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Australia, Destinations, Oceania

Christmas in Sydney to Adelaide – Australia

January 8, 2013 • By

My four days of freedom were only slightly interrupted by the arrival of Patrick, my brother. This is the same brother who would not normally venture to a foreign land 20 hours away and not with his sister of all people. Everyone can exhale. We both survived in spectacular fashion.

After a herculean effort to make his flight from San Francisco to Sydney, Patrick arrived jet lagged and in need of food. We ventured straight to my favorite spot – the Sydney Harbor. It’s a tradition that I started with me, myself and I on my very first visit to Sydney in 2004. Upon my arrival in Sydney, I go directly to Starbucks, grab my coffee (now a whopping $7.15 for a Grande Frappuccino) and do not stop until the bridge and opera house greet me with open arms. It struck me that Patrick did not seem as impressed with my routine but maybe a 22-hour flight and 80 degree heat will do that to a person.

As this is Patrick’s first time in Australia, I wanted him to share the appreciation and I had for this incredible city. We taste tested the Mercantile Hotel’s burgers, a town pleaser and beer and Patrick retreated to his hotel for a whopping 15 hours of sleep, while I visited with New York friends for dinner at Manly Beach.

Finally, the big day arrived and Santa located Patrick in Sydney but somehow neglected my stocking–typical I suppose. My dear Australian friends Angus and Maryam invited the foreigners to a Christmas barbeque Brazilian/Aussie style. The weather did not cooperate but who can complain about 70 degree temperatures even if it’s raining. Within moments of our appearance, Maryam’s brothers visiting Sydney from Brazil conjured up cherry cocktails and mouthwatering (truly) bites of seasoned beef. The booze and beef flowed throughout the afternoon and we spent a lovely day chatting about politics, guns (right after Connecticut shooting), the U.S. economy, travel and family. When I first experienced an Aussie Christmas in 2010 with Jono and Jill, I figured Jono’s mother was either a master cook or a glutton for punishment but now that I’ve eaten my way through another Christmas, I’ve concluded an Aussie Christmas warrants overindulgence. This Christmas afternoon we consumed eight kilos of meat (17 pounds), a case of wine, two cases of corona, two boxes of scampi, half a ham, a salad, potatoes and somewhere in between the courses of various cuts of meat, we disposed of a cheesecake. A cast of characters joined in our demise- friends of Maryam and Angus who stopped by for a spoonful here and there but mostly the core group of eight of us made for a silly afternoon and an even more dramatic morning.

Barossa Valley
I continue to make this mistake and maybe one of these days I will learn but I should never ever book a flight or get on an airplane the day after any type of celebration. Boxing Day here in Australia is a holiday for a reason. People need rest and recovery time after Christmas festivities. Instead I found myself at Sydney airport early in the morning dry heaving and wishing I had not left my Excedrin in the extra bag at Angus’ house. Patrick seemed to be in much better shape and even enjoyed his first Pie Face experience at the airport. It’s still foggy but I boarded the plane to Adelaide and even managed to sit in my seat for a few minutes before bolting to the bathroom in what would be come my craftiest move to date. Pleading motion sickness the flight attendant found me an empty row to sleep off my massive hangover. It’s important to note, Patrick left me to my own devices, which worked to my advantage. I awoke minutes before landing, fully covered with a blankie and my head resting gently on a fluffy pillow (a rather comfy pillow for an airplane) and a much-needed ginger ale at my side.

An hour and twenty minutes later, Patrick and I arrived in the Barossa Valley, a famous wine region outside of the City of Adelaide in South Australia. I faired the transfer ride rather well but missed on an important opportunity to converse with our driver–my favorite activity. We stayed at a beautiful resort, (the Louise) situated on a vineyard and home to the top restaurant in the region. Patrick pointed out the obvious. He much preferred visiting this hotel with a significant other but would settle for me.

The Barossa Valley population is small with only about 200,000 residents and an area of about 32 miles wide. It consists of 85 cellar doors and more than 100 wineries. The Mediterranean temperatures are perfect for grape growth and wine production with warm, dry days and cool nights. After sweating for nearly three weeks, Barossa proved to be a place I could finally enjoy a day in the sun. Patrick made the most of our first day in Barossa hitting the wineries by bike, while I spoiled myself with cheese and sunshine and a nap on our terrace. Our tasting dinner at the Appellation was equally delightful. The chef prepared the meal with local and seasonal produce. It was just a shame I overdid it on Christmas.

Our time in Barossa was quite peaceful. We enjoyed a wine tasting day where we visited some of the regions (and Australia’s) best vineyards: Henschke Cellars, a high-end, family owned winery in Eden Valley; Yalumba, our favorite and also family owned with delicious shiraz and cabernet sauvignon; Rockford, an old fashioned stone tasting room with great sparking reds; Hentley Farms, Peter Lehmans, a winery with decent wine but gorgeous grounds and Tsarcke’s, a winemakers successful experiment with shiraz. Shiraz is the wine of choice (Syrah to the rest of the world) but the area turns out some great bottles of Grenache, Tempranillo, Cabernet and Riesling as well. A few of the wineries produce a sparking red not to be confused with a Rose but it’s the Barossa Valley’s answer to black gold. A small amount of sparkling red is released and they are typically gone by the end of the month. Harvest in Barossa occurs anywhere from the end of March to mid-April depending on the weather. Tourism and wine are the mainstays of the Barossa Valley and after sampling some of the best and worst I can see why. Even the less known varieties and labels were excellent.

