WINTER HOLIDAY AROUND SYDNEY
One of the benefits of living abroad is the ability to travel more easily to places that were inaccessible before. Australia was one of those places we had dreamed about visiting, and so we took the opportunity to fly there over our winter school holiday. With Shanghai enveloped in dark winter skies and heavy smog, the trip came at just the right moment to brighten our mood with clean air and sunshine.
Shanghai has direct flights to Australia, so after a smooth eleven hour flight, we landed in sunny Sydney. Before landing, our Chinese airline directed us to perform some tai chi to work out the kinks of the long flight.
Right away, we were blown away by how friendly and warm Australians were. Living in Shanghai, we’ve grown accustomed to a more impersonal way of moving through our daily activities – smiles from strangers are the exception here. But in Australia, it felt to us that people bubbled over with friendliness, wanting to help us, and wishing us a nice holiday. Travelers at the airport were dressed for warm weather, and in bright colors – we couldn’t wait to cast off all of our grey and black clothing and start the holiday with all our new Australian “mates!”
We spent our first two nights in the Blue Mountains, a wilderness area outside of Sydney. Maybe the switch to warm-weather clothing was a little premature, because it was chilly in the mountains, and we had to layer on all of our clothing to stay warm. Hiking dirt trails, listening to wild birds chirp, wandering among the ferns in the forest – these are things we miss from our home in Oregon, and got to experience again in Leura and Katoomba, the towns we visited. One of the highlights of our visit was an attraction called Scenic World. A ticket to Scenic World gave us access to the gondolas and inclined trains that traverse the gorges and climb up and down the hills, letting you save some time and see more sights without the burn of climbing the mountain by yourself.
RETURN TO SYDNEY
Before long, it was time to return our rental car (actually a relief, as we discovered we are not very skilled at driving on the left side of the road), and spend some time in Sydney. On our way back to the city, we spent an afternoon in one of Australia’s many national parks, the Royal National Park, just outside Sydney. It was a blustery day, but the locals were still out with their BBQs, enjoying themselves, and even playing cricket.
SUNNY SYDNEY DAYS
What a beautiful city it is – surrounded by water, we took ferries to scenic spots around the city, including the Taronga Zoo and Manly beach. The beaches are made for surfing, sunning, sandcastles….and eating delicious fish and chips, which we ate a lot of.
DARLING HARBOUR & BARANGAROO
MANLY AND SHELLY BEACHES
I confess, there are times when I have rolled my eyes at Asian tourists in the US, filling carts with vitamins, beauty supplies, and luxury goods. I sympathize now though, because I am becoming one of them. There are many products that are simply not available in China, or if you do find them, they are extremely expensive, so any trip out of the country becomes an excuse to “stock up.” A considerable bit of my time in Sydney was spent shopping for things I can’t find in Shanghai. I don’t consider myself a big cosmetics person, but my heart actually raced when I walked into a department store and the entire first floor was devoted to beauty products. Prices were clearly marked and there were even sales going on – no haggling allowed. I was in heaven! Women’s clothing larger than a size 2, nail polish, swim suits, games, book stores, and breakfast cereal – I vow to never take these things for granted again! Thankfully, our hotel was surrounded by shopping centers, so we are well stocked for the time being.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
We timed our trip to coincide with one of Sydney’s largest events, the New Year’s Eve fireworks. It’s exciting to be in a city that has “buzz” – the excitement around town the fireworks was palpable. Each day leading up to New Years the streets were a little more crowded and the hotel a little busier. Clearly, we weren’t the only people coming to Sydney for the fireworks. By chance, we discovered two other families we knew from previous homes in the US were in town for New Year’s, and were able to reconnect with both of them, an unexpected benefit of the trip.
I hadn’t put much thought into how we would watch the big show, until a few weeks before our trip, when we had dinner with some Australians. They warned us that people camp out from early morning to get a good spot for the show, so I’d better have a plan, and quickly. I got on it right away, and found a new park called Barangaroo Reserve, that still had tickets, and importantly, didn’t open until 6pm. This meant we’d only have to wait around for 6 hours, not a full day, as we might have done elsewhere. Six hours flew by – we queued to get in, we ate a picnic dinner, we listened to live music. Then there was a warm-up fireworks show, more music, more food, and finally….midnight fireworks! Was it worth it? Absolutely! Go, if you ever have the chance!
IMAGINE THE POSSIBILITIES
Eight nights in one province don’t do Australia justice. Like the United States, the country is vast, and you could easily spend weeks or months exploring. Our list of places we’d like to explore in Australia is long, and we only crossed off a few. We have beautiful sunny memories of our time in the land down under and all the friendly people we encountered, and dream of returning to see more of this beautiful country.