Bonus Life Activated! Part 3 – Shibuya at Dusk and the Journey Home

As noted in my last entry, the pitstop at the craft brewery had put some pep in step so decided to check out one last place before ending my Shibuya interlude. Fortunately, it was only a few blocks away.

Parco Shibuya was a recently opened upscale mall which featured different types of store (fashion, outdoors and even anime/gaming. It was essentially the heart of the Shibuya fashion scene with all of the major players having some sort of presence there. Of more interest to me was the 9th floor roof deck, especially since the sun was setting.

The roof deck was full of young Japanese, hanging out along the surrounding benches and stationed at various points to watch the sunset. I did the same as the sky turned a golden hue.

On the way down, I stopped on the 7th floor, which featured gaming characters and the ever-present Nintendo, which was the busiest by far. Since it was now near dark, the lights of Shibuya were set aglow.

I wanted to walk around a bit more but a combination of factors cut that short. First, the toll of slugging around my backpack made my shoulders feel like they were on fire. The other thing was I noticed that the buses to the airport got a lot more scarce as it got later. I didn’t really want to take any chances considering my previous logistical nightmares. So, after yet again having various map apps steer me wrong and a very kind expat help me secure a ticket, I was off to the airport.

After I cleared security for the third time, I decided to kill some time at the Duty Free shop. Normally, I just window shop but when I saw my ATF Japanese whiskey on sale for a really good price, I pulled the trigger. I saw as a reward to myself for a jolly good vacation.

By the time I got back to the lounge, it was bursting at the seams. I was able to snag one of the last seats, and ordered from the Noodle Bar a bowl of ramen, which turned out to be way better than expected. I have to admit by this point was I pretty loopy (hence no pic of the ramen)

Finally, it was time to board and unlike my relatively Spartan seat, this one was pretty swanky. Called “The Room” it had a very large seat and even its own panels that could be closed like a door. I forgot to take a photo (again, loopy) so please enjoy this one I found from a random travel blog.

I could actually fit all the way in this one when in flat bed mode. That plus my general exhaustion allowed to sleep through most of the 10 hour flight. Next thing I knew, I was back in the States and thanks to Global Entry, made through customs in mere seconds. My trip was over and lived on only in my memories. Oh yeah, and this blog. Thanks for reading. Until next time to ???


Bonus Life Activated! – Part 2 – Shibuya by Day

I was determined to push through all of those logistical nightmares and soon I was greeted with some truly breathtaking aerial views of the entire city of Tokyo. At the top, by the helipad natch, was a grassy area where people were lying down and taking it all in.

Every angle had a new vista, including one particularly popular for selfies so when in Rome…. It was interesting being up that high and seeing the layer of pollution which was hampering the crystal blue day.

I had been eyeing a section called the “sky hammocks and gave my barking dogs some rest for a spell. There were also couches set up at various spots, which was a nice touch. Although once on the site there was no rush to kick people out, I decided to let some others get a chance and made my way first an inside version, which actually was very helpful as it pointed out major buildings/landmarks for each viewpoint. There also an apparent evening lounge.

I was getting hungry at this point and luckily I knew how to get to my next stop as I had been there before – Sushi Midori. The restaurant was nestled in a food court of the nearby Shibuya Station. But the long line that had already formed indicated it wasn’t a typical mall restaurant.

Known for some of the best bargain sushi from the best source possible (all sourced from the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market) it had long been a very popular lunch spot. My number was 69, so I had that going for me at least. The problem was the current number was 27. The bench wasn’t there last time and given my current condition, was much needed.

It soon became a war of attrition and eventually a bit after an hour later, I was finally ushered into the small main room. I got lucky with a bar seat in front of the main chef. That meant it was easy to go with the biggest option they had – omakase nigiri from the chef.

I was first given two starters – a hot savory custard known as chawanmushi (a personal favorite) and a small salad with crab and miso. Both were outstanding and great way to start the meal.

Known for their speedy service, I was soon greeted with quite the feast. Way too many items to list out so I took a pic of the menu descriptions for those curious. Several of the pieces I had never eaten before but all delicious, with precise levels of wasabi and other spices to complement them. This was the work of a true sushi chef and amazingly only cost $26. I was beyond full but wisely ate the truly great sorbet that did help finish off this wonderful lunch.

I waddled my way out of the restaurant and made the quick trip to the famous Shibuya crossing, which I took a pic of in the middle of it by holding my phone above my head and hoping for the best. I think it turned out pretty nifty.

