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


Australia Trip (Days 9 & 10) -- End of trip!

Day 9: Monday, January 2
Blue Mountains, Parramatta River Cruise, Featherdale Wildlife Center
I got up early to get in a workout before our 7:30am pick-up by AAT Kings for our small group day-trip to the Blue Mountains. Our guide, Joe, was personable and a great narrator during the entire day. Our first stop was in Leura at Loaves & Dishes café for coffee and snacks (banana bread for Mr. E, raisin toast for me, and long blacks for us both). We had some time to wander around the time, and we happened upon a wonderful store of hand-carved wood creations, resulting in the purchase of another holiday ornament and a fabulous little wombat statue carved out of laurel camphor (I named her Leura, but she won’t appear officially until my birthday!).

Our next stop was at Scenic World, which is an entire complex of boardwalks among the temperate rainforest. To access all of the areas, visitors can utilize two aerial trams and a very steep inclined train. Joe had given us some tips about how to maximize our 90 minutes at the site, especially since we were visiting during the height of the busy season, and by following his advice, Mr. E and I were able to ride each type of transportation and also enjoy some walking through the vegetation. 

Lunch was at The Observation Hut, and my choice of smoked trout hash was quite tasty, but Mr. E’s steak sandwich wasn’t quite so successful. Our final stop of the tour was at Featherdale Wildlife Center in the suburbs of Sydney. We got to have a close-up interaction with a snoozing koala and also saw lots of other sleepy koalas along with lounging kangaroos and some fabulous wombats. Love the wombats!!! I had no idea that their fur could have such beautiful markings.

The last part of our tour took us through Olympic Park to the ferry dock for a Parramatta River cruise back to Sydney. 

We decided to stay on board until the drop-off at Darling Harbor, which gave us an additional 15 minutes on the water compared to disembarking at Circular Quay. We returned for a final evening reception at the hotel and were quite surprised by the crowds in the Exec Lounge, as we’d expected to find fewer folks given that we were at the end of the holiday season.

Day 10: Tuesday, January 3 (twice!)
We enjoyed our final breakfast in the Exec Lounge before packing up and taking the Airport Link train back to the airport. Our 14-hour flight from Sydney to San Francisco was uneventful, and Mr. E and I both watched several movies to pass the time. Thanks to info from my Mom (thanks Mom!), we had downloaded the Mobile Passport app before leaving Australia, so our passage through customs was so fast that we had to wait quite a while for our bags. Unfortunately, our flight from SFO to Sac was delayed by almost an hour due to maintenance issues, so we got home later than expected.

I had gotten a nasty migraine on the long international flight, so Mr. E and I both napped for a couple of hours with the kitties once we got home before we started to deal with laundry, mail, and finances. Due to (thanks to?) the 19-hour time difference, we sort of got to live through two Tuesdays, since we left Sydney at 12:30pm local time on Jan. 3rd and arrived in Sac at 10:30am local time on Jan 3rd. Oof! So weird!!!

Themes from this trip: uncertainty of weather, friendliness of folks whom we met in Sydney, and lots of stuff still to experience next time around (Yarra Valley wine country, Blu Bar, O Bar, Doyle’s seafood restaurant, Maritime Museum, another Bridge Climb, Opera House for NYE).


Australia Trip (Day 8)

Day 8: Sunday, January 1
New Year’s Day run, Bridge Climb
I slept in a bit before heading out on my traditional New Year’s Day run. I headed down Macquarie Street towards the Opera House and was amazed to see how much of the city had already been cleaned up and put back in order after the NYE festivities. However, I couldn’t access the far point around the Opera House, so I turned instead towards the harbor-front path that abuts the Botanical Gardens and eventually wound my way through the Gardens and back to the hotel. I finished up my workout in the weight room of the Livingwell Club before rousing Mr. E so that we could make it to the Exec Lounge before the end of breakfast. We ended up sitting next to a local Aussie couple whose daughter had given them a holiday gift of two nights at the Hilton. They originally thought we were Canadian, based on our speech patterns, and once they learned that we live in California, the conversation turned to politics and the recent election results.

We had decided the evening before that we’d return to explore the Observatory, as we didn’t have quite enough time during NYE since the building was only open for a couple of hours. The displays and exhibits are fascinating, and we were there in time to see the “ball drop” at the top of the building. 

This is a daily occurrence to precisely mark the 1pm time. We encountered again one of the very friendly staff with whom we’d chatted during the NYE event, and Mr. E also got some of his questions about Pluto answered by another very helpful staff member.

Our next appointment was a 1:45pm Bridge Climb on the Harbor Bridge. We were a bit concerned about the weather, as rain had been in the forecast for several days, but the overcast skies and slightly cooler temperatures were actually quite welcome. The Bridge Climb experience lasts for about 3.5 hours, including almost one hour at the beginning to get appropriately suited up and go through the safety procedures and climb simulation. Our fabulous Climb Leader, Tatiana, was friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic. We started off along the horizontal catwalk, climbed up four ladders, and then hiked up to the summit of the top arch, stopping four times along the way for group and individual photo opportunities. 

