Monday, February 29, 2016

Kiama's Blowholes

February 20, 2016

Patrick’s brother and family own a beach house in the town of Kiama which is a couple hours drive south of Sydney.  Vivian & Patrick arranged to make use of the house & we headed down on Saturday morning.  Cousin Mike drove down by himself since he was closer to Kiama.  In addition, Caitlin & her boyfriend Dave joined us there.

The beach house had a number of bedrooms for us all & a large kitchen, dining room & a large family room.  It was about 4 blocks from the beach along a path  behind the house.  Luckily for me Patrick drove us around the town to show us the sights.

There are two blowholes in town with the main one nearest town center & one called the Little Blowhole being near to the house.  I knew there was a geocache near the small one so I set out to find it.  Actually, it was an easy cache since it was an earth cache & just had to answer 4 easy questions & post a picture of me with the GPS in front of the cache.

Kiama's Little Blowhole is situated just off Tingira Crescent, three kilometres south of Kiama township and just a 10-minute drive away from the Kiama Blowhole. Here you can also see vigorous sprays of water bursting from a natural rocky cove, particularly when the north easterly winds are blowing.

We continued on to a nice winery about 25 miles down the coast.  The Two Figs winery had a nice setting on a hillside with the Shoalhaven river flowing past.  Of course we had to taste the wines they produced to see which ones to buy.   A nice feature of tastings here is that they are all free.  They all were good & we split a case of wine with Vivian & Patrick.  I guess we will have to drink our 6 bottles before we leave but I know we are up to it.

On the way back to Kiama we stopped at Fisherman's Boat Club for a drink and to see the 7 miles beach.  There is a great view from the club's 2nd floor and we managed to get a table.  We didn’t stay long  since we had dinner reservations for 7pm and it was getting late.

We freshened up and we all met at the restaurant.  Dave, Mike and I left early to make sure we had a nice table.  The others went to Saturday night mass in town and arrived later.  The restaurant was in the small harbor area and was very popular.   Our table overlooked the harbor and we enjoyed the sunset.

After dinner we went back to the house for more conversation & some tasting of the wine.  Dave & I talked about American sports & he was extremely knowledgeable about the teams & players.  We had a long conversation & I could have used my  grandsons Sean & Jared with their knowledge of sports.  We finally both called an end to the discussions and went to bed.

February 21, 2016

Everyone woke up at different times and headed in different directions.  Gerry & Vivian went shopping,  Caitlin & Dave were off to the beach, Patrick went for a walk & Mike & I stayed behind and enjoyed a beer & conversation.

Later Vivian,  Patrick,  Gerry & I went to see the big blowhole.  It was  very crowded in the area but Patrick found a nice parking space near the blowhole.   There were a few columns of spray but nothing spectacular.   We took a lot of photos and walked around the park.  Kiama Blowhole Point also offers spectacular views along the coast. It provides a great spot to view whales as they travel along the NSW coastline on their annual migration and is a popular stop on the Kiama Coast Walk.

One of the highlights of a visit to Kiama is the famous Kiama Blowhole, a natural rock formation where water spouts 20 metres or more into the air. Located next to Kiama Lighthouse at Blowhole Point, this spectacular display is most impressive when seas run from the southeast. The area is floodlit until 1am, making the blowhole a stunning night-time attraction too. If there's not much action at this blowhole, check out the nearby 'Little' Blowhole.

Finally it was time to return to Rachel’s apt.  It was a long drive back and we arrived worn out but thankful for having time to spend with the cousins.  Patrick & Vivian  still had an hour drive a ahead of them and to get ready for work Monday morning.

We had to pack our bags in preparation for our Monday afternoon flight to Melbourne.  Well, it didn't go that smoothly getting ready since the washing machine broke in mid cycle and caused a flood.  Not good.  We had to wash clothes and leave before 1pm.  More on this in the next blog.  Goodnight.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Last Train To Katoomba

February 18, 2016

We've heard about the Blue Mountains about a two hour train ride north of Sydney and decided to see what they were all about.  We took a bus ride to the Central Station in Sydney and then hopped on the train for the ride up there.  

