In which we visit the Rocks while the family is on the rocks. 

As Newton once said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So it goes with our trip – after the bliss and fun of yesterday, came one where everyone seemed to snipe at each other constantly. Even in the midst of this though, there were some gems to be had. 
I really wanted to spend some time at the Rocks, the oldest area of Sydney and where they have a weekend outdoor market. The market was so fun! The kids and I have been listening to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and ever since we started the boy has been begging me for a towel, as he says he just doesn’t feel right without one. Thankfully, they had a stall selling Turkish towels and he was able to pick one out, so he now feels like a right hoopy frood. The girl picked up a heart locket charm for her charm bracelet and we munched on something that resembled a Turkish quesadilla from a street booth. The other stalls sold anything ranging from wooden kangaroos to semi precious stones, cupcakes and indigenous art, and of course one of those people who make space-y looking art from spray paint. There must be some rule that one of those must exist at every outdoor market. 

The Rocks Discovery museum is also there, a small place completely worth a visit. It goes through the history of the Rocks – from the first aboriginal peoples, the Cadigal, and their lives through their decimation at the hands of European disease then to the settlement of the area and it’s ill reputation due to being a naval port and then through to the 1970s, where the government wanted to demolish the Rocks and put in high rise buildings, displacing the traditional working class residents. A grass roots movement called “The Green Bans” which succeeded in preventing large scale redevelopment of the neighborhood. It retains a mix of old and new building as a result. The famous Harbor Bridge was largely built with the sweat of Rocks residents as well. 

The rest of the day involved getting back to the flat, more sniping, dinner and bed. I was glad to get to sleep, knowing the next morning it would be better, and it was. 
Let’s talk a bit about how the technology has worked so far – to start, the kindles have worked really well. All of last year’s Lonely Planet guides are available on Kindle Unlimited, which I got for the trip. There really aren’t many other great books to read on it, unless you’re a fan of Scottish bodice-rippers, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it otherwise and will probably cancel our subscription once we get to Ireland or Romania. We are still able to get Denver Public Library books though, and have been using that to get new fiction to read. Even with the guides, the world of travel has opened up considerably because of the Internet, Google maps, Yelp, Air BNB and Tripadvisor. Most places we haven’t opened the travel guide other than to get an overview for sights and things we may want to see, and I did this before I left by reading travel guides checked out from the library anyway. Instead of being limited to the places mentioned in the guide, we’re able to look ahead of time. You might think this prevents us from finding new and exciting places, but I’ve found the exact opposite. For example, we never would have found that tasty crepe place or even ventured to that neighborhood of Auckland without Yelp. 

I’ve booked all of our places online mostly through Air BnB or some variation thereof and they have all been fantastic, though need at least 24 hours notice as I’ve learned. Less than that and it’s a motel for us. For restaurants, we’ve either asked people, just walked around, or in the cities used Google maps to find places. Yelp isn’t used as much outside of the big cities – I think it’s more American. In the small towns, places don’t have reviews, but we just go to the busiest place on the Main Street and that’s served us well. 🙂 Only one of our restaurant findings has been truly disappointing, and this was one where one of us wasn’t feeling well and we just had to pick the nearest place.
In terms of phone and Internet use thus far, NZ was a bit rough. Wifi is not commonly available or is limited in time or MB. For our phones, we ported our phone numbers to Google Voice so we don’t have to change the numbers we’ve had for over 10 years. If anyone calls this number I should technically be able to get the voicemails sent to my email, but really, no one calls me. For other contact, I use whatsapp, Facebook messenger, and for calling FaceTime audio or video works well over wifi! In every country I’ve been getting a SIM card so I have a local number and can receive and make calls in the country, which has been useful. The best way to decide which SIM card to get is to ask the most teenager-y looking person about which is the best one! One thing I didn’t realize was that you can’t forward your US Google Voice number to an international number, but this really hasn’t been a big deal. In NZ the SIM card I got had only 250mB of data for the week! I used it all by the last day. Here in Oz I have 4 luxurious GB to use for 2 weeks, but even then don’t have good service everywhere! Wifi was plentiful in Sydney but I’m thinking it’ll be less so in the outside areas. I was hoping to not even need a SIM card but with the poor availability of wifi, it has been a necessity for directions at the very least and looking up restaurants and such as well.
I’m immensely grateful that I got a keyboard for my iPad before we left. It has become a second laptop and essential for typing out blog posts. I have an old 2nd gen iPad so it’s heavier than I’d like, but I couldn’t justify the expense of getting a new iPad Air just for that. But for now it seems to be working just fine. 🙂


In which we have a lovely day and learn not to take romantic advice from a crocodile

