A Travellerspoint blog

Happy 2009!

Did you see the fireworks over the bridge? Yeah, me too.

sunny 25 °C

Ah, New Years' Eve in Sydney. On TV, it looks incredible; in real life, it's mind blowing.

By the time 31 December rolled around, my NYE group had reached close about 20 people (Geegalites, folks from another UTS residence called Bulga, a few others from the Gumal residence, and Bonnie's visiting sister and friends). Everyone was having trouble figuring out where to go because, while there are tons of places along Sydney Harbour where you have a clear view of the Harbour Bridge and thus the fireworks, many of these such venues were overcrowded, full of tourists, or not BYO friendly. So, taking the advice of my Danish friend Jonas (who had conveniently done his research and checked out a few spots earlier), we decided to catch cabs and head out to Rushcutters' Bay at Darling Point. Since we arrived there at three in the arvo (afternoon), we spent our time playing cards, chatting, challenging each other to drinking games, or napping in the late sun.

There were two sets of fireworks: the family-friendly 9 p.m. show, and of course the midnight extravaganza. Watching these light shows in this kind of environment - with beer on a warm night surrounded by friends from countries all over the world - was the ultimate experience, and it was one of the best NYE celebrations I've ever had.

Wish my camera took better photos at night. :(

Posted by Alykat 03:28 Archived in Australia Tagged events Comments (0)

The Schratz Christmas, part II

Back in Sydney...but where's the sun?

sunny 24 °C

Tuesday, 23 December

Back in Sydney, we split up for a bit: my family went sightseeing around Circular Quay, exploring the Opera House and the view from the Harbour Bridge pile-ons, while I returned to Geegal to catch up on some home business and pack some clothes to move into their Marriott room for a bit. No way was I going to miss this opportunity!

Wednesday, Christmas Eve

We exchanged Christmas presents in the morning in the hotel room, which was a much quieter affair than usual. I'm used to seeing little kids running rampant around my grandparents' house, aunts and uncles chuckling over silly gifts, the visit from Santa, and my Aunt Paula's eagerly anticipated holiday cookie platter, but this time, it was just the four of us sitting on hotel beds wearing sequined Santa hats. Haha.

Deciding to take advantage of the beautiful weather, we made our way to Wharf 3 and caught a ferry to Manly. Since I'd visited the areas a couple times, I lead the way past beach shops, a yummy deli (so yummy in fact, we ended up grabbing sandwiches and enjoying them on benches overlooking the ocean. Mmm), and up past Shelly Beach to the "scenic path" up to the lookout points. Despite the fact that it started to rain once we got to the top of the rocks (we came prepared with umbrellas! How San Franciscan of us), the stretch of northern coast from manly to Palm Beach was breathtaking.

Thursday, Christmas Day

The original plan was to hit Bondi Beach and throw some shrimp on the barbie for Chrissie, but to avoid the crowds (and follow the sunnier weather), we booked ourselves onto a tour of...the Blue Mountains!

At eight that morning, full of breakfast and gulping the last of our flat whites and cappuccinos, we boarded a bus with about 15 others and headed for the Featherdale Wildlife Park (about 45 minutes from Sydney). Although we'd already fed the kangaroos and cooed over the sleeping koalas in Melbourne, it was still fun to coax the wallabies out of hiding and check out the half-albino peacock (yeah, picture that!) before boarding again to drive further west into the mountains.

We drove through Leura, a sweet little town whose main street was lined with cafes, book shops and a famous candy store - all closed, as it was Christmas - listening to our awesome tour guide (Barry? I can't remember his name) as he rambled on about his favorite places to go (he was particularly fond of that candy shop....) until we arrived at Scenic World in Katoomba.

Scenic World's a pretty cool place: the main building overlooks the Jamison Valley (formerly a big mining area) and features a prime view of the Three Sisters (look up the legend!) Being that it was Christmas, there weren't many tours going through that day, so the Scenic World staff had put extra effort into our holiday lunch - I assure you, it rivaled my grandmother's Thanksgiving feast (turkey and gravy included). Afterwards, we made our way down towards The World's Steepest Railway: 415 meters of 52 degree-sloping fright, but the views were unbeatable.

From the railway, we made our way along the Scenic Walkway, an elevated wooden path that weaved between the trees and flora of the World Heritage-listed Jamison Valley rainforest. Quite a peaceful walk, actually, as was the Scenic Cableway (for those who aren't fearful of heights) that took us back up to the main center.

