Ending on a High: Sydney

Monday – Friday:

*Spoiler: we mention and visit the Sydney Opera House a lot. If you are insulted or upset by this building in anyway, you may want to skip this post.

After three months, we’d wanted to end the trip on a high so we booked ourselves into a fancy pants hotel on Woolloomooloo Wharf in the center of Sydney, next to the Botanical Gardens and 20 min to the Opera House.

We’d seen that the weather was due to turn rather inclement on the Wednesday so we took advantage of Monday’s sunshine and dumped our bags at the hotel and set out to first get a glimpse of the Opera House later exploring the local neighborhoods. We hit up Surrey Hills for our brief afternoon stroll before meeting with our old AMS friends Eddie and Yuri for dinner.

Next day, we walked from Spit Bridge to Manley: a 10km walk which starts in North Sydney and hugs to coastline around to the suburb of Manley. From there we grabbed lunch, explored the neighborhood and later took the ferry back to the CBD. The hike was mellow, beautiful and the coastline stunning, with many hidden coves and beaches.

In researching what to do in Sydney in November, I’d spotted ‘Sunrise on The Steps’: a yoga class on the steps of the Opera House. Naturally we couldn’t turn this down so I booked us two places for the Wednesday class and set the alarm for 6am so we could make it time for the 7am class.

As documented on the BBC website, Wednesday was rainy (torrential) – one months rain in two hours was reported but it in fact rained solidly for 24hours from late Tuesday night to late Wednesday.

With a 30min walk from the hotel to the Opera House, and not wanting to miss this yoga experience, we sprinted in our yoga gear, through shin deep ‘streams’ on the streets of Sydney wearing raincoats and holding umbrellas to catch the class which was held in one of the foyers of the Opera House, overlooking the Harbour Bridge. Our shoes were sponges. It was hilarious! Such an amazing experience to be surrounded by the glass roof, looking up the sky with the rain sheeting down. We-did-yoga-in-the-f***ing-Opera-House!! #howcoolisthat.

We’d planned the rest of the rainy day to be a day of reflection of the trip. We hung out in the hotel and made use of the amenities… free laundry, free mini bar, free coffee and a Spotify radio station that played 80’s music. Not a bad way to spend the day.

Wednesday night we had dinner at the hotel restaurant Alibi with our friends E+Y again. The menu was purely plant based and was mind-blowing… at this point, I’m just one chickpea away from turning vego.

For our last full day, we walked some other neighborhoods and prepared ourselves for reentry into reality. We’d seen that there was a light show at the Opera House that night so we hot footed it down there to witness it.

I know what you’re thinking, you may have noticed there is a theme on this post. Every day we seemed to visit or walk past the Opera House… what can I say, it’s a beautiful building and one that we can never tire of seeing.

Friday morning, our last day, we set the alarm for 6am and headed down to the ‘House’ for a sunnier version of Sunrise on The Steps. This time the weather was perfect for sunrise Yoga and we spent the hour with the sun on our faces, slowly waking up to our last few hours in Sydney.

From there we did a swift turnaround at the hotel and headed to the airport.

Namaste: we’re heading home.

Wandiligong VIC, near Bright

From Melbs we travelled by bus for 5 hours into the High Country of Victoria to stay with our Aussie /SF friends Matt, Britt and their dog Woody. Matt was Trey’s first cycle buddy in SF (they moved there around the same time) and they spent many a happy bike ride together. Around 18 months ago they decided to quit corporate life and move back to their homeland to create a new life in the country. Wandiligong is where they landed.

After missing the Fall weather in Japan we managed to hit it here and the expected Spring sunshine was switched for rain and low cloud. Never the less we explored the local town of Bright and T even managed a mountain bike ride with Matt and Britt on one of the many options offered (5 X more trails compared to SF). #RideHighCountry

For the weekend Matt had a cycling event on so we travelled with him to a small town called Buxton to hang with their friends (who had a family farmhouse).

With the weather still rather inclement, we spent the Sunday at the Healesville Sanctuary where we got up close and personal with Kangaroos, Koalas and even a Tasi Devil. They are funny looking things, waddling like a pig but with jaws strong enough to crush a skull. Eeek.

It was wonderful to see what Matt and Britt have created in such a short time. Matt works in marketing for the NE tourism board, promoting cycling in the local area whilst Britt is retraining from Tech Sales to Interior Design. They also Airbnb a ‘wing’ of their property. It was inspiring to see what determination, flexibility and courage will get you. We naturally grilled them on every aspect from finances, plans, 180 deg changes and their hindsight on the decision. We learnt a lot and remain grateful for their willingness to share their experience.

With sadness we left on the Monday and took a hopper flight to Sydney to start the last 5 days of our trip.

Eating Our Way Around Melbourne

From chatting with friends in SF to those we met along the trip, the bar was pretty high for Melbourne and we had high expectations especially as it was on the list of potential places to move to.

We’d booked an airbnb in the Brunswick area of the city which was the cool hipster zone next to Fitzroy and about 30mins on the local tram from the CBD (For Melbourne this is “close”). Nice modern place with views of the skyline and plenty of space to spread out our luggage.

