Australia, Travel

Australia – Exploring Sydney

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Sydney is much different than Melbourne, in that it reminds me of many other large cities I’ve been to in the world, namely San Francisco.  In walking the streets, you will recognize a lot of large company names, including tech/consulting business, shops, and restaurants.  But, what sets it apart is its location, and some of the most iconic architecture in the world.

Below is my itinerary for Sydney, including how to get around, what I saw, and where I dined/drank.

Transportation

Getting to/from the airport

Sydney has a multitude of easy ways to get to/from the airport.  Cabs are the most convenient (and most expensive – about $55 AUD each way – Lyft might be cheaper).  There is also a train that takes you to/from the airport, to virtually any destination.  If you aren’t lugging a ton of stuff (like I did), then I recommend the train.

Getting to/from destinations across Sydney Harbor

To get to anywhere, away from Sydney, such as Manly Beach, Bondi Beach, Coogee, Taronga Zoo, etc., you have to take the ferry at Circular Quay.  The rides provide the best views of Sydney, are equipped with free Wi-fi, and for the longer rides, a cafe.  There are many different ferry companies.  I used those that the Opal Card supports, which also happen to be cheaper (about $15 AUD roundtrip to most places).

NOTE: Make sure to take one ferry ride, back to Sydney, at sunset, and sit at the front of the boat, no matter how cold.  I failed to do this, and missed the sun setting, which would have provided more spectacular pictures than the one below.

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Accommodations

Since it’s winter, almost all hotels are highly affordable.  The Four Seasons had a pre-paid deal of less than $200 AUD a night, which put me smack in the middle of the city in decent accommodations.

Places to Dine/Drink

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View from Ripples

Ripples – I love recommendations from local inhabitants.  This one came from a guy that my mom sat next to on a plane, and while it doesn’t look like much from the outside, it sits right on the water, under the Sydney bridge, and serves up five-star meals.  It’s my best recommendation in this city for any time dining.  NOTE: The pork belly and short ribs dishes are AMAZING!

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Pork Belly

Abode – Nestled in the middle of many corporate offices is Abode.  It serves up all sorts of amazing food (their sweet potato fries are THE BEST) and drinks, in a chic, upscale setting.  It’s a great place for happy hour!

Palmer & Co. – Imagine stepping into a Prohibition Era bar filled with swing dancers, clinking glasses, loud laughter, and bartenders serving up the best cocktails, all while feeling like you just transported yourself back to the 1920s.  Being a sucker for this era (with a secret wish to transport back in time for a week), my jaw hit the floor when we walked in.  This was everything I had ever wanted to see in a Speakeasy, and it didn’t disappoint.  It is a MUST-SEE in Sydney!

Felix – Down Ash street (and many other alleyways) is a string of eclectic fine-dining restaurants.  Felis is a French Bistro, nestled down this alleyway, offering both indoor and outdoor seating.  It instantly transports you into Europe, and it’s food didn’t disappoint.  I recommend it for lunch, and highly recommend the beetroot salad.

Opera Bar – There are several restaurants and bars that line the pathway up to the Opera House, with the Opera Bar being one of the biggest.  It offers the best views of the water, city, bridge, and Opera house, with almost all of the seating being outdoors.  Their food selections are great, with plenty of gluten-free options, including the best gluten-free pizza I’ve ever had (try their Margherita one).  Note that ordering is different.  You grab your own table, and go to the bar to order food and drink.  You’ll receive a number and a server will come bring you your food.

The Morrison – Tucked behind the raucous pub, is the restaurant portion of The Morrison.  It’s in this quieter area that my mom and I had dinner.  It’s not a bad place to go for dinner and dessert (especially for a date night).  My recommendation is the  Chicken Maryland.

Caminetto – Nestled down a historic street in The Rocks, is a great indoor/outdoor Italian restaurant that serves a great breakfast!  My mom and I went there before walking through the open air market and little shops.  It looks like it would be great for dinner as well, but if you head there for breakfast, try the omelet or porridge.  If you’re gluten-free, they have gluten-free bread available!

