Day 18: One for the road

Well, here we were with a day with no plans. Nothing we had to do but pack before we left the next day. We had a whole day in Sydney, one of the world’s great cities, to do whatever we wanted. So what would we do? What could we do?

Eat and drink more stuff, naturally.

The brother dropped me off at the Bourke Street Bakery to pick up some tasty breakfast. I walked home enjoying the sunshine (actual sunshine!) and woke up Nellie. We decided to do a little shopping (Nellie bought a new bag) and then hit up the one last beer place on our list: the King Street Brewhouse.

We enjoyed a few pints on a beautiful sunny afternoon by the water…which, I think, is how all last days in Sydney should be spent. I did have to fight off a few seagulls (and one managed to nick a fry even so) to protect our lunch…our last wildlife encounter.

We stopped for one more pint at the Redoak, then jumped a train home and got our bags packed. We enjoyed our last afternoon and evening at home with the brother, eating a nice meal in the back yard, drinking wine from the Margaret River, chasing away feline interlopers, looking up at the stars and listening to something rather substantial creep stealthily along the fence.

Boom. Australia. That happened.

Day 13: What's that glowing yellow thing in the sky?

Finally, a warm sunny day in Sydney! Unbeknownst to us we were at the tail end of what would later be named the coldest first half of October in Sydney in 45 years. But on this day it was sunny, and we decided to bask.

We drove over to Mosman with the top down, in search of some breakfast. It took us a few tries to find a place still serving breakfast at noon, but we did, and it was excellent, and right on the beach. We went for a stroll down said beach afterwards, where Nellie once again got soaked by a wave. This was becoming a pattern.

We drove back home — still avec open-top — and chilled, just watching the new Blu-Ray Star Wars. Side note: George Lucas needs to stop fucking with his best shit. Han shot…simultaneously?

We had plans to meet up with some friends of the brother for dinner. We took the train down to King’s Cross to scoff at the ridiculousness, then hit the Old Fitzroy for pre-dinner drinks. Their music selection led me to opine as to the best American (classic) rock band ever. I put forward CCR; others disagreed. Much debate ensued. Good beer + music geekery? It was uncertain I’d ever leave.

But leave we did, for dinner at Cafe DOV. We met up with the brother’s friends, discovered the secret path to the washroom, and nearly broke a camera. My dinner was good; everyone else’s was — reportedly — fantastic. Dessert was superb, though I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. Note to self: write these things down. Another of the brother’s friends joined us late, and came with us when we returned to the Old Fitzroy rather than be guestlisted into what seemed an extraordinarily douchey club. Even the pub had gotten quite out of hand by this point — Aussies like to dress up for parties apparently, even if they’re offensive…we saw a Hitler and an Arab suicide bomber — so we had just the one and buggered off home to pack for the next morning’s flight.

Day 12: Tea party & pork

I really thought my calves would be better the next today. Man, was I wrong. I think they got worse. I was stepping rather gingerly.

My brother had arranged for a harbour cruise thingy, so we went back to Circular Quay and met our ride. The water was pretty choppy and we weren’t sure how well we’d fare, but everything turned out fine. In any case we were only headed to Goat Island, right there in the harbour, for a bit of history. It was fairly interesting, but the poor tour company employee’s routine was marred by the unexpected appearance of the Kids Crazy Island Tea Party. Seriously. It was hilarious and awful at the same time. Here he was trying to recount the interesting and oft-bloody history of 19-century Sydney while standing in front of the Lindt Teddy Bear’s Picnic. He did his best but you could tell he was getting pissed off.

After leaving the island the boat went on a longer ride around the harbour. The rest of the group sat inside and listened to trivia; Nellie and I walked out to the front of the ship, stood on the bow and enjoyed the sights. It was grey and a little cool outside, but we loved it. It felt like we were in Halifax for a minute. Except for a few key landmarks.

We went back home, got changed, then jumped back on the train downtown to stake out a spot at Porteno. It’s a very popular spot in Surry Hills. How popular? Well, we got there ten minutes before it opened and we were about twentieth in line to get in. Because our entire party wasn’t there we waited upstairs in the bar. Nellie had single malt; I had a pork slider and some kind of delicious bourbon, vermouth and smoked maple syrup concoction. The rest of the party showed up and downstairs we went. We didn’t bother with anything fancy: just two giant plates of slow-roasted meat and some wine to go with it. Us: pork. Them: lamb. It was SOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOOOOD. The place was very cool too…very Spanish/South American vibe.

We left, stopped at a drive-through beer store (seriously!) and somehow, once home, drank another four bottles of wine between us. What a day.

Day 8: Transit

This day wouldn’t really amount to much. Between the three hours’ drive back to Perth (during which I slept, mostly, missing the beach we stopped at on the way), a five hour flight to Sydney and a three hour time difference, the day was all but gone once the transportation ended. A quick batch of pasta and we were all off to bed.

