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.