Whitewater Restaurant – Along S. Steyne are many restaurants, most of which have a “beachy” feel to them.  My mom and I stumble upon this, while walking towards our hike.  It’s a chic, upscale restaurant, right across from the beach, offering all sorts of great food and drink.  I recommend the Truffle Waygu Beef burger (without the bun for me).  I’ve also heard the vegetarian pasta is good as well!  While I know they are open for all meals, my suggestion is to go there for breakfast or lunch, so you have the view of the beach.

Things to See/Do

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View from Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge – The very first thing I did was walk the one mile over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and into Milson’s Point.  In fact, if you have never been to Sydney, make this the first thing you do.  It’s a “pinch me” moment to see all of Sydney, including the Opera House!

Luna Park/Olympic Pool

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Once we walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, we headed to Olympic Street to eat at Ripples.  Along the way, we stumbled upon both the Olympic Aquatic Center (it once housed the Olympic swimming competitions), and Luna Park.

Luna Park is slightly creepy to walk through at night, but an unbelievable sight.  Still in operation today, it’s their version of Coney Island in New York.

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Queen Victoria Building – Built in the late ninetieth century, this mall hosts all sorts of shops, cafes, and historical clocks. The well-preserved architecture transports you back to Sydney’s early beginnings.  It’s a must-see on your way to Westfield Tower.

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Sydney Tower Eye – For about $30 AUD per adult, you can head up to the top of the Sydney Tower Eye for some of the most spectacular 360 views of Sydney!  It’s definitely a must-do!

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Darling Harbour / SEA LIFE Sea Aquarium – A short walk down Market Street (from the Sydney Tower), will land you on the foot bridge to Darling Harbor.  It’s a GREAT place to shop, dine, take boat rides, and see some of their famous places, such as SEA LIFE Sea Aquarium.  For $30 AUD per adult, my mom and I spent a few hours, wandering through one of the best aquariums I’ve been to (what sold me was the penguin exhibit).  It’s absolutely worth the walk (and cost) to get there.  My suggestion is to make  day of the Harbour to enjoy all it has to offer.  Since we didn’t get there until late afternoon, we didn’t do much.

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Taronga Zoo – I’m still raving about this experience, because I’ve never been to a zoo quite like this!  For $46 AUD per adult, we spent a full day interacting with animals in open enclosures (I’ve never been THAT close to a roo or a wallaby), as well as taking in the sights of getting very near every other species in Australia and Africa.  This is an absolute must-do in Sydney, although I recommend you spend the extra money to go “behind the scenes” and pet the kangaroos, and other animals.  It’s something I wish I had done.

Note: Eat at Views for lunch – it has spectacular views of Sydney, from across the water.

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Manly Beach – Our final stop was to Manly Beach, which is reminiscent of almost any main beach town, with the one exception that there is a hiking path that takes you along the water, and into rain forests.

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Manly Beach in the winter.

According to most, Manly beats out both Bondi and Coogee.  Next time I travel here, I’ll still visit the other two for my own comparison.  But, definitely put this on your list of things to see!

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Visting The Rocks – One of the most historic sections of Sydney, as it’s the home to the first European settlement, it’s a charming walk for dining, shopping, and sightseeing!  My mom and I walked through this section of town on our last morning in Sydney.

Almost all of the settlement buildings are still in-tact, and if you wander into any of the shops, you will see how these working-class families lived.  One such shop, which had my attention for both it’s jewels (I got very large peridot earrings for $125 AUD) and its history, was Hathi Jewellery.  If you see the old safe above, it’s little pieces of history, like this, that makes you want to wander into every building to see what it still has.

 

Travel

Is Giving Into Wanderlust Irresponsible?

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It’s been a month and a half, since I’ve sat down and written anything in this blog.  Most of my distraction away from this has been with my new role at work, trying to get some much-needed down time on weekends (aka – I don’t want to see a laptop), or trying to work on my yet-to-be-titled fictional novel.  However, there’s also a part of me that has avoided posting anything of substance here because I’m trying to figure out some “large-life” things.