Day 4: Our new nicknames are Floaty & Tart

Ultra-touristy or no, we decided that we had to see the Sydney Aquarium. So we shlepped downtown again, paid our gazillion dollars, steeled our nerves for the onslaught of screaming children and ventured in. Afore-mentioned screaming children and rude tourists aside, I was actually quite happy with what I saw. There were lots of crazy fish and crabs (especially spider crabs…I would not want to see one of those suckers coming at me), but the best part was where you went underwater to see the sharks and huge rays and dugong and sea turtles. Speaking of sea turtles, one of them was named Floaty. She was cute. Also cute: little kids freaking out every time they saw a fish that looked like Nemo or Dory.

We were getting hungry (and, yes, thirsty) by this point so we walked a few minutes to the Redoak boutique beer cafe, and once again were not disappointed. Their wheat beer was one of the best I’ve ever had, and the bock and porter were nice as well. It all went well with the sausage and mash (as did Nellie’s three — Oktoberfest, wheat and organic lager — with her roast beef sandwich) and we left full, once again. We decided to end the day’s adventures there; it was time to head home and get ready for our flight to Perth.

We made it to the airport with plenty of time, except that a) a corkscrew had accidentally been packed in my bag (which security was not cool with) and b) they boarded the flight much earlier than most Virgin Blue flights, so we ended up being among the last passengers to board. No matter; we got on, and we were on our way following a seat change due to Nellie’s malfunctioning TV screen. And by ‘malfunctioning’ I mean that it literally fell out of the seat back in front of her when she touched the screen. And so: off to the west coast of Australia, and the delicious wine therein!

Once we arrived we picked up our rental car and drove to our hotel, having decided to spend the night in Perth rather than drive to the Margaret River in the dark. There was some minor trouble with the law, and I’ll save my comments about the hotel for Tripadvisor, but we did have a very nice meal next door at a place called Tart. So that helped improve the evening somewhat.

Day 3: Fleet flying foxes & gratis Achel

Now that we had the train system all figured out we struck out on our own, once more heading back into the downtown core of Sydney. We got off at St James station and walked through The Domain to the Botanical Gardens, a collection of plant and animal life that — ducks and grass aside — we just wouldn’t find back home. Like dozens of giant fruit bats, ibises, more kookaburras and gum trees so big they’d fill an entire house. The gardens also afforded us the best view we’d seen yet of the city…the high buildings of the CBD, the Opera House and the Harbour bridge rising over the trees.

We walked out the end of the gardens and onto the steps of the Opera House itself. Up close it doesn’t look as shiny white as it does from a distance, and we got a sense of how old it actually is. Sail roof design notwithstanding, it reminded me of my university library.

From there we walked back up into the Rocks and, after a little hunting, arrived at the Australian Hotel. This was yet another pub recommendation, and it turned out to be a good one. We drank our cold beer at a table outside, enjoying the sunshine (finally…up to this point it had been somewhat cool and mostly overcast) and feeling very much like we were on vacation. Nellie remarked that, so far, Sydney felt like a combination of London and Halifax. That seemed about right to me.

The food at the Aussie didn’t catch our eye, so we walked a couple of blocks to the Belgian Heritage Cafe, a somewhat more upscale establishment. This felt a bit like cheating, since the beer list was entirely Belgian, but we decided to eat there anyway. Nellie’s mussels were good, my steak was excellent, our beer was heavy and sweet (like good Belgian beer should be!) and there was more of it than I’d planned on. When the server brought our second round (Achels) he knocked my bottle over. Only for a second, and it spilled only on the tray and not us, but he was very apologetic. To make up for it, he brought me another bottle, free of charge, to go with the 80% or so of the first one still in the bottle. Not a bad deal, but I was more than a little full when we left. Just as we departed the bartender noticed Nellie’s Pony Bar t-shirt and wanted to talk craft beer. We should have sat at the bar, I guess.

We picked up some wine on the way home, made dinner for the brother and crashed early. Again.

Day 2: In which the upside-down eating and drinking continues unabated

Our first full day in Sydney. We woke up early, but slept very well overall, and had lots of energy to attach the day. My brother had taken the day off work to show us around and get us situated.

First stop was the Bourke Street Bakery, one of a few in and around Sydney. It’s this amazing bakery nearby where we got croissants and sourdough and probably the best mocha I’ve ever tasted. We took a loaf of fig sourdough home with us for dinner that night. If it were within walking distance we’d have gone back every morning.

After stuffing ourselves we (and by “we” I mean my brother, as any attempt by me to drive on the left side of the road would result in all of us dying) drove east through Newtown and Surry Hills and Paddington, down through Centennial Park (behold: black swans!) and Randwick and into Coogee. Coogee’s was the first of three eastern beaches we saw, and was decidedly not-busy, since it was a cool, cloudy Tuesday. Nellie opted to stick her feet in the surf (Tasman Sea: check) before we jetted off for more.

Next was the less-crowded, but much prettier, Bronte beach (seen above). We got some good pictures there, far better than what we got at over-crowded and touristy Bondi. From there we drove up to Watsons Bay and walked around the park at South Head, all the while enjoying the great views of the north and middle heads, the harbour and the city.

