The glorious blue mountains

First, a question: my photos seem far less vibrant on wordpress than they do when I view them on my computer. Does anyone know why this might be? Does wordpress publish in CMYK? If so, arg. I know I could look this up, but then I’d have to go back and re-edit all my photos from RGB to CMYK, and that would make me sad. So, deliberate ignorance for now. Anyway, onwards.


This is my new favorite place in Australia. I’m not sure what my old favorite place was – maybe our flat? that one thai restaurant? – but this tops it.

I haven’t been able to identify this flower. It grew on the sides of sandstone cliffs which had water dripping down them.

We only have two weeks of our fantastic multipasses left, so we’re trying to take advantage of them while we have them by traveling to wonderful places at the ends of some of the rail lines.

The Blue Mountains National Park is a large reserve about 2.5 hours by train to the West of Sydney, and it’s home to a whole bunch of really old, really worn down, sandstone mountains. I think they call them mountains because there are big cliffs and the altitude is slightly higher than the rest of Australia, but to me, they feel more like awe inspiring canyons.

First things first: yes mom, I hurt myself, but I’m fine! I’m writing this a week after the fact and postdating it, so I can say with certainty that healing is progressing quite nicely. The deeply cut flesh of the thumb is all sealed up, and only the epidermal layers are left to heal! My curiosity in combination with a stupid multitool are to blame. I call it a stupid multitool because the blade doesn’t lock. That doesn’t mean I’m not also stupid for not checking whether the blade locked. The curiosity came in when I really wanted to see what was inside an odd looking growth on some bushes. The end result was the blade closing on my thumb and a rather lightheaded walk back to town with my thumb in my mouth wherein I drank a lot of my own blood and grew more familiar than I ever wanted with the interior depths of that digit. Ben was quite nice about it, and after finding medical supplies and a very nice cafe to let us use their bathroom, I was able to patch myself up.

Cool Australian product of the day: Dettol.

It’s an antiseptic that’s sold in a very concentrated form, so you dilute it 1:20 for use. Not only do I now have a strong belief in its powers (no infection! win!), but I think it’s totally awesome that it’s sold the way it is. I may be misguided, but I feel like an antiseptic for sale in the US would be sold dilute and ready to use, to either satisfy the public’s laziness or to simply make more money.

Anyway, after an impromptu lunch at the cafe that let us bloody their bathroom, we set out back down the “Charles Darwin Trail” that we had been on when I unfortunately delayed us. The trail begins a half mile from the train station at Wentworth Falls, and goes all the way to the national park itself, all through lovely bush and along a lovely creek that has eroded its way through the sandstone to form little undercliffs and waterfalls. We got routes from Wild Walks.

Turns out, if I’d only walked a little further down the path (we were only 20 minutes in) I would’ve seen another bush with the “growths” opened, and found out that they are actually quite oddly located seed pods. They seem to be rather randomly placed along the main branches of the bush. I thought they were going to be some kind of burl with a bug inside. When we walked back down the same trail at the end of the day, I picked up my original slightly dented unopened seed pod, still lying by the side of the path, and threw it into the creek.

I kept cursing myself as we walked for at least another half hour, until I became too distracted by the beautiful scenery and all of the fascinating plants that I’d never seen before.

The creek began as a little thing at the beginning of the trail, maybe three feet wide, but as we walked we kept crossing more and more feeder streams, and eventually the creek grew large enough to harbor lovely little rapids and waterfalls. I thought, oh! Wentworth Falls! How nice! Spoiler: no. not Wentworth Falls. Wentworth Falls is much more epic.

But that was part of what was so nice about the day. We had no idea what to expect. We knew we wanted to go to the national park, so we did. Only on the train did I start looking for trails to walk on my future device, I mean phone. We picked one that had a medium hard rating, was estimated to take 5 hours, and had “undercliff” in the name, because hey that sounds neat. So as we walked, the creek started getting more interesting, the terrain started getting more varied, and really, the point is, the walk kept getting more and more interesting the further we went. It was a perfect slow introduction to the beauty, and allowed us to appreciate each new aspect with equal enthusiasm. I loved it.

