinds of clothing, artwork and crafts but I cannot put a price tag on memories. As my childhood friend Michelle informed me when I called to bitch one day, “life is short, make the most of your experiences. You never know when it will all be taken from you.” She is right. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the people you meet and the experiences you share. If all else fails, eat Tim Tams, they make everything better.

Now I am off to Queenstown, New Zealand to create a few more memories before my return home. It should be noted I live to travel.

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Australia, Destinations, Oceania

The Top End – Australia with Jono & Jill

December 23, 2012 • By

I’ve arrived in Darwin, Australia and have left Jill to her own devices in Cairns/the Great Barrier Reef. We will reunite in a few weeks in Sydney but not to worry I am visiting very dear and now very longtime (10 years) friends Jono & Jill Pytko. I must have impeccable timing because I last saw Jono & Jill for Christmas two years ago in Lithgow, Australia and it still rivals one of my best memories to date only to compete with their Scottish wedding in 2008.

Jono and I met on a Contiki tour to Greece in 2003 and I can honestly say that trip has blessed me with some incredible friendships. I expect to see a few more friends from that trip in the coming weeks in Australia and of course there is my travel partner in crime Pam Manz, a former Chicagoan now Calgarian who puts up with my accidents and me every two years.

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Jono & Jill moved to Darwin nearly two years ago for jobs — Jono works in aviation and Jill is a dentist. Aussie’s call Darwin the Top End because it’s the top of the Northern Territory (a territory not a state-different governing rules) in Australia. It’s also the top of the continent of Australia but let’s not get technical. Darwin has that old city charm where mom and pop stores still exist but I couldn’t figure out it was on its way to a slow death or ready to burst onto the stage. There are a few lovely apartment complexes, restaurants and shops but for the most part it needs a revitalization plan. It’s an incredibly diverse city with a population of 200,000 people. Many of Jono & Jill’s friends hail from all over the world and are highly educated working in fields specific to Darwin. The city is considered the gateway to many Asian countries and it’s a four-hour flight to Singapore, India and just two hours to Bali. Jono said that if tourists made Darwin their first and only stop in Australia that they would truly have no concept of the beauty, diversity and economic appeal of the country

Many folks work in aviation, real estate and in the mines (uranium, gold) but the entire Northern Territory is sparsely populated. The Australian Air Force is located here and provides a vast number of jobs. During World War II, Darwin was decimated by the same fleet that destroyed Pearl Harbor in the United States. The city served as the Pacific base for Australia and also the Americans. What could completely transform Darwin and is the talk of the town is the construction of a new pipeline. Most reason this will transform the area and finally put Darwin on the map. Prices are already ridiculously high. An average meal is $50 for one, a beer cost $9 and rent is $2800 for a two bedroom (and I contend somewhat in the middle of nowhere). I assume prices will continue to rise but I hope it means a higher quality of goods and merchandise will follow.

Darwin is a beautiful city situated on the Timor Sea and Arafura Sea (Indian Ocean meets the Pacific Ocean) but for most of the year you cannot swim in the water. There are jellyfish in the wet season (now) and saltwater crocodiles year round. It seems a shame that in this very hot and humid climate that people must restrict swimming to pools or sea walled areas for safety. It’s hot here year round but the humidity increases during the wet season. The soil is a rich reddish orange color the vegetation is very green for the moment. It apparently gets quite dusty and the colors change to brown in the dry season (May to September).

In the Northern Territory, there is a sizable indigenous population of Aboriginal Australian people. They live in surrounding areas designated by the government as well as nearby islands. It is believed the Aboriginal people migrated from Africa and Asia 70,000 years ago and made their way to Australia 50,000 years ago. While there is great diversity among the Aboriginal tribes, their language and customs are being endangered. There were more than 250-300 languages spoken and now all but a few exist. The Aboriginal population continually fluctuates as there were an estimated 1 million at the time of colonization and as few as 100,000 in the early 1900s. It’s challenging to count these groups in general and the last census puts their recovering numbers closer to 500,000. Similar to other countries with indigenous populations, Australia has struggled with the Aboriginal population since the Dutch and British first arrived. Today, Aboriginal populations are still segregated and closely monitored by the government. They can vote and many participate in politics but the vast majority I saw were wandering the streets – harmless but not a part of functioning society.

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After a day of city sightseeing, Jono and I went crocodile jumping (crocs don’t actually jump it’s really swimming but it’s a better visual). There are crocs everywhere in the Northern Territory and we visited a local river where there are thousands of saltwater crocs living and mating. It was pretty amazing as we came about a foot from a crocs mouth (don’t worry we were in a boat) but we were so close we could see the inside of the mouth and sharp, biting teeth (see below). Apparently, crocs live until they are 100. The female crocs deliver about 40 babies from about 60 eggs and there are many more female crocs than males. The males are busy during this time of year impregnating several females. The saltwater crocodile is the largest of all living reptiles and will attack and kill humans. I learned very quickly that if I ever come face to face with a crocodile the smart thing to do is remain motionless. Crocs sense noise and will attack the revelers. I’m not sure if confronted with a croc that I could stand still or float quietly which is why seeing the inside of a crocs mouth provided me with the right incentive to stay away from any swimming in Australia. Saltwater crocodiles can be found in freshwater swamps and rivers in the wet season and the tidal mouth of large rivers or even the sea in dry season. Our guide told us that crocs fight for territory and that dominant males can occupy large stretches of rivers and streams. The males we enticed with slabs of beef were nothing I would want to encounter on a daily swim.

As this is the Northern Territory and it’s a bit of a red neck place, Jono wanted to give me a true picture of the region. We entertained ourselves with a stop to the Humpty Doo bar. This place could be credited for the world’s best dive bar. It’s part scary, part unbelievable and mostly an eye-opener as to how many live outside the city. I’ve never seen so many tattoos, long untamed beards, curly or hook mustaches, big bellies, bad hair and lots of smoking and drinking. It was a fascinating experience and made our return to Darwin all that much more welcoming. It gave new meaning to the definition of “hick” or “rough around the edges.”

Camping and outdoor activity is very popular in Darwin. As Jono and Jill indicated, there isn’t great shopping and not much to do so you either travel or stay active. We loaded up the truck and headed about an hour and a half to Litchfield National Park where we finally cooled off in spring-fed falls and pools. We jumped off slippery rocks and swam in the Buley Rockhole, worked up an appetite and ate a lovely picnic lunch before the sky gave way to pounding ran. We swam in a quarry at Florence Falls where we exhausted ourselves swimming against the current to feel the beating water. It was the perfect way to combat the heat and see a different side of Darwin. The cascading rocks, rushing water and natural wildlife really provided great fun and a beautiful setting with new and old friends.

I had a fabulous time catching up with Jono and Jill and meeting their friends Chae and Andy. Somehow the five of us spending the day frolicking in the sun gives me hope that our international friendships could give way to bigger and better things. Jono hails from Australia, his wife Jill from Glasgow, Scotland, Chae from Japan, Andy from Edingburgh, Scotland and me from the USA. It’s what I appreciate most about travel. Meeting new people hearing their stories and incorporating their visions and ideas into my daily life.

The time always goes by fast but I know I will see everyone again if not tomorrow soon enough.

Off to meet Patrick (yes my brother) in Sydney and celebrate another fantastic Aussie Christmas.

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