We decided that was enough driving and jumped in the car to head home. We stopped at The Local Taphouse to sample their beer, but it didn’t open until 4. We drove home, defeated, stopping on the way to fill up at some place in Newtown. Boo. We parked the car and watched as a bird promptly (and, some say, purposefully) shat on it.

My brother was kind enough to take us downtown on a train to show us the ropes, so we made our way down to Circular Quay. We walked directly over to the Opera Bar, a perfect venue from which to enjoy a beer whilst taking in views of the Quay, the Harbour Bridge, the harbour itself, and of course the Opera House.

From there we walked up through the Rocks to a pub that somehow escaped my beer-hunting gaze: Harts Pub. It was a fantastic spot, replete with tasty beer, and we sat and drank and laughed our asses off about who-knows-what until it was time to head home for dinner. Dinner, by the way, was a tasty curry whipped up by the brother, which was followed immediately by a great big crash into bed.

Day 1: Boots on the ground!

All in all, the 15-hour flight wasn’t bad. Premium economy really was a godsend…big seats, more recline, decent food, excellent in-seat entertainment, top-notch service…I can’t imagine making that trip in economy. I even managed to steal a few hours of sleep, as did Nellie, so when we arrived we weren’t zombies. It took a little while to clear customs and collect our bags, but then lo and behold — Australia!

My brother met us at the airport, stuffed all our bags into his little VW convertible and drove us to his place, not far from the airport. We dropped our stuff and jumped back in the car, eager to take advantage of our energy while we still had it. He drove us through the CBD (central business district, aka “downtown”) and across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Kirribilli where we got some great views looking south across the harbour.

We did a walk around the Cremorne Reserve where we got more great views, and saw three kookaburras (which aparently is quite a big deal). I also nearly walked face first into a spider web, complete with large spider. Happily, I stopped just short; it would not have done to have begun screaming like a little girl just a few hours in to the visit.

We drove back across the bridge, parked in The Rocks (which is a neighbourhood and not, as Nellie had hoped, a pile of rocks on which to climb) and had lunch & a couple of beers at the Lord Nelson, thus beginning our effort to sample all the best beer places in Sydney. We also discovered that using the term “pot” of beer (which means a half-pint) doesn’t mean anything in NSW the way it does in Queensland, and combined with my Canadian accent, ordering one just gets you a full pint. So you go with it.

We drove back to my brother’s place where, despite my best efforts, I had a bit of a nap. I woke up long enough to shake off the woozy, eat some tasty salmon for dinner, and then crash hard. In Australia. W00t!

Day 0: Behold, Virgin virgins

We’re about 14 hours into this trip now. I’m typing this as we sit here in the Alaska Airlines Boardroom in terminal 3 at LAX, a godsend if ever there was one. More on that in a minute.

The early phases of the trip were a snap: no traffic facing the cab, barely a line at the Air Canada counter, and literally no line at customs so our spiffy new Nexus passes didn’t feel like major coups. But they’ll prove their worth yet, I’m sure. We had a bite, boarded and were off.

The flight went by quite quickly. The main excitement was when some crazy little Japanese man tried to force Nellie out of her seat and into his. Or his wife’s. Or something. Anyway, it got sorted and we were off. A few chapters of Game Of Thrones (I’m all caught up now!), a Saturday Globe and Mail and a couple episodes of Big Bang Theory later we were on the ground. Early, even.

Of course, early did us no good as we had a bloody long layover in LA. Not enough time to actually go into the city and see something, but too much to comfortably hang around the airport. Especially an airport as shite as LAX. Seriously, it may be the ugliest airport I’ve ever been in — at least what I’ve seen (terminals 2 & 3) and nearly devoid of things to do, especially before going through security. Luckily the Virgin Australia agent took our bags early and pointed us to the international terminal next door, which had restaurants and shops.

We were starving, so my burger and Nellie’s beef dip went down in a hurry, as did our Sierra Nevada pale ale and Pyramid hefeweizen. We took our time and observed the massive Turkish airlines queue and did a little shopping before finally resigning ourselves to return to terminal 3 and head to the gate. At this point we still had nearly five hours to kill.

Despite forgetting my Priority Pass lounge access card at home, I did manage to find my membership number, so we got access to the only lounge in the building: the Alaska Airlines Boardroom. And seriously, it’s so good that we did…comfy chairs, views of the runways and the mountains in the distance, free wi-fi, TV, snacks and coffee* and clean washrooms…it would have been a rough ~4 hours in the crappy-ass chairs downstairs by the gate.

In about an hour we’ll head downstairs and board our flight, and then begins the 15-hour flight. I’ve never been on a plane for that long, but I’ve never flown premium economy either. When I climb out from under the post-flight stupor I’ll let you know how it went.

* Apparently I drink coffee now?

Day 0: Allons-y!

It’s finally time. Later today we’ll begin the long, long journey to Australia.

We’re ready. We are so ready. Our plans are made. Our bags are packed. We have outfitted ourselves for 15 hours on a plane as best one can without a fifth of whisky. Work is sorted. The cats will be well looked-after. Our papers are in order. We’re ready.

And as if we needed an extra nudge out the door, this morning in Toronto it’s grey, windy and a chilly 8 degrees.

Here we go.