S is for Sydney

Photo Credit

Welcome back, to the letter S of this year's A-Z challenge! 

From the Greater Vancouver Area - for the sake of this challenge we named the post Richmond - I'm taking you to Down Under, Sydney, to be exact. With a duration of 15.5 hours  and a distance of 12,500 km - that's 7,770 miles -  it is the longest non-stop flight departing from Vancouver. If that sounds dreadful, hear me out: living in Switzerland that's 21 hours because it is 16.600 km / 10,300 miles and involves a stop in Singapore. 

So yes, the journey is a huge pain, but I promise, it's worth it! Australia won't disappoint.

Let me ask you a question: When you travel, does it happen to you that people you have never met before, figure out what you're all about?

This is what happened....

We signed up for a day trip to watch dolphins or meet kangaroos, I don't remember which one, because obviously we did all the day trips there were. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, crocodiles, dolphins and lots of pretty birds... not to mention annoying flies - we met them all.

The most amazing species though were the people! Us newlyweds had heard about the Australians' reputation of being laid back and friendly, but there's nothing like to experience it first-hand!

From our travels to the USA we were used to behave very formally and inconspicuously at immigration, and even though it was 4am when we landed in Darwin, and we were beyond tired, we remembered to play by the rules as we were standing in line to enter the country. 

Everything went well. No interrogation, just a quick punch of the passports and we were officially in Down Under!

"First time here?" the customs officer asked. We nodded. 

"Be careful, don't drink the water!" he advised hubby. 

He was confused. Nobody had ever mentioned anything about the water not being OK in Australia. Was it unsanitary?

"Water is fine for taking a shower" the officer smirked, "otherwise drink beer, mate! Enjoy your stay!"

Hahahaha! What a glorious start to our journey!

We spent a whole month exploring a few of the many gorgeous spots Australia has to offer: 

Kakadu National Park. We took the bush walk and stopped at the lookout that sign lead us to. Please read / spell for yourself ;-)

Nourlangie Rock

Darwin, and I apologize, this is the last picture I was able to take. After that, my camera's batteries died, and we couldn't get new ones till Monday which is when we had to leave... You'll just have to trust me when I tell you, this was the most amazing sunset I had ever seen. The sun was a giant red ball dropping into the Beagle Gulf. Spectacular!

In Cairns, where we visited Hartley's Crocodile Adventure Park, we heard about legendary male croc Paul who - so has it the story - bit off a cow's head.

As it turned out it wasn't necessary to visit a crocodile farm - as got back into the city there was an alert. Obviously a crocodile had taken a day trip into town and was seen at several locations, one of them being our hotel's street!! 

Good thing we were planning on getting away anyway. Our next destination was Fur ‘n’ Feathers Rainforest Tree Houses in Athertons Tablelands. 

I don't do camping. Here are 10 reasons. So this tree house sounded like a great compromise to still experience the Australian rain forest. It was great as long as the sun was up: quiet and peaceful. At night, however, I don't think I actually slept. The noises those animals made! It was like they were either having a party or a fight - or both - out there: howling, screeching, warbling, barking, I lack the vocabulary to describe the commotion that was going on! You know how they are marketed as soothing and relaxing? this may be the case if you listen to the sounds of rainforest in the comfort of your home. However if you're in the middle of it? Exciting and scary at the same time. Relaxing? Not so much.

Next up was Alice Springs and the Red Center, known for Uluru aka Ayers Rock. Without wanting to sound negative, but I felt this was the Eiffel Tower of Australia: everybody thinks they need to see it, which makes it a tourist trap. This picture I took  looks peaceful and worthy to display the sacred ground it is to the Aboriginal population.

Well, let me tell you, this is the backstory: 

Just next to the parking lot they set up a couple of wooden tables for the beer. People were drinking, smoking, hooting, having a grand time and not giving a sh** about Uluru, and I thought they should do this someplace else.

I preferred the tour to the Kings Creek we took. It's a 4 hours' drive, so most of the people don't do it, which makes is the secluded, authentic destination that it is. 

I'd had my share of spiders and other scary creatures sneaking in the bedroom and shower. So the city girl that I am was glad to go back to civilisation. Brisbane was supposed to be lovely. Only it was raining for two days straight. 

minus 10 minutes

So we arrived in Sydney a couple of days earlier than planned.

We had gone from (sub)tropical to desert and from grassland to temperate climate. I finally felt within my comfort zone again! Also, please note the friendly blue sky!

Since we were traveling off season we rarely booked our accommodation ahead and never got in trouble. 

Until the day we arrived at Sydney airport. We weren't going to rent a car so we thought it'd be a good idea to use one of those booths that said "Need a stay? Ask us." That's what we did, and boy, were we glad. The nice lady told us the city within a radius of 50 km (31 miles) was fully booked, and that included everything from five star hotels to B&Bs, even private accommodation.


McDonalds - or Macca's, as it's called in Australia - and it doesn't stop there, btw, Burger King has its own name, too: Hungry Jack's - was holding an international management conference in Sydney, and literally everybody was there. The city was crawling from folks in red and yellow gear!

The fact that someone dogged it (scroll down for some Aussie vocabulary) and I am a IHG gold elite member, helped to get an overpriced broom closet at the Holiday Inn at the old Rocks neighbourhood for two nights, after which we were going have to move downtown to the Wentworth. Good thing it was our honeymoon.