After the explosive events of the day before, the girl woke up and felt just fine. Eric, on the other hand, caught whatever bug she had and was out for the count. Sitting on the couch downstairs and occasionally croaking out a request for some tea, he wandered in and out of an achy consciousness. It was shaping up to be another wet day and the kids and I made a plan to go to the Aquarium and Wildlife Sydney, a small zoo in the middle of downtown which features Australian wildlife. 
This was, all in all, a fabulous day. We hopped a bus to Darling Harbour and made our way to the Aquarium. On the way we had to stop for the kids to use the bathroom and found ourselves in a lovely cafe where we decided to return for lunch, as described by the boy in his post
The Sydney Aquarium is set up pretty nicely as it walks you through various underwater environs of the Australian coast. We walked through a series of “underwater” tunnels where the rays, sharks and other sea life meandered overhead. When we stepped in, I began to say, “You know, there was this scene in Jaws 3 where-” “NOOO!! NOO!! Don’t tell me! Not until we’re safely out of here!” the boy interrupted me. He then scurried through the tunnel as quickly as he could, waiting for cracks to appear. I keep trying to get them to watch Jaws before we go snorkeling at the Barrier Reef, but they keep rebuffing my attempts. Can’t imagine why. 

The newest animal I’d never heard of is the dugong, a sort of uglier manatee-like sea mammal. Yes, uglier than a manatee. 

The Wildlife Sydney was really fun. I’d never seen an echidna before! They’re so adorable, like a hedgehog that got hit with an enlarger ray. As one of the 2 known egg laying mammals, I’ve always been fascinated by them.

 And the platypus! They had platypuses swimming about in an underwater habitat! The other egg laying mammal! Suffice it to say, there was a lot of squee happening. But then we got to the koalas! And even more squee! Fun fact about koalas I learned: when the males are in heat, they develop a musky cologne on their belly that they rub on the trees to attract the lady koalas. The zoo also advertises the largest saltwater crocodile in captivity. We rounded the corner to the habitat and looked for several minutes, wondering if the dark shape below the surface of the water was the croc. After a good five minutes of staring, I looked up to see a small sign that read, “Sadly, our crocodile Rex died.” After this we stood back and watched the other tourists search in vain for the crocodile also, which was good fun. We read the other signs around the habitat, including one that told us that Rex had been a solo croc after EATING the two lady crocs they brought in to mate with him and try to make more little Rexes. Clearly, no one had ever tagged Rex in the “love your spouse challenge”. 
That afternoon we had a tour of the Sydney Opera House and I learned there was a children’s film festival happening there that night so we got tickets for that too! Eric dragged himself down to the Opera house for the tour, looking a bit peaked. The Opera house tour was fascinating – even though the building is a famous one that we’ve all seen pictures of, seeing it in person was spectacular. On the tour, we learned that Utzen, the Dutch architect who designed the building, was fired for coming in over time and waay over budget – initial estimate $7 million, actual cost >$100 million. I don’t know why Sydney was so surprised by this; anyone who’s ever gone through a remodel would have told you to expect it. I also loved learning that there are several different types and finishes of tile that go on top of the building to maximize brilliance but cut down on glare so you’re not blinded by the roof in the sunlight, just dazzled. 

We returned in a few hours for the film festival, to find the Opera house lit up for the olympics.  So pretty. 

The children’s film festival was delightful! We caught the opening night gala and watched a series of short films either geared toward or made by children. One of my favorites was Johnny Express where an interstellar delivery guy has a package to deliver to a new planet, only it turns out that he’s a giant on the planet and unwittingly causes mass destruction of all the little green people with every step! The kids’ favorite was a film called “Bunny New Girl,” about a little girl who starts at a new school…and wears a homemade bunny mask out of a paper plate her first day. Can’t imagine who that reminds me of.

In which the kids plan the day in Sydney and we ignore important foreshadowing

Our first full day in Sydney and the weather was a bit gloomy. Just as well since we needed a bit of a morning off after the packed week in NZ. I found an Air BnB that looks remarkably like our place back in Denver, and is in a central neighborhood with plenty of restaurants and bars (Surrey Hill, for those of you that know it). 

Before leaving for the morning, I’d handed over the Sydney guide and map we picked up at the airport to the kids and told them that they were responsible for planning the day and navigating. They took to this with aplomb and began studying both. They came up with several alternative itineraries for the day, and the one they settled on was having dumplings at Din Tai Fung, then walking through Chinatown, then the Chinese Friendship Garden, then the playground at Darling Harbor. Perfect.

The girl said her stomach didn’t feel good and she was homesick and not eating enough. We tried to console her to little avail, and she somewhat glumly trudged after us when we left for lunch. The boy did a fantastic job getting us to the train station and then navigating us the shopping mall where the lunch restaurant was. We walked up stairs that twinkled in multicolored patterns and under a swirling metal Chinese Dragon. 