Through our headsets, we received instructions from Tatiana as well as lots of interesting information about the history and building of the Bridge. We did get a wee bit of precipitation as we neared the summit, but the weather didn’t at all spoil the true awesomeness of the views out over the Harbor.

By the time we finished, changed back into our clothes, bought our photos, and shopped for some souvenirs, we were ready to head back to the hotel and get off our feet for a while. Oh – we also saw one of our fellow Hunter Valley tour members getting ready for his Climb as we completed our wrap-up process. Small city!

We had enough time to catch the tail end of the evening reception in the Exec Lounge, where we re-encountered the Aussie couple from breakfast, who invited us to join them. So we spent the next couple of hours chatting with and getting to know Deirdre "Dee" and Kym, adding another set of new Aussie acquaintances to our memories of this trip.


Australia Trip (Day 7)

Day 7: Saturday, December 31
Queen Victoria Market, Circular Quay, Harry’s Café de Wheels, Sydney Observatory
Today we focused on (re)visiting some scenic spots around Sydney so that Mr. E could get some good photo ops with his new (shiny red) Nikon digital camera. After breakfast in the Exec Lounge, we started our tour with a stop just across the street in the beautiful Queen Victoria Market. 

We had avoided this spot during our previous visit due to the craziness of Boxing Day shopping, but we were able to really enjoy the amazing architecture and holiday decorations this time since the busiest part of the holiday sales was over.

Next, we headed off towards Circular Quay along George St. Along the way, I spied a fascinating public art display in Angel Place called “Forgotten Songs.” The artwork highlights local native bird species that have been impacted by urban development, with the names of the species etched into plaques in the paving and recorded bird sounds emanating from speakers in some of the hanging bird cages. Amazing, impactful, and so unexpected to discover down an alleyway.

When we reached Circular Quay, Mr. E searched for a spot to get a picture of us together with the Opera House in the background. We tried to go down towards the Opera House, but that area was already closed off in anticipation of New Year’s Eve, so there were long lines waiting to get in through the security checkpoint. We then tried to head a bit farther east and access the site along Macquarie Street, but that access point was also closed. So instead, we headed back down to the western edge of the Circular Quay waterfront, near the Contemporary Art Museum, and successfully set up a few shots with the mini-tripod.

Our next destination was the iconic Harry’s Café de Wheels, which is a bit farther east, near Pott’s Point. We used our Opal transit cards to take the train to King’s Cross and then wandered through the Woolloomooloo neighborhood down to the waterfront. Mr. E enjoyed one of the famous Tiger Pies, and I was able to get just an order of the mushy peas, which were delicious! 

As we ate, a woman sitting next to us on the bench under a tree remarked upon my side of peas and struck up a conversation with us. She’s from Melbourne and was very friendly and interested in our trip and experiences, so we had quite a lovely chat as we finished eating. We decided to walk back to the city centre, passing near the Botanical Gardens and the Cathedral.

Mr. E went to the Livingwell Club to work out, and I stayed in the room to read for a bit. I then went up to the Exec Lounge for “tea time” and to work on my blog. Mr. E joined me eventually for the evening reception, and we had some light snacks and beverages before getting ready for our New Year’s Eve event at the Sydney Observatory.

Luckily, the weather had finally started to cool down a bit, so our 20ish-minute walk to the Observatory was pretty comfortable. We arrived a bit before the 7:30pm start time but only had to wait about 5 minutes before the gates were opened. Since we’d never been to the Observatory before, we didn’t really know what the perspective over the Harbor would be, so we were delighted to discover that we had an amazingly clear view of the west side of the Harbor Bridge from the top of Observatory Hill. The Hill itself was one of the public access areas but was separated from our spot by a wrought iron fence. 

The back terrace area of the Observatory was set up with some low and high tables as well as several circular couches. Mr. E and I staked our claim on one of the high two-top tables so that we could settle in for the evening. The ticket price for the event included an impressive array of passed canapes (although we quickly realized that we would need to hunt the food rather than waiting for it to come to us…) and unlimited beer, wine, and sparkling. As we perused our surroundings, a couple nearby asked Mr. E to take their photo, so he struck up a conversation with them. I also chatted with them briefly a few times, and eventually they pulled their chairs over to join us at our table. So we ended up spending the evening getting to know Andrew (local from Sydney) and Victoria (originally from Romania).

The festivities began with an 8-minute family fireworks show at 9pm followed by a lighted boat parade across the Harbor and then the main fireworks event at midnight. In between, Mr. E did a “hunt and gather” routine to fetch food for the table, and we all enjoyed several rounds of adult beverages along with the live DJ and instrumentalists. Overall, the music was quite enjoyable, with lots of 80s and 90s selections, and many folks ended up out on the dance floor, including some who got a bit “silly” (to use Victoria’s term) as the evening wore on.

After the impressive 12-minute fireworks display to celebrate the beginning of 2017, Mr. E and I bid farewell to our new Aussie acquaintances and walked back to the hotel, joining the moving flow of people departing the harbor area. We decided that our next NYE in SYD would definitely have to be the “bucket list” full-on experience at the Opera House. Perhaps in 2018???