lish (lishd) wrote,

australia & new zealand trip 2014 - part 1: los angeles & sydney

part 1: los angeles & sydney | part 2: cairns | part 3: melbourne | part 4: auckland | part 5: melbourne, los angeles, home

sunday, sept 14 - seattle WA to los angeles CA
i had a few hours sleep on the sofa after seeing atmosphere play the night before, then gorthok took me to the airport at 630am. one flight to LAX with a stopover in oakland; uneventful. it was great to see testing4l, who drove down from the bay area, & he took great care of me tooling around his hometown of los angeles. we ate at canter's, a jewish deli (surprise perfection), with phil's parents. i had a delicious corned beef special (they called it a "brooklyn ave"). i couldn't decide between a vanilla egg creme or cherry phosphate; i ordered the former & phil's mom went with the latter & shared. d'aww.

phil took me to the griffith observatory & i met his good sister (the bad one stayed away). they had a statue of einstein pointing at something, so i had to... phil took pics quickly before people realized what i was doing.

we drove around a bunch & then picked up The Burrito. this is a story: when i lived in santa cruz, my favorite mexican place was a little shop called jalapeño's, & the last time i'd been there was when i visited phil some nine years ago before he had cats. i thought it'd be a lark for phil to bring me a burrito, as it was right on the way, & he agreed. i thought it'd be twenty minutes out of his way. turns out it was three hours & 400 miles out of the way, since he couldn't meet up with i5 again until he was practically in LA. so a simple burrito became The Three Hour Burrito became The 400 Mile Burrito. (phil later did the math to show it to actually be 471.2 miles, but who's counting.)

with it frozen in my lap, we happened into a place for hawaiian shave ice, which i hadn't had since hawaii & LOVED, so that was another unexpected surprise. we stayed at the ramada & i gleefully ate half my (now thawed) burrito. we played king's quest iv (as lateblt had determined to quit after iii) until we attained a perfect score in the wee hours & went to sleep.

monday, sept 15 - los angeles CA to sydney NSW, australia
we slept in until ten, as my avoid-jet-lag plan required. we had a bit of responsibility towards The 400 Mile Burrito, buying a cooler chest & some ice to keep it comfortable for dinner that night, & we headed to K-ZO. ooooh my fuck that was some amazing sushi. there were nine items on the daily sushi/sashimi specials list that i'd never tried, & we split each set of nigiri:

sayori - needle fish
aka yagara - flute fish
katsuo - bonito
sanma - pike mackerel
kurage - jelly fish (holy hell this was DELICIOUS. most spectacular texture.)
kamasu - japanese barracuda (my favorite)
umimasu - ocean trout
shinko - baby japanese shad
nodoguro - black throat
finished off with a simple but perfect blue crab roll.

we hit santa monica & phil's favorite comic book store, eventually found another shave ice place (totally buying my own machine on amazon when i get home, yes yes), & hung out here & there until it was time to hit the airport. i made it through security & to my gate without incident, & enjoyed the rest of The Burrito... except for one representative bite. i had agreed to make it The Most Well-Travelled Burrito by delivering the last piece to australian soil.

at check-in, i'd declined the last window seat as it was directly next to the toilets... but once i was on the giant airbus A380-800 & we started to taxi, i found that my row was entirely empty. a 15-hour flight crammed with 450 passengers, but i got to stretch out & sleep comfortably across three seats. :D :D the plane had a CAMERA on its tail so we could watch the takeoff, which was fucking cool & i recorded it (we'd just been told that small devices in airline mode could be used during takeoff, so i guess that silly upgrade to a smartphone came in handy yet again.) qantas overfed me & gave me a bag of treats & i watched movies & the masterchef finale until i was about nine hours from sydney, & then slept decently to successfully flip my schedule for our arrival at 6am.

tuesday, september 16 - limbo
this day did not exist for lishes. it's okay, i got two october fourths to make up for it.

wednesday, september 17 - sydney, new south wales, australia
Welcome to Sydney! A private bus transfer from Sydney International Airport to hotel will be inclusive of several tours as hotel check-in is not until 2pm. Our first tour will be a land based tour.

The historic Rocks tour includes a specialist guide with full commentary will share insights on the following: The shoreline of sparkling Sydney Cove; Cadman's Cottage; Harbour views of Sydney's Opera House and Harbour Bridge; Campbell's Cove; The Rocks historic precinct including George Street, Rocks Square, Foundation Park, the Argyle Cut, the Garrison Church, Suez Canal and Nurses Walk.

