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Holiday Season ‘Down Under’

I hadn’t planned on visiting Australia initially because I’d learned from fellow travelers that it was a very expensive country to visit.  However, it was while I was in Malaysia volunteering at the animal shelter that I just happened to receive an email from a good friend of mine whom I’d known back in New Mexico.  We had lost touch over the years despite attempts on both our ends to keep in touch, but alas he found me:)  And as chance would have it, he was living in Sydney!  So of course I had to go see him!!

The timing of it all to this day still fascinates me.  It’s just further proof in my book that everything happens the way it should.  After a couple of email exchanges I made plans to see him and spend Christmas and New Years with him and his partner:)

I arrived in the ‘land down under’ mid-December and was greeted at the airport with the loving embrace and friendly faces of my friend and his partner.  After a quick nibble out, we headed back to their place where I met their two kids, Willow and Bear, two absolutely adorable pups!!  We stayed up quite late that first night (and for the next several nights) with bottles of vino and beer, catching up on all things past and present.  What a truly amazing and still surreal time!

They showed me around all the hotspots of Sydney; Bondi beach (pronounced Bond-eye, not Bondy), the Opera House (of course!), the harbor area, Mansly, the Botanical Gardens and the Watson Bay area where sailboats dotted a quiet bay eclipsed by beautiful homes gently sloping from the water.  It was all so picturesque and beautiful!  We even ventured a bit further out on the weekends for little road trips to the Blue Mountains where we viewed the Three Sisters.

The thing that surprised me about the Opera house was that the roof was made of tiles!  From all the pictures I had seen prior to seeing it first-hand,  the roof simply looked white and I hadn’t noticed anything particularly remarkable about it.  However up close, it was impressive to see that the roof was in fact made of white and beige tiles and that they formed very specific patterns giving each shell a unique and artistic flare.  In addition, again from pictures, I had always imagined that the Opera house was a singular building and each layered ‘armadillo shell’ was part of the design to enhance acoustics for that one stage.  I had no idea that in fact there are multiple stages allowing several productions to occur within the same season.  Just goes to show you that you never really know about something until you get up close and personal with it;)

The Botanical Gardens were absolutely darling!  They seemed to go on forever and though they were basically next door to the heart of downtown Sydney, they had a quiet and calm about them that made you feel miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.  2016 just so happens to also be the 200th birthday of the gardens, so that’s pretty cool:)

The Blue Mountains too were a surprise as I had no idea such lush green life and landscapes could be found in Oz.  Again, most of the pictures I had seen of Australia boasted the main highlights of the Barrier Reef, the Opera House or the Outback where the land is red and lacking plant life.  But in the Blue Mountains, I could have mistaken us for being in Virgina near the Blue Ridge!  Simply beautiful!

The only odd thing to me was knowing that it was only a week away from Christmas, yet not really seeing any sort of Christmas decorations anywhere!  There were a few scattered here and there, but nothing like I was accustomed to seeing in the States around Christmas time.  However, that didn’t stop us from doing some decorating ourselves:)  J’s mom had sent him a Christmas tree, so on or about the day before Christmas, we got our drinks on (which put us all in a jolly mood) and set up the Christmas tree and other decorations to get the place looking festive!  A few gifts were exchanged, delicious food was cooked, and we all reveled in the joys of being with good friends.

Christmas Day passed and New Years was quickly approaching, so the next big thing was to decide how to ring in the New Year.  We settled on trying for one of the free spots at a park on the harbor (Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair).  The only trouble was that once capacity for the park was reached, they closed it off therefore not allowing any new people in.  And because this venue was free to enter (and honestly was one of the best in my opinion as it had a fantastic view of the harbor, the bridge and the opera house) the lines would no doubt be long.  The chances of getting in at all were unpredictable!

‘A’ (J’s partner) had to work New Year’s Day, so that left ‘J ‘and I to try for a park place where ‘A’ would meet us later.  We made it there around 10am to find a line that wove back and forth and forth and back with what looked like thousands waiting to get in!  We got in at the back of the makeshift line and thus began the slow and arduous task of walking a few feet every couple of minutes, slowly inching our way to the entrance gates.  Luckily we came prepared however with water, snacks and sunscreen.

