13 November - 19 November: Sydney, Australia
Sunday morning, after spending the night at Leon and Reuben's, we went out for breakfast at a nearby cafe with him and his friend, an actress from London. Then, we took them up on their generous offer for a ride downtown to the Sydney Harbour. It is amazing how easy it is to get into the city via its spectacular bridges. I kept thinking how much I would love to live in one of the surrounding suburbs. Once in the city, it was amazingly hot, as we wandered by the famous Opera House and then west, across the city, toward Darling Harbour.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Sydney, discovered that large Apple/Mac store, which had free Internet on all of its display computers, and ended up using it to book another hostel for the next two nights downtown.
Then, we continued on to Darling Harbour (home to the Maritime Museum, complete with pirate ship, the Sydney Aquarium, lots of ferries and various cruise boats) in search of the Google offices, so Gabe would know where to shoot off to work the following morning. We thought this would be an easy task, with a Google sign or something visible outside the building... we were mistaken. After searching the wharfs until our feet were a bit sore, to no avail, we gave up and headed back towards the harbour.
Fitting in with the little kids, playing in a fountain on the waterside:
I am a believer that ice cream fixes any sad situation, so we indulged in some delicious gelato by the waterfront, before returning, once again to the Mac store, where we Googled Google (haha) to get an actual street view of the offices. Turns out, we had been right outside the main building, as Google operates in the top few floors of one of the main workplaces, but clearly, one would not know that from the outside.
We had planned to meet back up with Leon, Reuben and friends that afternoon, but ended up finding them a bit later than expected. In talking to Leon, he told us to meet them at a restaurant lounge/bar near the town hall. After walking around hopelessly for another hour or so, circling the town hall, we figured out that it was not the Sydney town hall he meant, but actually one in the neighbouring suburb of Balmain, directly west past Darling Harbour. Once we got that straight, a cab ride brought us to the right pub. There, we chatted for a bit and then ditched outside to find some grub (since the bar didn't start serving dinner for another hour) and we were starved after just ice cream for lunch (hm.. we tend to do quite often... it's just so good!). We found a take away pizza place, ate outside and then went back to the bar for a little bit, before finally sharing a cab back to their flat. We finished off the evening by watching what turned out to be a horrible movie - another one of those "the world is ending" flicks - which we abandoned halfway through.
Monday, I slept in, while Gabe was up and off on the tram to work by 9 am. I hung around for the morning, chatted with Reuben (who was off work before his evening shift as an apprentice chef at a ritzy restaurant in "The Rocks" - a hip section of downtown Sydney). I headed into the city in the afternoon, accompanied by Reuben. We explored for a while, but eventually the rain, which had been pouring all day, drove us into an indoor market for lunch where we found a phenomenal Japanese restaurant.
Afterward, we parted ways, as Reuben headed off to work and I went to monopolize a computer for a few hours at the Mac store again for some free Internet. Then, before heading back, I explored the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) on George Street, a massive spectacle of Romanesque architecture that runs the length of an entire city block and is full of little shops and niche restaurants.
A little history for you - The building dates back to 1898, when it was completed, replacing the original Sydney markets on the site. Built as a monument to the long reigning monarch, Victoria, construction took place in dire times, as Sydney was in a severe recession. The elaborate Romanesque architecture was specially planned for the grand building so the Government could employ many out-of-work craftsmen - stonemasons, plasterers, and stained window artists - in a worthwhile project. Originally, a concert hall, coffee shops, offices, showrooms, warehouses and a wide variety of tradespeople, such as tailors, mercers, hairdressers and florists, were accommodated.
I enjoyed a cup of coffee there, reading my novel, while marveling at the building's main Christmas attraction - a giant tree, covered in Swarovski crystals, which stretched from floor to ceiling, soaring through all four levels.
Fun fact: This 24-metre Christmas tree was adorned with thousands of crystals and 60,000 lights and took 12 months of planning and over 40 hours to install/decorate.
Around 5:30, I walked back to the Paddy's Markets where Reuben and I had gotten off our tram to grab one back out of the city. Turns out that Gabe, who finished at Google at 5:30, ended up on the exact same tram. It wasn't until we disembarked on the platform 20 minutes later that we realized we'd been riding nearby the entire time, as he was in the front and I was a few cars back. :)
We had planned to get a ride from Leon into the city to our new home for the next few days - Traveller's Rest Backpackers - but realized too late that our brilliant choice of a hostel (sense the sarcasm) lacked a 24-hour check-in and was already shut for the night. Instead, we hung out with him and his funny Aussie roommate, toasted Gabe's first day at Google and enjoyed a sausage sizzle dinner. Pity to pay for a room we didn't end up staying in, but a fine trade to spend the evening with friends and good food.
Tuesday, Gabe left for work, while I hung around most of the morning and then grabbed a mid-day ride from Leon to the hostel. I arrived by 12:15 only to find that the hostel reception had closed for lunch and did not open again until 2 pm, meaning I snuck in behind a fellow traveler with a key and sat around in the patio for a few hours, eating crackers with marmite for lunch (the only food I had on me.. haha yummmm). After checking in, I wandered back towards central Sydney since our new hostel was in the south east corner in the section in Kings Cross (home to many other backpackers and night life hubs). On the way, I found an amazing sushi place called Sushi Hero II :), where you can get full, un-cut take-away sushi rolls for $2 (picture the equivalent of a sushi burrito).
