The Millennium Holiday Season was entirely different for us. Instead of our usual "Stay at home and host the festivities," we journeyed to Sydney, Australia to visit our son, Leif! What a holiday! The only complaint - it was too short. We arrived at 6:00 AM Christmas Eve and departed 11:00 AM on January 2nd of the New Millennium. Leif kept us going at a rapid pace for the duration so we saw and did just about everything we had planned to do.
I (Garry) took 2½ hours of video so folks can "enjoy" seeing our travels. Of course, as this was the "Land Under", all photos had to be rotated 180 degrees as required in the imaginary photo album at right.
I ate so much scrumptious sea food that when we got home I wanted to swim up the Rideau and spawn!!!! The only down-side was the air time spent getting there and back - about 25 hours, and of course the 16 hour time difference. Unfortunately I had a middle seat there and back and all flights were packed. Also, having to clear US customs in LA was a real pain, especially when all we were doing was switching flights!! Judy took this picture from the plane of the sun rising over the ocean about an hour prior to our arrival in Sydney - a beautiful start to a fantastic holiday!
As mentioned, we were prowling the Sydney airport at about 6:00 AM waiting for Leif to meet us as promised. After about an hour, in he rushed, rather flustered and apologetic, admitting he had slept in after a real good Australian Christmas party the night before. Actually, Judy and I didn't mind in the least as we were revelling in the fact we were off the damn plane and could finally stretch our legs! Weather wise it was beautiful; warm but not hot, with a gentle breeze. Of course this seems to be the norm for Sydney at least from our experience.
We carried our bags out to the car Leif had at his disposal for the majority of our visit - a brand new dual-fueled Volvo sedan which his department was testing. It could either run on regular gasoline (petrol), or with a flip of a switch, on natural gas. As a mechanical engineer I can vouch that the switch from one to the other was seamless. The down side was less power and range on natural gas plus considerable loss of trunk space with the extra natural gas high pressure tank. Nevertheless the car proved to be priceless as it allowed us to tour in style! Many thanks to Leif's confrères as I don't think his obtaining the vehicle just as we arrived was by any means a coincidence.
When we reached Sydney, Leif dropped us off on a side street, parked the car, and then helped us carry our luggage up to his apartment through the back entrance. Walking into his living room and seeing the view, Judy and I were speechless. There stretched out before us, just across the street, was what has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Bondi Beach! We had seen some pictures of Bondi, but they in no way did justice to the actual scene which, of course, was complete with the sound of the surf, and a warm, perfumed breeze. Here is what we saw from his windows!
For those of you of a doubting nature, here is a shot of Leif and I enjoying breakfast at the windows of his living room one glorious morning! As can be seen, the beach is really there!!! Leif is shown in this picture returning from his morning exercise with his Surf Kayak.
Sydney and its suburbs cover about 12,400 sq
km (about 4800 sq mi) with a population of 3,719,000. But unlike
other large cities, it is so spread out around the harbour and
diverse, that it does not feel crowded. Leif ensured we visited just
about every beach in the Sydney area. Guess what! They were all
beautiful: clean, well maintained and with plenty of personal space.
Here is a picture of us at
Botany Bay, the first area to be settled in Australia. An interesting
and useful feature of many of the parks/beaches was central BBQ
layouts provided by the city. All one had to do was plug in a few
coins (like a parking meter) to use the BBQ thus avoiding all the
fuss and dangers associated with individual units brought in by the
public. The following picture gives some idea of just how inviting
the beaches can be - and the water temperature is about 17º to
19º C so well within our comfort range! I didn't do that much
swimming, but Judy easily made up for my aquatic reticence.
We were invited to my Godson Mark's home (son of my cousin Ron George) for Christmas dinner and New Year's eve (sleep over). Mark was the head of Nortel for the Asian Rim market, and had a gorgeous home in the Mosman district overlooking Sydney, and the harbour. Ron and Leni were visiting Mark, daughter-in-law Dana, and granddaughter Mandi for the holidays so we had a chance to discuss old times. As we sat on Mark's patio gazing at the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Ron and I mused that if someone had suggested years ago when we were youngsters that he and I would usher in the Millennium with our families in Sydney, Australia, we would probably have laughed them out of the room! Mark and his wonderful family were excellent hosts, and graciously included us in all their holiday celebrations.
As a Christmas gift, (in addition to a scrumptious dinner at Milson's, a Sydney gourmet restaurant, later during our stay), Leif gave us a wonderful night at a Bed and Breakfast located in the quaint, very aussie town of Katoomba. The Melba House B & B was exceptional, with every detail covered by the congenial hostess. Breakfast was served in our spacious, antique filled room (no, not the occupants!); for us - Eggs Benedict of course. This is Judy "testing" the bed. If you would like more information regarding this wonderful Edwardian home, just click here to access their home page.
Katoomba is in the Blue Mountains about 60 km (37 mi) west of Sydney . The Blue Mountains are so named due to the blue haze generated by the eucalyptus trees growing in abundance locally. The photo of Judy and me at the top of this page is in the park overlooking the "Three Sisters" formation. To learn more about this beautiful location, just click here.
On New Year's Eve, we decided to visit the Taronga Park Zoo on our way to Mark and Dana's for the Millennium Fireworks and Celebrations. So, we took the ferry from Circular Quay, and arrived at the zoo about 2 PM. We figured this would give us about 3 to 4 hours of investigating the indigenous beasties. When we were purchasing our tickets (about $16 Aus/each), the seller casually mentioned that the zoo would close at 3 PM, that is 1 hour after our arrival! I questioned that we should have to pay the full price, but she was adamant. I then proclaimed in a loud and US accented voice (Canadians will understand), that as an American, I felt this was an outrage, and that it would never happen in the glorious U S of A. As usual when Dad does "his thing,", the other Stephanson family members present (Judy & Leif) tried to crawl into the adjacent cages to avoid association with this obnoxious Yankee. In any case, the price remained a take it or leave it choice, so we grabbed the tickets and proceeded to enjoy one of the quickest, most superficial tours imaginable. For you readers, I'll do the same: "Kangaroo - Check; Wallaby - Check; Koala - Check; Echidna - Check; and that's it! (more on video tape)"
As a consequence, we arrived early at Mark and Dana's, but were welcomed regardless. What a New Year's Eve with relatives, their wonderful friends, and, of course, delicious food! As many of you may know, the Sydney millennium fireworks were truly spectacular. We watched the complete show from Mark's patio. Here are two pictures of the harbour and bridge near the end of the display.
During our stay, we also had the pleasant opportunity to meet several of Leif's Australian friends. Vera Ballantyne and Stewart Clark, plus their beautiful new born son William treated us to lunch in their down town flat. Greg Davies' parents, Barbara and Gordon, invited us out for an afternoon cruise on their yacht. Also on-board was Greg's significant other, Maura. We toured from Pittwater near the Karingai Chase National Park, dived off the boat at one of the most beautiful private beach areas, and were spoiled with a gourmet meal on-board. Talk about Oz hospitality!!!
As you may by now gather, we truly enjoyed our brief Oz visit. The Australians were very friendly and accommodating.
And please pass on our thanks to Mark and his family, and all your interesting friends who made us feel so welcome. Finally, a very special thanks to Barbara and Gordon Davies who hosted two Canadian strangers so royally - we hope we get the opportunity to reciprocate some day here in the Great White North.
Hope springs eternal that we will return again to enjoy your hospitality and beauty !
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