Friday, August 27, 2010

This is the past that's mine. (Australia pt. 2)

The next day, we set off west to the Blue Mountains near the town of Katoomba. We'd read about the area online and it seemed like most people weren't terribly impressed, but we went anyway. Listening to people on the internet is a stupid idea. It was awesome. Katoomba is a park town along the lines of Jackson Hole or Park City, with that nice outdoorsy atmosphere and shops and restaurants leading up to the park.

The park itself (Kanangra-Boyd) is beautiful and there are some amazing trails that run through the place. At the top of the valley, overlooking the dense forest, it's dry and temperate. At the bottom it's like a cold rainforest, kind of like you'd see in southern Alaska (no pine trees, though), dense and green and wildlife everywhere. It's really cool.

Above the valley.

We went down the Giant Staircase, which is a 900-step, super steep stone (and metal) staircase literally cut out of a vertical cliff, into Jamison Valley. It's tough enough just getting down, my legs were shaky and unstable by the end, we weren't about to try it going up (and from the looks of things, not many other people did either). At the bottom, we happily marched along the foot of the cliff for an hour or two to Katoomba falls, and then up we went.

It wasn't the Giant Staircase, but it was a tough climb up, especially after the descent and hike along the bottom. The climb back up took us at least an hour, at which point we found ourselves about a mile or so--across a deep chasm cut by the falls--from the road back to town. So we paid about $9 for a tram that took us over the falls--something like a 6 second fall to the bottom of the valley.

I ate the second half of my lunch on the tram. This excursion may very well have been the thing I loved the most about the entire trip. It was scenic, fun and exhausting. I'd do it again in an instant. Next time I think I'd like to take a crack at going up the Staircase.

The next day, Wednesday, was Darling Harbour day. We got on a ferry that took us from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour and then hit every place we could. We first went to this wildlife place. I can't remember what it's called--it's like an aquarium but for bugs and lizards and stuff. They also had some bigger animals there, various marsupials (kangaroos, koalas, etc), birds and a huge crocodile. Nice place, I liked it. I got to pet a stag beetle.
Ha! Who sleeps in a tree, am I right?
Then we went to the aquarium. That was pretty neat. Lots of fish.

And this turtle, who appeared to have fatally collided with the floor.
After the aquarium we went to what I think was the biggest IMAX screen in the world and watched a movie about the Hubble telescope. I really liked it. Very educational, and also: space.

By that time it was late afternoon. We'd wanted to go to two more places but both were closing at 5 pm, so we did a quick half-hour tour of the Maritime Museum and decided to save the Powerhouse Museum for another day. So there we were enjoying ourselves in the Maritime Museum with about 10 minutes left before it closed and some guy in a jumpsuit starts following us around like some kind of a jerk. He was trying to herd us out of the museum, like we were freakin' sheep or something. And I was like, no way I'm leaving an instant before I see the South Pole exhibit. So there we were leaving without seeing the South Pole exhibit, passing the gift shop. We considered buying some souvenirs but screw those guys. We left and headed around the harbor, looking at the menus of the restaurants along the way. Expensive, but not prohibitively. We went to McDonald's, though. Usually I love McD's but this time it was crap. It was this piddly little three-sided joint with an army of aggressive gulls and pigeons squawking at you, trying to steal your food and poop on your table. And the food was pretty terrible. The best part was when some kookaburra swooped in and landed on a lamp above this family and squawked so loudly that all the other birds flew away in a panic and the poor family thought surely Armageddon had begun.

From there we headed off to the "golden bucket" tower to see the city from above at dark. I forget the exact name of the place, but the views were beautiful. They would have been better if we could have gone outside ($50 extra to do so), but we made do with the inside.

Then we ate some ice cream and that was that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sleep for a while and speak no words. (Australia pt. 1)

At about 1 am Monday morning I got off a plane from LAX to SLC. As I got off the plane, I struck up a conversation with a beautiful Latina girl who looked just like Eva Mendes. It was a nice ending to my trip. We'd arrived in Sydney, Australia just over a week before. At 6 am local time. The first thing we did after we got off the plane was take a train to Sydney's Central rail station. From there, we walked out onto the street with all our stuff. The weather was nice for 6 am in spring. We guessed a reasonable route to our hotel and set off. We got to the hotel about 30 minutes later (only got a little lost). We couldn't check in yet, so we used the lobby and lobby bathroom as a hotel room, changing and trying to wash off the fancy smell of 24 hours on planes and in airports. At about 10 am we left our stuff with the desk and went to church. Before we left for Australia, Sean had located a singles ward right down the road from where we were staying. It was mighty convenient and we didn't have anything else planned, so off we went. It was fun. Besides a few missionaries and a small family of other American tourists, there were no white people there. White people don't seem to like church very much these days. Anyway, it was fun, we met a bunch of people and made friends with a couple local girls who gave us their numbers/emails so we could get in contact with them later in the week if we wanted.

After church, we shot off down the streets at random trajectories. We finally came across a restaurant that was recommended in one of our two travel books. It was a Korean place, and we were feeling adventurous so we were trying to decide between eel and octopus. Fortunately the menu had photos of the food and I saw that the eel came with what appeared to be three different kinds of mushrooms and nothing else. So we ordered octopus. It was crunchy. We found our way back to the hotel, checked in and fell asleep for 16 straight hours. We woke up the next morning ready to go. We'd decided to roughly follow some of the recommended itineraries in one of our books. Seemed like a decent outline for a plan. We took a train to Circular Quay ("key") and started looking for our first stop, Customs House. We wandered around for like 40 minutes before someone showed us where it was, right where we'd been wandering but not well-marked. As we came back out, we noticed a free city tour starting up and as they started to walk away we were right behind them and the guide asked us if we would be joining them. There were a couple cute girls in the group, so we said yes. The tour lasted about 3-4 hours. It was actually a really nice way to spend our first full day, getting to know the city itself. The tour was free because they were also trying to sell pay-for pub tours and drinky ferry tours. That was sort of a common theme in Australia. Everything was about drinking. The whole social scene was about drinking. Being that my travel companion is married and that neither of us drink, it made it a little tough to meet girls. Had we been so inclined. And I'm not saying we were. Truthfully, we didn't see very many cute girls at all. I talked to the cutest girl in the tour group and she wasn't even Australian, she was German. It was a sad moment for me.

This is the tour group. Jumping. That's me in the back. I wasn't real excited about the jumping part. Or the photo part. This is also the only photo we have with both me and Sean in it.
After the tour ended, we used the bathroom for number ones at the Sydney Opera House and went to the Harbour Bridge. We walked across it, walked around Luna Park and then ate at a restaurant called Ripples, right on the water. We were starving. We got fish and chips, but they gave us a TON of food and we couldn't eat it all. Oh well.

This is the exact meal. Ours seemed bigger, though. I stole this from another blog since I refuse to photograph food.
This is the view from Ripples. I also stole this image.
Our waitress was very nice and had a beautiful accent. She gave us a newspaper. Then we caught a train back across the bridge and went back to the hotel.