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3 Must-Have Experiences in Sydney

Planning a trip can be extremely overwhelming. You have to decide on which country to visit, which cities, how long to stay in each city, find hotels and airfare within your price range, and have an idea of what you want to do once you actually arrive. Aren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?

If you’re like me, the Internet can be a double-edged sword when making these decisions. It’s easy to log hours on travel sites, reading review after review, until you lose all confidence in your ability to make a decision. So, I’m making it easy for you. I’ve compiled a list of my top three things to do when visiting Sydney. If you’re limited on time, plan your days around each of these events, giving you three very different days of touristic opportunities.

1. Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb

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I’m not going to lie, this is expensive. But then again, Australia is pretty expensive in general. And, in my opinion, it’s worth the money. Basically, BridgeClimb is an adventurous way to see the city’s most iconic sites from a different vantage point. You choose what time you want to go (day, twilight, night or dawn), get strapped into a jumpsuit and harnesses, and hike your way up the bridge, stopping every so often for historical facts and pictures. The climb takes about two hours, and there’s no need to be in shape. Just prepare for some stair climbing (obviously) and slightly high winds coming from the bay. For more information, visit the website: http://www.bridgeclimb.com/.

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2. Manly Ferry 

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In contrast to the high price of climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the 30-minute ferry ride to Manly Wharf is a beautiful, cheap way to get to know the city better. Ferries leave frequently (every half hour or so), from 5:30am until 11:45pm from Circular Quay. You can purchase roundtrip tickets at the station ($15 AUD) right beforehand.

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Once you arrive to Manly, you can go on a 10 kilometer harbourside walk if you feel so inclined, or you can do what I did and plop down on the beach and relax for a few hours. Either way, make sure to end your day with fish and chips. There are shops all along the beach, and some tucked away on side streets. We chose a fresh fish shop that had a line out the door (always my go-to), and enjoyed it on a park bench while watching the sun set. It was truly a perfect day.

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3. Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk

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This six kilometer cliff top coastal walk is the perfect way to take in the city’s famous beaches and eastern suburbs. It takes about two hours; although you could make a day of it by stopping at the parks and restaurants along the way. Public transportation is quick and easy, and bus numbers depend on where in Sydney you’re coming from.

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Been to Sydney and agree with my list? Have other suggestions? Please comment in order to help others make informed travel decisions. :)

New Years in Sydney

Up until a few years ago, I never cared too much for New Years. To me, it was a hyped-up celebration with false expectations, unrealistic resolutions, and drunk drivers. But then everything changed right around the time I turned 30.

Yes, it had a lot to do with the age. After years of hating my body and worrying whether or not people liked me, I was finally confident in who I was. I was content. Happy. And I attribute most of that to living abroad. And I attribute living abroad to loving New Years.

Three years ago I was in Buenos Aires, singing karaoke in a large Argentinian family’s living room. The following year I celebrated on Copacabana Beach in Rio, alongside two million people, dancing and jumping waves for good luck. And a couple of weeks ago, I got the opportunity to see the famous Sydney Harbour fireworks from a boat, with a dear friend I made in Korea.

I know what you’re thinking. (Bitch.) But it’s actually quite hard being away during the holidays. Thankfully, I have been blessed with a very understanding family. In fact, when I told them I was torn between visiting Australia and coming home, they said something to the effect of “watch out for the kangaroos.” I love them.

Anyway, the point of this post is to share my Sydney New Year’s Eve experience, and the best way to do this is through pictures. Below you will find the progression of the fireworks, from start to finish.

But first, some advice: If you’re going to visit Sydney for New Years in coming years, secure a boat a few months ahead of time. Otherwise, you’ll be fighting your way through huge crowds, waiting around on the Harbour for hours in the heat, without a cocktail. Here’s the boat we went on—about half the price of others, as it was BYOB: http://www.sydneyharbourescapes.com.au/boat-fleets/boat-detail/bid/600. Also, mentally prepare for the mass of people once you leave the boat. It took us about two hours to get home. And my friend lived a mere five kilometers away.

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4 Days in Cairns, Australia

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I had never heard of Cairns before this trip. I certainly didn’t know how to pronounce it. (For those wondering, it’s pronounced like the French city, “Cannes,” or like “cans” of beans, for you classy folks.)

Cairns is a small town on the east coast of Northern Australia. It has a population of about 140,000, and is a popular jumping off point for Reef trips, tours to Fraser Island (World Heritage island renowned for great camping), and sailing expeditions to the Whitsunday Islands. But Cairns shouldn’t be discounted as simply a pit stop to somewhere better. The small coastal town is actually quite charming for a few days.

Here’s an overview of my trip, and some links and advice to do something similar if you feel so inclined:

Day 1

I arrived to the airport at 9am after a 9-hour overnight flight from Shanghai. Immigration was fairly quick and my bags were waiting for me at the conveyer belt. No one pushed me, there was no yelling, and the airport employees were actually smiling. I’ve realized that, after living in China for six months, I am easily impressed.

