Sydney Australia

We really saw Sydney over eight days. Lovely, fun, so much to do. Instead of seeing a lot of Australia by taking several flights and staying a couple of days at each place (each city or major attraction can be 12 or more hours apart by car) we chose to spend eight days in Sydney and two in the Blue Mountains a couple hours away. We know, we know, there are so many things we didn’t see. But, we wanted a real vacation, relaxing, not hanging out at airports, or having tightly planned itineraries. We wanted to understand this harbour city and what it has to offer. We stayed at the 5 star Intercontinental Hotel two blocks from the Harbor. This was one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in with the best buffet breakfast to start our days of site seeing. Even though it was late winter in Australia in late August, it was about 55-65 degrees, a welcome relief to our daily temperatures of 90 degrees in Singapore (see photos below the text.  Yeah, I wrote a lot).

Australians seem to live up to their reputation as being very friendly. They call themselves Aussies, but I think also ‘Ozzies’ as in Wizard of Oz. Our Sydney friend, Dani, who now lives in Singapore, goes ‘back to Oz to visit family’, and hoped we enjoyed our trip to Oz. People passing us on the streets would engage us in short conversations, not just hello. One woman passing by said, ‘Good morning! Isn’t it beautiful out? I hope you enjoy your day,’ and then strolled away.

Case in point. I visited my mom in Texas last fall and she reminisced about her world cruise eight years earlier. My mom, the social butterfly, met two lovely men, Alan and Albert, from Sydney on this cruise and the three really bonded. Since Gene and I were visiting their city in nine months I thought I’d try an internet search and give them a ring. I left a message and they kindly called back. I explained who I was and that Gene and I were going to visit. They generously offered to show us around Sydney and the Blue Mountains for two days, in their Bentley no less! This personal tour helped us to see many more beautiful sights and landmarks than we could on our own, and understand the many neighborhoods all around Sydney. We couldn’t have imagined anything better.

The artistic and comfortable feel of this city is everywhere, through architecture, urban design with its beautiful parks, outdoor dining and markets, art galleries, performance spaces, and inviting neighborhoods. And, the water. Sydney Harbour is stunning and the beautiful Sydney Harbour bridge is truly a gateway. It frames the iconic Sydney Opera House that juts into the harbour, and connects to destinations like Manly which is a lovely community with several gorgeous beaches and home to many people who work in Sydney and ferry back and forth.

Mass transportation here is brilliant. The water taxis, ferries large and small, whale watching boats, and on land the trains, subways, light rail, and bikes are abundant. Riding in a car or taxi, on the other hand, is rather frustrating because of the congestion. The octopus like land features due to the many waterways certainly help this problem. And, this is a very hilly city. Walking from one neighborhood to another is fun to do but will require taking a couple of steep outdoor stairways that have been cut into the rock. These stairways are not marked, but seem to appear when you need them.

Animals. Australian animals. Like no other. It is very true what they say. On our first day out with Alan and Albert, we saw Kookaburras sitting in trees in a park, Ibis, large birds with curved beaks, and Sulphur-Crested cockatoos, giant white birds like our domestic birds, and Rainbow Lorikeets, which look even brighter than out parrots. The cockatoos and Lorikeets are considered pests who love to land on your restaurant table and eat sugar packets and anything else available.

Leaving from the Sydney Harbour, we went whale watching and were thrilled to see several juvenile whales playing in the Pacific Ocean. They breached a couple of times where we could see them somewhat airborne and landing with a dramatic splash. They seemed happy to hang around. Getting photos of these whales were unsuccessful which is not surprising. Our boat really rocked and rolled, it was hard enough to stand still.

The Sydney Fish Market was very fun to see. Many locals didn’t think it was of great interest, but to Midwestern Americans it was marvelous. As an avid cook, it was fun to see so much fresh and exotic fish and seafood. We had a great lunch outside the market, along with the seagulls and pelicans.