The train ran through a number of Sydney suburbs and after a long time it was in the countryside.  It was interesting to see the different views from the train.  We sat in the upper deck to help improve our field of view.

Sharply two hours later we pulled into the station at Katoomba.  We were told that many people took the train on their daily commute to work in Sydney.  I imagine they didn't have the same outlook regarding the trip. 

Katoomba railway station

We arrived shortly after lunch and headed for a pub on mainstream for sandwiches.  Of course since it was an Irish pub we had to have a beer also.  It was a brewpub and they had two nice beers on tap.   The pub was  in an old bank building converted to a dining room upstairs & the pub below.

The Old City Bank

There is a hop on - hop off trolley to take you to the various sightseeing places of interest in the area.  We were mainly interested in seeing the canyon & "Blue Mountains" so we concentrated on those stops.  

We wound up taking a competitive bus tour to see the sights.  They were located in the train station and we managed to bargain for a 1/2 price fare.

The first stop was at some cascades in a rain forest setting along with the high humidity.  There are a number of trails leading to viewing areas.  It was easy walking on the way down, but quite a climb back to the bus stop.  We wound up taking just under an hour for this section.  It was  well worth it for the walk & view.

There was a gondola ride between two rock cliffs and we would have taken the ride if we had more time.

The mountains have a blue cast to them in part due to eucalyptus trees giving off fumes.  

The name Blue Mountains is derived from the blue tinge the range takes on when viewed from a distance. The tinge is believed to be caused by mie scattering which occurs when incoming ultraviolet radiation is scattered by particles within the atmosphere creating a blue-greyish colour to any distant objects, including mountains and clouds. Volatile terpenoids emitted in large quantities by the abundant eucalyptus trees in the Blue Mountains may cause mie scattering and thus the blue haze for which the mountains were named.

One of the most well attended tourist attractions in the Blue Ridge Mountains is the three sisters rock formation.  It is the 2nd most viewed site in Australia according to the bus driver.

If you look closely you may see a foot bridge leading to the sister on the left.

All too quickly it was time to head back to Sydney.  We were close to the Laura station to catch the train.

We were both worn out from all the walking and glad to be able to sit and relax for a few hours.  The two hour train ride back was relaxing  and helped us rest up for the next hurdle to overcome.

The train pulled into a different gate and threw us a curve, but with a little help from one of the gate attendants we found our way to the street level.  Our wait for the bus was short and we were on our way on the  crowded bus.  It's a good thing the ride is a short one.  After a quick dinner we were ready to call it a night. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Opals and Pearls

Sydney blog Feb 16, 2016

Gerry picked up some tourist pamphlets at the airport on our first morning in Sydney.  She looked through one and saw a coupon for  a discount on opals & free pearls.  Now that was right up her alley with free jewelry.   We caught the bus & train and were on our way after lunch.

The opal cutting and showroom was an interesting place.  We went up in the small elevator to the third floor and exited into a very small area.  It took us a while to find the poorly marked buzzer to gain entrance to a caged interior space and another locked door that opened into the sales area.

Marjan seated us at a long table and began an introductory explanation of Australian Opals.  He did a very good presentation going from the least expensive to the famous Black Opals.  He also explained the differences of settings,  the doublet and triplet being the more common.

I asked where the opals came from & he said from various mines in Australia.  He then explained how much hard work & danger was involved in mining opals.  The older miners are retiring and replacements aren’t interested in the poorly  paying jobs.

Due to increased government regulations regarding safety & ecology concerns it is costly & difficult to start up new mine.  Land costs have risen significantly adding to an estimated startup cost of over $250,000 Australian dollars.  Then you have to hope that there are gems there.  No wonder there are fewer mines & workers.

