Friday, April 28, 2017

Sydney Day 3

Following a massive breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks, so named for its location in the oldest part of Sydney, we stopped in at the information centre to get some advice on tours. We knew that we wanted to get out to the Blue Mountains, but it was a question of traveling on our own by train versus hooking up with a tour group. In the end, we decided to go with a small tour company that only takes 20 passengers as we liked the variety of activities that was offered by them - including a couple that we would not be able to do on our own. Our original plan was to go on Monday to avoid weekend crowds. But the woman at the centre assured us that Saturdays are a good pick because locals go on Sunday due to greatly reduced train ticket fares. So we booked for tomorrow, which is Saturday.

Today we traveled by ferry to the Taronga Zoo. Jim is working on a zoo project that includes the possibility of transporting guests by gondola, and the Sydney zoo has that already in place . Opened in 1916, Taronga has over 4,000 animals located on 69 acres built into a hillside. We arrived at the ferry terminal after a short 12 minute ride from Circular Quay and headed for the gondola lift. What a breath-taking ride to the top of the zoo!

The zoo is nicely laid out, if a bit challenging for some folks with its hills and steps. Around every corner was an amazing view of Sydney Harbour. The animal displays were guest-friendly, and you can tell that the zoo caters to families with children. They even have a couple of playgrounds that were being extensively used while we were there.

After we tired out, we took a ferry to the community of Manly, where we enjoyed a very late lunch along the waterfront. We will be turning in early tonight as we need to meet our tour group at 7:15 in the morning. We are very much looking forward to tomorrow!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sydney Day 2

This morning I woke up pretty early (as in 3:30 in the morning early), so I checked messages as I normally do first thing only to find out that back in St. Louis lightning had struck the remaining oak in our front yard causing the tree to fall. Those of you who follow my blog know that we lost two huge trees out front a couple years ago, and they fell on two different neighbors' cars. The good news is that the tree landed predominantly in our yard, and hopefully did not destroy the small buckeye we put in last year to replace the one that had fallen the previous year. The bad news is that it took out the internet and cable line. Oh, and the huge quote to remove the tree was not exactly good either. Thankfully we have people staying in our house while we are gone, and they could deal with the issues right away. We are so grateful for the wonderful neighbors who came over to offer their assistance to our house sitters.

Once we were assured everything was being taken care of at home, we took off for an early breakfast and then made our way to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Affectionately known as the "Coathanger", the bridge opened in 1932. It is the world's largest (but not longest) bridge, spanning 1149 meters in length. It carries eight lanes of vehicle traffic, two train lines, a footway and a cycleway. You can climb the bridge spans if you dare, with prices beginning at $158 Australian dollars. Once I learned that no phones or cameras are allowed, that was a deal breaker for me. We chose to walk across instead. The views from the bridge are quite spectacular.

Once on the other side of the mile long bridge we were in what is called North Sydney. There at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge we found Luna Park, an amusement park that was built in 1935. The park is only open Friday-Monday, but we were able to walk in a bit of it. Luna Park is one of two
 amusement parks in the world that are protected by government legislation. Several of the buildings in the park are listed on the Register of the National Estate.

By the time we completed our walk back across the bridge, grabbed lunch to go, and returned to the room to eat on our terrace, we had already racked up over 15,000 steps and walked nearly 7 miles. And it was only noon!

Following lunch and a short rest we walked to the Royal Botanic Garden. This 74 acre garden opened in 1814 and is free to visit. Paths meander throughout, taking you past lush planting beds, ponds and along the harbour. Numerous birds call the area home and we even saw parrots! We will need to make another trip back as dusk began to fall before we had finished exploring. Luckily it is within a short walking distance of our hotel. As we hit over 23,000 steps on our Fitbits today, we were ready to find somewhere to eat dinner, then head back to the room.

I've been researching why photos can't be placed in this blog on an iPad, and haven't found a satisfactory solution yet. I never have problems on my iMac at home, but for some reason blogger cannot find the photos I have uploaded to this iPad. It is very frustrating as that is why I brought the iPad along. I'm not giving up yet!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trip of a Lifetime

We have talked off and on for years about traveling to Australia and New Zealand. First of all, the countries look amazing, and second Jim had a landscape architecture professor at Iowa State who relocated his family to Melbourne 30 or more years ago. He has always invited us over for a visit. We decided it was time to finally go as none of us are getting any younger.

The planning began in 2015, but between scheduling issues, health issues on the other end, and dealing with American Airlines, it took until July of 2016 for the trip to get booked. We wanted to use frequent flyer miles to upgrade our seats, because I told Jim that the only way I was getting on a 15+ hour flight was if my seat was in business class. The airlines really do not want you to be able to use those miles you collect, so it took quite a while and a lot of flexibility to make the tickets happen.

Because there was no business class on the plane from St. Louis to Los Angeles, we were given first class seats. We didn't complain! We had over 4 hours to kill at LAX, but the Admirals Club made that bearable. We boarded the next flight at 10:20 p.m.for an 11:00 departure. Neither of us had been in business class, so this was a real treat. The single cubicles, for lack of a better word, had wide, comfortable seats that could fully recline for sleeping. We were given slippers, pajamas, and a toiletry kit to keep, and a large pillow, comforters and Bose noice cancelling headphones for use during the trip. There was a remote control for the large personal LCD screen in each seat. Plenty of storage space was provided in each cubicle. The food was good as was the service.

Neither one of us slept much on the flight, despite the comfortable arrangements. We arrived in Sydney a little ahead of schedule, enjoyed the streamlined epassport services at the airport, and quickly collected our bags. The longest wait was in the que to get a cab.

We are staying at the Sir Stamford Hotel, which is located in Circular Quay. Fortunately, despite the early hour (8:00 a.m.), they had our room ready. We enjoyed a cup of hot coffee (tea for me) on our terrace, freshened up a bit, and then headed out to explore. This location is excellent, and we quickly found ourselves at the Sydney Opera House - the most iconic symbol of the city. Having seen it so often through the years in films or videos, it was surreal to be standing in front of it. For today, we just enjoyed walking around the outside, but we will definitely go back for a tour.

We found a lovely place along the water to have lunch, and then did more walking before making our way back to the hotel room. Two days of no sleep are catching up with us, so we will just chill tonight before taking the city by storm tomorrow.

For some reason I am not able to post photos to the blog. As I am too tired to figure that out right now, I will look into this tomorrow. Hopefully I can figure it out!