Sydney – Part 1

You may or may not be aware, but Australia is in the middle of its summer around December, so when we arrive the country is in its nice and warm climate.  However, the same months that it’s in summer also happens to be the same months as its rainy season.  Sadly, during our time in Sydney it rained quite a bit.  This did not dampen the time there however; we just ended up spending a little less time at the beach.

Luckily Sydney offers plenty to do other than the beach (which we did visit at one point as you’ll read about later on), but the first day was spent getting our bearings and recovering from the jet lag a bit.  Before I get into our zombie day of walking around, I just wanted to point out one thing about the Sydney airport.  If you’re flying into the international terminal and want to get to the domestic terminal, you have to take a shuttle bus that costs $5.50.  We weren’t alone in our flabbergast as most of the other travelers commented with astonishment and a fair amount of cursing for the fee just to go from one terminal to another (and if you’re thinking about walking, it’s not possible).  So just a heads up.

So back to the summary.  We ended up wandering around to get a lay of the land.  My initial reaction to Sydney was this – it’s very similar to southern California.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking for something exotic when you’re traveling, don’t expect to get it from Sydney.  Like most metropolitan cities, Sydney has commercial buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, busy city streets, and some parks.  The best way I can put it is it felt a lot like San Diego.

Our hotel was located in a very good spot (see details below), and gave us easy walking access to most of the parts of Sydney that you’d want to see in a few days.  We also took the Sydney ferry from Circular Quay (pronounced “key” apparently) to Darling Harbor for only $6 — which, considering you pay $5 for a big bottle of water and $5.50 to go from a terminal to a terminal at the airport, is a pretty good deal.  The ferry ride offers stops along different points on the harbor and provides fantastic photo opportunities of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Other ferries take you to places such as Manly Beach and other spots near the city.

Like I said, our first day was just random wandering so I’ll just give you details of where we ate and where we stayed, and get into the more specific sights later on.  It’s a miracle I’m even able to read my notes that I wrote on that day with my jet lag — they look like they were written by a gorilla on a trampoline.

Where we stayed

Travelodge Hotel Sydney
27 Wentworth Ave
Sydney New South Wales 2010
Australia

Not a bad place to stay, it was clean and relatively new.  It’s got a good location right near Hyde Park, close enough to all the sights, but not right on top of them so it’s nice and quiet at night.  One not so good thing (and this applies to pretty much all the hotels in Australia I think) — no free wifi; it costs $10 a day.  You do get 15 minutes free in the lobby every 24 hours though…

Where we ate

Din Tai Fung
Multiple Locations

Before we left for Sydney, we heard from lots of people that there is a really good Asian cuisine scene.  So, naturally for our first meal we wanted to try out some Asian food and we looked to our Lonely Planet guide for a lead.  It pointed us to Din Tai Fung, which they said was a great, affordable place for good dumplings that locals love.  Now in general, Lonely Planet usually suggests local places, backpackers venues, things of that nature when they give a one “$” rating.  So when we showed up at an outdoor mall housing Din Tai Fung, we were pretty surprised at how “chainy” it felt.  It wasn’t until later in the trip when I had wifi access that I was able to discover that, well, it was in fact a chain.  Regardless, the food there wasn’t bad, just not great.  The best offerings that they had were the soup dumplings, so I would stick to those, but even those weren’t the best I had ever eaten (that’s reserved for a few places in New York City’s chinatown).  They did have a quote from Anthony Bourdain up that said, “I’d travel halfway around the world for Din Tai Fung’s soup dumplings.”  Personally Anthony, I wouldn’t.

Macchiato
338 Pitt St.
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Here’s a place I’ll say to just do take out.  Don’t go there for table service.  The service there was horribly slow.  Yes, the waiter was friendly, but the service was so slow that whatever kindness the waiter had was kinda nulled out.  Yes, it was Christmas Eve, but the place wasn’t that busy (no busier than any typical weekend night), so I can’t really give that as an excuse either.  Our food, which was just a pizza, took an hour and a half to get to our table.  They had lost our order so had to put it back in once we reminded them, but to add insult to injury, the people who sat next to us, who showed up far after we were seated, still got their pizzas before us.   So why do I say just do take out?  Because the pizza I had once we did get it and ate at the hotel (we had them box it to go and to give a tiny bit of credit they gave us a 20% discount for the wait) was really, really good.  I had the Shanghai Pizza which consisted of roast duck, mushroom, snow peas, cashews, plumb sauce, and mozzarella.  It was delicious — I really can’t find anything bad to say about it.