We saw some great live music at a basement bar, and “Matilda the Musical” at the Sydney Lyric Theatre in the Darling Harbour area.  The singer was really good, but the musical was fantastic! It was performed by the Royal Shakespearean Company and the lead child actress playing Matilda was incredible. We didn’t know this Roald Dahl story, but boy did the audience know it. When walking out of the theatre, I asked Gene about not understanding a point in the story when the woman next to us who grew up with the book enthusiastically explained the scene. She was so happy to bring her daughter to see this story she grew up with.

On one of our eight days, we spent it in Manly, the lovely enclave across the bay from Sydney. It is a suburb of sorts where many people live who work in Sydney. They take the 20 minute ferry everyday and you couldn’t have more lovely views.  There are at least three beaches in Manly. On the ocean beach we watched surfers, and many walkers with and without dogs on the paved path on a Tuesday during Australia’s winter.  We took a beautiful walk into the park that led to a high rocky point that held a naturally occurring pond.

We were delighted to get to know Sydney and Manly. Next stop is to the Blue Mountains with Albert and Alan two hours away.

The Singapore Zoo, there and back again

Getting There.

Our first bigger adventure, besides activities of daily living, which are also adventurous (food, weather, language), was to the Singapore Zoo.  The actual adventure part came in the form of travel, nothing difficult but it made us laugh at how complicated we made it.  We had somehow decided that a taxi would cost too much, and the zoo was not easy to get to by train, so we decided to take the bus.  While Singapore’s transportation is excellent, you need to select the most efficient way which apparently we did not, but every goof up teaches us more I repeat to myself.  It took us 1.5 hours to get there!  We took 3 buses.  After the first bus, we used Gene’s smart phone to find the next bus stop. The phone map directed us a half mile and after walking it and not finding the stop, we asked a couple of teenagers for directions (we figured they’d speak English, but so happened not that well, so they whipped out their smart phones to check for us). We discovered the bus stop was across the street from where we got off and it had an overpass right there.  Fortunately, the third bus took us right into the zoo.  Good to know.  Won’t do that again; visitors take note!

Onto the Zoo.

The Singapore Zoo has a international reputation as one of the best in the world, and we think it deserves it.  What is truly impressive is the shear beauty, openness, seemingly unrestricted animal environments with few visible enclosures.  Mostly, the animal species appear to be in natural settings, very little concrete or other man-made materials.  The larger animals have water moats around them instead of glass or fencing and the plants are all real.  It also has a tremendous botanic garden feel with lots of open landscapes, gardens, streams and at least one lake.  It truly is beautiful and you feel that the animals are less confined.  But, it was crowed, a popular spot and lots of strollers, imagine that.

The monkeys in particular were wonderful to see. At other zoos I often don’t visit the apes because it is somewhat depressing.  Here the monkeys have amazing environments of high trees, ropes, log structures, and they can be seen swinging in trees over the pedestrian paths.  It seems like they could travel anywhere in the zoo.  The monkeys we saw were very active, engaged with their babies, and mugging for visitors. Unfortunately, not many of my photos of the monkeys in the trees didn’t turn out very well.

It was hot, so hot that I wasn’t keen on going into the rain forest exhibit.  It is enclosed and I thought it would be really hot in there, but it was pleasant and one of my favorite experiences.  It is like Olbrich Gardens/Bolz Conservatory but much larger, more wild, with many fascinating critters.  The bats were amazing and huge and close!  There were small mousedeer a foot high under the beautiful plants, monkeys cruising around and on and over the foot paths; birds and butterflies, unusual ducks and turtles.

and Back Again…

Ok, we were dead tired after the zoo and could not handle the bus back so we got in line for the taxi cue (I should have taken a photo of that!  It was about 3 blocks long at 5 pm (17:00) on Saturday.  After waiting a half hour, we saw a large sign with taxi phone numbers on it and decided to try calling.  We discovered that this is a great way to get a taxi; they charge $3 for this personal pickup call onto the cost.  The call is completely automated and they know where you are by GPS.  It takes about 3 minutes for them to arrive and they call back to give you the taxi number on top of the car so you know which one is yours.  Slick!  Visitors take note!  This return trip for two which was a good distance back to our hotel cost us $15.  We figured out that we paid about $8 for the two of us to take 3 buses.  Ok, taxis are pretty inexpensive here.