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Australia for Dummies
by Kerry Frey

Coral Reef
Norman Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Cairns.

October 14, 2000

The flight to LA is nice. I've never flown on a 777 before. I especially like the TV monitors in the back of the seats, and you can surf. LAX has funky columns outside that change color at night, and a restaurant that looks like a spider. The flight to Sydney is long. I haven't been on a 747 either, but I don't like it as much. It's cramped, and I have a hard time sleeping. I watched Frequency (and For Love Of The Game to LA).

October 16th

I'm writing this from the Botanical Gardens. We took a taxi from the airport, the hotel let us check in at 8am, so we showered (thank God) and changed. We are eating in a cafe in the Gardens, having taken pictures of the flowers, birds, and the Opera House. I had "wedges" for lunch. Turns out it's not a sandwich, like I thought, but fried potato slices (I should have known when the cashier asked me if I wanted tomato sauce and handed me ketchup when I assented).

Now in Hyde Park. Saw bats at the Gardens, the Opera House, and the Circular Quay. We cashed some traveler's checks, I picked up some tickets, and now we're letting the jet lag make us nap.

October 17th

We bought travel passes at Central, then headed back to our room. We picked up breakfast items at a convenience store (we have a fridge in the room), then went back out for dinner. We decided on the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar, and I had an "American steak sandwich", which was a steak between two slices of bread. Sharon had sauteed prawns, we enjoyed it. After that, it was time for bed. A good 12 hours later, we were finally on Sydney's schedule. Unfortunately, the sky was overcast and we cancelled our plans to go to Manly Beach in favor of the Blue Mountains (The guy at the front desk said Sydney weather was unpredictable, and the Blue Mountains more so, so we might as well go today as any other). I write this from the train there, which will leave in another twenty minutes.

Things I know now from the train trip: collision=smash, Target and K-mart are everywhere (along with McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Century 21), pharmacist=chemist.

Now we're on our way back, after four hours of walking. We got off the train, had a bite to eat at the Poppyseeds Cafe, and commenced walking. We walked to Cliff Drive and took a path to the Scenic Skyway. We took the skyway, then took the railway (world's steepest) down and walked to see Katoomba Falls from the bottom. We took the railway up, then took the trail to Echo Point. We looked at the Three Sisters, then walked back to town, and are now headed back to Sydney. We went to Arun Thai for dinner, right next to the hotel. I had Tom Yum Goong (prawn soup; I liked the fresh jalapenos) and Ped Ob Num Paung (roasted duck; very tasty).

October 18th

We went our separate ways today. While Sharon did the bridge climb, I went to Fox Studios. The Simpsons had a reworking of the episode they visited Oz, plus some behind the scenes stuff. I expected a little more. Titanic: The Experience made up for it. From a waiting area, they draw back a curtain, and you walk up the gangplanks into the ship. You go to a big "Third Class" room, where the purser talks to you, pretending time passes until there's a bang and the wall behind him opens and water starts pouring out. Depending on which line you are in, you exit right or left. To the right, you go into storage, then the boiler room. It's very hot, and you "drown", then exit up the grand staircase. To the left, you go up to first class, and beg the purser there to let you in. The boat is tilting now, and you rush out to the lifeboats. You board, and the ship sinks (it's also so cold you can see your breath, adding to the realism. Other things to do there include the TV tour (it has a nice recreation of Mulder's office), and the sound theater (32 channels of surround sound puts my 5 channels to shame).

I went back to the room (stopping by a market for some food), then returned to Fox for the Hodern Pavilion next door. I was pleased to see that Green Day hasn't changed in the nearly six years since I last saw them. They played all the hits, and took requests off Kerplunk. They still try a medley of covers, and I was amused when Billie Joe asked if anyone liked Ozzy, then had to clarify, "I mean Ozzy Osbourne". Afterwards, I was pleased to note that a fleet of buses was waiting to cart people back to the city.

October 19th

I was scheduled to sky dive this morning, but steady rain dashed that plan (the previous two days had been overcast). We decided to take the ferry to the aquarium. The aquarium was fun, but we were a little depressed to learn that reef sharks could be up to seven feet long, and some of the little ones are aggressive. When we exited, the sun was out, so I called the sky diving place and they said to come right out, so we're on the train now. That was something.

Phil, who also turned out to be my tandem partner, picked us up from the Liverpool about 2. It took about half an hour to get to Picton, where the Sydney Skydivers Centre is located. I had to wait for one girl to jump before I could jump. It looked fun, but I was getting a little nervous. I put on a jump suit and harness, and got goggles to go over my glasses. Phil gave me instructions on how to do the tandem jump, then we got in the plane and took off. It was very crowded in the plane with me, him, the pilot, Natasha (another girl who was jumping), and her instructor. We had to climb to 10,000 feet to jump, and as we rose through the clouds and the air got colder, I got a little more nervous. Still, I was determined to go through with it, and said nothing as Phil strapped us together.

