Blue Mountains

Had a full day trip to the Blue Mountains with a small group of 11 (one child, age 5).  It was too much driving, but our guide was very knowledgeable and taught us lots of facts about Australia and the ecology and economy of the region.  We were impressed by the panoramic view of the Jameson valley, a vast eucalyptus forest with sandstone mountains and rock formations and a great diversity of plants and birds.  Saw the lyre bird, the colorful Jemby-Rinjah and funny trees like the short, black trunk grass tree. There is coal mining in the region, and cute towns like Leura where some residents commute two hours to Sydney via train.  We saw an area that suffered a massive forest fire, ignited by lightening in 2006, now in the natural process of regenerating.  There were sandstone caves eroded in honeycomb fashion.  Our guide Frank taught us lots of Aussie info, such as  how to survive a snake bite, in case you encounter one of the 20 of the 25 deadliest snakes in the world found in Australia. Now we know.

5-image panorama of Jameson Valley


Jemby Rinjah

Sydney Opera House

This magnificent building is so exciting to see, from any angle, any time of day. It is positively uplifting.  We saw the Australian Ballet perform Madame Butterfly on April 20, and this performance was one of the highlights (perhaps THE highlight) of our second visit to Sydney. Only difficulty was staying awake in the darkened theatre, as we were still fighting 14-hour time zone adjustment. The whole experience of getting to and from the theatre was so easy and stress free. It was a five-minute walk with one traffic light and no crowds or waiting from our hotel to the venue. Our tickets were waiting for us at will call; everything fell into place so amazingly well.

Dining in Sydney

On our 31st wedding anniversary, we took Erin to a gourmet meal at the Café Sydney, on roof terrace of the Custom House in Circular Quay. Fantastic view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in night-time lights.  Delicious meal, Veuve Clicquot.  One of our most enjoyable meals, anywhere in the world, ever.

Our other favorite spot, recommended by Courtney Kelly, our other family Sydney expert, is the Australian Hotel in the Rocks, where we had a delicious kangaroo pizza for lunch, and a delicious kangaroo pizza and a duck pizza for dinner.  Relaxed atmosphere, table on the sidewalk, Aussie beer, quiet neighborhood and easy walk from our Intercontinental Hotel.

Kangaroo pizza at the Australian Hotel: delicious!

Royal Botanical Garden, Sydney

Walk through lush, green and diverse gardens between our Intercontinental Hotel and the Gallery of New South Wales was full of interest and surprises. Most amazing were the flying foxes, giant bats, nesting in many trees and sadly de-foliating and killing them. Saw many palms, eucalyptus, native shrubs, cacti. Just before sunset we walked along the Wooloomoolu Harbor to the point, called Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, for the governors wife who loved to sit at the point and take in the view. Brilliant blue skies, blue harbour and sun setting just behind the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Cockateels in trees, shrieking at us.

Photography in Sydney Museums

As fate would have it, the Gallery of Modern Art, right on Circular Quay, was running a portrait photography exhibit of American Annie Liebovitz.  She had some fascinating portraits of famous Americans including George W. Bush and 4 top aides, Colin Powell, Hiliary Clinton, Leonardo diCaprio with a swan wrapped around his neck, Cindy Crawford nude with a snake around her neck, Julianne Moore (We know her, small world), Brad Pitt.  These large prints were intermingled with many family shots including her three daughters, close friend Susan Sontag, her parents. Many times the setting (Ocean City, MD and Silver Spring, MD) reminded us of how small the world is!

Later that day (April 20) we wandered through the main art museum, the Gallery of New South Wales and through an exhibit of Australian landscape photographers. These two exhibits were made to order for my photography interests!  Many of the works portray a sense of vast emptiness of the central Australian arid landscape.  I found it interesting but not my taste. Afterwards, I said to Charlie, “Are you feeling better about my work?”  I prefer my own style to what I was seeing here.

Enchanting San Francisco

“It’s the first day of our vacation. Let’s forget about the problems with the airlines, and enjoy our day,” Charlie suggested, setting the tone for our day.  We hired a taxi to deliver us to the gates of Chinatown, where we began our window shopping and a little bit of real shopping – looking at jade and silk and chatting with friendly shopkeepers from China and Vietnam. I pointed out the memorable coffee shop where Courtney and I had breakfast about 6 years ago (on a visit to University of San Francisco).  We saw the famous Ten Ren tea shop, and had lunch in the same place where we took Courtney and Erin in July 2004. We walked up this little side street and picked a place on the right, attracted by the Peking ducks in the window. Once we were sitting down, we looked around and realized it had to be the same place. We can remember it because we took a bunch of photos there in 2004. Of course, we had some Peking duck and were surrounded by Chinese families enjoying their Sunday meal. “Need a fork?” the waitress asked me. “Oh no, of course not,” I replied, proud of my experience in China. Caitlin,  Dad ordered a Tsingdao beer, and we thought of your stories in Tsingdao.

We continued our walking tour to Union Square, where SF’ers were enjoying their green space just like the Parisians enjoy Les Jardins de Luxembourg on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Then, we walked downhill on Market Street to the Ferry Building. No Farmers’ Market on Sunday, but the specialty shops inside were a feast for the eye (and nose) – selling bread in one shop, cheese in the next, wine, chocolate… Across the bay we could see Cal Berkeley and lots of sailboats and tourist boats in the bay. We picked our spot for 3 pm champagne at Pier 15 – J Cuvee from Sonoma. We walked past the cruise ship terminal and recalled the excitement of boarding the Silversea for Alaska there in 2004.

Palm Sunday Mass

Charlie has a way of insisting that we go to Mass when we travel, wherever we are and regardless of the busy schedule, so Sunday morning in San Francisco after six hours of sleep was no different. One year we enjoyed the Cathedral in Strasbourg France for Palm Sunday followed by Easter Sunday Mass at Notre Dame in Paris, and in 2009 we enjoyed Palm Sunday in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.

In Burlingame, a pretty residential suburb of San Francisco, the highlight was processing down the street with parishioners, the priest and a real donkey. The priest had his left hand wrapped around a short lead, and his right arm in a headlock around the donkey’s neck. The donkey did a perfect job, with no objections to the trumpets that blared a refrain and a church full of people. He even marched down the center aisle of the church! It reminded me of the time when Erin and I attended Easter Sunday Mass in La Quercia, a little country town north of Rome, and a bleating lamb was less sure of its role as it was brought to the altar in a basket at the beginning of Mass.