So as you can see, there wasn’t a whole lot from Day 1, but Day 2 was much more productive.  And that’s coming up.

I have several friends who had visited or lived in Australia who provided advice on where to go, and what to do.  My one friend, Beth, who lived in Australia for a year, had her own experiences which she emailed to all her friends and gave me permission to add to my blog posts.  You can never have too many opinions when it comes to travel, and like I’ve said many times, this blog is meant to be as much for you as it is for me.  So at the end of my Australia posts, I’ll be adding Beth’s tidbits in “Australia from Beth”.

“Australia from Beth”

http://surfcamp.com.au/ (creatively named Surf Camp Australia). I did the five day “Ultimate Experience”. I would absolutely recommend it! I stayed at Wake Up hostel in Sydney and the bus for surf camps leaves straight from the hostel. The camp itself is situated in a trailer park oddly enough, but it has it’s own vibe with cabins of I believe 8-10 people and a separate bathroom block with showers/toilets. The common area is all outside; basically just rows of picnic tables and a TV that is constantly streaming cool surf videos. This is where the groups meet to talk/learn about surfing, eat, socialize, etc. It’s a very bare bones place, but you don’t need much because you’re spending most of the time at the beach or eating/drinking/playing games in the common area. Curfew is a strict 10pm because the camp is in a residential area, but everyone leaves to drink at the beach beyond that time. On a clear night you will see more stars than you can in the wilderness in Wyoming, they are absolutely stunning. I made a lot of friends here that I still keep in touch with (I was the only American strangely enough out of close to 100 people).  $100 and everything is included (food, lodging, beach, etc.)

Note: Unfortunately, it was cloudy our first day.  Better pics and weather for the next galleries.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

My season of traveling Part I – San Diego, CA, Rochester, NY and Chattanooga, TN

Hello friends and people, I’m back.  Sorry I’ve been off the grid for a while, it’s been a busy season at work and things have just started to wind down.  Of course my sales season wouldn’t have been complete without a little work travel and I’m here to give you a quick recap of where I’ve been over the past few months.  I won’t get too detailed because in all honesty many of the work trips required a lot of actual working so there’s not a whole lot to write about when you’re spending most of your time at Hampton Inns.  But I can give you a few highlights.

San Diego, CA
U.S.S. Midway Museum
Price of Admission: $18 Adults, $15 Senior Citizens, $10 Retired Military and Children (online rates are a dollar cheaper)

San Diego, CA probably gets the prize for best weather all year long in the U.S.  When I was there in January, it was a nice and warm low-80 degrees with clear skies – and from what I understand it’s always like that.  Most of my time in CA was spent at a conference so I didn’t get to the beach, but we were in the Gaslight District which is a vibrant bar and nightlife scene.   Aside, from all the great bars and restaurants one can try out in San Diego (several of which my company treated us to), it’s worth a walk down to the shore and going on board the U.S.S. Midway.  Yes, I’ve mentioned the ship before, but I think it’s worth getting more in-depth.  It’s much more than just a walk around the deck and seeing a few of the planes.  The museum gives you a look inside all the intricate parts of the aircraft carrier and gives you not just a lesson about the ship’s role in U.S. Navy history, but a real sense of what it was like for the common sailor on-board (you can walk through the bunks, laundry room, mess hall, everywhere).  Don’t miss a chance to also sit in several of the fighters jets and helicopters that they have on display or participate in a flight simulator dogfight with your friends.  If you have time, go and chat with one of the several veterans on board who volunteer to tell you their stories – they’re fascinating and many of them are pretty funny guys.