Then the fun began for Gerry when he began bringing out trays of opals & pearls for her to check out.  As you can imagine her eyes lit up & she was in her element.  My eyes glazed over with all the gems.  She spent an hour or so checking for the perfect opals & pearls.

Meanwhile I took photos of the area and wound up talking to another worker there.  Most of them were from Macedonia and migrated to Australia.  He wanted to tell me all about US politics from his point of slanted view.  That got boring very quickly so I switched subjects to why he left Macedonia.

Gerry finally made her “free pearl” selection and a few more baubles.  They were considerate enough to accept $US for payment at a good rate.  As a matter of fact they accepted all the US money I had in my wallet plus a few more $AU.  Hey guys, don’t let your wife pick up the “free” coupons at the airport, it’s painful.

We finally got out of there and  went to the  Queen Victoria Building  (QVB) nearby.  The QVB is an upscale department store with numerous small shops on each floor.  We had a beer & pizza there & Gerry went window shopping while I sat outside & people watched.  It was near the train station and hordes of busy people going someplace kept the foot traffic heavy.


Finally, Gerry exited the store and we decided to stop at the local Starbucks for a cold Frappuccino which was great.  Then it was our turn to join the crowd and catch the train & bus back to the apt.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Double Birthday Party

Saturday,  February 13, 2016

We were invited to a double birthday party on Saturday night.  Patrick is married to Vivian (Gerry’s cousin ) and he has a twin brother, Steven.  They turned 60 a couple days ago & their wives threw them a big birthday party on the lawn at Steven's beautiful home.  

They grew up in the area and have many friends between them that are friends from their childhood.  There was a trival pursuit kind of game to see who knew the twins the best.  If the answer to the question was Steven you patted you're  head & if Patrick you patted your butt.  If the answer applied to both, then you patted your head & butt at the same time.  The questions were asked if you were incorrect you were out of the game.  This went on for many rounds until a male frind won after several tie breaker questions.   There was a lot of laughter & jokes flying around during the game.

There was an endless supply of great finger foods, beer, wine and liquor.  After all, they are Irish.  I managed to try 4-5 different Australian beers and they all were good. 

 Gerry got to talking with a number of people like she always does so I joined Mike (cousin & father of Vivian & Rachel) on the steps near the outside bar.  We had an ideal spot near the beer and the food.

We left the party after midnight & it finally broke up around 4 am Sunday morning.  They are party hardy kind of people and love to have a good time. 

Patrick & Steven

Patrick & Steven in the smoke from their sparked candles

Mike & Rachel

Gerry & Mike
We had a great time helping them celebrate their special day.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Brooklyn On Valentine’s Day

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine’s Day to my favorite girl.

Since it was Valentine’s Day, Gerry, Rachel and I  went to see “Brooklyn”, a certified “chick flick” about a young Irish girl leaving her mother & sister behind and coming to the US in 1950.  It’s a story about the difficulties she faced in the US during that time frame.  I won’t go into detail about the story but  it was a good movie.  I even enjoyed it.  The movie was actually filmed in Canada from what I could tell.  It did look real though with old brownstone homes.

The movie theatre was an old one in the Paddington section of Sydney.  There was a new experience for us in that we had "adult beverages" during the movie.  The drinks were served in glasses.  As we entered the theater we were even treated to a Hershey kiss in celebration of the day.  There was a table set up for us to deposit our glasses as we left.  The area where the theater was located was once a working class neighborhood & has been “gentrified” as they call it here.

After the movie we went to a Lebanese restaurant that Rachel is fond of.  Gerry & I both enjoy Lebanese food so it was a win win choice for us.  They served up a super meal & we were stuffed when we left a couple hours later.

The restaurant was a BYO place meaning you brought your own liquor.   There was a “bottle” store next door so the girls went there and bought a nice bottle of French Rose wine.  We managed to finish off the wine and then made our way home.  We slept good that night.