In years’ past, I’ve thrown caution to the wind with my credit card and said, “I’m up for the adventure, let’s go”.  I’ve had amazing vacations in Miami, Chicago, Toronto, Sundance, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Francisco, London, Paris, Belgium, and the list goes on.  Since I moved back to DC a year ago, I’ve tried to pare that back to trips that cost little-to-no money: A family vacation in Europe, a family vacation to Disney World, and a trip to Cancun for an extended weekend (not a whole week).  There isn’t one experience on these lists that wasn’t amazing (particularly Europe).  However, it left me wanting to explore more and stay “grounded” less.  Like they always say, “Once you’re bitten by the travel bug…” So what’s halting me from continuing on my quest for more exploration?  I’m two years away from being 40 and I don’t “own a spot in the world” aka real estate – something I feel like I’m supposed to do at my age.  So what do I do?

If you’ve had limited travel opportunities in your life, I’m sure you’ve heard, “there’s a huge world out there and once you’ve had a taste of life outside your front door, you’re hooked”.  Or, you may start to notice more and more people around you, telling stories of far off lands they’ve visited; or perhaps you’re noticing more friends are traveling in groups to experience these things together; or even that there are becoming trends in where groups are going in a given year: Iceland in the spring, Greece in the summer, and then the slew of trips to Miami and points south to keep from freezing (Note: that’s what’s happening in D.C. anyway).  But how are they doing it?  This has been my biggest question thus far and financially, my biggest barrier to being able to travel more frequently – especially since the pressure of owning a home has become so huge.

Of course, I can’t tackle this subject by myself.  I have many friends of many ages, across the world, that have been through this/are going through this in some form.  But they all ask the same thing, “Which need is larger – your need to explore the world or your need for a permanent place to put your stuff?”  The other question they love to ask with a smirk is, “Is this your version of a mid-life crisis?”

Sure, the latter is like a punch in the gut, only because on paper I seem old, yet for some reason, I feel like I’m in my late 20s.  🙂  Still, it doesn’t help to think that I’ve been working for 18 years and have not really given any thought to planting roots until this year.  But I digress.

I decided to ask two different women (one in real estate and one who travels the world), whom I admire greatly, the same question about real estate vs. traveling:  What makes the most financial sense – traveling or “slaving away” at work to own a home? The answer might surprise some of you.

Girlfriend #1: The Real Estate Guru

My girlfriend in real estate is quite impressive.  She’s definitely done some traveling in her time and was also fortunate enough to do well in real estate at a young age.  However, she also knows the pitfalls of owning real estate and what it can do to not just one’s bank account, but also their sanity.

In the Washington, D.C. area, whether reports are going to publish it or not, the SAFEST areas, closest to the city (even 20 miles out) are still out of range for someone making under $120,000/yr.  The average home price for a one bedroom condo in Arlington, VA is almost $400,000 and that does not include annual taxes, Home Owners Association (HOA) fees (usually $400-$1000/mo.), as well as any utilities, parking spaces, and any other odds and ends that come with purchasing a condo, including potential closing costs, inspection costs, and any money down upfront.  If that’s just a condo in a good area, imagine the price of a townhouse or single family home, there.

As one of the most knowledgeable property owners I know, my girlfriend surprisingly told me that owning real estate is not a MUST these days.  With the average price being so high, people aren’t making real money off of homes around here – most are lucky to break even when they go to sell.  And, unless you’re going into purchasing home with a partner or are making enough money to comfortably afford a place, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to shove yourself into a very stressful situation.

Now, I know for you realtors and mortgage lenders out there, reading this post, you’d argue this left, right, and center because if everyone thought this way, you would not be selling any homes.  However, it’s sound advice for someone that doesn’t want to end up in over her head, or worse, in an unsafe neighborhood (actually, I don’t know what’s worse).

She told me that if traveling is what I wanted to do, to do that while I can because in most situations, the first few years of owning a home are all about spending quite a bit of money, and then trying to recover (aka building back up your bank account), only to have to deal with expensive repairs when/if they arise.  In other words, there’s little-to-no travel – not on smaller paychecks, where every dollar is key.

All of that actually stuck with me – and in a positive way.

