Birthday in the Blue Mountains

On Saturday, December 6th it was our third day in Sydney and my 32nd Birthday. It felt a little strange given the time change as it really wasn’t my birthday at home in the States. It was only December 5th. But in the land Down Under, today was the day so why not celebrate? (I was still at the age where I enjoyed my birthday and still felt relatively young…ha).

It was a free day ahead and I got to pick what to do. Of course I wanted to do something outdoors, athletic and meaningful. Thus we decided to take a train to the Blue Mountains, a place known for its spectacular scenery and fabulous hikes. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than bushwalking (as the Aussies say). Hiking is one of my favorite sports.

The Blue Mountains are roughly 3,000 feet high and are considered a cool area rainforest.  I had read that it is not only a mecca for Sydneysiders who love to do day trips to escape the heat and crowds, but it is also one of Australia’s best known playgrounds with tons of opportunities for adventures sports.  The guide book recommended a couple of days.  We only had an afternoon, so we decided to make the best of it.

We took the two-hour ride to the mountain town of Katoomba hoping that the unusual cloudy and cool weather would pass.  We wanted to experience that fantastic perfect summer weather that Sydney is known for.  All I had were shorts since I had expected it to be summery weather.  Little did I know, it was going to be freezing as soon as we stepped off the train in the Blue Mountains.  It was even colder there than the mere 60 degree weather in Sydney.  Brutal.

We arrived at our stop at the town of Katoomba, freezing cold and hungry.  It was perfect grazing weather so we decided to test out a couple of the delightful bakeries lining the street.  After loading up on pastries and treats, we headed for the trails to do our bushwalk and work it off.

We tramped around the rainforest for awhile, marveling at all the beauty and sights.  It was the perfect way to spend my birthday:  Doing something I love and being with my dad.

After fully exhausting ourselves and using up all our sugary-induced energy, we headed back to Sydney for one last hurrah at the fabulous restaurant looking right out at the Opera House.  We indulged in a huge, gourmet pig out with two bottles of wine and cake.  It felt great to be 32.  I was looking forward to the rest of the trip.

Here are some photos from the day:

The Blue Mountains were absolutely stunning even in the cloudy, cool weather.  The hiking trails are awash with ferns and gorgeous trees.  You pass many waterfalls and scenic viewpoints such as the one below. 

Birthday girl in the Blue Mountains….if only I could be 32 again! 

Bushwalking in the Blue Mountains with my dad:

Deeper into the rainforest it was as dark as night.  There were also many waterfalls along the way plus loads of my beloved ferns. 

A dinner to remember right next to the Opera House and a show at the Opera

Stay tuned…next post I’m off to the Great Barrier Reef for my first dive!

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An unexpected trip to the land Down Under

My trip to Patagonia back in November 2003 had been a eye-opening, soul-searching adventure of a lifetime.  I had been in perhaps the most stressful, worst job ever so getting away from the hell I was in at the time, to such a magical place, felt like a boulder had been lifted off my chest.  I could breathe again.  I could relax.  I could enjoy life.  I could be me.

But then as they always say in life, all good things must come to an end.  I had to go home and back to that god awful job that caused me so much pain and distress.  I was trapped in an incredibly unhappy, miserable situation in which I drove home from work each day in tears.  Yet there was no way that I could quit, or so I believed.  I didn’t want that unfortunate mark on my resume nor on the career ladder I was trying to climb.   I felt trapped.  Chained.  Stuck.  And miserable.

How could I go back to that hell?  Too much had changed during that week in Patagonia.  I realized that it simply wasn’t worth it.  You’ve got one shot at life, so why not give it your best?  Nothing, and I mean nothing is more important than happiness.  I needed to leave that awful, unkind, brutal place and be somewhere completely different where I was treated with kindness, respect and where I felt free.  I needed a new beginning and oddly enough, I believe it was fate.  I got just that opportunity.

Less than 24 hours after I was home, the mysterious acts of fate rang at my door.  On my first day back to work, by noon I was laid off.  Just like that, my life had changed.  I could not believe my good fortune (for in my eyes being laid off was easier to explain to a future employer than quitting).  I felt like it was a sign from above, a voice inside my heart and soul telling me that I was free.  It truly was an act of fate.

Looking back now, almost eight years later I realize that it was one of the best things that could have happened to me at the time.  For sometimes in life, it takes hardship, struggle and unhappiness to truly realize what is the most important to you.  Thus this period of my life greatly encouraged me to examine my life more deeply and figure out after ten years out of college, what I truly wanted out of my life.  It was not climbing the corporate ladder, making a lot of money or having a fancy title.  It was life itself which meant enjoying it and having a family.

