21 June 2009

Visit to Sydney + Roadtrip

Sydney Jun-09

Thanks to the lingering vestiges of royal government, Australia celebrated the Queen's birthday on June 8th, so we took advantage and went to Sydney to hang out with Paul, Teresa and Heather for the week (Paul wrote an excellent blog entry about our visit, and so did Teresa). At first we thought about flying -- then taking the train -- but in the end, I'm not sure how, we decided to drive. So then we had to buy a car... (see my previous post)

In addition to the new car, we also had a new camera with us, so I've been waiting for David to figure out how to download the photos and videos, so I could show them here. But since getting home, we've barely had time to breathe, eat and sleep, so today is the first time we've been able to get them off the camera's hard disk. Hopefully over the next few days we'll get it sorted and I'll have more to show -- so far I've just uploaded a few photos to flickr.

We left home on Friday (5th), drove for about six hours, and stopped overnight at Coffs Harbour. I would have loved to stop and linger along the way at all the scenic spots and foodie attractions, but we only stopped a few times for snacks and to let the kids run around. Their favorite activity of the day was probably chasing bubbles around, blowing from a perfume shop next to Sirocco Cafe in Ballina. They also enjoyed playing in the park by the river. We saw, unexpectedly, quite a lot of beautiful Ballina as we traipsed all over going to lunch, a bookshop, Rivers (to buy Callum sandals that we then lost the next day...), the park, and circling back to pick up a hat we lost along the way.

The kids amazed me with how well they coped with the car trip. Callum slept for a long time in the morning, and Anya was great all day until about 3:30 when she started saying she wanted to go home. She fell asleep as soon as I gave her the dummy. Callum held her hand (in her sleep) and to my surprise he fell asleep too. They woke up when we stopped to check out motel prices in Coffs Harbour. I thought they'd be full of beans after that, but after dinner, we settled them at the usual time, got into bed ourselves with the reading lights on, and they fell asleep without any dramas. I guess they probably liked us all being together for a change. It brought back memories of my childhood road trips with my parents lurking at the far end of the hotel room while they waited for us kids to fall asleep.

The second day, we made less stops -- admiring the gorgeous scenery the whole way -- and arrived in Sydney by 5:30, conferring with Paul about the best route -- we'd heard about the dangers of getting sucked into the Lane Cove Tunnel. Sydney seems to be covered with tollways that can take you very far in the wrong direction if you're not careful. We arrived without mishap and didn't even have much trouble with rush hour traffic, probably because we were going counter-flow.

Anya kicked off our grand re-union with Paul, Teresa & Heather by saying, "Come on, Heather!" and all three kids immediately ran off to another room to play. They also had dinner together at a low table, which Heather wasn't too interested in eating, but she joined in to be social. Meanwhile, Paul grilled up some garlic prawns (yummmm) and burgers for our dinner.

The next day, we went to the Sydney Aquatic Centre which has a variety of heated pools and water slides, all indoors. We spent a lot of time going around and around in a circular channel that has jets propelling you along like submerged rapids. Really cool. After lunch, back home, all three kids enjoying tooling around the parking area on tricycles for a long time -- Anya pedalling on Heather's tricycle, Heather on a scooter style with no pedals, and Callum on a neighbor's scooter tricycle. David and I were agog, as Anya has been very uninterested in riding her tricycle at home. Maybe she just needs a big area to ride around in circles, rather than the bike paths we've been bringing her to.

On the Queen's Birthday, we went to Taronga Zoo. Tons of people were there, but we couldn't really tell after we went in, because it is so spacious. The zoo has a prime position along the harbour as well, so if only they would build some treehouses... (they do have an overnight stay program called "Snore and Roar" but I don't know where the guests stay). We spent hours at the zoo and barely saw a quarter of the exhibits. If I lived in Sydney I would probably get an annual pass to the zoo! There was so much to see. Right after lunch we were lucky to see the "Elephants' Playtime." I have a particular fondness for snakes, so I loved getting to pet an olive python. But we all agreed our favorite was the giraffes -- they just look so elegant and gentle.
Sydney Jun-09

The following day, Paul and Teresa went to work -- we stayed out of their way while they managed to compress a whole morning routine into just an hour. (We don't seem able to do that, I'm not sure why... 2 x kids = 4 x time?) David and I took the kids for a long walk along the shoreline, around to Luna Park. We visited there in 2007, when we last came to Sydney, and Anya said that this time she would not be afraid of the clowns and she was really looking forward to meeting them. Unfortunately, we didn't think about the fact that it was a cold, windy, winter workday -- the park was closed! We got a good walk out of it anyway, and took a "sequel" photo in front of the Luna Park gate. The outing tuckered out the kids quite well and I dashed off for a few hours to meet my replacement at the DHI Sydney office (I have handed off my Software Sales role and am going back to project work).
Sydney North Shore

On Wednesday, we packed up and drove out to my Uncle Felix & Aunt Yuk Kuen's home in Pennant Hills. (Unfortunately, this involved driving halfway to Penrith, passing through several tollways, before I realised my mistake.) Uncle Felix & Aunt Yuk Kuen have a beautiful home ("just a cottage") in Cherrybrook where we were warmly welcomed. I last saw them at our wedding (1997) and before that I'd only seen them few times in the past, so this was a long overdue family reunion. We really enjoyed staying with them and the kids felt right at home almost from the beginning (Aunt Yuk Kuen really pulled out all the stops with providing toys, movies and treats).

On Thursday, we set out for Darling Harbour, intending to visit various museums, parks and other attractions around the area, but as soon as we arrived at the Powerhouse Museum, the kids were rapt and we spent the whole morning there. The first activity of the day was chasing pigeons around the plaza outside the entrance... then playing with techno toys... examining a spread of musical instruments... "Zoe's House" where they donned miniature construction hats and safety vests and carted around rubbery "bricks"... wandering around a futuristic exhibit of robots and computers downstairs... and finally visiting an outdoor play area where we had lunch as well. I must admit, David and I got pretty bored with the museum but clearly the kids loved it.

That night David and I had a long talk with Uncle Felix & Aunt Yuk Kuen about family stuff and I asked Uncle Felix to write out the family tree for me. My grandfather had 3 wives (my father was his eldest son) and I knew all the names from my grandmother's part of the tree, but I only know one aunt from the other part of the family. The funny thing is, after looking at the diagram, I realised that there were more people in my dad's generation than in mine! I have nine aunts and uncles, but just six cousins.

On our last day with Uncle Felix & Aunt Yuk Kuen, we went for a short walk in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Our time there was frustratingly short, since we were limited by how soon we could get the kids ready in the morning, and how soon they got tired after lunch, but it was nice to visit such a major national park -- it's on the Australian National Heritage List.

In the evening, we drove back to North Sydney (along with my aunt & uncle) and all had dinner together at Lee's Fortuna Court for a surprise birthday dinner for David (his birthday being the next day). Teresa kindly organised the whole thing and brought a huge chocolate cake, which David got to cut with a sword (the restaurant's).
Sydney Jun-09

On David's birthday, we left Sydney at 9 am, and David drove with determination all day (I spelled him briefly in the afternoon so he could nap). We got home at 11:30 pm! Thank you David; I never could have done it... and what a way to spend your birthday. It was good to wake up in our own beds in the morning and have a day to reset ourselves (and do laundry!)

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