Then proceed on a Harbour Cruise of Sydney with Seafood Buffet Lunch

Afterwards, transfer to hotel to rest before dinner. Later on, there will be a private transfer from Hotel to welcome dinner at Nicks Bar & Grill. The welcoming dinner provides a taste of the ocean. Nick's Seafood Basket (catch of the day, salt & pepper calamari, fried scallops, fried king prawns served on chips with homemade tartar sauce). Also included will be dessert of the day plus tea, coffee or a soft drink.

Transfer back to hotel after dinner. Overnight in Sydney - The Menzies Sydney.

i met up with my group last night & everyone seemed pretty okay. this morning i quickly learned that Crap Leader was not really suited for command. i took it upon myself to organize us slightly better within the airport. we met up with Toothy, who is with the actual travel company & a moderately better leader than CL, & his wife DullGreek. we shuttled (driving on the left, that is) to the menzies hotel: very serviceable. i roomed with Talkyface, who liked to talk herself through every mundane task. i think she might be a belcebron. she seemed a good sort though, if ...perhaps a bit manic. fortunately, Frugal (who i'd been emailing with for a couple months) wasn't too much of a weirdo, since i was headed to new zealand with him after the australian segment of the guided tour concluded. he's pushing sixty & seemed game for pretty much anything, though he repeated frequently that he was on a budget & was clearly counting every penny.

the day started with a walking tour of the rocks, a little section of sydney built by convicts & alternately a grand old place & a slum & then grand again, & apparently now made of little shops. i spotted my first giant aussie bird, an australian white ibis, eating someone's bread roll, & had Fuzzy take my photo in front of the harbor bridge. the walking tour guide was overenthusiastic about boring details, though i did like hearing about argyle cut, an absolutely enormous (like, subway station sized) slab of sandstone that was slowly cut & blasted & dynamited away into a giant tunnel for through traffic. i took a photo while Crap Leader asked a lot of dumb questions about ugg boots & whether they can be purchased cheaper here than elsewhere. the rocks chick didn't know. Frugal elbowed me & i think he hates Crap Leader more than a little bit.

lunch was on the captain cook boat. we ferried around sydney harbor, past the opera house & harbor bridge, while eating surprisingly good new zealand oysters, perfectly cooked barramundi, & blue swimmer crab: a crab i'd never tried. it was very mild in flavor & i liked it, but i don't prefer it to other crabs; i did, however, go back for more oysters. two hours is a bit long for a harbor cruise, so i amused myself on the back half by checking my email at inopportune times: yes, those are $30 million dollar houses on the bluff, but did you see that my saved ebay search was triggered?! (by the way, the exchange rate was just about 1:1; it was slightly in my favor, so i could've bought the $30M house for around $28.2M USD.)

after lunch we sorted additional stuff for sydney; we got up to eight people for the blue mountain trek, & i convinced four of them to join me on the bridge climb on friday. we had a few hours free after that before the included dinner at nick's: a lackluster steak & a cheesecake i didn't eat. not what was on the itinerary, but eh, whatever. Crap Leader whined about her diet pepsi, which has become a theme. (she's also very into starbucks & mcdonalds, ugh. i make it a point while traveling to never go to places i could go at home. what a waste!) Frugal threw a fit over having to pay $4AUD for his iced tea, since he was under the impression that "coffee & tea are complimentary" - & a cup of coffee or hot tea WAS included, at the end of the meal as always. it was silly & very american & we were all embarrassed for him. after dinner, Talkyface went right to bed while i stayed up & internetted in the lobby for the free half hour daily allotment per device, then took a long bath & went to sleep.

thursday, september 18 - sydney, new south wales, australia
After breakfast at hotel you can decide to do what you want for the day.

