This morning at 10 am, the Schratz clan was reunited in Sydney – just in time for the holidays! After five months of separation, seeing their faces was something I’d been looking forward to immensely. We spent some time catching up in their hotel room, them admiring my much shorter haircut and me marveling Katie’s incredible tan – wait a second, I thought I was supposed to be the one on summer break!
Since their hotel was located next to Hyde Park, we took a stroll through the streets downtown towards Circular Quay. I pointed out the bars, restaurants and clubs I’d visited as we walked, entertaining them with tales of various events that had occurred in each place. After posing for photos in front of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, we made our way to The Rocks for lunch at a yummy pizza place I’d dined at in my first week. It was here Katie ordered her first legal beer: James Squire golden ale, one of my personal favorites.
After lunch, we walked down George Street through the middle of the busy city, stopping every few meters so Mom could snap a photo. Deciding to show off my university, I walked them past the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Center and Paddy’s Market towards the UTS Library and Haymarket campus, where my International Business class had been held on Thursdays. I took them along my familiar path past the city campus, somberly pointing out the exact spot where I’d been hit by that car on Day 8 of my Sydney adventure. Passing the Abercrombie Hotel (where my favorite indie music club, Purple Sneakers, is held on Friday nights), we made our way towards my flat in Geegal.
That night, the family dropped by Geegal to pick me up so we could go to dinner up the street in Newtown, a trendy neighborhood whose main street, King, runs through the University of Sydney. In the courtyard they met Nizam, Mo and Ouday, with whom they chatted for a few minutes while Katie and I ran her sleepover stuff to my room.
We ate our way through huge chicken sandwiches and plates of risotto before Mom started yawning and my parents decided to call it a night. Katie, feeling the least bit jetlagged, wanted to take advantage of her legal-drinking-age status, so we made our way to the Landsdowne Hotel to meet up with Bonnie, Alex and John. Naturally, I made Katie order the first round of James Squire amber ales. We checked out a bar in Glebe next and then Bar Broadway until, at 1 a.m., Katie’s fatigue finally set in and we made our way home.
Because the weather was SO beautiful, I decided to take my family along one of my favorite walking paths in Sydney: the Coogee – Bondi Beach walk. The four of us met up and caught a bus from the hotel to Coogee Beach, and although I’ve visited this beach several times before, I had to share in the collective gasp when we arrived: the water was a sparkling turquoise-blue, and the sand gleamed under the mass of sun kissed bodies crowding the beach on brightly colored towels. Considering my parents had just come from day after day of everlasting rain in Danville, this was a most welcoming sight.
After gooping up with more than enough sunblock, we set off along the path. I hadn’t done this walk since perhaps my second week in the city, so I enjoyed rediscovering the rock pools near the “Baths,” a small swimming cove to the left of the beach, and for the first time noticed the wall plaque engraved with the names of those residents who had been killed in the 2002 bombings in Bali.
We walked along the cliffs, admiring the pristine ocean as its waves crashed on the rocks below, until we arrived at Covelly Bay and decided we just had to jump in. Covelly Bay is quite cool, designed to look like a lap pool in the ocean. Dad, Katie and I immediately stripped down to our suits and jumped in, enjoying the salty cool of the ocean before continuing on our way.
We stopped for coffee milkshakes at Tamarama Beach (note to self: unless you’re looking for a beverage that resembles coffee-flavored milk, order a thickshake. It comes with more ice cream), then continued on to the famous kilometer-long Bondi Beach, where we settled in for a rest...until it started raining and we had to scramble ahead of the crowd to catch a bus back to the city.
This morning, we caught a flight and headed south to Melbourne, the sport-crazed home of the Australian Open that’s been rated Australia’s “most livable city.” Had I not applied to UTS, I would have considered enrolling in the journalism program at Melbourne’s Deakin University, so I was curious to finally check out this much-talked about place.
We arrived around 11 a.m. and discovered a crucial mistake: unlike in California, when you travel south in Australia, you’re going further away from the equator; thus, the temperature drops. Shivering in our shorts, we quickly hopped into our rental car and changed into pants, long sleeve shirts, and the warmest shoes we’d packed for the trip. Whoops!
Driving out of the airport parking lot onto the highway was both hilarious and nerve-wracking: Dad had never driven on the left side of the road before. Katie and I hung on for dear life while my mom yelled directions from her map, navigating my dad north to the wineries in the Yarra Valley from her left-side passenger seat. We took a few wrong turns, but finally made it to the DeBertoli winery, where we enjoyed a variety of cheese tastings with the resident cheese connoisseur and paired them with some of the wines. Our favorite combination was the Meredith goats cheese with the Estate Sauvignon Blanc, so we bought a bit to take with us.
From DeBertoli, we traveled further down the road to Balgownie, a gorgeous stone estate with a classy-looking restaurant connected to its tasting room. My favorite wine here? The Maiden Gully Cab Sav (05 or 06, I can’t remember. It had a deliciously full flavor though, and I tend to be a picky red wine drinker.)
We arrived at the last estate, Domaine Chandon, with rumbling stomachs, so rather than squeezing in one more tasting, we opted for a late lunch overlooking the vineyards and rolling hills. The more wineries I visit, the more I feel I could really live in the wine country.
Giving ourselves time to sleep in a bit, Katie and I grabbed breakfast at the hotel before heading out to shop around downtown Melbourne. We didn’t have any sort of itinerary, so I proceeded to introduce Katie to Cotton On and Sportsgirl (whose Mel branch features a DJ inside the store) and past the designer shops before making our way towards Federation Square. Aesthetically, the buildings around Melbourne looked similar to Sydney – some old English-like, others modern – but there were many more trees, giving the city a more natural feel.
We passed a used book market near the square, each picking up a new title and settling down at a nearby café to dive into the stories over coffee
Once we met up with our parents (who had done a fair amount more exploring), the four of us headed into town to find a brewery for dinner. To my delight, both my mom and dad had developed a taste for James Squire, so we chose a restaurant next to the JS brewhouse and enjoyed pints of amber ale and porter.
Today we took the bus to St. Kilda, an eclectic neighborhood located near the water (which, compared to Sydney’s beaches, looked much less pristine and more industrial.)
Friends of mine who had visited St. Kilda previously talked of the underground music scene in the area, saying you could just walk down the street on a Friday night and find a show down some random street. Since it was Sunday, the waterfront sidewalk was lined with craft stalls: paintings, clay tiles, handmade jewelry, painted surfboards (which my dad was keen on), photographs of famous Australian sights and beaches, among so much more. We’re suckers for craft fairs back home, so this was a great way to start off the morning.
After buying some mementos and gifts, we strolled down the main street lined with...cake shops. No joke, I have never seen so many pastries and dessert-filled shop windows in my life, and each looked more enticing than the last. Figuring we had to get in on the sweet tooth action, we stopped for ice cream on the way back.
Naturally, my family wanted to see some Aussie wildlife while they were here, so on our final day in Melbourne, we drove out to the Healsburg Wildlife Sanctuary. Between feeding kangaroos, having a huge wedge tail eagle soar just over our heads at the Birds of Prey show, and cooing over the sleeping koalas, it was the best way to end our trip. With a quick stop at a deli, we drove back to the airport to catch a flight to Sydney, psyching ourselves up for a balmy Christmas Day down under...