My backpack had become an albatross as I once again failed to find a locker for it. At least my next stop wasn’t too far away nor did it require much physical energy. It did however take the usual sign language to figure out where exactly it was. I was reduced to going “Cat cafe – meow” which finally got the correct response.

Cat Cafe Mocha was the one that started it all, allowing visitors for a per 10 minute charge to hangout with a bunch of cats. It was on 2 levels with the first floor featuring a couple of cats just deigning people to be in their presence. There was one girl who was reading to one of them hiding under a chair. It was about as Japanese as it gets.

The next floor however, was party Central with cats everywhere. For a small fee, people were giving them treats or trying to entice them with various toys. I even got a couple to come over and say hello. They were clearly used to being around people and the patrons were very happy to be around them. It was strange sure but in a city with such small accommodations that they can’t keep cats of them own, why not have a place where they can go to love their furry friends?

Having abandoned all hope finding a place to stash my backpack, I wandered down a nearby alley way where for the first time pretty much all day I heard multiple people speaking English. Perhaps drawn for craft beer, Olson was a small tap room with an impressive list of their own various styles of beers. Unfortunately, neither of the proprietors spoke any English so asking about their beers proved fruitless.

Still, it was a place to sit and have some pretty decent craft brews. More importantly, for my immediate needs, they had a plug so I could charge my phone. This brief respite was just what I needed for the final push, which will be the thrilling conclusion of this side quest of mine. Coming soon…

Bonus Life Activated! – Shibuya – Part 1 – Lost in Translation

When I was planning my return from Australia, an interesting route popped up – Sydney to Tokyo then a 15 hour layover until LAX. A mini trip to Tokyo (via Haneda which is much closer than Narita.) I couldn’t book that fast enough.

Flying via ANA, I was given access to New Zealand Airlines business lounge, which was pretty standard. I was saving my meal for the flight anyway, which was pretty good, especially the smoked duck appetizer. My seat and this airplane for that matter had seen its better days – including the undersized bottom of the flat bed which made getting my legs in fully challenging.

I was still able to get in at least a few hours of fitful sleep and soon arrived, in pitch black 5am to Haneda. My plan was to head to the ANA Lounge to drop my backpack off and more critically, take a shower. This unraveled quickly as they forced me to go through immigration after I told them I’m trying to just stay in the airport.

After jumping through many hoops (Japan still getting the process smoothed out letting foreigners back into the country). I found myself in front of the bus ticketing office. I opted for the 8:30am bus to Shibuya as that would give me enough time for a quick nap and then shower.

My first sign of trouble was when my boarding pass didn’t work to get me back into Departures for the lounge. I had to wait about 20 mins for the ANA ticketing office to fix that. Soon I arrived at the lounge so it was time for a quick nap. The lounge was absolutely rammed with people, including many screaming kids so I was looking forward to getting into Shibuya.

I had made a reservation for the shower room and after about an hour it was my turn. The shower room was very, very nice – from the incredibly comfy bath towel to everything from toothbrush/toothpaste to a stool to sit down getting dressed. I was feeling soo much better… which lasted about 5 minutes until after a tortured back and forth with a lounge attendant via eventually Google Translate, I had to keep backpack. I wasn’t pleased but had a bus to catch. Except, there was one problem. I had no way of getting outside because I was in Departures.

After a few failed attempts, I retreated back to the lounge to figure out what to do. Again, the communication was painful but eventually, they got someone from Immigration to help out. It was now past my bus departure but at this point, I just didn’t want to be trapped at the airport.

Finally. I was instructed to follow this rep who took me to an abbreviated version of the process – basically the one crew members go through. I was told I wouldn’t be let in a third time today (Hell I didn’t want it to be twice!) and was free. I went back to the bus ticket office and they graciously swapped out a new ride, which was leaving in a few minutes.

I had made an 11am reservation for Shibuya Sky (see part 2 coming soon!) and by the time I got to Shibuya it was now 10:45. I had read about a place where I could drop off my bag but had a lot trouble finding it. Eventually through basically a lot of sign language back and forth, I found out it doesn’t open until 11 – great.

Google Maps had enough problems for me in Australia but it had no shot in Tokyo where things are almost entirely vertical and therefor making it a real challenge to find spots. After basically going in circles, I finally found the correct entrance… only the elevator didn’t stop on that floor. I was soon joined by a group of travelers all lost trying to find this stupid thing.

Through our collective efforts, we were able to figure out where to go, and I made it with a minute to spare on my timed ticket.