I should mention at this point that the Norwegian couple I had met back in Kuala Lumpur were also in Sydney for New Year’s.  We had reconnected via email and arranged to meet at the park.  After about an hour or so, they arrived with another friend in tow and they joined ‘J’ and I in line (which still had only moved a couple hundred feet or so, lol!!).  The mood around us was festive and it was funny to see how many people had already started hitting the beers hard!  Personally it was just too hot in the direct sun for that in my opinion, plus having to find a bathroom would have been its own kind of torture!!

The hours ticked away as we crept closer and closer toward the finish line… Finally, about 4 hours later we were in!  While there were already thousands of people in the park, it didn’t feel as crowded as I would have thought which I was very grateful for!  We scouted a place to sit under a nice shady tree, then sent one of the fellas to the nearby food and drink kiosks for some cold beers!  We sat around enjoying the cold beers and continued chit-chatting and all was absolutely perfect, save for one thing…

‘A’ was still at work… The plan we had hoped for was that he would be able to get off work a bit early, then head to the park where he could hopefully hop in line with us and make it in before the park reached capacity.  However, at this point it was already past 2pm.  The line that had formed behind us seemed longer than the line we had initially started in, and according to the online information, the park had already almost reached capacity and would soon be closed off.  Not happy news!!  As the time ticked on it seemed less and less likely that he would be able to make it to the park.

Seriously a huge conundrum!!  I didn’t want ‘A’ to have to spend New Year’s alone, especially without his partner!!  But I also didn’t want to leave our park spot.  We debated back and forth what to do and eventually settled on me staying in the park, and ‘J’ leaving the park to be with ‘A’.  In addition ‘J’ had started not to feel so hot, as even though he kept reapplying sunscreen the entire time we stood in line, he still managed to get a pretty bad sunburn!!  So as he wasn’t feeling the best he said he was fine with leaving to be with ‘A’.  Though I know I shouldn’t, I do still feel guilty for having stayed behind because I wanted the three of us to be together for New Years.  But as ‘A’ and ‘J’ said, they had “been there, done that” with Sydney’s firework show.  It wasn’t so important for them to see them again, but since it was a first for me, they said I should definitely see them.

So I hung back with my friends from Norway and rang in the New Year watching fireworks shower off the Sydney harbor bridge and light up the harbor waters.  It was such a beautiful sight!  I love everything about fireworks; the sounds, smells and sight of them.  Being so up close and personal to such a spectacular show was unbelievable.  I’m so thankful for the chance to have been able to be there!

After the show, I parted ways with my Norwegian friends and met up with ‘J’ and ‘A’ and we headed home to comfort the pups.  Though we were not able to spend New Year’s night together, we did have our own New Year celebration a bit later.  Popping a bottle of champagne we wrote down things we no longer wanted to be burdened with in our lives and set them on fire Zozobra style!

On to Summer Camp in January

Back to Australia

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Oban (Oh-Bin)

Oban!  Pronounced Oh-Bin… What a lovely little place to visit!  Sadly the weather was absolute crap during my stay, but at least I got a little sample:)

I took the bus from Inverness (or In-bir-nis in Gaelic) early and headed to Oban.  I skipped going to Fort William because I had heard there really wasn’t much to do there, but in Oban there is the opportunity to go to several neighboring islands via ferry or boat, etc.  So I was excited to check out the area for sure!  On the way there just outside of town there is the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary!!!  I was quite tempted to jump off the bus right then and there as one of the stops was just in front of the facility, but that would not have been very sound seeing as I had my backpack with me… Plus, I figured I could always go back since I was staying three nights in Oban.

I spotted the hostel I had pre-booked to stay in (Oban Backpackers) as we drove down the main street to the bus station.  I headed easily out to the hostel and was greeted by a very accommodating and friendly German man.  I’m honestly not sure he took a single breath during his 5 minute “welcome introduction” lol!!  But just as the Inverness Student Hostel was, Oban Backpackers was also warm, welcoming and a generally great place to stay!!  They had large areas where people could hang out and chat and offered an area to put down the backpacks while one waited to check in!  Just love that feature in a hostel since many times I had arrived too early to check into my room but didn’t want to be stuck hauling my crap around or sitting at the hostel simply waiting for check-in!!

