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Australia 2007 – Entry #3

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Monday, Aug. 20

NOTE: Not many photos in this entry. I chose not to lug the camera around during most of the day’s walking around Sydney.

I honestly didn’t expect to freeze my goolies off in Australia. Now, keep in mind, August in Phoenix is like being 10 feet up a dragon’s poop chute, but brighter. And when I think of Australia, I think of the arid parts of it.

But Katoomba is again rainy and socked in with fog. Unpleasant? Hardly. But this desert creature was unprepared. But no matter … we were soon on our way back to Sydney.

A few hours later, we found a place to stash our packs at the train station and began searching for Redoak. This pretty much turned me into a psychotic Captain Ahab, and I began wondering if the place really existed. I hadn’t fired up my GPS receiver, preferring to conserve its power for the Top End adventures.

So we got turned around. Misplaced. Hungry. Cranky. We made an emergency stop at some fast-food kebab place. And either it was really good, or we were starved silly. It went down pretty well, and gave us the energy to continue our quest for the one pub to rule them all.

Finally, we discovered Redoak! Oh, my, this place is good. The oatmeal stout is unearthly, with a hint of butterscotch to it. The Belgian chocolate stout and the holiday ale are also contenders. Some of the best brews ever. If we didn’t have to catch a flight, we would’ve been there for hours.
We finished our brew and bolted for the train, which dropped us square into the middle of the airport. Flying domestically in Australia is a breeze. The security lines are sensible, and they don’t seem to dig the whole “take your shoes off thing.” We boarded a 3/4 empty 767 for the four-hour shot to Darwin, up in the Northern Territory. It was definitely a bit dingy on the inside, not like the sparkling-clean 747-400 we had from Los Angeles.

Now, this flight rams home how few people live on this huge continent. We see nary a cluster of lights once we leave Sydney until we enter Darwin just past 10 p.m.-ish. Vast and empty. It’s like flying over the ocean.

While the plane was a bit rough around the edges, the service wasn’t. A pleasant flight crew, and a full meal. Anyone who complains about Qantas has obviously not experienced Northwest Airlines, or probably even American and US Airways.

It's a chilly morning at the train station.
It's cold at the train station in Katoomba!

Our first setback was waiting for us when we landed: Some Swiss twit thought my bag is hers and ran off to a hotel with it. She left me with her blue backpack. She saw blue and thought it was hers. Yeah, like blue isn’t a common color. Qantas largely kept me calm and got the situation under control. They sent us off to the hotel (Malalueca on Mitchell, or Mom for short), promising to get a hold of us when they tracked the person down. Eventually, the dummy realized her error and contacted Qantas, who hooked us up. She dropped the bag at the hotel at around 1 a.m.

On the bus ride there, a friendly Ozzy and his wife could tell I was fuming about my missing backpack. So he took it upon himself to lighten me up by telling some tall tales. He was going on about a huge snake that wandered into the Darwin Airport a few months back.

“Well, he was so big they put a hun’red gallons of fuel in’im before they realized it was just a snake!”

Well, how could that NOT get a laugh out of me?

I don’t remember the guy’s name, but I would run into a few more just like him throughout our stay. You can just call him the Stereotypical Australian Bloke. He’s politically incorrect, but doesn’t hold anything against other people. He isn’t really an intellectual, but has a certain practical sensibility. He’s also so friendly that he’ll make a Lutheran from Iowa seem like cocaine-addled New York stockbroker.

Speaking of the hotel, it caters to young backpackers. There’s a full kitchen, laundry facilities, a bar and a pool. Some rooms have their own bathrooms. Others are dorm style. For a room with a bathroom, you’re looking at about $120. Damn, Darwin is kind of pricey… Best advice: Get a room as far from the front as possible. More on that tomorrow night.

This, by the way, is clearly a party town. It’s well after midnight, and a lot of places are still open. And the partying shows no signs of abating …

CategoriesUncategorized

Australia Post #2

Katoomba is about 90 minutes by train from Sydney.
Katoomba is about 90 minutes by train from Sydney.

Saturday, Aug. 18

I like my coffee a lot, and my coffee likes me. That means I want to taste the coffee, not have it buried under sprinkles, whipped cream and a bunch of fake pumpkin-spice flavor. I didn’t know this when we booked the tickets, but that meant Australia would be just right for me.

First, though, I had to learn to speak the language. Unless you’re at Starbucks, the names won’t be what you’re used to. And most of the good drinks are espresso-based. Now, if you like a plain americano, order a long black. If you like a latte, order a flat white. Mochas are the same, but a lot less sweet than you’re used to. And probably less bitter, so you won’t need the sugar to compensate.

Justin feels a bit like suppository in the hatch of the Onslow.
Justin feels a bit like suppository in the hatch of the Onslow.

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Ah, 1970s granny chic decor aboard the Vampire!

