This Saturday was spent in bed with, is it the flu? Is it a horrendous cold? Regardless, I’ve been infected with whatever is going around at my office. So I spent the day reading magazines which all boast the headline GREAT ROAD TRIPS! (Sub headline: get off your lazy butt and go somewhere!) Well, my intention wasn’t to lie in bed sneezing and coughing all day, but that’s what ended up happening. Those articles did get me thinking about the last great trip I went on – which I haven’t posted about yet! So here we are, me gulping down NyQuil and you sipping coffee or half-watching tv or whatever you normally do while skimming articles and stuff you find on Instagram.
My lovely husband, who we’ll call Wolfe, because that’s his middle name and what I call him almost exclusively, came up with a harebrained scheme to go to Australia for Christmas last year. “But we just got back from our honeymoon! I can’t take that much time off of work!” I explained. “Um…..so what?” That ethos was convincing enough, so we booked a trip to holiday abroad! (This logic is in the same vein of ‘if not now, when’ which I use more often as I get older.)
Sure I could talk about the flight, but do you really want to hear about it? It was long, I took a sleeping pill and listened to Dax Shepard’s voice lull me to sleep. Our first stop was Sydney. We stayed at a gorgeous boutique hotel in Darling Harbour, not far from the touristy – or historic, rather – area where you can see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. Once we dropped our bags off at the hotel, we asked the concierge for a recommendation for lunch and luckily, one of his favorite spots was just a few blocks away. To say that we loved Social Brew Cafe would be an understatement. We only got to eat here twice, as they were closed on Christmas and Boxing Day – something we didn’t think about at all while booking our trip. Also I didn’t even take any food photos there – I didn’t take many food photos at all really because I was just…enjoying myself, I guess?
Wolfe and I knocked back a cold one at Social Brew Cafe, although I wish I had seen their spiked green juices on the menu before I ordered. He had a chicken burger, I had a fish burger with a charcoal bun. Charcoal popped up occasionally during our trip – the man sitting next to me at Social Brew Cafe ordered eggs benedict with charcoal hollandaise, so it was covered in black sauce – which is an odd trend in my opinion. After lunch we hit the pavement and walked about six miles taking in the city. The number and height of the buildings downtown is overwhelming. Anytime I see a Bank of China building I feel really far away from home. There aren’t any Banks of China in little ol’ San Diego! The architecture was also jaw-dropping. Being in Sydney felt like being in a city full of creatives, as almost every square inch of space was filled with unique sculptures, murals, or some kind of artwork. The luxury apartments atop of a working church was pretty insane!
After our epic stroll we went back to the hotel and I made the mistake of taking a nap. Wolfe woke me up around 7 p.m. and I was not very nice. But if I didn’t get up, I would be up all night. His intentions were good! He dragged me out of the hotel and out to walk around Darling Harbour which was packed with people sitting around waiting for…something. That something was a huge fireworks show! Okay, that was worth getting up for. We had a few friends who had lived in or visited Sydney send us a list of their favorite restaurants, which we used quite a lot on our trip. After consulting the list we headed to Frankie’s Pizza, an underground by-the-slice joint slash music venue straight out of a Wes Anderson film. The ceiling was covered in garlic, the walls were covered in old photos and concert posters, and the music was BUMPING. It was a very cool place but since I am a grandma trapped in a 30-year-old’s body, it was too loud for me so we didn’t stay long. Sorry Wolfe!
The next morning we had breakfast at our hotel and headed to the Royal Botanic Garden. If we are traveling to a city with a Botanical Garden, or anything horticultural-adjacent, I’m there. Sydney is a clean city and the grounds were pristine. The views were also spectacular, as the garden is located right next to the opera house, with a view of the harbour bridge in the distance! We logged another few miles and worked up an appetite for lunch. Mid-day meals proved to be the best time to indulge in more upscale dining experiences during our Australia trip. It’s hard to score a dinner reservation at in-demand restaurants, especially around the holidays, but we managed to sneak in quite a few places at lunch!