Many of the recommendations for the city were food and drink based so we’d planned to explore different neighborhoods, eating and drinking our way around.

One thing that we realized during our stay is that the city is really sprawling. There is public transport (buses, trains and a tram system) but it tends to run north/south in and out of the CBD so if you want to cross town, you need to either get a ride share or drive your car. You can walk, as in there are pavements, but the distances are pretty big so it’s a commitment. You can cycle, there are designated lanes and there is also a shared bike scheme but it’s mostly in the CBD. Additionally, you can’t take bikes on most public transport (fail).

Anyway – We hit several of the districts on the list (Brunswick, Carleton, Fitzroy, CBD and South Yarra) during our stay and got a good feel for the city and for each unique neighborhood. We tackled the Botanical Gardens, the ACMI (Australia Centre for the Moving Image) as well as NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) which had a National and International location. We hit both and saw some great exhibitions. The stand out was one by Julian Opie, British visual artist who used LED lights in his work. We spent some time in the Kids interactive area and created our own versions.

Two of the standout restaurants we visited were Transformer and Smith and Daughters. Both essentially vegan/vegetarian and both outstanding.

After a solid four days of exploring and eating, we made our way to the mountain town of Bright to spend some time with Matt and Britt our Aussie/SF friends. A 5 hour bus journey which was infinitely nicer than any we had experienced previously on the trip.

Last Days in Japan

Our last days in Japan were spent back in Tokyo, back at our original hotel in Shibuya. With Tokyo being a city of neighborhoods, our plan for the last 36 hours was to investigate a new ‘hood, and possibly ‘do a Muji run’ for miscellaneous beautifully designed household items which you can’t live without and can’t purchase in the US.

The location we hit was Daikanyama which was a 15min walk SW of Shibuya and filled with smaller local stores, local cafes and some residential. The architecture as we found previously was a comfortable mix of old and new blending seamlessly together.

After a couple of ‘autumnal’ rainy days in Hakone, it was nice to get back to sun, albeit with a crisp snap to the air. We walked, shopped and managed to find some illusive Space Invaders to add to my collection. Yes, you heard me right.. After an initial four days of nothing when we first arrived, I found four cheeky invaders within our last 24hours. My invader haul now covers Paris, Kathmandu (in dispute), Tokyo and …..spoiler alert… Melbourne (whoop).

So after 17 days in the country, we collected our bags and made our way to the airport for the last leg of the trip. This was my first trip to Japan, but it won’t be the last. It’s made it’s way onto the list of possible places to move to and as Trey is almost fluent in Japanese we feel the transition will be pretty smooth.

Below are some observations and meanderings from our time there:

  • One of the best Apps we used used was called Travel Japan. It had a great route planner for the trains and buses (especially when traveling on a JR pass) as well as recommendations on districts, food and events.
  • Booking.com was probably the best for accommodation although it wasn’t very user friendly. We planned around 40% of the accommodation ahead of our arrival and left the rest loose so that we can be more spontaneous (Trey’s favorite word, mine less so). Many of the places had free cancellation so this made it easier to switch around if needed.
  • Accommodation prices – were cheaper than we thought. Even with our stay at the Design Ryokan, we were under our accommodation budget for this leg of the trip (shocker). We’d budgeted $150/per night and our costs varied from $30 for the backpacker to $450 for the high end. Average was $100 and all places were clean, warm, centrally located and had a hairdryer (very important feature)
  • Food budget – ha, well we blew this easily and quickly. We allocated $100/day and it should have been $175 ish.
  • JR Pass was fantastic. As mentioned previously, it cost us around $430/pp for 14 days and we easily saved over $200 each in travel costs by having it. Another thing to note about the public transport system here is that this is the only place in the world (generalization maybe?) where you can have a journey of 5 connections (all with 8 mins between connection) where you can be 100% sure you will make every one. It is phenomenal.
  • Japanese toilets are amazing. We went from outdoor squat toilets in Nepal to heated and multi functional toilets in Japan. I know which I prefer.
  • Rice triangles (4″x4″x4″ triangles of rice with fillings of salmon, tuna and covered with seaweed) from 7/11 are great and were often a lunchtime snack of we were short of time (or money)
  • In general 7/11 is a great store for food, snacks, sake and public transport cards are available.
  • WiFi in public areas in Japan is pretty shit so we got hold of a pocket WiFi for our time there. It’s basically a small matchbox size thing which when on connects you to WiFi. It wasn’t amazing to be honest in terms of connectivity or speed, but it helped us out when we needed to find locations.
  • Suica cards are used in every city pretty much and are top up cards used for transport or food purchases from 7-11. I used the old school card format and Trey added it to his phone and watch.
  • People are unbelievably helpful here regardless of the level of English. Whether it was helping with directions or how to order food from a vending machine, everyone we met went out of their way to help us out.
  • Standing positions on escalators varies from city to city. In Tokyo and Kyoto you stand on the left, with Osaka and Hiroshima, it’s on the right. Random.
  • Hotdogs are a breakfast item