Now the fun would finally begin…

Sydney Day 7 – Bondi Bliss

My flight wasn’t until 9:30 pm and with having to check out at noon, that gave me just enough time to check an item off my bucket list – The Icebergs Club at Bondi Beach. Home to arguably the most famous pool in the world and spectacular aerial views, to get there, I first walked to a train station at bit further from my usual spot but still not too bad. It was about 10 degrees cooler too so that helped tremendously. I then took the train to Bondi Junction and then finally boarded a bus to get to near the club. All told took about 40 mins door to door. Not bad really and when I excited the bus I was greeted with my reward.

The club was located on the far end of the beach above a cliff offering just jaw dropping views of the entire coastline. Having first proved I wasn’t a Sydney local (who have to be or become members) I made my way down to the club’s casual bar and grill.

Being a Tuesday, it wasn’t very crowded so I was able to snag a great spot overlooking everything. Keeping it simple, I ordered their bar burger – bacon cheeseburger with an interesting addition of beetroot along with fries. With that views, it could have tasted like shoe leather, and I wouldn’t have cared. However, turned out to be a very good burger with beetroot adding a nice element to more standard fare.

The halls were lined with the past presidents of the club (from 1923 to present) and vibe was very much of a swim club bar. There was a nice, steady breeze that kept me lingering until it was time to check out the main attraction.

The main pool (the aptly named Big Pool) was reserved for members and for those who had passed their mandatory swim test with a smaller pool open to all for about $7. Needing to block the intense sun, I purchased a cool club cap and asked if I could take a couple of quick snaps.

After that, I walked towards the main path to the beach. The cap was a much needed item and helped big time counteract the strong rays. I could see ahead there weren’t many places along the beach with shade so chilled a bit under one of the rare spots that did, watching the surfers do their thang in the roiling waters.

I continued down the main path, passing some really cool murals that had been painted along with a skate park, turning back to get a couple of shots of the Icebergs club now in the distance.

I had been struck by the lack of lifeguard towers but towards the other end of the beach was the main station, which I had heard barking out various orders during my stroll.

I came to the end of the beach, which had a small tide pool area next to what I’m sure are crazy expensive condos/rentals. I was getting pretty parched as I had finished my usual liter of water and had noticed a small cafe in the center of the walk.

I had initially wanted a beer but guess shouldn’t have been surprised that it was non alcoholic drinks only. I chose at least an interesting one – a yuzu infused non alcoholic sake, which was tart and refreshing.

The service was almost non-existent which was fine with me given my view and the cool ocean breezes. If there had been a hammock, I probably would have stayed a lot longer and possibly missed my flight. But no, I returned to my senses and treated myself to an Uber back to the hotel.

My time in Australia had almost come to an end but what a capper. It’s rare when something not only lives up to your hopes but surpasses them. Bondi Beach and especially the Icebergs Club did just that.

Sydney Day/Night 6 – Hot in the City

The day I had been dreading weather-wise was finally here. Fortunately, I had planned around it with some indoor activities. First up, lunch at Tiny’s Sandwich Bar. A cold sandwich with one of their boozy shakes sounded like the perfect way to beat the heat.

It was a good thing I had booked a table as the place was full with workers on their lunch break. I’m a sucker for a ham sandwich and the Number 1 – with shaved honey ham, lettuce, shallots, cucumbers and dijonnaise on Vienna bread was an easy choice. A great combination of flavors that were all held together with the thick and chewy bread. For the milkshake, I asked my server which one she preferred and immediately replied with the Cherry Jack – Jack Daniels whisky, cherry liqueur, vanilla ice cream and marischino cherries. Aussie shakes were similar to most I’ve had in Europe, which are more frappes than shakes in terms of thickness. This was a dangerous drink but oh so good.

Next, I decided to treat myself to a long overdue Thai massage – in this case a combination Thai and Swedish massage with hot stones and some reflexology throw into the mix. 90 minutes later, I emerged a new man and made the short trip back to the hotel to flee the now 100 degree weather with 20 mph winds of hot air. A/C never felt so good.

One of the things I like to ask servers/chefs/bartenders when visiting a new city is to ask them where they go on their day off. For Sydney, the consensus pick was Uncle Ming’s. Lucky for me, it was located a mere 3 blocks away so after the sun went down, I made my way downstairs, past the suit shop and through the curtains to a very, very red room.