Rochester, NY
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

When I asked around about places to go to eat while in Rochester, NY, I heard from three separate people to check out Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.  Now, admittedly I thought the place was some local hot spot (with a really random name), but when I showed up I realized that it was a chain.  So while I was a little disappointed, it’s not a huge chain mind you (the other locations are in New York City, Syracuse, New Jersey, and Troy, NY).  Still, I had no other leads of places to try so I gave it a go.  I will say that I was pleasantly surprised.  The atmosphere had a Applebee’s made over by a biker gang, but the crowd was a mix of all types.  The beer list was impressive, with several local northern NY brews.  The food and service was top notch as well.  My waitress was friendly, fast, and knew to be available but not be overbearing.  I gave the “Tres Hombres” combination a try and that consisted of pork, brisket and 1/4 rack of ribs, cornbread and two sides – I went with mac and cheese and mashed potatoes.  There was a LOT of food – but it was well worth the calories (you can try the smaller “Tres Ninos” combo if you’re not as hungry).  The different BBQ sauces that were on the table really hit the spot, but my two favorites were there Slathering Sauce and the Wango Tango Habenero (this stuff was sweet and super spicy).  The meats all melted in your mouth, but I’ll say that the ribs were probably the best of the three.  The mac and cheese was also a stand out and I would tell anyone that one of the sides must be that (though one could argue that the gravy that came with the potatoes made that side dish better).  I could certainly see how this place, with his comfort food and warm, friendly atmosphere is popular spot on cold winter days in Rochester.  Grade: B

Chattanooga, TN
Ruby Falls
Price of Admission: $17.95 for adults, $9.95 for children under 12 (babies free, but I probably wouldn’t bring a baby)

On my flight into Chattanooga, TN, I sat next to a local lawyer who gave me some leads on how to spend a few free hours in the city.  He, like most of the people that I met from Chattanooga, had a sort of “really, this place is much nicer that you might think” way of talking.  I’ll say this much – I probably wouldn’t target Chattanooga as a place to go out of my way to visit.  BUT I will also say that it is a quaint little town with some pretty interesting things to see if you’re there for a couple days.  And from what I understand and saw for myself, it’s a great place for the outdoorsy types.  I didn’t try it myself, but apparently hang gliding is one of the big hobbies for the folks in Chattanooga.  But don’t bother with going to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, unless you happen to be down that way. But if you do happen to be down that way and see the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, stop into The Terminal Brewhouse.  They had some great drafts and one of the better BBQ Chicken pizzas I’ve ever had.

One of the highlights for me was a side trip to Ruby Falls.  It’s clearly one of the main tourist attractions (the other being Rock City) and the city lets you know it with the 247 or something billboards I saw on the highways directing visitors to see check it out (that was an exaggeration, but it was a s**tload).   The drive to Ruby Falls is quick from downtown Chattanooga and when I arrived, I had no idea that Ruby Falls wasn’t really outdoors!  Apparently, the waterfall that’s advertised is actually the country’s tallest underground waterfall.  Now I’m not claustrophobic, but for you folks that are keep this in mind.   To see the Ruby Falls, you have to take an elevator ride 1120 feet underground into a very tight, winding cave.  If you’re okay with that, then you’re good to go.  So a group of us took the elevator down to the dark cavern and in order to get to the waterfall, the guide takes you through some really neat tunnels with extraordinary rock formations.  Our guide, Andy, gave us a little history and while his smart-ass humor was annoying at first, after a while it became more tolerable and by the end you couldn’t help but be amused by his personality.  When we got to the cave with the waterfall, it’s pitch black and pretty creepy.  There’s a little dramatic audio presentation to get you pumped up, and then the lights come on and Voila!  I’ll say, I was pretty awe-struck by the waterfall when I saw it.  They did a really good job with the lighting and making the water look like falling crystals.  It was quite…majestic (for some reason I really can’t think of a better word that isn’t as cheesy).  As you walk around and underneath the waterfall itself, you have to take a look up at the water coming down.  You’ll get a little wet, but it’s worth the sight.  It’s almost like you’re looking at the stars while traveling at warp speed, Star Trek style.  So if you’re ever in Chattanooga for any weird reason, give the Ruby Falls a few hours of your time.