Balloon filling up.

Balloon filling up.

The Balloon Ride
I have a bucket list. It gets smaller each year but as a planner I like to check things off the list. I’ve been trying to fly in a hot air balloon for about four years. It seems Mother Nature needs to provide clear skies and mild winds in order for balloons to fly safely. Alas, in the lobby of our resort, I scan a brochure of a multi-colored balloon and an opportunity to fly high above the Barossa Valley. I asked Patrick if he was interested and he clearly didn’t seem to be as excited as I was but agreed to come along for the ride. With a pick up time of 3:45 am, it’s tough to appreciate the experience on such little sleep but with the momentum and clear skies in my favor, I savored every minute. Our guide drove us around to a few locations to test the wind speed and when we located a spot for launch a group of 12 of us nervously awaited the next step. The balloon was unrolled from its packaging bag and a massive fan filled it with air while the basket was tilted over helplessly awaiting passengers. Keep in mind it’s pitch dark and now approximately 4:45 am. It took about 30 minutes before the balloon took shape and the basket could be pushed upright.

The 12 strangers and fast friends climbed into the bucket by section putting our lives in the hands of our pilot, Captain Justin. He pulled on some strings firing up the balloon and we began to sway side to side. It was time…up, up and away we went soaring over farms, meticulously manicured vineyards, homes, kangaroos, roads, hills and valleys of the Barossa. The best seat is the house is always the front row, the best apartment is the Penthouse and the best view is unobstructed. In other words, the view from the balloon suited me perfectly. The sun peaked through the clouds announcing a new day. We snapped a few shots and the sun disappeared as quickly as it presented itself. It would have probably made for brighter pictures but the scenery was remarkable either way. The ride only lasted an hour, the experience a lifetime. The smile on my face said it all but the pounding of my heart made it more real, more magical. Our powerful landing had us skating on farmland, as our balloon was not quite ready to stay grounded. The comment provided by our fellow British traveler and directed at Patrick said it all, “You looked like you were going to shit yourself.”

After our successful voyage, we celebrated with a breakfast of champions including champagne, local cheeses and meats, quiches, pizzas and tea and coffee. The air still cool but the sun fighting through the clouds blanketed us with warmth. Another adventure to cross off the list but more importantly another dream realized. I loved it.

A small city located in South Australia, Adelaide has a population of about 1.2 million and is the fifth largest city in Australia. The British founded Adelaide in 1836 but there are people from all over the world living in the city and its suburban parts. In 1838, six German families landed in Adelaide having left Germany to avoid religious prosecution. Most of these families headed to Barossa to make use of their wine making and agriculture talents. There are also, Italians Scottish, Vietnamese and Greeks calling Adelaide home. It wasn’t hard to figure out why Adelaide was coined the City of Churches. Walking around the Central Business District and the surrounding areas one would be hard pressed to not find a church on every block. The irony being the last Census in 2011 found Adelaide one of the least religious cities in all of Australia. Most the population identifies itself as Christian with the largest denominations being Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church and Eastern Orthodox.

Most Adelaideans work in the healthcare or social service arenas but the area is very well known for its universities, education and sports. There is also a large manufacturing base present. There are some international banks in the Central Business District and lots of shopping opportunities. I most enjoyed my visit to the Central Market where I sampled lots of local produce. My new favorite dishes are Bircher Muesli and passion fruit swirled with a delightful Greek yogurt. It’s not like I ever find myself lacking for meals but this market filled with fresh fish, meat cuts, Thai massage, souvenirs, ethnic spices and dishes could make even the most healthy eater get a little crazy. Somewhere between Bali and Australia I became obsessed with finding the perfect bowl of Muesli, a breakfast meal with rolled oats, fruits and nuts and you can have with milk or yogurt. Adelaide proved to be the winner.

In Adelaide, Patrick and I met up with my friends known to most as the “Germans.” I met Corinna and Ingmar on my last trip to Australia in 2010 on a tour along the Great Ocean Road (Melbourne). Since our spontaneous meeting, the Germans have visited NYC (Corinna twice) and I have gone to Hamburg, Germany. Here in Adelaide we meet again. It’s comforting and personally rewarding for me to have friends all over the world. I get a kick out of Corinna’s planning and Ingmar’s calming ways. They are beautiful, kind and sincere people and I am fortunate to call them friends. We celebrated our Australian reunion over some fine wines and food South Australian style.

Our inaugural trip to South Australia provided me (and I expect Patrick) with a different outlook on Australian life. People move at a slower pace, there isn’t the hustle and bustle of the big city and food and wine is part of the daily life not just for celebration. People live in towns with a population as small as 20,000 and then commute to Adelaide or surrounding areas. Adelaide is situated between the Indian Ocean (St. Vincent’s Bay) at the Adelaide Hills and the charming River Torrens runs through the heart of the city giving way to parks, gardens and lots of open space for running, biking and picnicking.

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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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