Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Travel Journal: Sydney

Dec. 24-26:  Sac > SFO > Sydney
Due to the +19 hour time difference between California and Australia, we “missed” Christmas this year!  We did enjoy our SFO layover in the United Club with some snacks (crackers & cheese, mini carrots, Milano cookies), good wine (cabernet from Jordan and Stags Leap), Christmas cards, a little honeycomb pop-up Christmas tree, and candy canes, so that comprised our holiday celebration for 2012.  The 14.5 hour flight was certainly an experience, but we both managed to sleep quite a bit, though I was awake for a couple of movies:  “Ruby Sparks” and “Ice Age.”  The first was much better than I had expected, and the second was tolerable entertainment for a loooong trans-Pacific flight.

Celebrating Christmas Eve in the United Club

Some of our fellow passengers included an older Canadian couple with aisle seats across from each other.  The woman was in our row, and we actually saw the same people on our return flight at the end of the trip!  Another group that was memorable was a family from Seattle – mom, dad, and 4 teens, including 13-year old fraternal twins.  The family was traveling to Sydney for several weeks as the “Make A Wish” trip for the oldest daughter.  Sad but lovely at the same time…

Once we arrived, we were walking towards immigration and customs when Evan looked over and saw an HP colleague from the Bay Area, who was traveling with his wife and 2 kids.  Small world!  We moved through customs relatively quickly and found our way to the train to the central city.  We opted to “alight” (Aussie for “get off”) at the Central Station, which was about 5 blocks from our hotel, Meriton Serviced Apartments on Campbell Street.  As we approached the hotel, we noticed a Starbucks literally across the street – quite fortuitous, and it became our recurring breakfast destination for our time in Sydney.  Our large studio apartment was great, with a full-sized fridge, microwave, and washer and dryer.  Sweet!  The hotel also included a 20-meter lap pool and fitness center, both of which had views out over the city.

Per our usual recovery-from-long-flight routine, Mr. E took a nap while I went to work out by in the lap pool.  The pool has dark tile with white lap lines, which was a bit disconcerting, as that’s opposite from what I’m used to.  That whole notion of “opposite” or “backward” became a theme for our trip, as we noticed and appreciated many of the little differences in a southern hemisphere country.  For example, the revolving doors are “backwards,” turning clockwise rather than counter-clockwise.  Also, the “up” escalator tends to be on the right instead of the left.  And we never did figure out the pedestrian rules about walking on the left or right – that seemed to vary depending on the place and the number of people!

We decided to focus this first day on walking towards the Sydney harbor to get a sense of the city and the layout of the central business district.  Little did we realize what sort of crowds we’d encounter along the way, due to the Boxing Day holiday and associated traditional massive sales.  The streets were literally teeming with people as we got closer to the main commercial corridor.  It was overwhelming!!!  People were lined up waiting to get in to certain stores, and I’m so glad we didn’t have any particular shopping plans that day.  I think the best analogy is to what has become the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving chaos of “Black Friday” sales here in the US.  Yuck to both country’s consumer habits!

 Victoria Building with Boxing Day Crowds

Our first stop was at the Sydney Tower Eye, where our ticket provided a 4D Experience, which turned out to include vibrations, rain/sea spray, and other special effects as part of a short video presentation of an aerial view of Sydney.  We then went up to the top observation deck to get an amazing panoramic view of the city and the surrounding area.

View from Sydney Tower Eye 

Our next stop was Circular Quay (pronounced “key”), which is the portion of the harbor between the iconic Opera House and the Harbor bridge that connects downtown Sydney with North Sydney.  We had read about a Bridge Climb tour that takes people onto the top of the bridge itself, but when we learned the cost ($250/person), we were a bit shocked and decided that we could find a much better use for that $500 on something else! 

 Sydney Harbor Bridge with Climbers at Top

We continued our walking tour west through The Rocks and into Darling Harbour.  The Rocks is one of the oldest parts of Sydney and presented a really interesting mix of historic and modern architecture, not to mention some very cool urban art.  Darling Harbour is a lively example of successful urban redevelopment and reuse, with new retail, restaurant, and residential uses in restored wharf areas.  To return to our hotel, we took a ride on the Monorail, which is scheduled to be taken offline in June 2013 after 25 years in service, so we got to ride it during its “farewell” season.


Many businesses were closed because of Boxing Day, so we ended up at the City Market Food Court just a few blocks from our hotel for dinner.  Tasty and economical noodle soup was on the menu for both of us (pho and udon), and we also stumbled upon a wine shop at the same mall, so we were able to buy a bottle to bring back to the hotel to enjoy.