A friend had recommended Cafe Sydney, located on the rooftop of the Customs House, and mentioned it had a fantastic view of the harbour. We didn’t realize it was, let’s say, super classy, and we were rocking casual clothing. It was also crazy packed! While we didn’t get a table with a view, we did get seated right away so that was a win. I ordered the salmon with aloo tiki, mango chutney and papaya, Wolfe had a steak, and our meal was – let me think of the best word for this – ridonkulous. Pricey, but well worth it! Nearly all of the food we ate in Australia was very fresh and incredibly flavorful. Looking at the Cafe Sydney menu now, I could seriously go for some Frisian cow milk haloumi with poached Iranian fig, fig cream and honey vinaigrette or the ricotta gnocchi with pumpkin cream. YUM. This was also the only place where I had trouble understanding the Australian accent; our waiter politely asked ‘how are ‘ya going,’ a term I find very endearing, but he spoke really fast so it sounded like (insert any unintelligible phrase here) and I was super confused. After lunch we stopped by Hacienda for another brew, where we had an excellent view of that lovely bridge and a front row seat to watch a young girl attempt to snap a good photo of her cocktail for about, 25 minutes? I’m not joking. My philosophy on phone photography is if it takes longer than 30 seconds, you’re never going to get a good shot. I did find this place on Instagram and it was decidedly Instagrammable, so I guess I deserved this 21st century punishment. After another long walk, a quick hotel rest, and Indian food at Zaaffran, day two was a wrap!
Day three: Bridge Climb Day! We started off with a hearty breakfast at Social Brew Cafe: me with scrambled eggs and DIY avocado toast, Wolfe with ricotta pancakes topped with pistachio butter. We went for, you guessed it, another walk before our big climb! We were a little nervous, but more so excited. The bridge climb was EPIC, I can’t even accurately describe it, which is sad because I fancy myself a writer. If you’re in Sydney, just do it! Even if you’re not a big fan of heights. Would it make you feel better to know lots of celebrities have done it? Gig Hadid did it, Tony Hawk did it, Derek Zoolander did it! Do you need any more convincing?! After our 3 1/2 hour adrenaline rush, we stopped by The Australian Hotel for lunch, recommended by our tour guide Mitch. Their bar was, again, the stuff of Wes Anderson’s dreams, but my favorite part was the giant bottle of sunscreen on the counter for patrons. They are known for their pizzas, some of which are topped with crocodile, peking duck, and another with kangaroo and emu aptly named The Coat of Arms. I opted for Roast Pumpkin with rosemary, pine nuts, arugula (they call it rocket which I adore), and goats cheese. This was a good decision. After lunch I stopped to get a scoop of ice cream because, vacation.
Our last day in Sydney was also Christmas Day! Australians are very into the Christmas spirit, we heard Christmas music everywhere and ‘Happy Christmas’ all around. We had breakfast at our hotel, complete with Christmas crackers! The concierge asked us what our plans were for the day. We told him the zoo and a beach, but couldn’t decide between Manly or Bondi. He was APPALLED and explained that we needed a FULL DAY at the zoo. There was just too much too see! What he didn’t know was that Wolfe and I, we crush zoos. Even though our feet were taking a serious beating (we were averaging 12 miles a day at this point), we were going to walk around that zoo with purpose. That purpose being, soak it all in and hit the beach! We took a ferry to the Taronga Zoo, which was delightful! The concierge recommended the bird show and, as much as I despise birds, it was actually very cool! We saw some cute seals and kangaroos who were totally not impressed to see us (they kind of all have resting betch face), I accidentally locked eyes with a python and almost peed my pants.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a direct route to Manly Beach (we decided Bondi might be too crowded), so we took a ferry back to Circular Quay, and another ferry to Manly. We were craving fish and chips and apparently, so were lots of other people. The few restaurants on the beach were filled to the brim, but after a google search, a few laps around the main drag, and a hunger-fueled mini-meltdown by yours truly, we stumbled upon Peanut Butter Jelly. I’m always hesitant when a restaurant says it offers ‘global cuisine’ because to me that signals they make a lot of random dishes that aren’t focused and are adequate at best. The menu at Peanut Butter Jelly runs the gamut from sharable plates to tacos, burgers and even lasagna, but damn if that wasn’t some great food. Was it because we were really, really hungry? Maybe. But after a few brews and curry arancini, cauliflower with satay sauce, tequila battered fish, and chicken tacos with habanero relish, we were back in business. It wasn’t fish and chips by the beach but it turned out to be a great meal!
Our Christmas ended with dinner at the hotel, a failed attempt at the free laundry services (turns out laundry is the thing to do when everything is closed on a holiday), Young Henrys lager for Wolfe and glass of Nick Spencer wine for myself. I must have liked it because I wrote NICK SPENCER WINE GOOD in my phone. We needed a good nights sleep because the next day, we were off to Melbourne!