Girlfriend #2: The Traveler

After chatting with girlfriend #1, I had a phone date with girlfriend #2.  She’s in her 40s and has traveled extensively.  Like me, she spent a bit of time, swaying back and forth on owning a place because she thought she had to do it.  In fact, it ate at her that she was turning 40 with what seemed like nothing to show for it.  When her big 4th decade arrived, she went on a month-long, soul-searching adventure and ended up not coming back for quite some time.  She realized that there’s so much to experience in this world and that spending money on a place to permanently put her stuff was not high on her list.  In fact, the more she started telling others about her growing need to travel, the more people started to admit that they would rather do the same.  It eased her “fear” of supposedly having to grow up and be financially responsible (the irony in this is that owning real estate can be an irresponsible move if you’re not prepared).  She decided that traveling and renting was the best thing for her at the time and three years later, she hasn’t looked back.  It’s very inspiring!

In chatting with these two women, it made me eager to search for how other people do this – how they seem to hold down jobs and make time (and even money), several times a year, to see and do things in this world.  I’ve certainly learned a lot.  Here are the top five things I’ve learned when creating a budget-friendly, time-sensitive travel lifestyle:

  1. Find a roommate you can get along with – People, like me, find this to be a non-negotiable.  I work from home and my sanity is key.  However, if you can live with someone else, it does allow you to pay less in utilities and rent, which equates to more money.
  2. Stuff vs. experiences – While some prefer both (like me), the reality is experiences are with you for a lifetime – stuff can always come later.  Every time you want to buy something, ask yourself if it will impact your future travel plans.  I’m currently “training” myself on this concept, as for me, this is key.
  3. Social activity vs. experiences – No one wants to stay in and only go out when it’s time to travel.  The question comes down to IF you actually NEED to spend much money when you go out.  It’s another area I’m working on because 1. Alcohol consumption actually increases your caloric intake, which creates weight gain; and 2. It costs A LOT of money in the long run.  The average person spends $80 – $200 a night on going out, between rides, alcohol, food, etc. – that’s quite a bit of money spent in ONE WEEKEND.  Instead, as painful as it sounds, try going out and not sipping on drink after drink, driving your own car (if you have one), and/or eating at home before you head out.  Those saved dollars add up!
  4. Set travel goals well in advance – Unless you can afford the last minute trips (or you find that amazing flight deal), plan at least 3-6 months out if you can.  I’m already planning out 2017.  What travel goals mean (in question form):
    1. When do you want to go on your trips?
    2. Are your dates flexible, to include better airline rates if you are willing to go a few days later?
    3. How much do you want to spend?
    4. Who are you planning on going with (hint: larger groups mean less money spent)?
    5. Are there special tours you can tack onto if it’s a small group, or if you’re going solo?
    6. What do your friends and acquaintances say about the place you’re going?  Can they make any recommendations? Do they know of anyone who lives there?
  5. Do your research – And prepare to do lots of it!  While something might seem like a great deal, it might very well not be.  Like I stated before, recommendations can become key!  Also entertain Air BnB – I’m hearing more and more great things about places to rent all over the world that are unique and offer better views, living conditions, and experiences than a hotel!

While all five above seem daunting, the effort you put into saving and researching now, the better off you will be financially in the long run. As for me, I think I’m going to hold off a few more years, allow myself to leave some “footprints” across the world, before I own a spot in it 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel

Social Cabin Fever or Extreme Wanderlust?

“I feel like I’m seeing the same people, having the same conversations, and going to the same places over again, and I’m getting tired of it.  I need to get out of here.”

Right about this time of year, when the holidays are over and winter has crept in, Washington D.C.’ers are found saying this exact thing at the same indoor social establishments they have been frequenting, since they have been seeking refuge indoors to avoid the biting cold.

While touring the monuments and partaking in other outdoor activities are beautiful to experience in the warmer months, in the colder ones, it’s often more appreciated from the window of an Uber, as trying not to slip on ice, splash in mud, and bundle up as though you’re Randy from “A Christmas Story“, is more preferable.

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Yes, we live in a city that’s known for it’s summertime fun thus, we have a low tolerance of cold temperatures (and patience); high cases of seasonal mood disorder, and a constant need for new stimulants (that this town provides very little of in the winter).

Its a long way of saying, it’s the time of year when we begin to feel “social cabin fever” en-mass.