When we were at the right altitude, they opened the door and the other two jumped. We were on our knees, and shuffled to the door. Phil put a foot on the strut, then I did, and he launched us into space. I didn't have time for fear, to feel the cold, or even to scream for the scant few seconds we were in freefall. I could barely feel him hitting me on the shoulder in the signal to spread my arms and legs. Suddenly we bounced, and I knew that he'd opened the parachute. I could see the landing zone south of us, and I just sat back and enjoyed the magnificent view. It turns out that the reason they turn in midair is to slow down so that the wind doesn't carry them past the landing area. It left me mildly queasy, the only bad part. It only took a couple of minutes to get close, then I tucked my knees up and he landed first, then I set down so hard I jarred my ankles. It was amazing and I think roller coasters will pale in comparison for me now.

We went to the Opera House to see if they had any standing room only tickets for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, but they were sold out. We went shopping so I could get some nice pants in case we went the next day. After we got back to the apartment so I could get the second battery for my camera, we decided to visit the AMP Centerpoint Tower to see the view and eat. The view was great, but we were too late for the restaurant. After we took the associated Sky Tour (which was quite amusing), we tried to find a place to eat, but everything in the Central Business District was closed by 10. We returned to King's Cross, where we ended up on a side street at a place called the Iguana Cafe, where I had grilled octopus and a daiquiri like drink called a Red Corvette.

October 20th

A beautiful, cloudless day beckoned us to the beach. First, Sharon had met a girl who was performing at noon at Fox Studios, so we walked over there. The girl, Sandy Klose, was performing as part of the Pacific Circle Music Conference. They gave us visitor's passes, then we grabbed a bite to eat. They were running late, so we watched a band called Saratoga first. They weren't bad, but Sandy was really good. She sang and played a standup bass. I liked her songs, and the way she maintained her stage presence when the low frequencies of her bass caused a speaker to fall on a plant.

Next, we caught a bus to Coogee Beach. We bought some homemade ice cream, then started the walk to Bondi Beach. The view was great, but after two and a half hours, my feet hated me. We had tickets for the Symphony, and couldn't stay to enjoy the beach. We returned to Potts Point, changed, and headed to the Opera House. The performance was great, particularly Bernard d'Ascoli the blind pianist. At intermission we enjoyed the fireworks exploding nearly above us. On the way home, we stopped at the Fountain Cafe to check email and get a bite to eat.

October 21st

The sky was overcast, so we decided to head to Koala Park. It took about an hour and a half, but it was worth it. We saw wombats, wallabies, and peacocks, and got to pet dingoes, kangaroos, and koalas. The dingo was very similar to my favorite dog, the husky. We also got to see baby koalas. We headed back to the city, and the markets at the Rocks. I picked up a hat and a belt made of Barramundi fish. On the way back, we stopped at Philip's Foote for dinner, where you choose your meat, then barbeque it. We returned to the room to do some laundry. We returned to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair to see of they'd set off fireworks again, but no luck. I did get some photos of the Opera House at night.

October 22nd

Sharon was off to church, so I headed to Olympic Park and the Paralympics. The lines to pick up tickets were very long, but I eventually made it in. First stop was the SuperDome, where I watched France take on Nederland in men's wheelchair basketball. The game has a savage gracefulness, like combining basketball with a demolition derby. Next, I headed to Olympic Stadium, where I saw a women's wheelchair 100m final (T53), and part of the men's discus final (F11). A quick train ride and I was back to the Opera House to meet Sharon at the Sunday markets.

We next caught the ferry to Manly, where we went to the beach, then she started the walk to Spit Bridge and I got some lunch at Ocean Foods. I purchased fish and chips, deciding on Barramundi fish so I'd know what my new belt tasted like (very good). Next, I went parasailing. I got a ticket, and the boat left from Manly Wharf. Once the boat got going, they attached the parachute to a winch and let it unfurl. I got in a harness, attached myself to the bottom of the parachute, then they let the winch go. It felt like I was sitting on a swing, except for being 400 feet in the air. It was a great view, and I was disappointed when they finally winched me back in. After we finished, I laid out on Manly Beach until it got chilly. I took the ferry back, met up with Sharon, and stopped by Go, which had a vegetarian buffet. I had a Bondi Cola, which tasted like a diluted Pepsi. Very laid back way to spend a birthday.