I love this kind of place, if not quite this red, so I took a seat at the bar and ordered a Tsingtao Dark Ale, which I didn’t even know they made. They have a simple but enticing small menu of Chinese and Japanese small plates. I figured I needed at least one more local thing so selected the tempura local prawns and the 5 spiced pork and peanut dumplings. My server had enthusiastically recommended having the honey sesame dipping sauce with them, and she was right. As Guy Fieri likes to say on his show, they should bottle that sauce. It was outstanding, especially with the perfectly cooked prawns. The dumplings, while good, suffered the same problem I had with my previous Sydney dumpling order – too much wrapper. Still, the honey sesame sauce helped cover over that flaw.

I joked with my server if she had to readjust her eyes when leaving such a red place. She laughed and said she’s used to do it by now but at first it was a problem. The kettles above the bar were used for a truly genius idea – shared cocktails for the table which patrons can then portion out themselves like serving tea. There was also a cocktail that was set on fire to give it a smoky taste. I also particularly got a kick out of the etchings on the glass fridges which featured the legends Bruce Lee, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris, who inexplicably was in his Invasion USA outfit. 

I had been researching gelato spots near me and had narrowed it down to two. I asked my server which she preferred and without hesitation said “Messina” She, in fact, loved it so much she still seeks it out even though she’s in a different neighborhood now. 

I walked down the now familiar George St but this time turned toward St. Martin Place. Along the way, I passed by the main Post Office and Monument to the Fallen, and eventually arrived at a very stylish plaza, which had a few restaurants and bars on one side, and my destination on the other.

With over 40 different flavors, including special weekly one-offs, I was a kid in an, err, ice cream store. Originally, I was going to get my standard pistachio but I saw they had one that combined 2 of my ATFs – pistachio praline. After that taste, I asked for one of the other flavors that stood out to me, one of their limited specials – Melt in Your Moscato – Vanilla clotted cream gelato with strawberry purée and chunks of strawberry shortcake. It was the clear winner.

I took a seat outside, listening to two models complaining about the declining sales of their NFTs, and enjoyed this outstanding gelato, which tasted pretty much exactly as the description implied – delicious. I had thought that it would be too rich to get another scoop but I saw they had a “tiny” option so I felt I would regret it if I skipped the pistachio praline. My server ended up giving me a generous serving and once again, I headed outside to eat this fantastic combination of pistachio gelato with pieces of praline and caramel, which tasted exactly like the Pralines n Cream of my childhood.

I waved the white flag and started my walk back, this time going straight up George St, which while not as packed as Saturday, was still teeming with patrons. It had finally turned a bit cooler so I enjoyed taking in the night air one final time in Sydney. Tomorrow would be the last hurrah, and the expected 10 degree drop in temperature would be most welcomed as I finally make my way to Bondi Beach for a proper send off to my Australian adventures.

Sydney – Night, Day, Sunset

My Manly excursion had left me a bit drained so for the first time I decided to have dinner come to me via Uber Eats from a Japanese spot only a couple of blocks away. Apparently the Travel Godz frowned upon this as I had my first truly subpar meal in Australia – so blah it’s not even worthy of a picture on here. Oh well, at least it was relatively cheap and did give me time/energy to rally for a Saturday night in the CBD.

I decided to check out a couple of highly regarded cocktail bars. First up was Employees Only, a Sydney outpost of the famous New York City speakeasy. I made my way down the steep staircase into the main room, which was full to the brim of people enjoying a night out. I made my way to the bar where the very friendly bartender explained they were no longer taking drink orders because the burlesque show was about to start. Well alrighty then.

Burlesque shows for me can be very hit or miss but this was an excellent show. The dancer really knew what she was doing and the staff all played along, including throwing a ton of cocktail napkins in the air during various points of the show. The audience ate it up and everyone was having a great time. After it was over, I was motioned over to finally order my drink. I chose one of the staples of the NYC bar, FRAISE SAUVAGE – Beefeater Gin shaken with Wild Strawberries, Tahitian Vanilla & Fresh Lemon, Topped with Sparkling Wine. Served in a Tulip. It was very nice and refreshing drink. I was concerned the vanilla would make it too sweet but it was nicely balanced with the more acidic elements.

The DJ was playing all of the party hits. I admit it was fun to hear “Livin La Vida Loca” again for the first time in eons. Still, after about an hour or so, I had my fill and made my way back up the stairs to continue walking down George St, which was now filled with the cacophonous sounds of various music coming from the bars and the revelers wandering around them.