Those of us that live in this great city, know that summertime is the best – the boats are out for lazy weekend get togethers, outdoor parties are aplenty, new crops of people are moving here, which means you’re making new friends; and you aren’t feeling restricted in 20 pounds of snow gear.  And, for some reason, the same places that are frequented by the same faces, are no longer mundane, as there are at least 4-5 parties/get togethers to attend in an evening, giving you plenty of options to jet off and see even more faces. Yet, what I find interesting about our culture here, is that we seem to find ourselves traveling to places far off, during this time, causing us to blow budgets all in one season, without thinking of what happens when the days are shorter and colder.

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Why isn’t it reversed?

In writing this blog today, I asked several people why this is the case, as they all feel the same way.  The consensus fell to the fact that their work expects their employees will be taking longer vacations in the summer (when the kids are out of school), as well as throughout the holidays (to see even more family); returning to their desks full-time, during the winter months (until Spring Break has arrived).  You might now be thinking, “This is totally unfair to us single people” – you’re right.  BUT we fail to remember that our vacation hours belong to us, and we need to think of how we maximize the spend of those, while properly planning out just enough travel, to keep our minds fresh, and our friendships in-tact.

Last summer, my family and I were gone for two weeks in Europe (it was entirely too short in my opinion because I love Europe, and why leave?).  After mentally prying my hands from the plane door when we landed back in the states in July (mentally kicking and screaming that I didn’t want to come back yet), it would literally be six months before I went on another vacation for a long weekend in Cancun (which was a few weeks ago). Why?  1. Because of money (“because last summer was epic, and needed to be spent out as much as possible”, which I’m now realizing isn’t boding well for my winter social life, since I’m financially digging myself out of that hole) 2. Because like many of us, I felt it was important to do my best at work, save some money, and then set my sights for travel later (like maybe one winter trip.. and then I’m good with the summer). As you can see, the logic here is off.

After I got back from Cancun, I realized that I needed to plan for long weekends once a month, not only for my sanity’s sake (giving myself something to work hard towards and look forward to), but also to cure the wanderlust I was having.  And that’s when it occurred to me: Our “Social Cabin Fever” (as I am affectionately calling it) isn’t that at all – it’s a desire to keep going out and exploring the world, to keep our minds fresh, and our soul excited.  It’s about re-prioritizing how we go about our lives, so that we’re constantly at our best.

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While some of us don’t think we have the resources to travel once a month, think about how much you spend in one weekend, going out to the same places, doing the same things.  You’re gonna spend a bit more (to get from point a to point b), but you get a much better experience than staying home – and you can’t put a price on sanity. Secondly, I know you’re saying, “But most of the world is cold this time of year and all the warm places are expensive”.  You’re absolutely right.  HOWEVER, it isn’t the weather that’s the problem, it’s feeling “stuck” in the same atmosphere, having the same repetitive conversations over again that’s the issue – not the weather.  For example: Two Decembers ago, I went to Toronto for a girls’ weekend.  They had a snow storm the night I flew in, so the rest of the time there was cold and damp.  We had NEVER had a better time in such weather.  We met so many people and went to so many fabulous places that the cold wasn’t really an issue.  Example #2: Sundance – it’s cold, snowy, and what would be deemed miserable, if it weren’t for the abundance of parties, celebs, and things to do.  I rest my case.

So how do you get onto this cycle of a bit more travel in your life?  Here’s how I’m planning to do this for the next few months:

January: Cancun for the weekend (mission accomplished) – it’s cheaper that time of year

February: Disney World with my family (mom’s birthday, glad something was planned 🙂

March: No plans, which means I’m looking for unique things to do, and making reservations at (at least) one restaurant I’ve never been to, in my own backyard

April: San Francisco for a work conference, then staying to hang out with friends for the weekend.  I might jump down to Los Angeles for a bit and work from there, after that.

The summer months will hold at least two long weekend trips, followed by a two-week trip to somewhere outside of the U.S. in October, or around New Years – it might be Dubai and India, or somewhere else in Asia (I’m still in the planning phases).

This, to me, looks like a far better year, taking my mind off of the mundaneness of winter and being “shut in”, than trudging through the cold, dark months, waiting for the first signs of spring.

So to all of you out there, waiting for “magic” to happen, i.e. new faces, places, and experiences – make it happen for yourself.  Get out of here and go do something different, give yourself things to look forward to, and if anything, the warm weather isn’t that far away 🙂