We also filled up on some pastries to get ready for the Maritime Museum, which is a complete blast. We both like sailing stuff, so we have a great time touring the destroyer Vampire, submarine Onslow and a full-sized replica of Capt. Cook’s Endeavour. There are all sorts of fun displays inside, too. Frankly, there was more there than we had time for. Tickets to get on all the big boats are $18 each.

The ceiling is kind of low on the Endeavour. And this is the fancy part of the ship!
The ceiling is kind of low on the Endeavour. And this is the fancy part of the ship!

The Vampire was pretty fun because it felt like we’d stepped straight into the Disco Era. All the recreational areas were brown and “gold.” The Onslow was typical submarine fun for a guy my size … lots of hunching over to squeeze through hatches, and nearly banging my head on pipes.

The Endeavour, though … whew! Europe must’ve really sucked back in the day. I can’t imagine how bad it was – so bad that people were willing to live on bad food under brutal conditions for months at a time to get away from it. Floor to ceiling measurements were less than five feet! So you can imagine what must’ve been like crawling around there with a violently pitching deck!
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We cut out to grab lunch at Thaifoon before collecting our bags and grabbing a train to Katoomba. It’s a pretty tasty Thai meal, but not as fiery as we prefer. Nothing really worth noting here.

A Quick Note for City Lovers Who Want to Hang in Sydney Awhile: One of my new inside sources who knows Sydney tells me there’s an area south of Circular Quay called New Town. Word is that’s the place to party and whoop it up. He says it’s just miles of independent cafes, pubs and shops.

Katoomba is about 65 miles away in the Blue Mountains at about 3,000 feet above see level. By the time we go there, it was already chilly. The train drops passengers off at the top of Katoomba Street, the main drag through town and out to its scenic cliffs. Best to find your hotel quickly and grab a bit to eat before everything closes.

The air in Katoomba definitely has some nip to it this time of year, but it smells clean and fresh. We were socked in with clouds, too.

We stayed at the Katoomba Mountain Lodge. It’s not exactly five-star, but it’s cheap ($60-ish a night) and clean. It’s a bit drafty, but electric blankets will keep you cozy. It’s also European style, so you don’t get your own bathroom (rooms that have bathrooms are known as ensuite, in the local lingo). No big deal, really. It also has a kitchen, TV rooms and games. We hung around watching rugby on TV before falling asleep.

Sunday, Aug. 19

It's a chilly, foggy morning. Perfect for fools to go hiking ...
It's a chilly morning ... perfect for fools to go hiking!

Despite the chill, we got a great night of sleep. We were so well-rested that we awoke before anything was open! It was already foggy and drizzly, a perfect winter scene for a town in the mountains. We wandered the streets, waiting for cafes to open. Finally, we found one that’s open. And they serve up some awesome porridge with fruit and ricotta. The Aussies use ricotta with sweeter stuff a lot. As usual, the coffee is pretty awesome. Sorry, but I just can’t remember the name of this place. But just walk up and down Katoomba Street. You won’t go wrong.

After breakfast, we started a seven-mile hike from the lodge, down the Federal Trail and then back into town. We started out with out jackets and ponchos, and the rain got progressively heavier throughout the hike. My poncho finally ripped…I got my three bucks out of it – it survived Costa Rica and Belize, working hard in both places. Sarah’s kept on tickin’, lucky for her. We descended a really slippery thousand-foot chute called the Great Staircase and went down into a nice pine forest. We were totally deprived of the views, and the photos we’ve seen make it look truly awesome.

Sarah's poncho has survived Costa Rica, Belize and Australia. For me, two of three will have to do.
Sarah's poncho has survived Costa Rica, Belize and Australia. Mine can only manage two of the three.

But I still enjoyed it … beats being in a plane next to Jon Lovitz! But holy cow, I got totally soaked. My poncho was leaking, and even my jacket was waterlogged. My mighty Vasque boots stayed dry for a good three hours, but there’s only so much they can take (these also survived complete immersion in a raging river in Belize while exploring a wet cave, but that’s another story). I was pretty relieved when we ascended the thousand feet back upward.

After that slog, we were ready to get dry. But the weather wasn’t cooperating. Sarah went as far as to buy a cheap hair dryer to get our boots dry. Then we hit the showers, and were off to the Carrington Hotel for dinner. We met up with some friendly British women and a somewhat dour Australian guy (one of the few). We all had a good chat, and the Aussie turned us on to Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe back in Sydney. Good thing we have to go back there to catch a flight! We have a great meal at the Carrington…be sure to try the Guinness stew and the sticky date pudding. Very nice!

Not for Sarah are wimpy wheeled Gucci bags! Tomorrow, we return to Sydney.
Not for Sarah are wimpy wheeled Gucci bags! Tomorrow, we return to Sydney.

Something weird about Ozzy spirits: Australians seem to love rum and coke (this would make travel in Australia extremely dangerous for my friend Stan, who insists that overindulging on this beverage makes him yearn for the company of hefty lasses). It’s often available pre-mixed straight from the tap. Bundaberg, the same cats who make the amazing Aussie ginger beer, is the most popular variety. It’s also sold in cans.