OPTION 1: Day Blue Mountains Canyon & 4WD Discovery
- Sightseeing in an 4WD all-terrain vehicle.
- Driver/guide with commentary.
- 4WD sightseeing in the Blue Mountains.
- See kangaroos, koalas, waterfalls, the 3 Sisters, hidden canyons.
- Visit Wildlife Park.
- 2 course buffet lunch.
- Entrance Fee
- Return Sydney city transfer.

since we had eight people on the trip, we got our own van... which was good & bad. i'd've liked to've interacted with other people outside my group; but then again, they'd probably just be other tourists anyhow. so whatever. our guide's name was lindsay, & he rocked - he was very clever & knowledgeable, & teased us a lot. we started at the featherdale wildlife park, & that was pretty awesome. lindsay bonded with a red tailed black cockatoo, we got close to a cassowary (total dinosaur birds), & i nabbed video of koalas being bitches to each other. i petted a koala's butt & fed kangaroos from my hand. they have sharp little teeth, damn. i took a bunch of photos of the flying foxes spreading their veiny wings, saw a dingo, & enjoyed the reptile portion of the park (duh) where they had taipans (the most deadly snake) as well as both diamond & carpet pythons. (i thought fondly of braeden, my diamond/carpet with whom i was once in an abusive relationship - prettiest snake i'd ever seen, but he really liked to bite me in the face.) the tasmanian devil & echidnas were neat, & the baby emus looked delicious. X) also: GHOST BATS for girlgoth.

we hiked a bit & i took photos of wentworth falls, three sisters (big sandstone outcroppings), & a few panos of the blue mountains from various locations including govett's leap. the mountains are blue because of all the eucalyptus oil in the air, which occasionally combusts; it's a problem. lunch was unremarkable but at least my chicken caesar salad was with free-range chicken & eggs; the yolks were nearly orange. the sticky date pudding was pretty tasty, though. there was a quick stop at some kind-of-lame botanical gardens to see the wollemi pines, the oldest pine trees in the world (which they were in the process of relocating), & then we headed back the 130 miles to sydney. the van had a 4g wifi hotspot, so i gleefully abused that. (no, i mean i abused it - i torrented at 1800kps for the whole ride back. :D)

i bought some australian jam (strawberry vanilla bean), candy bars (boost, cherry ripe), & some local juices at woolworth's, then i was going to go with Fuzzy to chinatown until i learned it was a two mile walk. my body won't do that after more-than-a-lish-amount of hiking & before tomorrow's bridge climb, so i hung out & wrote until we left for dinner (& somehow i found a tardis in the hotel, too). we went to the australian hotel, a hotel & pub in the rocks, because they had kangaroo on offer. Talkyface got the peppered kangaroo & emu pizza, & i had a kangaroo burger (i prefer my exotic meats more pure). we swapped segments & i found both delicious. australia is the only nation that eats its national animal, lulz; i was ever the more entertained that i fed & petted kangaroos on the same day i ate them.

friday, september 19 - sydney, new south wales, australia
After breakfast at hotel you have free day in Sydney. Lunch and Dinner are on your own.

The BridgeClimb - Day Climb

Itinerary: It's awesome ... It's high ... It's breathtaking ... It's waiting ...BridgeClimb is a small group adventure offering the ultimate experience of Sydney with an exhilarating 3.5 hour guided Climb to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, day, twilight and night! A comprehensively trained Climb Leader escorts each group of Climbers, while delivering commentary on the history of the Harbour Bridge and interesting facts about Sydney.

Climbers feel the excitement of making their way along the catwalk to the pylon and then setting out across the arch to the summit, where they are rewarded with a spectacular 360-degree view of one of the world's greatest harbours and greatest cities. Climbers are asked to check in for their Climb 15 minutes prior to their Climb time as Climbs are not able to be held for late arrivals. Groups of 12 Climbers depart every ten minutes throughout the day. BridgeClimb operates 7 days a week, from approximately 8:30am to 8:30pm, depending on the time of year.

Each Climber is issued with a BridgeSuit, worn straight over the top of their own clothing, as well as communication equipment and a safety harness. Climbers at twilight and at night are also issued with a headlamp, to provide extra light when climbing the arch. The lamp is similar to those used for caving.

The Climb includes:

- 3.5 hours of unforgettable experiences.
- Commemorative personalized Climber Certificate.
- Complimentary group Climb photograph, with all Climbers in the group receiving an identical photo.