My next stop had been rated a top bar in Sydney for years, Grain at the Four Seasons Hotel. Based on what I had read about it, I was surprised to find a much more party-like atmosphere, with the bartenders getting into the fun very much like those at Employees Only. Thankfully, the music was much better, with the DJ playing some great classic disco and early house tracks. I took at seat at the end of the bar and ended up selecting Hunter Gatherer – Kangaroo Mescal, Laphoiag 10 YO, Port, Peated Barley Port and Blackcurrant. This was one complex drink – definitely a sipper.

As I enjoyed my drink, I stuck up a conversation with my seat mate who was American but had recently relocated to Sydney. He was now in IT but years ago had started out as a researcher on Saturday Night Live during the early 90s. Being a total nerd of the show, I was fascinated about his time there – Phil Hartman was the nice cast member, and nothing was more stressful than when Lorne made changes after dress rehearsal. He had stayed in the hotel many times and knew everyone on the staff at the bar although he didn’t drink alcohol. The bartender, seeing that I was now friends with their regular, gave me taster of a new margarita recipe he was working on, which was quite nice.

Soon it was closing time so I said my goodbyes and started the walk back up George St. The street was still teeming with people at the witching hour. I briefly considered one more round, but it had been a very long day so I decided instead to go back to my room.

It now being Sunday I had a hankering for some eggs Benedict (known here as Bennie) I had been told that a nearby stop, Cafe Alma, had really good Bennies, which sounded great to me. The clouds from the previous days were going and now the sky was a brilliant blue. The downside of that though is the sun was much more intense, so much so that I decided to minimize my exposure by taking the tram to at least the majority of my walk to the restaurant. I exited Town Hall and was grateful the remainder of my path was shaded.

The Bennie was excellent – perfectly poached eggs, a generous heaping of Tasmanian smoked salmon and a “spicy” Hollandaise (which wasn’t really spicy) with an interesting addition of sliced pickles, which I mostly set aside although did have a couple of bites with them in the mix.

After finishing, I noticed that the restaurant faced out towards a park so I made my way in that direction. To the side of the park was a series of casual restaurants and food stands which I strolled through noting several spots I definitely would have checked out if I was a local. The park, given it being a sunny Sunday, was not surprisingly full of kids enjoying some truly impressive play equipment that encircled the park.

Having previously hit one of side of Darling Harbour, this time I headed towards the other end, which gave me some new perspectives. One thing that had caught my eye on the other end of the harbor was the Maritime Museum with some impressive ships outside of it.

I didn’t really want to go through the entire museum so I made due walking along the deck. The submarine, and of course, the battleship were the main showstoppers but the whole layout was very impressive.

To cross back to the other side, I made a short trek uphill to the Pyrmont Bridge, which was a great way to take even more picturesque harbor views. I could feel myself baking in the sun so I retreated to the relatively shady York St, which was one of the main routes to my hotel but I hadn’t been on this end of it previously.

Knowing how hot it was going to be tomorrow and unsure how comfortable it will be to dine al-fresco, I decided to do that tonight, at sunset but first wanted to check out a nearby bar, Rekodo, for a pre meal cocktail. With the weather now pretty much perfect, I made the trek down the hill back to the Bangaroo section of Darling Harbour.

Part of a three section venue called Bangaroo House, Rekodo was on the second floor. Recently rebranded as a Japanese influenced bar/restaurant, it also featured DJs playing vinyl only. It was dusk when I sat down at the long bar and ordered one of their specialty cocktails – The Perfect Pair – Nashi pear infused Barcardi Oro, Shichida Saga sake, pineapple, sage – delicious and refreshing.

I enjoyed my drink and chat with the bartender who enjoyed showing me the ingredients to his various concoctions. The 2 DJs traded off between soul/funk with some Italo disco thrown in here and there. They weren’t exactly the best mixers but solid track selection. Soon, it was time to head nearby to the restaurant – Jordon’s Seafood.

I had passed by Jordon’s Seafood a couple of times in my various treks and knew I wanted to dine outside so made a reservation to ensure that. It was a good thing too as there were only a couple of tables left.

I had been told to get the fish pie and in reading the description – Prawns, scallops, hake in a prawn bisque bechamel with black truffle and salmon roe – this seemed like a no brainer. I asked my server which of the Australian chardonnays he preferred and without hesitation he (oddly enough) said the cheapest option. Sold. The chardonnay wasn’t too bad but soon after the fish pie arrived, it seemed like a good pairing. The fish pie was pipping hot and when I dug inside, it was full of chunks of seafood. The star though was the sauce, deep and rich of prawn flavor, it was one of the best singe dishes I had so far during my trip.