Friday, February 19, 2016


Friday, Feb 12, 2016

Rachel made dinner a reservation at Bittons, a nearby French restaurant, for 7pm.  It was a small place with tables on the street & in a couple rooms inside.  It wasn’t full when we arrived and we were seated quickly.  The French waitress came to our table and opened a bottle of mineral water without asking if we wanted it.  No problem, it was only $8 Australian.  $5.60 American.  She also brought a small complimentary salmon appetizer which was very good.

Gerry & I ordered salmon & Rachel ordered from the appetizer menu.  As is the French custom she was served first and when she finished her plate we waited for a while for the main entrée.  A nice carafe of wine helped during the wait.  By this time the restaurant had filled up and it became very noisy.  I could barely hear the girls talking so I mostly people watched.

Next up was the entrees which were good but were tiny portions.  We ordered bread with the meal and the charge was $7 Australian for bread slices about the size of one piece of toast.    After that we each had a dessert (Gerry & I shared a chocolate mousse ).  Then they brought out a spoonful of crème broule to add to the dessert portion of the meal.

We wound up spending  3.5 hours there for the dinner.  We enjoyed the meal and service.  It was a great evening.

Evidently the girls didn’t drink enough wine so we all had a glass of wine at the apt while sitting on the balcony.   As stated before, Rachel has a nice view of downtown Sydney.

That was our day, how was yours?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lunch With Old Friend At Watson Bay

February 11, 2016

Our son, Larry Jr, has a good friend from high school days in Costa Rica who is an Australian and lives back in Australia now.  Larry Jr has kept in contact with Simon all these years and told him we would be coming to  Sydney for a visit.  We exchanged emails and phone numbers so we could meet him for lunch and catch up on what he’s been up to the past 25 years.

The most convenient place to meet him was Watson Bay.  We caught a ferry ride from the area near the Opera House to take us to the meeting place.  We hadn’t seen Simon since he left Costa Rica, however he hadn’t changed a bit.  It helped that he had on a bright yellow shirt so I saw him about the same time as he saw me.  Now, we have changed a lot, but he has a great memory.

Watsons Bay Wharf

Simon & Gerry

Larry & Simon at Doyles

Doyles On The Wharf restaurant was the closest place where we could order fish & chips (Ron, better than Hotrods)  plus a cold drink.  Simon goes there often and thought we would be pleased with  it. The meal was great and we enjoyed hearing what Simon has been up to these many years.  He is a very industrious young man & is super busy.  He owns a gardening business  & also manages some apartment properties.   We sat and talked for a couple hours & he then took us around the area in his car to show us the local sights.

Gap Cover Beach

Gap Cover Beach

 He lives close to Bondi beach so we saw it again, but this time  from a different view.  We also saw The Gap, the “suicide cliffs” which seems to be the preferred site to commit the act.  There are monitored cameras there to help stop people ending their lives  that way.  Also, the have spots where they can talk to someone to help them not commit suicide.   Many years ago a retired man kept watch and is credited with talking more than 300 people out of the act by inviting them to his home for tea & conversation.

The Gap

It is sad that the cliffs are used in that way.  The view is spectacular and much better suited to being a spot for reflection and meditation.

Since he is a working man, we cut the visit short and he dropped us off at the Rose Bay ferry stop.  It was great seeing him again and hearing about his son of whom he is very proud.  Thanks a million Simon for the lunch and tour.

Larry & Simon at Bond beach

While we were waiting for the ferry to arrive a Chinese couple asked us for directions to Manly.  Luckily, we had been there on a  previous day and had read the schedule, so, we’re able to help steer them to the correct ferry.  I guess they mistook us for Aussies.

Catalina restaurant, Rose Bay

It was getting late and we had planned on touring the Opera House, but we missed the final tour of the day.  We were both very thirsty and stopped for some water & drinks at a restaurant near the ferry terminal.  We finished off a liter bottle of water in no time. Our drinks took a  little longer.   By then we were ready to call it a day and caught a bus back to the apt.