Sandstone can make incredible rock formations. I need to learn about the geology of this area, and about how some of these structures were formed.

To repeat myself, it was as if, maybe, rather than driving to the edge of the grand canyon and looking down and thinking “whoa, that’s neat, and big!” you got to watch the evolution of the land from tiny stream to awe-sucking-whoa up close and personal in a whole day of mind-blowing beauty.

It’s a stream! With a bridge over it! How cute! And look at those plants! I’ve never seen anything like that before. The flowers are so weird! Magpie! Hi magpie! Ooooh it’s a little waterfall! How pretty! MAN that’s a big Norfolk Island Pine. Cockatoos! In the trees! Wow they’re pretty but they sound like they’re dying. Oh my gosh, that’s a gorgeous waterfall. Look at how the water has sculpted the sandstone into ripples! Oooooh! Now the path is like a cathedral of trees! Another feeder-stream! Oh jeez, that’s a lot of stairs. Wooow, running water has the loveliest sound. Look at these eucalyptus – the bark is soooo pretty. Holy crap, that’s a big waterfall!…. Holy crap! Cliffs!…. Look at how tiny those trees are down there!… Holy crap! WHOA how do we get over there?… Oh my gosh, this is so pretty…. Oh my… wow…

It’s all part and parcel, the whole “ancient waterway” gig. HUGE COSMIC GORGES! Itty bitty tiny trees.

That’s not really a nutshell. Maybe an emu shell! But that’s what the day was like.

Things I am jealous of: Ben saw a snake! The last half of a snake, anyway. We didn’t know what it was until we went to the Taronga Zoo (later post) and Ben identified it as a Red-bellied Black Snake which is venomous, but is not one of the most deadly snakes in Australia. They tend to live in the bush by waterways, and are quite timid.

And now, a series of photos with commentary. Pretty pictures… lots of them.

Our walk began in the flat lands around Wentworth Falls.

And as we walked the creek grew bigger, and interesting sandstone rock formations began popping up. This is near where Ben saw his snake. Damnit, I was ahead of him, and I missed it!

One of the few places where we bumped into other people, the popular spot on the very top of Wentworth Falls. I love the pathways they’ve built. Giant stepping stones through the waterways.

And one of the warning signs on the railing: um, yeah. Not crossing that barrier.

This is what lay on the other side of that sign and fence. There are a couple hundred feet more cliff under the bottom of this picture.

There are incredible paths

And overlooks

And more paths…

We came across a pair of Crimson Rosellas who appeared to be nesting in a knot in a tree. One of them flew off, but this one here stuck around.

Another wildlife sighting was this here ant. The closest I can come to identifying it sticks it somewhere in the bulldog ant family, Myrmecia. They are alll over the place! I was surprised when I identified it, because I imagined it would be harder to find a bulldog ant (they’re interesting because their sting is awful. Dangerous things are interesting!). In addition to this type, we encountered several with the same body structure, but with opposite color markings – red body and black head.

The coolest thing, though, was a pair of these birds:

We didn’t know at the time, but it turns out that these are female Superb Lyrebirds, Menura novaehollandiae. If you’re not familiar with these guys, you should be, because the males put on incredible mating displays that can turn quite surreal because of their mimicking abilities. Click on that link to check out some videos. These two females were scratching for food in the undergrowth with their formidable claws.

I wanna go back!


Spider sighting

I’ve seen a few jumping spiders that are new to me, but this one was particularly beautiful.

think it’s a Mopsus norman, the “Northern green jumping spider.” It looked yellow to me, and also looks yellow in my picture, but apparently they can vary a lot depending on their environment, and the eye markings look correct. Oh man I want a nice macro lens! This was taken with my phone.


In Australian supermarkets, the only garlic available is beautiful purple hard stemmed garlic. #YUM

Oz money has windows in it!

It’s also made of plastic, not cloth. We had a bank teller tell us that US money is hard to count, because it all sticks together.