After dinner, I briefly considered getting some gelato from the place I had passed by several times with normally a long line. There was no line now, but I was beyond full. I didn’t really feel like schlepping up that steep hill and noticed that there was an entrance to the Wyndard station, which is close to the hotel. I walked through a series of high tech tunnels and emerged only a couple of blocks away. I made a mental note of that in case I needed to use it again with the oppressive heat coming tomorrow. It would be my last full day/night of the trip but I was going to tread lightly given the weather. The homestretch was in sight.

Sydney – by Land and by Sea

Mother Nature finally decided to have her say with my trip to Sydney and the tease of rain I experienced previously now became a deluge. With that in mind, I opted for a quick meal of good ol’ comfort food with an Aussie twist. I had heard good things about a place only a few blocks from me called Crazy Dog.

Supposedly the thing to get was the lamb dog, which was then recommended to me to get the Honey Dog topping, which was crispy onions, caramelized onion and honey mustard. It was indeed a good choice. The dog itself tasted like biting into a gyro and the onions 2 ways were great counterweights to the richness of the lamb sausage, with the tangy honey mustard pulling it all together. I would definitely be a regular if I lived in Sydney.

It really started to come down so I retreated back to the hotel to let it blow over and get ready to meet up with my local friend Nicolle at the Opera Bar. It was still raining a bit when I left for the venue but shortly after meeting up with Nicole, it started pouring. Patrons who had opted for outside seating soon regretted it and fled the scene. We continued to search out for a seat and finally found one in a different section of the bar but with great view of the harbor.

We shared a few items – steamed pork and veggie dumplings as well as a brown rice poke bowl with salmon. Again, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food and also enjoyed an excellent margarita as we waited for the rain to stop. It finally did so we walked back to Central Quay for another cocktail with a different view of the area. This time I opted for a mojito (that large pink drink was Nicole’s spritzer) which after I gave it a proper muddling, was quite refreshing. Nicole had been up since the crack of dawn so we said our goodbyes. She suggested that I take the ferry over to Manly the next day, which sounded good to me.

I woke up to much better weather so the Manly trip seemed like a great idea. I made my way back to Central Quay and got in line for the next ferry. There was a surly harbor master who kept trying to split up the large crowd into two different sections. I asked him what the difference was and he gruffly replied “all going to the same place, mate.” I noticed though as the ferry pulled up that by opting for the second area, I actually had a direct shot for a coveted seat outside on starboard side. This gave me a perfect spot to take a bunch of pics as we left the harbor and cruised right by the Sydney Opera House.

After we left the immediate area, the ferry kicked into overdrive, going way faster than I was expecting. I counted at least 100 sailboats of various sizes as we sped along through the harbor.

A mere 20 minutes later, we arrived at Manly Wharf, where I had made a reservation as a German place that looked good, overlooking the nearby cove. A pretzel was a must, of course and the dark German dunkel with chicken schnitzel, fries in a mushroom sauce was way better than expected.

After finishing my meal, I needed to walk it off so I took the path down the cove and up some stairs to a pathway that overlooked the cove. It was filled with Saturday picnickers and explorers, some fishing, some hikers and cyclists. It was a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the CBD, and I enjoyed the tranquility. Alas, no tiny penguins were spotted.

As I walked back to the wharf I noticed an esplanade – called the Corso – so decided to check that out. I was surprised to find on the other end a pretty massive beach with surfers catching smallish waves and a sprawling coast line. I ambled down the path and enjoyed the cool breezes while tuning out the usual tourist beach crap like getting a picture taken with a very pissed off parrot.

It was now getting towards late afternoon and figured I would try to beat the masses to the next ferry. That turned out to be a mixed bag as I did get a seat but there were none with views so no pictures from the return route, dear readers. Another 20 minutes later, we pulled up to Central Quay and I made the short walk back to my hotel. My original plans to meet up with Nicole again unfortunately had to change to do a family emergency. That though would give me the chance to explore a bit of the Sydney cocktail scene, with a couple of different options on the docket. More on that and what I expected to be a lazy Sunday, tomorrow.

Sydney Day/Night, Part 2 – Walkabout and Wine

Knowing that I was having more refined dining for dinner, I decided to do something quick and casual for lunch. The waterfront was filled with cafes touting various lunch specials but one caught my eye with a $20 chicken parm meal with a beer – sold. The rain had stopped with the sun starting to peek through so I opted to sit outside and do some prime people watching.

