Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Australia Part II: Sydney

After spending our first two days in Melbourne we took an overnight train from Melbourne to Sydney.  The trip took just under 12 hours and was a similar quality trip to riding Amtrak in the US.  The trip was almost entirely in the dark, so there wasn't much to see along the way.

We arrived in Sydney around 7 AM.  Sydney is located on a beautiful natural harbour (yes, that's how they spell it in Australia).  After stashing our luggage in a locker at the train station we headed out to explore the city.  We saw the Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and Circular Quay.  For lunch we met up with my brother in law's sister, Kim, who lives in Sydney.

After lunch we picked up our luggage and headed out to Bondi Beach where we spent two nights in an apartment booked through Air B&B.  Our B&B hosts Steph and Ed were great.  They are expats from France and had a unique perspective on living overseas that we could appreciate.  They also live right by one of Sydney's most popular beaches with some great views.  Bondi is a great surfing beach.  While we don't surf ourselves (yet), it was fun to watch people riding the waves.

Steph and Ed also let us use the barbecue (grill) on their porch.  We took full advantage of this and enjoyed some delicious steak, potatoes, and green beans.

For our second day in Sydney we found our way back to the city center by bus and then hopped on a ferry out to Manly.  Bondi is south of Sydney Harbour while Manly is to the north.  The ferry to Manly offered great views of the city, and Manly is rather picturesque itself.  It is located on an isthmus between a bay off the Sydney Harbor and the shore of the Pacific Ocean.  

For lunch in Manly we enjoyed fish and chips and some local beer at the 4 Pines Brew Pub across from the wharf.

After lunch we ventured out on a walk around the harbour in Manly.  The harbour view was nice, but the local flowers and birds were definitely the highlight of the four hour walk.

Some of our favorite birds were a sulphur crested cockatoo, Australian pelicans, a little pied cormorant, and numerous rainbow lorikeets. Also notable were the spiders the size of my hand hanging out in the trees above us.

We waited until dusk to head back in to the city and enjoyed the blue hour view of Sydney Harbour.  Upon our arrival back in Sydney we managed to meet up for drinks with a high school friend (Jeff Mills) who was in town for work.  It's fun running into familiar faces all over the globe.

Our last morning in Sydney was spent taking a bus, a train, and another bus out to an industrial neighborhood where we picked up our camper van.  We saved the best part of our trip for last.  Six days of camping along the coast between Sydney and Melbourne was amazing.  I'll share details soon in my next blog post.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Australia Part 1: Melbourne

We're back from 11 wonderful days in Australia!

  • We flew into Melbourne where we spent our first two days.
  • Next we took an overnight train to Sydney and spent two days there.
  • Leaving Sydney we rented a camper van and spent the next six days making our way down the coast back to Melbourne, seeing beaches, seaside towns, national parks, and wildlife along the way.
  • We had one more final night in Melbourne before heading back to Thailand.

This blog installment will focus on our beginning and ending time in Melbourne, and I'll post more later about Sydney and the camper van.

Traveling to Australia from Thailand is much quicker than from the U.S., but it's still a long trip.  Total flying time was about 10 hours, plus a layover in the middle.  We flew with Royal Brunei airline connecting through Bandar Seri Begawan in the tiny oil rich country of Brunei.  It was an interesting place to connect through.  The country is about twice the size of Rhode Island and has a population of just over 400,000.  The airport was tiny.  It felt like a small airport in the midwest United States.  The airline was nice though, and the price was much less than any of the direct flights from Bangkok to Australia.

Melbourne is a large modern city.  The city is relatively young at only about 160 years old, but still has a great historic charm.  The architecture is clearly inspired by its British origins, and the city feels quite European.  Public transit is excellent, with trams and suburban trains blanketing the city.

We arrived in Melbourne at 5 AM on Sunday morning.  We stayed with friends of ours that used to live in Bangkok.  We spent much of Sunday catching up with them and getting a short tour of the city.  In the evening we hopped on the train to central Melbourne to catch an Australian rules football game at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds.  "Footy" is a sport that is rather unique to Australia. I won't explain all the rules, but basically teams score points by kicking "goals" similar to a field goal in American football.  The game is played on a modified cricket field, the ball looks similar to an American football, play really doesn't ever stop, and no pads are worn.  The game we watched was between two Melbourne area teams, Essendon and Carlton.  Essendon won by a huge margin, but it was still tons of fun to watch.

On Monday Mary and I did a bit of exploring by taking the train into the city center and renting bikes.  It is autumn in Australia and the weather was very comfortable for biking around the city.  In the evening we headed to Southern Cross railway station to catch the overnight train to Sydney.

A week later we arrived back in Melbourne after visiting Sydney and camping along the coast,

We chose to stay in the city this time in part because our friends were traveling (to Thailand).  They offered to let us stay at their house even though they were away, but we thought it would be nice to stay in the city center for a night.

We booked a room through Air B&B in a nice condo building in the "docklands" district of Melbourne adjacent to the central business district.  This was much cheaper than a hotel and offered great views of the city.  We spent the evening walking around central Melbourne and enjoyed a nice dinner along the riverfront. 
The pictures below show the view from our room, the riverfront area where we had dinner, one of Melbourne's many trams, and beautiful Flinders Street Station which serves as a rail hub for suburban trains.

Overall we loved Melbourne, but Sydney an camping were amazing too.  I'll update more on the rest of our trip over the next few days.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Break Time

Mary and I have both been extremely busy with work and Mary with grad school the last few weeks, so our lives haven't been all that exciting (unless you think conference calls are exciting).

A few interesting news tidbits from Bangkok.
1.  Bruno Mars was recently here for a concert.  I wouldn't have even known this except for a picture that went viral on social media of him purchasing a pirated copy of his own CD in a popular tourist area.  The pirated music dealer has since been arrested, probably mostly due to embarrassing Thailand rather than for selling illegal copies of CD's.

2. Not many people know this, but Bangkok was heavily bombed during World War II by the allied forces.  It's not uncommon for construction projects to uncover un-exploded bombs from this era.  A number of bombs turned up this week.  One was sold to a local scrap yard.  Workers proceeded to try and cut up the relic with a torch, not realizing it was still a live 500 pound bomb.  The result was 9 dead and much of a neighborhood leveled.  There was also a 750 pound bomb found in the pond of an industrial estate this week.

Thailand's largest holiday, Songkran, is just around the corner and Mary's is off from school for the next week and a half.  I'm taking some vacation and in a few hours we will be on our way to Australia!  We're going to see Melbourne, Sydney, and spend 5 days exploring beaches and national parks in a rented camper van.  We're not sure what our internet situation will be, but we hope to be able to provide a few updates along the way.