In Australian parks, signs limit hours of alcohol consumption to between 8am and 7pm. Hah! That’s a change. Ben and I spent a recent evening before going to look at a couch on top of a play structure, eating pizza and sharing a pair of beers. It was dark out already (our days are starting to get longer, not shorter), and we had to stay safe from pirates!

Rain in sunny Sydney:

And a lovely sunset to follow:

The environment here is like nowhere I’ve been in the US. Mostly bright beautiful sun, cool rainy days, palm trees, lush foliage. But even when it rains, the air feels dry and I get thirsty quickly. It’s like a drier, sunnier San Francisco, I suppose. With way cooler bugs.

Second Sydney Foray

Today was an adventure inspired by a couch. Our lack of a couch. Our really really sad uncomfortable lack of a couch. Let’s just say that a week spent sitting on a deflating air mattress writing blog posts and editing pictures and replying to emails will make you determined to acquire a couch. I’m not saying this is the biggest problem I’ve ever had, or that you should actually be sympathetic, but a couch is the last item we need to really make this place our home, and thus this story revolves around a couch.

I found Ben a standing desk on Gumtree (Oz’s rather nice equivalent to craigslist). We scored a tv/media cabinet from the side of the road. We found a real fridge (with freezer!) on Gumtree. We bought a legitimate real-person bed. Our landlords are loaning us a tiny old 13-inch tv with bunny ears. We hauled some $10 Gumtree bedside tables on the bus to put in our bathroom. IKEA kitchen stand and tall desk chair have both been situated in the kitchen and office. All that’s left? Couch!

The couch we found on Gumtree, the couch of our dreams ($100, comfy looking), is located in Mosman, a tiny little community on the top of some very tall hills on the other side of some very large rivers.

When one is traveling over an hour on trains, buses, and boats to see a couch, why not make a day of it? And so we did.

The opera house stands across the river from our old friend Luna Park. Still creepy in daylight! In a good way.

First observation? The opera house is WAY cooler in person than in giant zoomed out landscape photos. Sure, it’s a neat shape in tourist pictures, but a far off shot gives you no sense of scale or how it’s constructed.

The roofing is a mix of different types of ceramic tiles, which gives the roof its characteristic shimmer.

The way the building looks, sprouting out of the ground into massively tall sweeping points is the coolest bit, though.


I guess I prefer perspective.

 In the Circular Quay (pronounced “key”, I did not know that) area where the opera house is located, someone owns this:

I wanted to take a picture with Ben posing all gangsta next to it, but he said whomever owned it was obviously actually gangsta, and would shoot us. I said, anyone who owns a mini can’t be gangsta. He said, IT’S A BLING CAR. I said, it has a handicap sticker. He said, all the more evidence! He’s been in a shoot-out! I rest my case with, “It’s a mini.”

In other news, ferry rides are pretty.

I can’t wait to more fully explore this coast line.

When we eventually did find our way to the residence of the perfect-couch, it was indeed perfect, and the people selling it were perfectly nice. We’ve looked into hiring a guy and a truck to help us move it sometime this week. However, they are moving on Saturday, themselves, so we told them what we were planning, but that we’d rather they have the money rather than a truck-guy, if they were interested. So! We’re giving them $100 to deliver it, which is more than we were planning on paying for a truck-guy, but brings our total investment to about what we were assuming we’d pay to /buy/ a couch in the first place. Win-win. I am anxiously awaiting Friday. I think we’ll watch a movie on the computer with some wine on our new couch.

We rushed to catch the ferry back to Circular Quay, and man, we were both tired and ready to be home, but Sydney at night is gorgeous. Taking long exposures from a moving boat isn’t the best way to get beautiful shots, but I don’t care. Look anyway!



It was a good day.

BED: Check!

IKEA beds suck. Costco beds suck. Ben gets weird when he thinks about buying someone else’s bed. So we went to a real furniture warehouse and spent a ton of money to buy ourselves the perfect bed! It’s not the best bed. It’s not the fanciest bed. It’s definitely not the most expensive bed. But it’s perfect for us – firm, doesn’t need a box spring, and Aussie-made.