Not expecting much given the price, I was pleasantly surprised how good it was – the basil leaves mixed in with the sauce was a nice touch – and ditto the full pint was of a very tasty local dark ale. Now refueled, I decided to continue exploring the harbor – Darling Harbour to be precise.

The harbor was filled with a mix of workers on their lunch break; tourists milling about; and joggers who pushed their way through any gaps they could on the path. The weather was definitely nicer now so that made me want to continue my journey past the harbor into the section known as Bangaroo.

At the end was a very nice preserve and park, filled with trails and nature paths which I’m sure are filled with people during nice weather. I continued past the park to the wharf, which had become a center point for the tech scene in Sydney as well as whatever this was.

As I came around the corner, there was the Sydney Bridge, now probably best known for the Sydney Bridge Walk, which was something I had zero desire to do but from the ground, it was an impressive bridge.

In the distance, I could see probably the most famous landmark of the city, the Sydney Opera House. As I continued along the waterfront, it came into better focus.

I had heard about an area called The Rocks, so I was curious to see what exactly it looked like. Essentially the birthplace of modern Sydney, it had now been transformed into a posh market and shopping area with still a bit of its roots in the various alleys (called laneways) as well as supposedly the city’s oldest pub.

After 7 miles and many, many steps in the ol Health app on my iPhone, I was beat so I headed back to the hotel for some rest. In what seemed like only a few minutes later, it was dinner time. The Bar Liberty folks had recommended a fellow wine bar in a nearby part of town called Surry Hills. Giving my feet a rest, I opted for an Uber to get to my destination – Bar Copains.

Comprised of only a handful of tables, I took a seat at the bar, next to a couple who were trying almost every dish on the menu for her birthday – my kind of people. I was curious about the Australian prosecco so I ordered that along with a local scallop with Cafe du Paris butter (basically an herbed compound butter.

I’m usually not a fan of prosecco but this was a nice version of it – light and crisp with a surprising amount of flavor. It paired very nicely with the small but very tasty scallop.

I chatted with the owner about how I had been relatively disappointed with the Australian pinot noirs so he suggested I try one they were featuring, which was a bit more robust. For my main course, I chose the pappardelle with lamb ragu and rosemary, which the couple at the bar noted was a highlight for them so far. The wine was a marked improvement and indeed was a lot more robust than the previous ones I had tried. It complemented the very rich and delicious lamb ragu in the pappardelle – a great dish. So good in fact I forgot to take a pic of it until about half way done. Whoops.

I opted not to get a third glass, even though Australian liquor rules mean the pours are smaller than in the States. I decided to test out the metro system, which turned out to be very quick and simple trip back to my hotel. Tomorrow I’d be going a bit off script letting my local friend take the wheel for a change. That means blogging over the next couple of days will be a bit more sparse than usual but we’ll see how it all unfolds.

Sydney Day 2 – Meeting the Locals

When I travel abroad I tend to eschew from most truly touristy things but everyone once and awhile I can’t resist. The Sydney WILD Life exhibit where I could meet a koala was one of them. It didn’t hurt that was also a mere 10 minute walk from my hotel. There was a light drizzle as I left the hotel which quickly started to turn into actual rain. While I knew it was a pretty short trip, I also didn’t know how long it would continue so I bought a cheap umbrella at a local quick mart. The rain soon picked up even more making me glad I made that decision.

It was still raining when I got there but fortunately most of the exhibits were indoors. The good news was that the rain seemed to have kept the masses away as I made my way through a series of ramps that on a busy day I’m sure would be rammed with people. When I finally got to the top, there was a small outdoor area where 2 Tasmanian devils were huddled up to escape the rain and this rather impressive Souther Cassowary, which didn’t seem pleased about being wet.

Next up was a nocturnal creatures section with one of my favorite little guys I met – the bilby. Unlike the snoozing devils, the bilby was constantly hopping around and even going up to the glass to inspect what was going on there. Adorable.

Next to the bilby, was a large tank and enclosure for their platypuses. I was surprised how small they were but also just how damn fast they were in the water, which made trying to snap a pic of them challenging. The Japanese tourist with an impressive camera set up even gave up trying to get a great shot. This is the best I could do.

The next major section had all number of reptiles, small to enormous. It was feeing time for the bearded lizards so I watched them nibble away and also saw some geckos, other lizards and a very large python. They also had a new section for their fresh water crocodiles with two impressive ones chilling on a rocky shoreline.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Aussie zoo without two of their most well-known residents – kangaroos and wallabies. The pack of kangaroos were mostly just chilling in their area and getting some snacks – not a ton of hopping around at that moment. The wallabies had their own rocky enclave and were a lot more active, tons of hopping around on the various rock shelves, including the one pictured above who had hopped up there to relax for a bit. Oh and the final little guy is called a Numbat.

