Sydney and the Blue Mountains (Jan. 24 - Jan. 31)
Got off the plane. Walked through customs, down to baggage claim. And there was my mom. Really, I couldn't have started my trip to Australia off any better.
My mom had already been to Sydney with my dad, they're world travellers now, so I had my own personal tour guide. We checked into our hotel, where we had our own room AND our own bathroom - a complete luxury after staying in so many hostels - and then headed into Sydney. It's become a habit that the first day I spend in a city I have to walk all over the downtown until I can navigate without a map and in the process always make a point to find the botanic gardens. And that's what we did; we walked straight to the gardens. My mom knew exactly where to find the Flying Foxes - huge fruit bats. There were hundreds of them, all hanging upside down from tree branches with their leathery wings wrapped tightly around their bodies like cocoons. Then an ibis or cockatoo would land on a branch and disturb a few bats, sending them into a screeching, frantic fury as they searched for a new perch. Australian has so many amazing birds (yesyes, I know bats aren't birds), birds that you would only ever expect to see in a cage in someone's living room. But here, there are flocks of sulfur-crested cockatoos (and damn are they loud), vibrantly colored lorikeets (small but again really loud), ibises, and so many more. I never used to be very interested in birds, usually because it takes so much effort and patience to see them, but here they're impossible to ignore.
2 nights in Sydney, 2 dinners on roofs, and lots of wine and beer. The first night we ate at a rooftop restaurant and both ordered beers and salads. I don't think we ate that much that day, so the alcohol was quite effective. We laughed so much, mostly making fun of Alex. The next day we took a ferry to Manly Beach. We hiked along the coastline and up along the cliffs. The views were spectacular. We also hiked under countless spider webs, each with at least 2 spiders no smaller than my hand. I tried to walk with my head down and ignore their looming presence. But after awhile I decided I wanted no surprises and that I would prefer to see the spider drop on my head, so I walked with my face up to the sky. That night we got Chinese take-away and a bottle of pinot noir and sat on the roof of our hotel.
26 January. Australia Day. We spent the morning and afternoon walking through crowds of people around the Sydney Harbor. We watched the chaotic parade of boats, saw one really good band and one not so awesome guy singing, had an amazing lunch of some Turkish fried chicken, spinach thing, and then took a 2 hour train ride to Katoomba.
Katoomba was such a nice change from Sydney: calm, quiet, quaint, natural. We stayed in a house turned hostel - I think one of the nicest I've ever stayed in. We spent two full days in Katoomba. 1) A full day of walking. We walked to Echo Point and checked out the Three Sisters, a rock formation composed of 3 separate spires that are coincidentally named Liz, Megan, and Alex. We walked along the ridgeline of the mountains for hundreds of kilometers. We walked to a couple different waterfalls. And we walked through the town of Leura, where we took our afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is such a wonderful concept. I'm always hungry around 3 or 4. Plus, it's not really like a meal, but a dessert snack. Obviously you can't just drink tea, you have to eat some cake, too. 2) Horses! We went for a 2 hour horse back ride through the Megalong Valley. My horse was named Vicki and she was awesome. My mom's, I can't remember his name, was stubborn and hated to gallop. The funniest part though was listening to my mom try to make him run. In a high-pitched, not at all commanding voice she would coax, "Up, up, up, up," as they bounced along the trail at a slow trot. Finally our guide gave my mom a tree branch as additional encouragement for her horse, and that got him galloping.
We returned to Sydney for one more night and one more day. Next city: Brisbane with my dad, a mini Podowski reunion.