But I’m rambling again… Since I had arrived a bit earlier than the actual check-in time, I put my crap down in the designated area and headed out with a very detailed map of Oban, which I acquired from the very friendly hostel host!  The map itself was already very detailed (you know, one of those tourist maps provided by the city) but the host marked several areas of interest on mine before I left his presence so that I would know everywhere to go and see and do right off the bat!  Obviously he was used to a gazillion of the same questions from travelers, so in an attempt to stave them all off, he simply answered them all up front, lol!!

So with my map in hand and my bag no longer on my back I headed to the Oban Tower.  Located only about 10 minutes up the hill from the hostel, it provided a great place to take some aerial shots of the town!!  From there I just wandered around the small town just exploring and getting ideas on what to do for the next coming days while there.  The town itself is a little horse shoe shaped town located directly on the water.  It has a shipping dock and lots of varieties of boats bobbing in the harbor all for their various purposes.  There are even castles just a short hike up the way from the main part of town AND even a whiskey distillery in the center of town!!  Yes, Oban does offer quite a bit of activities for those looking to kill a few days in a cute seaside town in Scotland…

Now, even though there were trails to walk, castles to see, a Sea Life Sanctuary to visit, a whiskey distillery to tour and nearby islands to take a ferry to for a few hours… I did absolutely none of those… 😦

I know!!! I know!!  I’m totally bonkers!!!  And I promise I TRIED to go see the castles and the Sea Life Sanctuary and even the distillery, but alas no… I’m totally going to blame it ALL on the weather!!!  Yes, the weather!!  I already mentioned above that the weather was absolute crap while I was there… And yes, it was just cold and windy and blustery basically the entire time I was there!!  Ok, well the first day wasn’t so bad, but since I didn’t bother or care to look up an extended forecast for the area, instead of putting my rear in gear and actually doing some of the hikes and island visits on my first day (or half day, since I used the morning bit to get there!!) I simply spent it walking around and planning my activities for the next days…  So anyway, yea… The first day was quite successful in the sense that I had a solid plan on what I was doing for the next couple days…

But the next day, once I rose and dressed and stepped outside into the blustery cold and wet and WINDY weather, I realized that all my plans were about to go to right out the window!!  I first searched for something to nibble, then headed to the boat dock to see about catching a ferry to the nearby island of Kerrera, where there is a lovely monastery to walk around and enjoy a coffee in… But the docks were closed due to the windy weather.  No boats, no ferry’s, no island… So I wandered to bus station to find out about the Sea Life Sanctuary bus to see if I could catch it and at least spend some time there.  However, the majority of the park would have been outdoors and on the water basically, so if the weather was crap here, 20 minutes up the road wouldn’t be much improved… So I decided against that action… I thought ok, what about walking to the castles??

Finally an option that may work out!  So I headed back through town on the main road, then cut through a little side street to the trail that would lead to the castles and just as I rounded the corner got slammed with the biggest wind gust yet!!  My poncho flapped around me viciously while I got pelted in the face with rain drop after rain drop… This was not good!!  And after only a block of that nonsense I turned back up the next little side street and headed back to the hostel to warm up.

After inquiring about “what to do on nasty weather days” to the hostel host (whiskey tour is what he suggested… or just a pub!) I headed to the whiskey distillery and decided against the tour (I wasn’t really that in the mood for whiskey, plus had no way to carry the glass gift they apparently gave at the end in my backpack) so I did the next best thing… Went to the pub!

Turned out to be a fine rest of the day as far as I was concerned!!  Met an interesting guy from the States who was traveling all of the UK and Ireland on his motorcycle!!  He actually had his personal motorcycle flown over and was driving it all around!!  Needless to say he was being responsible and only had food and one drink at the bar, but it was really cool to meet someone who was doing something that brave!!  Well done on him!!

So that’s how I killed my days in Oban… Ate, drank, drank, ate, curled up for a movie on my Samsung Tablet, and generally found any excuse to stay out of the weather and stay indoors!!!  Some of my roommates had tried to go to the castle as well, and they succeeded!!!  Brave couple!!  However they didn’t really get to see anything at all since the mist was all around and the castles were closed… LOL!!  Poor things!!  They really looked wrecked when they came back!!  But I’m sure they still had a great time being adventuresome!!

On to Glasgow

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