Before boarding the bus to explore the sights of Katoomba, we checked in with the Schratz family Christmas Eve at my dad's parents' house. It sounded just as noisy as expected! I had a chance to chat with my grandma, cousin Tracy and Aunt Paula for a few minutes, and by the end of the conversation I was completely choked up. Go figure.

Barry (???) was in high spirits when we boarded the bus - our fellow travelers were a pleasant bunch, and he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his holiday with us - and since all the shops in the area were closed, he took us on a tour of his favorite lookout points. We explored Cahill Lookout, met an Aboriginal friend of his at Echo Point, and bushwalked to an absolutely stunning waterfall, in addition to him showing us the cabin-like house he'd almost purchased.

We finished off our Christmas Day Down Under with chicken sandwiches at a little stall in The Rocks overlooking Sydney Harbour, happy to have avoided the beach crowds and gotten out of Sydney for the day.

Friday, Boxing Day

Normally only my dad (and on occasion my uncle) wake up for the Boxing Day sales back home - it is geared towards men, after all - but since the Pitt Street Mall in downtown Sydney explodes with sales in every department the day after Christmas, we all decided to check it out. I picked up a beautiful pair of leather sandals at Wittner (look it up, it's amazing) before running into my fellow Geegal friends Nizam and Ouday, who were out stocking up on discounted denim. We grabbed Katie and headed to a coffee shop to rest for a bit, then decided we'd all meet up at Coogee Beach later that day for some Aussie-style surf and sand holiday recovery time.

It's worth mentioning where we went for dinner that night because a) It was the James Squire Brewhouse in Darling Harbour, which I didn't even know existed until we passed it; b) I ordered a JS porter for the first time and it was delicious; and c) The steak I ordered was perhaps the best I've ever had. Mad props to that kitchen.

Saturday/Sunday, 27-28 December

This was the most crowded weekend I'd seen in Sydney thus far, but we weren't about to let a few people deter us from enjoying our last weekend together! Upon purchasing day-long ferry tickets, we battled the crowds to board a ferry to Watson's Bay, enjoying the ride past Double Bay and Rose Bay as we made our way towards the east side of the harbor.

Watson's Bay is a lovely spot with some great restaurants and a short climb up a dirt hill boasts a gorgeous view of the water, but we soon figured out there wasn't much else to do. Instead, we boarded a bus and headed to Bondi for lunch at Mongers, which, in my humble opinion, serves the best grilled fish n' chips (or rather, thick wedges) in Australia, then shopped around for sundresses and last-minute mementos.

Monday, 29 December

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we said goodbye. It had been an amazing two weeks, and it was weird to think I wouldn't see my parents or Katie again until the following summer, but I'm glad to have shared my Australian experience with them for the holidays. It would've been tougher to go home and then face the goodbyes from the SF airport again...and this way, they got to go home with enviable tans!

Posted by Alykat 03:27 Archived in Australia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

The Schratz Family Reunites in Sydney!

kicking off a two-week family fest down under for the holidays

sunny 25 °C

Wednesday, 12/17

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.

Thursday, 12/18

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.

Friday, 12/19

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.

Saturday, 12/20

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.

Sunday, 12/21

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.

Monday, 12/22

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...

Posted by Alykat 00:05 Archived in Australia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)


hmm, it's about time I started writing again...

semi-overcast 21 °C


I was on summer break for the past few months and it was glorious: my family came to visit for the holidays, I traveled across the country to Perth and explored the southwest (perhaps Australia's best kept secret), celebrated Australia's biggest party weekend (Big Day Out music festival and Australia Day) in the country with my friend Rob, visited my friends Dylan and paddy in Batemans Bay, and then went home with my friend Luke to his house in the Blue Mountains. Needless to say, it was a busy summer.

Since I got back, I've been working for Student Marketing Australia promoting subscriptions to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper ($30 for the academic year!) on campus and adjusting to the new semester that started this week.

I'll provide much more detail about my adventures, but I wanted to get a quick email out to let you know that YES, I'm still going to keep up with this blog this semester! I officially got wireless internet hooked up in my apartment this morning (FINALLY) so no more excuses: I'll start posting soon.