A couple of places to eat in San Diego

So, taking a little break from the Egypt talk, I was recently in San Diego a few days after my Arabian adventure.  Although it was a work trip, my colleagues and I were able to see some of the sights of the town.  I won’t talk about seeing the things that most people visiting San Diego would see (San Diego Zoo, U.S.S. Midway, which is AWESOME by the way, etc)  even though all those sights are very well worth checking out.  I’d just like to quickly mention a couple places to eat if you’re out and about downtown.

The first place is Currant American Brasserie.   This restaurant is just south of the Gaslamp District (a fantastic bar and restaurant scene in San Diego), near Petco Park.  The menu is simple; it has your typical sandwiches, salads, and deserts.  There is also a pretty good brunch deal with $8 all you can drink mimosas.  We ate on the outdoor patio, so I didn’t get a real good look on the inside, but when I went in to use the restroom, the interior had a sort of New Orleans architectural style.

Despite the vanilla choices on the menu, the food was extremely good.  We started off with an appetizer of taters tots with a spicy habanero ketchup.  The tater tots were nice and crispy on the outside, but the inside was more buttery mashed potatoes than the shredded potato Napoleon Dynamite/Ore Ida style tater tots.   Three of the four of our group all ordered the Chicken Club sandwich.  I’d have to think really hard to come up with a place that made a better chicken sandwich.  The chicken was juicy and grilled to perfection and was smothered with a chipotle aioli that gave it a nice chili-garlic taste.  The key though was the avocado.   Southern California is known for the fruit and the sandwich had a generous heaping of it.  And finally the french fries were the perfect compliment to the sandwich.  They were pretty close to the McDonald’s style fries, but with a nice thyme seasoning.  Currant is a great place to eat if you want to get a bite to eat without having to have to deal with the hustle and bustle of Gaslamp, but still want to be close enough to head to that area for a drink afterward.

140 West Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 702-6309

Open Weekdays 11:30am-12am; Weekends 9am-12am

The second place I’d recommend checking out is Fillipi’s Pizza Grotto.  From what I understand, this restaurant now has several branches, but the original is in the Little Italy district of San Diego.  The Little Italy district’s main road is India Street (not sure how that happened) which is where Fillipi’s is located.  From the outside, the restaurant doesn’t look like much, especially being next to the shi-shier venues on the main drag.  In fact, we walked right by the main entrance at first because there were some local, old Italian guys sitting outside the market which makes up the front of the restaurant; its very a nonchalant looking entry way.  Once we went it, and walked through the small little market, we were seated in the back.

The restaurant is very much an Italian mom and pop restaurant.  Nothing fancy, nothing flashy.  The menu was really, really simple – pizzas, pastas, soups, and salads and that was it.  The lamanted white menu didn’t even have any descriptions or many varieties of pizza and pasta.  The menu simplicity actually admittedly made me not expect much from our meal for some reason.  But once we took a bite into our food, there was nothing cheap about it.  The pizza I ordered was excellent.  The crust had a little more thickness than what you’d expect from a New York style slice, but was nice and crispy unlike a Naples style pizza (where the sauce and cheese sometimes makes the crust soggier).  The pizza was delicious; and that was the least impressive dish on the table.  The pastas were by far the favorite of the group.  The homemade pasta on all the pasta dishes tasted really fresh (if you haven’t had fresh/homemade pasta, go to a local Italian store or even Whole Foods and get the pasta from the refrigerated aisle.  You’ll be able to tell the difference immediately from the raw, uncooked box pasta you get normally).  The linguine with clams had a nice creamy taste, and the bits of clam weren’t too overbearing on the dish.  The bolognese sauce on the ricotta lasagna actually melted in your mouth with savoriness was easily my favorite of the entire meal.  And you get a good amount of food.  Admittedly the portions aren’t as big as a Maggiano’s or Buca di Pepo chain size, but be prepared to share.

Now I’ll get back to Egypt in the next post.