For the entire group today's lunch & dinner plans are on your own or as a group. Overnight in Sydney - The Menzies Sydney

Photogeek (she works at symantec & has the newer version of my HX1, with a 35x optical zoom to my mere 20x) & some others were taking a ferry & a bus to get to some four-mile walking tour of six various beaches, & there was no way i wanted to do that. Talkyface had signed up for shark diving in manly; i didn't want to scuba with her grey nurse sharks - if i'm going underwater with sharks, it's going to be crazy vicious killers while i'm in a cage - but i opted to go with her to the aquarium anyhow.

after breakfast, we took a ferry from circular quay to manly beach, flirted hard with a cute british guy, shopped a bit, touched the water, & waited for the manly sea life sanctuary to open. i was included in the preparations (video, walkthrough of the scuba gear, et cetera) despite not being a participant. in fact, the trainer chick said specifically that if i waited with them (as the shark dive bits opened about an hour before general admission) & didn't go out into the aquarium until they were ready to dive, then i wouldn't be charged. i tried to say that i would be glad to support their rescue & all, but she seemed insistent, so i opted to save the $24AUD. i took a million pictures & videos of Talkyface hanging out with the sharks, & it was actually pretty cool. she spent the exorbitant $120AUD (!) on the underwater photos the trainer took & those came on a shark-shaped usb drive, so later i could copy my photos & videos to that for her.

after the dive, i bought some jams at coles (lemon butter & blood orange marmalade, both made in australia; i tend to only buy fancy jams when i'm travelling), declined to purchase "musk flavored sticks", & we caught the ferry back. for lunch we grabbed an australian delicacy: sausage roll (with sauce [which means ketchup]). it WAS actually pretty good for being total junk street food. we then ran into a street fair, & i found a fresh currant scone with cream & more amazing jams: blood plum, fig & ginger, paw paw (papaya) with passionfruit, & pear & vanilla (the latter was a favorite in ireland). & i photographed a seagull because they're SO much cuter than our nasty seagulls in the states.

at three pm came our bridgeclimb reservation. Talkyface wasn't joining, but helped me to navigate my way there, & then i climbed with Photogeek, Fuzzy, Chronic Bitchface, & Half Creeper (a gray-haired skinny older dude who sometimes looks childlike & adorable, & sometimes like a wide-eyed psycho). we were outfitted in jumpsuits & radios & warm gear, & everything was strapped to us in some way - we weren't able to bring anything of our own, including cameras (we were run through a metal detector & a breathalyzer before going!). our guide was nick - he had the same smirking cleverness as lindsay the day before, & i loved it.

the climb itself was much easier than expected - when they advertised that it was 1332 steps, i figured they meant steps. i had climbed 1000 on the great wall & those were crazy 15" steps, so surely i could manage normal ones. but they actually meant steps taken, as most of the "climb" was up a slight incline at worst. the toughest part was the section of four "ladders" - very steep sets of stairs that were indeed closer to ladders than stairs, & were a little unwieldy to traverse. we traveled between car & train traffic on the bridge, & all across the very topmost part. on the way back down, we were in perfect time for the sunset, & we sat on the top of the bridge to watch it set; the rest of the descent was highlighted by an increasingly pink & orange & deep blue sky - gorgeous. i easily completed the climb & paid the fifteen bucks for one of the photos they took of the back of my face. the whole event definitely exceeded my expectations, & now when i see the harbor bridge on tv, i can point at it & declare that i climbed that fucking thing.

after, we met back up with Talkyface & wandered the world looking for a great dinner on a friday night with no reservation. oops. we were turned away at aria & altitude, but the lovely concierge at the shangri-la got us a table at fish at the rocks. there i was able to have TWO more australian-only animals: moreton bay bugs & west australian scampi. scampi is an actual crustacean, not like "shrimp scampi" that we eat in the US; it's like a big pink crayfish with long skinny front claws, & the flavor was similar to prawn but more delicate. they were yummy & i'd totally eat them again, but the bugs were fucking delicious. there are two kinds of bugs - moreton bay & balmain - & they're breeds of slipper lobster. i could eat those things every damned day, omg. my huge "grilled crustacean platter" (two split scampi, two split bugs, & three massive head-on queensland king prawns) came with a lemon sauce & a green coriander sauce that was sweet at the first moment & then mildly spicy, & it was worth every cent of the $65AUD i paid.

i cabbed back to the hotel with Chronic Bitchface & soaked my aching legs, then packed up & went to bed.

back row: nobody, nobody, Fuzzy, Half Creeper, nobody
front row: nobody, back of my face, Photogeek, Chronic Bitchface, nobody

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