At the beginning of this post I asked about people figuring you, the traveler, out? Here's the story:

We were waiting in front of this very hotel for the tour bus to pick us up. When it didn't arrive at 9:10am, we were checking our watch, pacing up and down,.... 

Just as we were considering to go back to the lobby and ask if there was another pick-up spot we were supposed to be waiting, Phil approached us. He was the hotel concierge.

"You guys must be Swiss" he said. It wasn't even a question, he stated it matter of factly.

"We are. How do you know? Did you recognize our accent?"

"You worry about time."

"Excuse me?"

"It's obvious you are waiting nervously. You worry about time. Therefore you must be Swiss!"


"See, Americans worry about service, Swiss and Germans worry about time - us Aussies just want to make friends!"

He was so right!!

During that month in Down Under we exclusively met friendly people. Nice, cheerful, accommodating man and women. 

Don't get me wrong, the scenery, sights, nature, animals, beaches, sand dunes - oh and don't forget the reefs - were amazing, and I appreciated how clean and easy to get around everything was. We were told we had to thank the 2000 Olympic Games for that.

Frankly, what I liked best of all were the people! 

When we were enjoying our last dinner at Sydney's Circular Quay we recounted the mind blowing nature, adventures and encounters.

The rangers Michael and Bryan (he was playing cheesy Carpenters, Sweet and Smokie songs during the entire 4 hours' drive to Kings Canyon, but I don't hold it against him) gave us tourists some tough love prior to the rim walk: folks who showed up in thongs (look it up, it may not be what you think, glossary at the end of this post) needed to go back and change. Ditto for people who didn't bring enough bottled water. "We don't want you to de-hydrate" - and for the authentic effect you need to pronounce it the Australian way. 

They thought us which bush tomatoes are edible and which are in fact poisonous, and about the Ghost Gum tree which bark was used as leech repellent and antiseptic relief from burns as well as to fight chest infections. Every plant and every tree had a history and a purpose. 

"What are these?" I asked, pointing at some flowers. "Oh! they're Mala Mala: pretty, but useless."

But mostly they were just great guys. Michael told Christian, my husband, to take good care of his lovely wive, me, otherwise he'd be forced to kick the sh** out of him. That was settled, then.

Remember when we thought Marlborough was gonna be a major city where we were going to have a nice sit down lunch?

On the map (hey, it was a time before every car had a GPS!)  Marlborough was written in bold letters, but when we finally arrived, it turned out it was basically a servo and a handful of residential houses. Googling it today shows a population of 355 people, and that includes the surrounding area ;-)

Big John, one of the tour guides who took us to see dolphins, had been cracking jokes all day long. As we approached the seafood restaurant in Port Stephens he had been gushing about all morning, we were almost hit by a clearly confused elderly lady in a blue pick-up truck. 

"Bertie, I think it's best if you turn around and carefully manoeuvre through those dangerous roads in order to get back to your nuthouse" he told her. Wow, he must really know his way around  town, heck, he even called the citizens by their name! 

As it turned out later, he had never seen this lady before! 

Big John was the guy who inspired my URL by the way. He called us "the two Gerbers."

Remember the view from Sydney Tower? We were pretty high up at  309 m (1,014 ft)!

Oh, and the zoo was great, too. The peacock even fanned out his feathers!

There were a lot more highlights, but this post is getting lengthy...

I can't finish though without blaring a favorite Aussie band... Midnight Oil! Others I like: AC/DC, Bee Gees, INXS, Icehouse, John Farnham, Olivia Newton-John, Delta Goodrem and Natalie Imbruglia.

or sharing some of the vocabulary that is unique to Australia. Interestingly we've already learned what some of those expressions are called in Canada, England or South Africa:
  • Dead horse: Ketchup ("Tomato Sauce " in South Africa)
  • Dogged it: Didn’t show up 
  • Chuck a sickie: Taking a day off work or school without necessarily being sick 
  • Dunny: Restroom ("Washroom" in Canada), if you're a guy you go where it says blokes, if you're a girl, your door may say sheilas
  • Roo: kangaroo. A baby roo, still in the pouch, is known as a Joey
  • Few roos loose in the top paddock: Someone not very bright or slightly crazy 
  • Gone walkabout: To go missing or head off without warning 
  • Shark biscuit: Someone learning to surf
  • Barbie: barbeque ("Braii" in South Africa)
  • Servo: gas station ("Petrol station" in England). If you ask for gas, don’t be surprised if someone farts ;-)
  • Thongs: Flip-Flops
  • Fairy Floss: Cotton Candy
  • Esky: cooler, insulated food and drink container
  • Stubbie holder: koozie or cooler. A stubbie holder is a polystyrene insulated holder for a stubbie, which is a 375ml bottle of beer, aka Mickey if you're Canadian
  • Bottle-O: the place you can purchase above stubbie from: liquor store aka off-license
  • Slab: 24-pack of beer ( "Two-Four" in Canada)
  • BYO, or Bring Your Own, means diners may bring their own wine to enjoy with their meal. A small corkage fee – around Aus$5–10 – is usually charged, either per bottle or per head.
I hope you had fun in Down Under with me. Check out some more S posts and enjoy your weekend! We'll be back, bright and early on Monday morning, ready to tackle the last week of our A-Z challenge. The letter T will bring us back to Canada, we're exploring Toronto.