Saturday, October 31, 2009

Island Hopping

As the weather warms up in Sydney, festivals start popping up all over town. Some relate to food, others focus on art, I can't keep track. Regardless, we like to partake in most such events. A couple of weeks back, we met friends for dinner at Hyde Park's Night Noodle Market, an event in which Asian food vendors set up stalls, picnic tables, chairs and lanterns throughout the park.

Maybe a week prior to that, we all went Island Hopping in the Sydney harbour. As part of one of these festivals, one ferry ticket could buy you a trip to four ordinarily inaccessible islands in the harbour: Fort Denison (the one with the cannon), Shark Island (named because of its shape), Clark Island and Garden Island (off limits because it belongs to the Navy).

When I tried to sell Gabe on the idea, he indicated that $48 was a bit much for such an event. It's funny that my reaction to the $48 price tag to get ferried around to four different islands was 'what a steal!' It must be a testament to the fact that I've been in Sydney for almost two years, but Gabe's only been paying Sydney prices for five months.

Anyway, it was a drizzly, but fun day out on the harbour. Highlights include Steph's three minute tour of Fort Denison, watching aboriginal dancers teach two year olds an emu-inspired dance and Laura's encounter with a persistent puppet.

The puppeteer did a great job in that she made it look like she had no control of the puppet's annoying behavior. Funnier still was my family's reaction to seeing the pictures of the puppets; they took bets on whether or not they were real animals. It tickles me that Australia's real native wildlife make puppets like these seem plausible.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Nic and Kat in Australia

I've loved being my family's excuse to renew their passports and travel internationally. I was thrilled when they joined me in Edinburgh, Scotland when I studied abroad in college and was again pleased to draw them to Europe when I got married in Switzerland two years ago. My mom has enjoyed two fun-filled trips to Sydney, but I was worried that my brother would never make it here because of his school schedule and the expense.

Fortunately, the global financial crisis and corresponding airline ticket fare wars worked to our advantage this year. My brother and his lovely girlfriend Kat purchased roundtrip tickets from LA to Sydney for the low, low price of $603 USD each! Unbelievable, right? I bet the cost of getting to Australia (adjusted for inflation) has never in history been lower. With the cost barrier out of the way (thanks to help from my mom and Kat's credit card), we only had to work around Nic's school schedule and that was a cinch.

They arrived on September 11 and I had exactly ten days to show them as much as possible. I wasn't able to take more than a day off work, but still had four weekend days and plenty of evenings to entertain my beloved guests. Their first day was grueling; I dragged them all over Sydney after allowing them only a two hour nap post-arrival. Days two and three were just as busy with a tour of my favorite markets, an evening at the bowls club, a hike in coastal bush land around the harbour and lots of Wii golf in between.

Nic and Kat remained jet lagged for most of the trip, but were very good sports about it. They even swam in the cold harbour - good on 'em! For each of the days during the week I was at work, I planned out detailed itineraries for Nic and Kat. I made sure that they took in the best of Sydney: tasting chocolates at Haigh's in the Strand Arcade, delicious lunch with Mickey at Google in Pyrmont, Taronga Zoo, Blue Mountains, etc. They probably had almost as much fun following my instructions as I did writing them. Seriously, I need to turn that into a career of some type that doesn't involve a double decker bus and a microphone.

We spent our last days together wine tasting in the Hunter Valley. As my brother is mostly a beer man, I had no idea that he'd enjoy the wine as much as he did. However, even more enticing than the Hunter's semillons and shirazs was the lure of showing Nic some roos in the wild. Probably since the first moment I saw a kangaroo here in Australia, I'd looked forward to sharing the experience with my brother. We both love wildlife and treasure family stories about him seeing a moose in Vermont, me spotting a big horned sheep in California, etc.

Fortunately, we did see some roos and Nic and Kat were even able to snap a few pictures. One of my brother's best qualities is that he can make almost anything fun and he is very easy to please. He dutifully ate everything we fed him and enjoyed every place we visited. Part of this zest for life is his nature; we're talking about the guy who found a house party alone on his first night in London after all. Another part of his joy stems from being with Kat, a beautiful person who has been the inspiration behind positive change in his life.

Of course, I cried when I had to say goodbye to them at the airport. However, throughout the trip we planned future adventures together: sushi dinners in LA, a visit to my favorite amusement park, Knott's Berry Farm, and maybe even a cruise one day. Nic and I share many happy memories of family vacations when we were little. As we get older, I hope we'll still travel together as our lives change and our families grow.