Two weeks after I got laid off from my job, my dad and decided to take a trip.  Instead of looking at the negative aspect of being laid off (i.e. not having any money, needing to find a new job, etc) I looked at the positive.  I was free!  For a travel addict who never ceases to stop wanting to wonder the world, being unemployed offered me an opportunity to take another trip.  Thus in early December, a month after returning from Patagonia I found myself on board a Qantas airplane en route to Australia, the land Down Under.

We were fortunate to find an excellent deal with Qantas airlines.  For $2,200 we received an international flight to/from Australia, plus three internal flights and hotels in three cities.  We would have a two-week trip with four days in Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef.  I couldn’t wait!

We left for Sydney on December 2nd.  I flew from Minneapolis to LA and arrived around 4:30 PM, early for our 10:30 PM flight.  This ended up being a fortunate thing as I was able to score the emergency exit row all the way to Sydney.  That meant 14 hours of extra leg room!

The flight was uneventful and I managed to sleep six hours thanks to the extra leg room.  Before I knew it, the crew was serving breakfast and we were almost there!  I was so excited.  I’ve always wanted to go to Australia.  I went to New Zealand the previous year and had fallen in love with it promising to someday venture a little further west to make it to Australia.  And here I was!

We landed around 9 am in Sydney, feeling extremely disoriented after the 19 hours of flying (the most I’d ever done at that point) yet thrilled to finally be getting off the plane.  The next three days proved to be exactly how I’d imagined:  Wonderful!

We spent the next few days checking out beautiful Sydney, a fabulous, hip, urban city that is so insanely lovely I thought I could easily live there.  We went to both Bondi and Manly Beach, saw a ballet at the Sydney Opera, took a train to the Blue Mountains, walked and shopped til we dropped, and ate splendidly.  Sydney was definitely how our guide book described it:  Sophisticated.  Sexy.  Laid Back and cosmopolitan.  Plus the people were so beautiful yet not artificial or rude.  The city was full of eye candy, that is for sure.

We spent three fabulous days in Sydney before it was time to hit the Great Barrier Reef.  I instantly fell in love with the city and can’t wait to someday go back.

Here are some pictures of my time in Sydney:

Leaving on Qantas dec. 2-16 2003….landing in Sydney on the big boy

Lovely flowers in The Royal Botanical Gardens…so refreshing for me in the dead of winter!

Hyde Park

Views of downtown Sydney

Bats swarm the trees in the downtown Botanical Gardens…eerie!

A nice walking path along the harbour…oh I could so live here! 

Views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

The Harbour Bridge…no, I did not climb it (you can, if you are nuts!)

They say that the best way to see the city is by water so that is exactly what we did. We hopped a ferry and went to spend the afternoon in Manly, a beachside neighborhood. The views from the ferry were spectacular and breath-taking. Sydney is definitely a city that utilizes its waterfront. There are restaurants and bars all along the harbor. What a city!

Catching a ferry to Manly

The Beautiful Sydney Harbour

Sydney’s famous landmark, the Opera house, up close.

The Sydney skyline

We arrived in Manly in the early afternoon and were fascinated by the beach culture of Australia. Everyone from small children to seniors, were decked out in their speedos. Of course, everyone is as fit as can be. More eye candy awaited.


Manly Beach</em>: I could stay here all day!

Unfortunately our picture perfect weather began to disappear and the clouds moved in. We had to head back to Sydney as it wasn’t a good day for the beach.

The Storm Moving in

After an absolutely delightful dinner looking out the restaurant windows at the famous white sails of Sydney’s Opera House, it was time to go to sleep. We were exhausted but looking forward to our next day.

Day 2 in Sydney ended up being a rainy start. We already had plans to play golf at the Long Reef Golf course outside of Sydney. We took an hour long cab there, began to play and were soaked to the bone in heavy rain. It wasn’t fun but we had to at least play the first nine holes since we couldn’t get our money back at that point.

A rainy day for golf

Thankfully the weather cleared up by early afternoon, so we were able to make a trip over to the world famous Bondi Beach. I had heard that it was a “must see”.

Trip to bondi beach

An open water swim race at the beach.

The clouds were still heavy which was too bad because I really wanted to seat myself at one of the many hip outdoor bars and drink a bottle of wine. Oh well. It just wasn’t in the cards. The weather unfortunately was not cooperating. So when all else fails, what do we do? Eat and drink!

We had another gourmet meal in Sydney and drank our small worries about the weather away. We hoped tomorrow would be better since it was my birthday and we were planning to take the train to the Blue Mountains for a hike in the rainforest. I crossed my fingers when I went to sleep.

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