How cool is that? One of the things I’ve noticed here is that there’s a large drive for nationally-made goods. Which makes sense. It’s just one of the many things about living in a different country that hadn’t occurred to me. Also interesting: most of the items at the Costco here are Aussie-made! We have Aussie Cancer Council sunscreen (a whole liter of it), Australian olive oil, Australia-grown sugar…

Bed + fancy sheets + Aussie-comforter + duvet cover + costco pillows + 2 wool blankets loaned to us by Viive = BED! It’s perfect.


First foray into Sydney

Now that we know we have a place to live (it’s confirmed! we talked on the phone and everything!) Ian ever so graciously, I mean, seriously, carted us around to a farmer’s market and several different stores to buy some flat-necessaries.

At the market I bought some oranges that were picked yesterday. This is one example of when offering free samples to passers-by really pays off.

I mentioned that I’d never had passionfruit, so Ian bought some of those. What a weird fruit. They really look like the seed pod for some sort of dangerous alien-spawn, but they are delicious! The texture could be off-putting I imagine, but it reminded me of tomato seeds, and it was scrumptiously tart-sweet.

We visited a mall where two stores were going out of business, which, well, is sad for them but WIN for us. We got a store-used fan, some cheap used power strips, kitchen accouterments, and I scored a mouse for cheap that I’ve been lusting after for months.

Errands done, we awaited Viive’s return from a cancer conference where she’d spent the first half of the day, and then we set out to explore a lovely park called Balls Head and have dinner in downtown Sydney.

Balls Head is in the middle of a bunch of urban development, yet you can get lost in squiggly little paths through sandstone cliffs and scrubby bush.

And you always have the incredible views of the harbor and the city skyline.

After a chilly exploration (it’s spring here, plus coastal winds) Viive and Ian took us out for Indian at a place called “Cumin”. Hah. I converted everyone to my old, boring, favorite, Chicken Tikka Masala! There’s a reason it’s my favorite, after all. We all, um, ate a bit too much. Turns out four mains for four people is about one more than necessary, but only if you’re unwilling to stuff yourself on delicious. Viive and Ian have been so, so nice to us this entire time. They’ve let us stay in their house, given us breakfast each day (steel cut oats in the rice cooker), and taken us for dinner twice now. We’ve really been blown away. They keep saying “we’ve been there, we remember what it’s like being in a new place” but still. Incredibly generous.

And then, then! We took a walk down along the waterfront past Luna Park, which is supposedly reminiscent of Coney Island. But I’ve never been to Coney Island, so if I ever do go there, it will be reminiscent of Luna Park to me. It’s a nostalgic-feeling old amusement park with games and bumper cars and a small rollercoaster and, of course, lots of bright lights. And a giant head with enormous teeth and creepy-doll cheeks that eats you as you enter. Also that.

This may be the best part, however. The trash/recycle bins were all marked with what looked like those big boards at fairs where you stick your head into a cutout hole in order to take funny pictures. And then you feed the clowns your trash/recycling!

I call that a wonderfully full day. Passion fruit! Oranges! Cheap housing supplies! Delicious Indian! Fancy lights! Rubbish-clowns!

….tomorrow we move! Can you believe it? We’ve been here less than a week, and we found a place to live! That’s mostly thanks to Ben. I have to grudgingly admit that finding a flat is probably more important and nicer in the long run than visiting the aquarium :)



Housing, day 4…. the final installment??

The final viewing:

It’s an independent flat, located in Greystanes (great name, eh?). The pictures were beautiful on the ad – stylish modern furnishings, lovely construction. Somehow we managed to miss the fact that it didn’t come with a bed.

Anyway, it took us a good hour to bus/train/bus there from Viive and Ian’s place. We walked down a lovely street with lovely houses and lovely yards. We found the house where we were supposed to meet the realtor… but no one was there. We occupied ourselves by peering in the windows and examining the landscaping. It’s been worked on a lot, and looked freshly redone. Nice driveway, nice siding… quite nice looking even on this grey windy day.

The owner of the house eventually let us in to the back area – apparently he was working in the back yard while we were snooping, and the realtor had called him to let us in.