Rachel went out to dinner & a concert with friends  so we picked up dinner for ourselves at the Thai takeout restaurant near the apt.  We ordered the same meal as last time since we both liked the selection.  We then dragged our weary bones up to the apt and enjoyed the food.

We went to bed early to try and catch up on our sleep.  It was another great day for us.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sydney, Australia & family

Monday Feb 8, 2016
We needed a day of rest after the busy weekend so we stayed around the apt most of the day.  Gerry didn’t rest as much as me since she washed a couple loads of clothes. She did manage to catch a short nap and was refreshed after that.

I managed to find a live broadcast of the Superbowl and we watched most of the game.  It came on at 10:30 am on Monday local time.  The announcers were the same ones you heard in the USA, but the commercials were Australian.   It was a rough game and I don’t think the Panthers were prepared for the Broncos defense.  They contained Newton and didn’t give him a chance to get his offense started.  

It was a good game for a SB, but not a memorable  one.  It does look like Peyton Manning will go out a winner unless he comes back  for another year.  He hasn’t made his decision on that public knowledge.

Rachel prepared a very nice dinner with smoked salmon.  She also surprised us with  a nut roll for dessert.  Gerry used to make a  similar one but finds it impossible to do in the motor home. It stirred up our taste buds.

Tuesday Feb 9, 2016
We walked around the area and did some shopping.  Sydney is a very expensive city and food & beverages are much more costly than in the USA.  A 24 bottle case of local beer runs from $30 and up.  Wine is more reasonable and we saw some really cheap ones for $3/bottle.  Most wines were in the $12 & up.  The beers & wines are very good.

We had lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant and shared a bowl of soup and pork/prawn rolls.  The meal was very good and filled us up.   There will be a return trip there in the near future.  Gerry asked some ladies sitting near us about tipping customs.  One lady said a small tip was ok, “but not like YOU do”.  It was said in a friendly manner but she got her point across.

Rachel prepared a nice chicken salad for dinner and we sat around on her balcony chatting until late in the evening.  The view is spectacular with trees nearby and the Sydney skyline in the background.   We could be content to sit here for a while.

Downtown Sydney

Rachel prepared a very nice dinner with smoked salmon.  She also surprised us with  a nut roll for dessert.  Gerry used to make a  similar one but finds it impossible to do in the motor home. It stirred up our taste buds.

Wednesday Feb 10, 2016
Gerry’s cousin Mike (Rachel’s father) came by today and drove us to Wollongong to show us some sites.  It was an hour drive through Sydney suburbs and finally into the countryside.   There are huge bluffs near Wollongong & we stopped at Sublime Point Lookout to enjoy the view overlooking Wollongong & the ocean.  The lookout was about 1200 ft above the city.

Mike & Gerry

Wollongong, NSW, Australia 

Mike wanted to take us to a seafood restaurant but there weren’t any parking spaces within walking distance.  On to plan B.  We drove all over the city enjoying the views of the parks, homes, etc.  We wound up at the Bullis Workers Club for lunch & drinks.   They have bar area with 6-7 dart boards, dance floor & a large snooker table.  We sat there enjoying our drinks and then went into the dining area.  There was a counter where you ordered the food & paid for it when it was ready a waitress delivered  the meals.  The food was quite good and reasonably priced.

We the rode back to Mikes home where he and Angela raised their family.  It was a very interesting & nice home.   He had flowers & shrubs in the yard & looked nice.  Mike prepared a nice meal and Gerry & he discussed family genealogy.  Both of their ancestors came from Croatia & Mike still has relatives there including a  brother.   By this time it was so getting late & Mike had a hour plus round trip ahead of him driving us back to Rachel’s apt.

Mike's backyard

We had a great day with him and saway a lot of the area that regular  tourists would have missed.   We were tired and slept very good that night.