Monday, January 21, 2013

Australia Part 2: The City

Previously, Australia Part 1: The Farm

We left my sister's family's farm on December 29th, Eleanor's 35th birthday. We got into Maroubra (a diverse beach suburb to the south of Sydney) in the afternoon, picking up a wholly inadequate birthday cake at the local Greek bakery on the way. (This chocolate-vanilla layer cake was literally the only disappointing food we ate during our entire trip--too bad it cost a whopping $50!) The kids immediately ran outside to play with my sister's Australian niece and nephew, Sylvie and Finn.

Eleanor and her family live in a two flat above Simon's twin sister Kate and her family (her two children are about the same age as mine), which makes for very close, happy cousins. Kate offered to babysit that first night so that we could celebrate Eleanor's birthday in style.
At Icebergs for Eleanor's birthday
Simon took us all to a super swanky restaurant overlooking Bondi Beach, where we had delicious food, craft cocktails and two memorable views: the stunning beach and the happening Saturday night crowd looking to see and be seen.

Tom and Ada
The next day Kate took her family to the farm, so we moved downstairs into their unit, which came with their very affectionate cat Tom. Although there was enough room for us in Eleanor's apartment so long as two kids slept on the floor, it was more comfortable spreading out a bit.

The highlight of our visit was probably our trip to Sydney's northernmost beach, Palm Beach. Eleanor and Simon's friends invited us all up for the day, as they were finishing up a weeklong rental in a beautiful vacation home accessible via an inclinator (yes, that blew the kids' minds). It was chilly when we set off from Maroubra, but by the time we'd eaten a lovely lunch, the sun was up and it was hot enough to hit the beach. Our superb hosts (one of whom is the grandson of the Danish architect who designed the Sydney Opera House) dug out swimsuits and sunblock for everyone.
Yep, all borrowed swimsuits

Another memorable day was the Wednesday we dropped off Zoe, Ada and Eliza at a one-day gymnastics summer camp and headed to the inner west suburb of Newtown, a sort of hipster mecca with the arty grit of Wicker Park. Imagine a long street full of Thai restaurants, record shops, vintage clothing stores and gelato stands. Eleanor took her youngest to Wreck-It Ralph, freeing Josh and I up to stroll around and eat (Thai food and gelato, naturally).

We had two Klein-only days when we left my sister and her family in peace and took the bus into town to do touristy things. We visited the The Rocks Discovery museum, Hyde Park Barracks Museum and took pictures of the Sydney Opera House from the roof of the MCA. We also spent a staggering $150 on tickets to the zoo (including the cost of the ferry boat and sky tram ride there). Yes, it's a very nice zoo with astonishing views, but our entry fee was nearly 50% more than the cost of a year's membership to the Brookfield Zoo near our home. When they say Sydney's expensive, they're not kidding.
This is the view from the zoo
Although seeing the New Year's Eve fireworks a day before North America rang in the New Year was pretty thrilling, the grand finale, on the very last day, was a bar hopping excursion that Simon planned. We started at the Sydney Opera House, where we had VIP tickets to the opening night of a new Mexican pop-up bar that Simon's construction firm built. Eating tacos, and sipping margaritas in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House, with the Harbour Bridge in the background is surreal enough, but add in a mariachi band and faux Mexicans wearing ponchos and fake mustaches while they walked around on stilts? It was beyond weird, and that was before Eleanor and I spotted a group of plastic surgery enhanced women whose bottoms were literally spilling out of their sequined short-shorts.
Eleanor at El Loco at the House

From the Opera House, we headed to a handful of bars and restaurants that Simon built for a prominent developer. My favorite was an underground joint that channeled a 1930's American speakeasy.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Australia Part 1: The Farm

My apologies for getting these posts up so late. We returned to the U.S. late Saturday night, I co-hosted a pizza party at the synagogue on Sunday and we all returned to work and school on Monday. Between severe jet-lag, book club, roller derby and the girls' activities, there wasn't a moment to spare.

We left for Australia right after school let out on Friday, December 21st. I'd taken the day off work, and in the morning we attended Zoe's elementary school holiday sing. We got to the airport around 4pm for our 6pm flight and sailed through security.

Then our flight was delayed and our gate changed. And changed again. I was anxious about making our connection to Sydney as we only had a one hour layover at LAX. It was tight, but we made it.

Our luggage didn't. But kudos to QANTAS, which not only boasts the nicest, newest jumbo jets ever (complete with free wine and liquor, decent food, nice flight attendants and more TV and movies than we could ever watch!), but a luggage service that cheerfully coordinated the delivery of our two checked bags to a farm four hours south of Sydney 24 hours after we did.

My sister and her family share a weekend farm with her mother-in-law Sally and her brother and sister-in-law (who, incidentally, also live downstairs from them in the city). It's near a popular vacation area halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, so Eleanor was anxious for us to hit the road ahead of the Christmas traffic. Even though we left Chicago on December 21st, it was the morning of the 23rd when we arrived, so we split into two cars (they have a Volvo station wagon and a 4-door Toyota pickup truck) and hit the road right away.

It was cool and raining lightly when we arrived, but the farm still wowed me. So pretty and pastoral with its trees, paddocks, pond and creek. They keep a flock of sheep, a small herd of cows and two alpacas (whose job it is to keep the sheep safe from predators). In addition to the farm animals, we saw plenty of wild wallabies, a snake and a couple of wombats. And lots of poop. Cow patties, sheep pellets and wombat poo everywhere. The farm is off the grid, with solar power providing the electricity (although there is a generator for running the dishwasher on cloudy days) and a rainwater collection system for the taps. The pond near the house is man made and there in case of bush fire (although the animals seemed to enjoy drinking from it).

Trimming the "tree"
We've never celebrated Christmas with the girls, but they quickly got into the spirit, helping decorate a tree my brother in law Simon felled and oohing and ahhing over the items "Santa" left for them in their stockings. Even Zoe, who is fairly certain Santa Claus isn't real, let herself get swept up in her cousin Eliza's fantasy, saying "How can Santa be our parents? You and Eleanor would never buy us Coco-Pops cereal!"

My favorite part of any celebration is the food, and the Aussies didn't disappoint. We had two Christmas meals, Sally's giant glazed ham for lunch and Eleanor's roast turkey for dinner.

While in the Milton/Ulladulla area, we visited a number of beaches, ate more than a few fish and chips (balking at the $2 surcharge for ketchup, which they call "tomato sauce"), and had a cookout and picnic in one of the farm's paddocks (complete with a swing that Simon jerry-rigged for the kids).

No booster seats or seat belts back here!
But the highlight of our trip was probably the day that--after clearing the road of some trees Simon had cut down--the 9 of us piled into the truck and drove on the most hair-raisingly steep and bumpy dirt track. All Kleins were in the back of the pickup, hanging on for dear life as two wet dogs and a chain saw slid back and forth against our feet and legs. We also got to climb through a crystal clear stream, which my kids fjorded naked except for their Keens. If travel is about getting away from your regular life, I think we were successful.
Picnicking in the paddock
I tried paddle boarding

Up next: Sydney!
Not another soul on this beach