As I had left around mid-afternoon, I took my time to walk all the way across the city, back to Darling Harbour, where I was meeting Gabe after work. My meanderings took me all the way up and down either side of the harbour, where I scoped out many restaurants along the pier to decide on a place for dinner with my Noogler (aka New Googler). Around 5:30 I met Gabe and took him back along the water to a brewery/restaurant, where we hung out for quite a while, people watching with our spicy potato wedges. Ferry and cruise boats line the docks, awaiting tourists and special event bookings, so we had fun guessing on each passerby's agenda for the evening. There was a large, entertaining group of kids (high school age we assumed), going to a dance of some sort (perhaps ends of the school year prom-type celebration?) on one of the ferry cruise boats. It got chilly once the sun went down, so we called it an evening and started the long walk back to our hostel.
Me repping Gabe's new "Noogler" hat from Google and Blokarting jacket (the cold explains me borrowing the jacket; the awesomeness of the hat is explanation enough):
Wednesday, meant sleeping in for me and work again for Gabe. Around mid-day I headed toward the city once again, stopping at an Internet cafe for a few hours to make some Skype calls. I went to Sushi Hero again (becoming a trend..), wandered through Hyde Park (which lies between Kings Cross and central Sydney), walked around the harbour again, before getting some ice cream (another usual) and then meeting Gabe at Google. His friend Mark, a fellow computer science guy from Waikato, was arriving that day (he did not start his internship with Google until the following week), so I met him in the lobby and then, once the Noogler joined us, headed to the Helm Bar, a neat place across the bridge, on the side of the harbour opposite the offices.
There, we had some cider and then left Mark to go meet Leon and Reuben at Reuben's restaurant uptown. Arriving, we felt kind of out of place (or more, underdressed) in such a ritzy establishment (we're talkin' black stone marble, mood lighting, chandeliers, and a tower of champagne glasses for decor). We waited around 15 minutes, checking the bar for the brothers, who didn't show, so we went back to the Helm Bar for their fish 'n chip deal night - never did find out what went wrong or if we had misunderstood our meeting time.
On Thursday we had to switch hostel rooms (same hostel, just different room, as our previous one was booked for this last night). Therefore, I stayed until it was clean and moved our things, before tackling the city to make preparations for Gabe's 21st birthday the next day. I started at Paddy's Market, a huge, undercover market full of stalls selling everything from fresh fruit to trashy t-shirts, belts, underwear, and odd little knick-knacks.
Next, I went up George Street several blocks to the movie theatre to buy tickets in advance to see Harry Potter #7 that evening - although Gabe isn't much of an HP fan, we were both bummed that midnight showings seem to be only a U.S. thing. Next, I walked all the way up to the sushi place Reuben and I had found on Hunter Street to grab take-away for a lunch date with Gabe at Google.
The Google office building:
After lunch, I went back into the city and ventured south to the markets again where I bought Gabe's birthday present (sunglasses). Then, realizing our hostel was much farther away than I thought, had to hurry back in time to drop off my purchases, shower and get ready for our dinner date at the Helm.
It was all you can eat mussel night, so we ordered one of those (since I wasn't sure how keen on mussels I was... turns out not very, so good choice). However, this made the bar tender man a bit testy, since he thought we were stealthily trying to steal mussels (ew, no). After nicknaming him mussel man (due to his intimidating/semi-joking, yet stern demeanor), and buying another appetizer and some drinks to appease him, we enjoyed our dinner and hurried to the theatre for HP extravaganza (I was clearly, waaaay too excited)!!!!
Gabe and his mussels (ow owww): ;)
After the movie (poor Dobby :,( ahh!) we made our way back to the hostel, stopping in the park to have a mid-journey stick-wand duel (I won of course because my spell knowledge is far superior).
Friday we awoke bright and early to check out and celebrate GABE'S 21st BDAY!! I provided him with a flashy, and literally flashing, birthday badge and brought out some celebratory champagne, with which we made mimosas!
After checking out of our room, we hung around for a bit in the little hostel courtyard to finish our orange juice ;) and then walked downtown.
It was an overcast, semi-rainy day, but luckily the place I had picked for a birthday breakfast was at a small restaurant with inside seating that borders Darling Harbour. At this Middle-Eastern, exotic restaurant (which masquerades as a hookah lounge by night), we enjoyed breakfast - all you can eat pancakes (chocolate chip, raspberry with caramel and ice cream toppings for Gabe!! and a full egg/bacon spread for me). The place even had those fun paper tablecloths for crafting works of art while you wait for your food so we created some crayon masterpieces.
Next, we went for a walk along the harbour, hopped on the tiny tourist trolley tram (empty due to the rain - or because you can literally walk faster than this baby), then disembarked near the Helm Bar for a bit of cider.
Posing as a kangaroo outside the Sydney Aquarium:
Next, we walked to the Mac store to abuse the free Internet in search of the nearest pool hall. We discovered 333, a bar/restaurant with a few tables, where we spent an hour or so, before heading back to the hostel to get our bags and proceeding to the Sydney airport around 430.
We need practice...
Due to our poor planning, we had booked separate flights on our Sydney-Auckland journey, so we hung out before parting ways to board our planes.
I tried my first bloody mary! - decidedly not a fan:
^ And hey, what'da you know - more sushi!
I had incredible luck at the airport, because upon trying to check-in, they asked me for my "exiting New Zealand itinerary" (you need to show round-trip flights in and out of NZ before they will let you enter the country) and by utter luck, I had accidentally brought my printed itinerary for my flight back to the US the next week with me in my bag. We said goodbye to Sydney, arrived in Auckland very late and after driving east to Tauranga on the opposite coast, it was nearly 2AM.