October 23rd

Last day in Sydney, which meant shopping. In my case, lots of book and record stores. One unusual thing about streets in Sydney, is that the numbers on one side of the street don't correspond; it could be 311 on one side and 364 on the other, with 312 several blocks away. Anyway, I hit 9 or 10 stores, then headed to Bondi Junction. I bought a Burgersaurus (veggie burger) at Macro, sort of a mini Fresh Fields. I went to a couple more shops before I headed back. I recommend Revolution CD, with several locations. They had a lot of good titles, and their prices were reasonable. Dinner was chicken in garlic from Tum Tum's Thai Takeaway, then back to Hodern Pavilion for No Doubt. Opener Area-7 was very similar to Goldfinger, and the crowd was into it, but they were waiting for No Doubt. Their set was heavy on material from Return To Saturn, but they played all the hits from Tragic Kingdom, as well as "Trapped In A Box" from their debut. Gwen was very enthusiastic all night, turning cartwheels at one point. Watching the news while packing later, I learned that the Yankees had defeated the Mets in game 2 of the series. That destroyed any enthusiasm I had to actually watch the game, which they showed next.

October 24th

Woke up and got a shuttle to the airport, bought a 3 topping sandwich (I chose turkey, lettuce, and guacamole), and boarded the flight. The lunch they served was actually tasty, although the movie (The Match) was a standard come from behind sports movie. We landed in Cairns and got a taxi to our hotel, The Great Northern (yes, I chose it because of the Twin Peaks reference). We headed out to the shops; I didn't find much, but Sharon did. We went to the Red Ochre Grill, where I had crocodile, prawns, and yabbies (an Australian crawfish). We finished with some toasted focaccia. I think this place ties with Philip's Foote for my favorite meals in Australia. After a little more shopping, I watched the Aria (Australian only) music awards.

October 25th

The day broke, overcast and ominous. We rode in a minivan to Down Under Dive. We were on their little boat, the Scuba Roo, by 10. As we departed, the skies opened, but we were under cover. After about an hour, we passed out from under the clouds and we stopped to snorkel at a reef. We returned to the boat and it was another hour before we arrived at Hastings Reef and the Atlantic Clipper. We went aboard and put our stuff in our cabin. We had a small lunch, then got ready to dive. The first dive was guided by Jonno, the divemaster. He took us down and around the reef. Being right next to the colorful coral and fish feels like you're in another world.

When we returned, the Clipper moved to Norman Reef. The motion was making Sharon queasy, and she was eager to leave the boat for our next dive. We went down and followed some of the coral canyons until we were at half air, then turned around. When we reached the end of the coral, I stopped because I saw a very big shark in the distance. We swam left around the coral to avoid him (glimpsing a much smaller reef shark in the coral), then swam to the ship and surfaced. Sharon was unable to finish dinner, and retired to the cabin for the night. We were planning on staying two nights, but we changed it to one so we could leave as soon as possible. I went down too far on my second dive, and wasn't able to do the night dive. I was disappointed until I went on deck. On the starboard side, about fifteen feet from the dive platform, a school of fish had gathered where a light shown in the water. Around them, five of the seven-foot long reef sharks were circling, attacking the fish and occasionally each other. Watching that, I was not interested in diving again that night.

October 26th

I slept through the first morning dive, but did the second one with Manfred, a German who spoke pretty good English. I saw an oyster, and we went to the "Tunnel Of Love" and back. I could have dived again, but I elected to snorkel so I could take pictures with the underwater camera Sharon had brought. We returned to Cairns, where we were both pretty happy to be on dry land. The Great Northern had no more twins, so they booked us into a suite for the next two nights for no extra charge. We relaxed, then went and had some supper at the food court in the Night Markets. There were several Asian fill-your-plate places; we each tried one. Next, we went to the big mall and saw Shaft.

October 27th

With nothing special planned, we took a bus to Trinity Beach. The beach was deserted, which we thought was a good thing. It turns out that the beach was closed the previous week due to the sighting of a salt-water crocodile (which will apparently eat anything). Add in the jellyfish who have twenty feet tendrils and a lethal sting, and the only people going in the water were the tourists, like us. After I had sunburned myself nicely, we had lunch at Blue Waters On The Beach Bistro, where I had fish (actually shark) and chips. Later, a little more shopping, I traded the books I'd brought and read for more, another visit to the Night Markets, and we were done.

October 28th

Our long day started at 4am. We were at the airport by 5 for a 6am flight. The flight was a 747 on its final leg from Tokyo to Sydney, and was only about a quarter full. Unfortunately, the omelet was awful and the movie was L.A. Story, which I didn't care to watch again. After a four hour layover, we got on the flight to L.A., tried to sleep a little. Due to crossing the international date line, it was still morning when we arrived. Only an hour layover in L.A., then finally to Washington, 28 hours after we started. And straight to bed.

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