DTF is a Taiwanese dumpling and steamed bun chain and it was super yummy! We had the vegetarian gyoza, steamed buns and spinach with garlic. They had a little dish with sliced ginger in it and you put soy sauce and vinegar into it to make your own dipping sauce. The little detail I loved was that they gave you a bag for your belongings, somewhat like an upright laundry bag that they then covered with a cloth. So civilized! The girl, who doesn’t care for dumplings, instead chose the vegetarian fried rice which was tasty as well. 

As Eric has mentioned in his post, we stopped at a random shop in Chinatown which had notebooks and other paper products printed with English sayings, something of which was clearly lost in translation. 

After this we went to the Chinese Garden of Friendship and it really was lovely, though the girl’s mood continued to decline. The Garden was designed by Sydney’s sister city, Guangzhou and opened in 1988. It is a traditional walled garden in the style of the Ming dynasty, and the kids were given activity books to search for little figurines of the Chinese zodiac through the garden. There were large crowds of Australian White Ibis throughout the park, aggressive little critters they are. 

We made it to the fantastic harbor playground after that and all of the girls aches and pains and sadness seemed to vanish as she ran, climbed, swung and slid in what the boy kept calling “the greatest playground ever!” and which he describes in his post. We walked across the small bridge to the train station and boarded the light rail to head home. 
Once on board, the girl said her stomach didn’t feel good again and she thought she might throw up. Given that she’d been complaining of this all day and had just spent the better part of an hour frolicking freely without complaint, we patted her back and gave a few “there there’s” and said we’d be home soon, completely ignoring her. 
At which point she proceeded to vomit large volumes of fried rice all over the crowded light rail compartment. 
Sydney residents must have excellent reflexes, because they all jumped very quickly and no other passengers were hurt in the incident. I went into a state of shock and helplessly held out my hand under her mouth as if it would do anything other than make sure that I was covered in vomit as well. A kind lady offered us a tissue, which was nice but again, about as useful as a postage stamp at that point. 
Eric thankfully maintained some sense and insisted we get off the bus, NOW. We got off and stood there, dazed for a moment, until another kind person pointed us across the street to a warehouse and told us there was a bathroom in there. We made our way across and found ourselves in the midst of a massive flea market of sorts and got to the bathroom as quickly as we could. Once inside, I was able to clean the girl up as best as possible and we balled up her dirty over shirt and went back into the market. 
We all stood there for a minute, wondering what to do next exactly whilst surrounded by piles of plastic gizmos, Disney themed clothing and fake swords. I pulled out my phone to see if we could just call a cab home, but the wifi wasn’t working and I hadn’t loaded in a new SIM card yet. We started to look around for a new sweatshirt for the girl so she wouldn’t be freezing cold but they were all hideously ugly. I realized I could just give her my long sleeve shirt and we could make it home. 
At this point, the girl was feeling back to her old self and began chattering away nonstop, especially as we were in a flea market with about a million things she now wanted to purchase. “Let’s get those swords for our friends back home! I bet they have snow globes here! I like that shirt! Oh there’s stickers over there! That playground was great can we go again?” As Eric and I stared at each other over her head in disbelief while trying to ignore the acrid aroma of vomit that surrounded us. At that point, we realized the only way back was to get on another light rail, and we went back to the station to wait. 
Sydney has a system of cards which you tap at little pads at each site to get on or off the transit. We had tapped on when we first got on but didn’t tap off when we escaped after the girl marked her territory. At that point we weren’t sure whether to tap on again or tap off and then tap on. Thus began a comic and somewhat frantic tapping of cards only to yield multiple error messages over and over. I’d tap one and it would say “not accepted,” then I’d tap another one and it wouldn’t accept, then I’d tap another and it went through, then another one would say it had already been tapped on, and all the while the 4 of us are standing around this pole like total idiots staring at the tap pad and the Australians are staring at us. Eventually, I gave up and left it to fate and the transit police.

We got off at our station and tried to tap all the cards again, with another set of error messages that basically read, “Stop it you dumb tourist, you’re just blocking the actual Sydney residents from getting home.” 

A few blocks later, we were back at our flat, the girl was in a hot bath, and Eric and I both had drinks in our hands. I felt like a terrible parent for ignoring the poor girl’s complaints all day and blowing them off as homesickness, and apologized to her to which she replied, “Oh, that’s okay mommy. I feel better now! Can we go eat some sushi?” Lesson learned : when your kid says their stomach doesn’t feel good, stop putting food in it. You might think I would have figured this out before now, but sometimes it takes true pyrotechnics for an education to sink in.