Monday, October 2, 2017

A Week in Sydney

We got back in the wee small hours of the morning from a week's holiday in Sydney. 

It was not the *plan* to get home in the vampire hours, but we got caught up in Virgin Australia's epic omnishambles yesterday, occasioned by a system failure on the part of their telco provider, Optus. 

There was blame and finger-pointing aplenty, but the bottom line for us was that instead of being home in
our house sipping tea at 7:30pm as we should've been, we staggered through the door, bagless (yep, they lost our luggage) at about 12:45am, and frankly we were lucky to even do that, as many people were left stranded until this morning.

So the less said about the journey back the better, but the Sydney trip itself was a very worthwhile one. I would not class it as either our best or most relaxing holiday ever (best is still Port Douglas in 2014, most relaxing would be a tie between our multiple Phillip Island and Warrnambool holidays over the years - PI and Warrnambool are such soothing, beloved places for us). 

It was, however, one of the most interesting and diverse, and certainly one of the most active, family holidays we've ever had - my Fitbit reported that I walked 100,000 steps in the 7 days we were there, which is certainly a personal best and I think objectively a good result!

We arrived in Sydney last Sunday evening (smooth journey up!) and headed to the AirBnB in Bexley that we had rented for the week to share with our family friends, who were also going up for part of the time. 

The accommodation was called "The TARDIS" (bigger on the inside etc), and although that might have been slightly over-egging the pudding, it's true that what appeared to be a modest single-fronted villa ended up sleeping 10 people without anyone having resort to the floor, so you can't fault that. Its true virtue, though, was its easy proximity to Kogorah station, which became our portal to the adventures that followed on every day we were in Sydney. It's a super convenient station for everything and we made extensive use of it all week.

So we ended up doing a lot of things.

On the Monday, we trained in to Circular Quay, walked along the harbour to the Opera House, then did the Opera House guided tour. 

In all my 44 years, which have included at least 15 trips to Sydney and maybe more, I have never set foot inside the Opera House, despite having seen it from the outside countless times. The one-hour guided tour was amazing - way better than we had expected. The kids were all fascinated, as was I. It was well worth the money and the time, and set us off on a good foot.

From the Opera House, we walked along the Harbour into the Rocks, and looked around the historic buildings and laneways. Ice cream may also have been involved! We returned to our accommodation in the early evening a little footsore but contented.

The Tuesday was back into the city - this time for the Observatory and a picnic lunch looking out over the city and the Bridge, and then to the Botanic Gardens to take a ride in the tourist mini-train and look at the landmarks. By the time we got back to Kogorah Station, my friend and her two kids had arrived from Melbourne and lo, there was much rejoicing (our five combined kids are very, very fond of each other!)

Three adults and five kids headed to Bondi Beach on the train and bus on Wednesday. After Bondi cafe milkshakes, we finagled the kids into doing part of the Eastern Beaches coastal walk, which was just magnificent. 

The day was warm but not unbearable for walking, although the shaded portions were welcome! We fetched up at Bronte Beach for cafe lunch and a two-hour swim / play at the beach, which all the kids thought was fantastic.

Thursday was the long-anticipated (for me, anyway) International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes at the Powerhouse Museum. Words cannot express how much I loved this exhibition. All five kids enjoyed doing the puzzles, but it was the collection of Sherlockania that pleased me the most. 

After the Powerhouse we had lunch in Chinatown and fielded the first semi-catastrophe of the holiday, where my youngest daughter's eye suddenly swelled up; it was off to the doctor then the optometrist to get her checked and sorted, a bit scary but all resolved in the end.

Thursday night the final two members of our temporary household arrived (in cars) from Melbourne, and there was merriment into the evening.

On Friday we caught the train to Darling Harbour and checked out that area, then walked to Circular Quay, where we parted company with our friends and headed back to Bexley to freshen up (our friends went on to catch a ferry to Watsons Bay and later have dinner in Darling Harbour). After showers, we headed to Newtown to meet up with some Sydney-based friends for dinner at a Thai restaurant. The food was magnificent and the company wonderful.

Saturday was taken up in its entirety by the core purpose for our "housemate" friends to be in Sydney at this time of year - the Sydney OzComicCon event. Our friends own a pop culture toys business and sell at all the major cons throughout the year. 

We all had a good, if tiring, day, at the show - my 14 year old in particular, who went off to panels, got a photo with a Doctor Who actress, and generally went nuts on the merchandise. My 12-year-old loves to organise things, so she was deputised to reorder the stock when customers disarranged it, a task she took very seriously. 

My partner and I helped with the serving on the stall and the wrangling of the two 8-year-olds, which hopefully freed our friends up a little. 

As always, the cosplay was the best part for me, as was finally meeting a longtime Internet friend in real life for the first time. We made a roast beef dinner to share that night, which was well received after a long day of retail!

Sunday was meant to be OzComicCon in the morning, airport in the afternoon, home for dinner, but ended up being OzComicCon in the morning, airport in the afternoon, stuff-up of gargantuan size and home 5 hours late ... not the flashest end to a holiday to be honest, but it is what it is, and it's important to not allow that to taint our memories of the trip as a whole. (Just of Virgin, who are now on my perpetual shitlist).

So, in the lessons learned category ... These are specific to us, and YMMV.

Don't fly if we can realistically drive or take a train, but if we do have to fly, do NOT do it in the evening after a heavily packed week. Too stressful for us overall if things go wrong when we are already exhausted, which they seem to do more and more often these days with air travel. (Obviously you have no choice for overseas).

Filling up every day is great, but tiring. Next time we have a highly active holiday, I'll take more care to either build in a downtime day for every three busy days, or else allow a buffer on returning home before we all have to be on our best game again. (In fact the kids do have such a buffer, still being on school hols, but partner and I are back to work). 

Our next jam-packed holiday will be Japan in April next year, and I'm already looking at our scheduling there to make sure I am building in some rest days.

Holidaying with another family with similar aged kids is wonderful. I know my kids enjoyed themselves even more for having their friends with them, and the opportunity to talk / spend time with / even share the cooking and child-wrangling with my own friend was lovely.

A week is not really long enough in Sydney when you are enthusiastic tourists. We did a lot of things, yes, but there were many more that we would've liked to have got to but didn't - from more coastal walks, to the ferries, the Zoo, Madame Tussaud's, the Queen Vic building, etc. 

I wanted to get out to Manly too but we just did not have time. In hindsight, I probably would've been better extending our trip to Wednesday or Thursday this week (of course, had I but known, if I had done so I would've avoided Virgin's SystemGate nonsense as well!)

Bottom line - it was a good week, I'm really glad we went, and we made some memories as a family and with our friends. It might take me another week to get my energy back now though!

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