The back patio of the main house was kind of incredible.  A large covered area with dining settings and a flat screen TV mounted on the outside of what we discovered was the flat we were going to look at. There was an ashtray on the patio set. And small children’s toys in the walkway.

The little flat itself was fairly nice, as shown in the pictures, but as I mentioned, no bed. And it was one room, plenty of room for the modern kitchen and the sitting area, but the only logical spot for a bed to go… was opposite the large sliding glass doors that faced the main house’s entertainment area. Right next to the flat screen tv.

Bed next to glass doors and late night entertainment plus bed next to glass doors where small children play = well. Not my ideal. Plus, they smoke.

I think the disappointment of the lack of privacy along with the reality of just how long my commute would be swung Ben solidly in the direction I wanted: right towards the lovely little granny flat we’d seen on Wednesday! Our minds were made up. We just had to wait for them to email and tell us whether it was still available.

The realtor kindly gave us a ride back to the train station, though I think she knew we weren’t interested (Ben emailed her later in the day to let her know), and we headed back home.

Part two, in which Adrienne discovered Nirvana.

With half the day left, we decided to finally head further into Sydney! We’ve been here 5 days and we haven’t set foot in Sydney proper. Lame.

The day, hinted at earlier in Greystanes with the breeze and cool drizzle, got a bit more rambunctious. I hadn’t thought of Sydney as cold, but coming straight out of Michigan summer meant I was doing an interesting shuffle-hustle to try and work some heat into my core after we disembarked the train. Ben and I both quickly concluded that we’d be happy spending our first few hours in Sydney inside, somewhere warm, preferably with a hot drink to keep us company.

First we found lunch, at an interesting looking Thai place (THAI!) where we both ordered medium spicy and had our mouths melt out of our heads. The key, we found, to a few moments of relief was to hold a mouthful of water for as long as you care to, and only when you swallow will your tongue continue to smolder. Ben got a basil chili noodle dish. I got a salad. A beef salad. Which was amazing and perfectly textured with hard little slabs of cured (?) beef in an awesomesauce sauce.

On our next jaunt, refueled, we encountered The Chocolate Room, and I could only follow as Ben made a beeline for a hot stack of chocolate pancakes, or a chocolate sampling plate, or a pot of Italian hot chocolate, or… I asked him to get me a mocha, and had a seat, breathing into my hands to warm them. He reappeared with…

How can you argue with that? I got my mocha (yummy) plus half of this monstrosity, which I discovered was a giant cream puff covered in chocolate mousse.

We spent the afternoon sipping and reading/writing/being warm. It was great!

Once we decided to break cover we headed further downtown, and that’s when I found it… Victoria’s Basement. I know where my home is now.

Victoria’s Basement is kind of like the small kitchen section of Tj Maxx blown into even more awesome.

We got a large cutting board, in anticipation of our hopefully new awesome granny flat. And two bowls, of interesting design, that called to me.

One of the things that I was saddest to leave behind in storage in the US was a set of two large cutting boards that Ben’s dad made for us out of an old table which was in turn made out of butcher block material. Those things were fantastic, and lived permanently on our counters so that we and whatever sous chefs were visiting could all chop together in harmony.

We didn’t find a replacement, but we did find a large stand-in made out of rubber wood that will suffice until we can return to our true love cutting boards. This cutting board, along with my wonderful knives that we brought with us, will make wherever we are home.

I was forced to leave Nirvana because it was closing, which is lucky for Ben, because I might have bitten his fingers off as he tried to drag me out to go get food or something.

Our future landlords emailed!

“We were due to have our final person though to look at the place tonight, however they have cancelled. No problem however, as B and I thought you and Adrienne were great and I would like to now officially offer our Granny Flat to you two.

Feel free to move in over the weekend at your convenience, we will drop the fridge, kitchen utensils and anything else we can find into the flat that may be of use to you.”

Did I mention they’re letting us use a dorm fridge and some pots, pans, and dishes? Did I mention that I love this place, and the landlords that come with us? I’d go “EEEEEEEE!” right now, but it’s late, and I don’t want to wake anyone up.

These are the pictures from the ad for the flat:

kitchen areaBedroom