During our rambles, we noticed a local chain called Pie Face that features multiple types of small pies, mostly savory and easy to purchase to go (or for “takeaway”).  This trend is likely a leftover of British influences from the colonial settlers of the country.  Another indication of this relationship is the large number of Cadbury candy bars available that I’ve never seen here in the US, including a milk chocolate bar with jelly beans and pop rocks in it.  Yep, that’s right, POP ROCKS.  Not by that name, of course, but they’re little sugary candies that pop in your mouth after the chocolate has melted.  So odd, but weirdly enjoyable, too!

Dec. 27: Sydney
I went for a run up through Hyde Park and the Domain, near the Botanic Gardens and around the foreshore to the Opera House, while Mr. E hit the pool and the treadmill.  Based on the forecast we’d seen for warmer weather for the next day, we decided to go to the Taronga Zoo on a slightly cooler day, so we caught the free downtown shuttle bus (#555) to Circular Quay, where we bought zoo/ferry combo tickets.  We got lucky with the ferry, thanks to the schedule changes for the school holidays, as our return trip from the zoo provided a mini tour of the harbor rather than just a straight shot back to port, which meant we didn’t need to take time or money to do a separate harbor sightseeing cruise.

Waiting in Line at Taronga Zoo

To access the zoo, we waited for the Sky Safari gondola, which allowed us to have some great views back over the harbor to the downtown skyline.  Our zoo visit included wallabies (so cute), kangaroos (very lanky), emus, elephants, a fishing cat, other big cats, lots of birds, and a Tasmanian devil.  We learned about the zoo’s conservation and breeding efforts and about the threats to many of the native species, including the Tasmanian devil, which is vulnerable to a particular type of cancer that causes major tumors on its face and jaw.  The cancer is a due to limited genetic variations within the species, so the disease is easily passed from generation to generation.  One of the best parts of the visit was seeing some elephant calves playing with each other, romping in the water, and tossing around a barrel float!  And I bought a necklace with a stylized black-and-white pendant of a momma and baby elephant as a souvenir (I often get some of my best and most unique jewelry during our travels).

Sydney Zoo Sky Safari Gondola

Taronga Zoo Elephant Calves

When we got back to Sydney, we returned to Darling Harbour and the Harbourside Shops, with a stop at the Pump House for beer (Sierra Nevada) and cider (Batlow – my first ever cloudy cider – very light and tasty!).  We also finally saw a live koala at the Wild Life attraction near the Wax Museum, and dinner was at the City Market Food Court again.

Darling Harbor with Sydney Skyline

Mr. E was a bit toasty and red from too much sun exposure during our ferry trips.  A good reminder to bring the sunscreen for our future outings!

Dec. 28: Sydney
I opted for a swim this morning, and at one point, a fellow swimmer asked me if I’d like some tips on my technique.  Somehow, that offer came across as mildly insulting…!  Mr. E woke up with a very sore throat and general achy feeling, so we decided to alter our plans a bit and take it easier throughout the day.  We headed towards the Opera House via the Hyde Park café for breakfast and the State Library, where we visited two temporary exhibitions, one on fashion photography and one on the Australian Ballet.  Both were interesting, and we especially enjoyed the costumes, sketches, and multiple video clips for the Ballet exhibit.  We were very impressed with their body of work and will definitely make an effort to see a performance if the troupe is ever in the NorCal area.  The State Library itself was also interesting, as the building is a combination of the original historic structure connected to a modern addition, which made me think of how the Crocker Museum here in Sac was expanded recently.

Hyde Park Memorial with Reflecting Pool

(this doesn't really need a caption, does it?!) 

We had planned to tour the Opera House but learned that two of the main halls were in use for performances and wouldn’t be included in the tour.  No reduced price, however, which prompted us to postpone that activity to the end of our trip when we’d be back in Sydney for a half day prior to our return flight.  Instead, we got Mr. E some throat drops and both of us some takeaway lunch that we enjoyed at a little park right on the harbor.  We then jumped on the hop-on, hop-off tour bus, which allowed us to see some parts of the city we wouldn’t otherwise have accessed on foot, including King’s Cross.  This area used to be known as Queen’s Cross, after Queen Elizabeth, but the name was changed supposedly due to confusion with some other similarly-named area.  Grrr.  One of my pet peeves is writing women out of history.  Grrr.  The neighborhood is apparently the Red Light District at night but remains very popular and active as a retail and restaurant destination during the day.

When we got back to the hotel, we started laundry while Mr. E tried to get some rest and eventually headed to the nearby pharmacy for some more powerful throat lozenges.  We returned to the Harbourside Shops to try out a different Food Court for dinner, along with gelato and sorbetto to accompany our stroll back to the hotel.  We both enjoyed the location of the hotel and the proximity to a Starbucks, but we were on the southern edge of the central business district, so a location more centralized might be preferable in terms of easy access to the various sights.


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