Posted by Alykat 16:58 Archived in Australia Tagged armchair_travel Comments (0)

Holiday Traditions

an international cookie party and the christmas spectacular

sunny 25 °C

We have this tradition at home where, a few days before Christmas, my mom goes out to do some last minute shopping, my dad rolls out the Pillsbury sugar cookie dough, and with my sister, the three of us spend the next few hours baking batch after batch of these elaborate holiday cookies. Some are typical Christmas shapes - pine trees, snowmen and candy canes covered in frosting and sprinkles - but others, particularly the gingerbread-shaped ones, become people-inspired works of art. We've added doughy "muscles" to create a Brad Pitt cookie, boobs to make Pam Anderson, and fit versions of ourselves with "toned" stomachs and great legs (which was pointless, since the dough expanded in the oven.) Heck, it's possible, dear reader, that you've been made into a holiday cookie at some point over the past several years. :) This has always been one of my favorite parts of the holiday season, so I decided to bring the tradition to Australia and share it with my Geegal friends.

Earlier this afternoon, after running around Kmart and Target in a desperate last-minute search for cookie cutters and a rolling pin, my Aussie friend Luke and I went to work on a sugar cookie recipe (yes, we made the dough from scratch. Awa has started calling me Betty Crocker because I bake more often than I cook.) A few other Geegalites - Ali (from Dubai), Rob (from Queensland, Aus.), Mo (from Germany), Miriam (also from Germany), Neil (from Paris), Rob (from Cootamundra, about five hours south of Sydney), and Naoko (from Japan) - gathered around my kitchen table and carefully spread frosting over the cookies, sprinkling coconut shavings, M&Ms, licorice, sprinkles, and chocolate chips over their creations. For most of them, this was their first Christmas cookie decorating experience, and it was so great to see their faces light up when they produced something particularly elaborate. I never realized how "American" this tradition was and I'm happy to have shared it with such a diverse group of new friends.

Later that night, Miriam and I caught a taxi and headed to Hillsong Church to attend a Christmas Spectacular performance hosted by the folks I met on the flight from the Gold Coast (we kept in touch. Haha.) We met up with Danielle (one of the girls who drove home from the airport with us - she's super sweet, fabulous, and due with her first child in March!), who handed us each a ticket and led us through the crowded theater (the show was sold out, yet there was a looong line of hopeful attendants gathered outside) to the front row, where she'd saved us seats. Sweet! Given that the show was being put on by other members of the church, we figured it would just be a cute performance with some Christmas carols, Santa hats, and Jesus in a manger.

Boy was that an understatement.

The title of this performance involved the word "spectacular" because that's exactly what it was: a truly incredible group of talented actors and singers who fully captivated us with their Grinch story-inspired "Guess Who's Coming to Hillsong" show. I honestly cannot even describe how amazing it was; Miriam and I kept looking over at each other in awe over the extravagant Who costumes, the hilarious portrayal of the Grinch (by the end, we were all saying "Jim Carrey who?"), and the musical numbers (from all-cast holiday carols to the Grinch's solo backed by choreographed dancers and Michael Jackson's "Beat It"; Miriam was particularly captivated, being from Munich and having never really heard these songs in English.) There were also a couple breaks in the performance when Santa appeared with gifts for kids in the audience, and when one of the senior pastors, Brian, led everyone through a prayer. I've never been too religious, so I was surprised to find how comfortable I felt in that church listening to Brian's message of faith, hope, and acceptance. He was very welcoming, acknowledging that many of those in the audience actually come to Hillsong solely for the Christmas Spectacular each year.

After the finale and the last of the tissue paper confetti had settled on the floor, the three of us - me, Miriam, and Danielle - hung around to chat with other members of the church and some of the cast members before Danielle's husband, Krishawn, came to pick us up. Since we were all hungry, we stopped to grab dinner at this Indian diner in Surry Hills and continued to make conversation over plates of butter chicken, garlic naan, and lamb curry. We also made friends with a Bangladeshi cook who brought us samples of other dishes, such as goat and quail (figured I could only eat it outside the US, as it's California's state bird!)

Now, I'm more ready for the holidays than ever. My family - Mom, Dad, and Katie - are flying into Sydney on Wednesday morning and we have all sorts of fun things planned: dinner at Sydney Tower, spending a few days in Melbourne, wine tasting in Hunter Valley (NSW) and Yarra Valley (in Victoria, an hour from Melbourne), going to The Rocks market and the beach (to have a seafood BBQ at Bondi on Christmas, haha), and sightseeing around the city I call my second home. STOKED!

Posted by Alykat 06:14 Archived in Australia Tagged events Comments (0)

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