Finally, it was time for my closeup with Jasper the koala. I had paid extra to be able to spend 10 minutes with him and his keeper, including a picture. And uh, well, Jasper wasn’t quite up for that. Koalas sleep up to 20 hours per day, including during my visit with him. It was interesting though being able to see up close how slowly he was breathing (koalas have one of the slowest resting heart rates for mammals. I tried to kill time by asking a ton of questions about koalas. I’m now pretty much an expert so feel free to ask me anything about them. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and soon I said my goodbyes to the snoozing Jasper.

Also snoozing was Ringo the wombat, although I did get to see him briefly in the Wallaby section rummaging about before retreating to his cave, where he was catching some Zzzs. The pictures don’t really connote just how big he was – like a large dog.

No longer raining, I did a quick stroll through the kangaroo area where now there was a whole pack enjoying the sun which was just starting to peek out. On the way out, I noticed a strange creature that actively crossing tree branches upside down. This was a glider although it wasn’t high enough for him to take off. He instead went over to the feeder for a snack. And speaking of, it was my own feeding time so I said my final goodbyes to this fascinating assortment of critters and walked back to the harbor to grab some lunch. More of that in part 2 of my epic day in Sydney, coming soon.

MEL-SYD – Getaway Day

My time in Melbourne had come to an end, and it was time once again to get on a big silver bird to whisk me away to Sydney. Fortunately, this was a quick 1 hour flight. It turned out that the entire professional rugby team, the Melbourne Storm was on the same flight as me. I ended up sitting next to their massive Prop whose one thigh was as large as both of mine. I had paid for an exit row and needed every inch of it as it was tight quarters, especially with my giant seat mate.

The flight was fairly calm (nothing like my previous legs) and soon enough, we were landing at the Sydney airport. After grabbing my bag, I headed downstairs to the train that went into the CBD and very close to where I was staying. It was a double decker train and the bottom level was empty so I was able grab a seat both for myself and enough space for my bags. The train was quick and a mere 15 minutes later I was at the Wynward Station, my stop.

While Sydney has a similar transit card to the myki (the Opal) it was also connected via Apple Pay so all I had to do is tap my phone to be charged and exit the station – very cool. I dragged my bags up a small hill and landed at my destination – The Amora Jamison Hotel. Normally when I travel internationally I prefer to stay in Airbnbs unless the options aren’t great. This was the case in Sydney. Plus, in this case, I had found a really good deal. The location was also great, being right in the heart of the CBD. Plus, the room and view were pretty sweet.

Funny enough, my next destination was the yellow building to the far left, which given my overall state of wear and tear, was just about as far as I was eager to venture out. The Shell House had been recently restored to become a multi-level dining destination. While the various options all looked intriguing, the Sky Bar was the winner for me.

Located 14 floors up, the chic and stylish Sky Bar featured a wrap around room with nice views of the various office buildings that surround the CBD. I had made a reservation and requested a table versus a bar seat, wanting something a bit more comfortable. They gave me a great spot looking out both at the main part of the bar and the patio area which was full of the after work crowd.

This seemed like the kind of place to get a strong cocktail and chill so I did just that, choosing The Made Man – Rittenhouse 100 Rye, Wild Turkey Rye, Cherry Heering, Chartreuse and Fernet Branca, This was DANGEROUS. The various alcohols had essentially tempered their initial kicks into a smooth, potent combination. I made sure to drink it very, very slowly. I had heard about their burger being the thing to get and soon was presented with this slightly strange (but delicious) Wagyu cheeseburger with pickles and caramelized onions. As the picture indicates, the actual burger was buried under the melted cheese but was nice and juicy.

As night fell, the bar shifted to a more lively pace, now bustling with more of the date/out for a night on the town vibe. I had initially wanted to try one of the Cuban rums on the menu but after some research, the ones I didn’t know from the list didn’t have high marks. However, they did have my favorite Japanese whiskey, Nikka Miyagikyo so I splurged for that instead. After a couple of hours, I had my fill and didn’t want to keep the table too long for others. Tomorrow, I had a date with a koala and other Aussie critters along with exploring my new ‘hood so I made the quick walk back to the hotel and dived into my massive king bed to get some much needed sleep.