At 10am I took a taxi to my hostel, Travellers Oasis, in the CBD (Central Business District). The ride cost $25 AUD, but I later found out a shuttle would have only set me back $5. The hostel was more like a guest house—complete with a pool, hammocks, and Bob Marley playing through speakers. 

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After a nap, I headed to a fruit and veggie market called Rusty’s (only open on weekends) to check out the exotic fruit, veggies and flowers from the area. This is always my favorite thing to do when I arrive to a new city, as it’s a great way to understand the local flavor. This market isn’t enormous or as exotic as ones in Asia, but it’s still a great place to kill an hour, and get some great tasting passion fruit.

Not gonna lie, this is pretty much all I did my first day. I did a little more walking around, and picked up some groceries from Cairns Central shopping mall, but no matter how much I travel, I have yet to master the art of sleeping on a plane.

Days 2 & 3

At 7:15 TUSA Dive picked me up at the hostel. Before arriving to Cairns, I had a hard time deciding on which company to book my Great Barrier Reef trip with, as there are many outfitters. But TUSA had gotten good reviews on TripAdvisor, and they offered a 2-day referral dive program with the necessary open water dives and two pleasure dives. As I wrote in the previous post, I was really happy with the company, and would recommend them for diving or for snorkeling trips. 

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From about 7:30am to 4:30pm on both days, I reviewed information I had learned during my pool dives and classroom instruction in Shanghai. I also learned how to plan dives, set up gear, break down gear, and use a compass (which I failed at, miserably). We reviewed many of the skills previously learned, like how to clear a flooded mask, and what to do if you run out of air.

TUSA took us to four different sites for a total of six dives, each dive lasting for around 40-45 minutes. The company also included two “tea times” with coffee, tea and pastries, and a healthy lunch buffet, with a multitude of salads, quiches, proteins and bread. For more information on my scuba trip, read the previous post.

When I arrived back to the hostel, I was able to attend an “authentic Australian BBQ” at their sister hostel, Tropic Days. For $14 I was able to sample barramundi, the area’s famous fish, emu, kangaroo, and crocodile. The emu was a bit like lean beef, the kangaroo like tender steak, and the crocodile, to no surprise, tasted just like chicken.

Day 4:

I decided to take a bus to Karunda, a small town about 45 minutes north of Cairns, renowned for its rainforest walks and koala-holding opportunities. It was an easy trip, and nice to see a different side to Queensland. 

The Koala Gardens was like a little zoo, and took only 30 minutes to walk through. It was small, but still pretty cool. I was the first one there (9:15), so I was able to feed and pet the kangaroos by myself, and spend a little more time cuddling the koala. And, let’s be honest, this whole trip to Kuranda was mostly so I could hold a koala.

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After I got my koala fix, I explored Kuranda’s Heritage Markets, where vendors were selling things like organic essential oils, imported clothing from Bali, handmade boomerangs, stuffed koalas and kangaroos, local honey, and traditional souvenirs. I tried my best not to shop for myself, or to buy my niece every stuffed marsupial I saw.

I stopped for a coffee at a place called Frogs in the market. It was a little pricey, but the restaurant had great local coffee, and a wide selection of organic teas and food items. The server was even nice enough to give me some local advice on what I should do while in Kuranda, and circled some highlights on my map. 

I decided to take some of the walking paths through the rainforest and along the river. The tourist information center where you get dropped off has walking maps and can recommend paths depending on your fitness level and interests.

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After about a 2-hour hike, I returned to the quaint town and ate lunch at a little outdoor cafe called “Well-Being Deli,” which was recommended by the woman who sold me honey at the market. I get a lentil burger the size of my head and saved half for later. The food was excellent, and they had vegan and gluten-free options.

To return to Cairns, you have a few options. The bus picks up in front of Anabelle’s Pantry at 12:30, 2:14 and 4:10. It is important to note, that the last bus leaves at 4:10, and if you miss it, it’ll cost you about $150 by taxi. Other transports include the scenic train and the skyrail . If you have the money, they both seem like beautiful options. I, however, had two more weeks in Australia, so I decided to spend $6  ($12 roundtrip) instead.

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I returned to the hostel in the afternoon, took a nice long nap, then headed down to reception to reserve an airport shuttle for the next day. But since I was flying on Christmas, the shuttle Travellers Oasis uses would not be working. The hostel owner recommended Sun Palm Transport Group (sunpalmtransport.com.au/), which I will also pass onto you. It was a cheap, timely option, and the driver was extremely nice and professional.

After that was squared away, the owner also recommended that I attend a Christmas Eve pub crawl. And although the Aussies can be quite charming, I was happy just to pack, watch some Christmas TV, and of course, eat my leftovers.

I politely declined, and said, “Maybe next time.” I have a feeling I’ll be back.

A Trip to Paloquemao

palFor me, traveling and food go together like peanut butter and honey. It just makes sense. In one bite, we can discover a culture. We bond with its people.

My family shares the same sentiment. So when they came to visit a couple of weeks ago, I took them to my favorite place for a Saturday morning in Bogota: La Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao. Although not present in many of the guide books, nor listed as a top thing to do online, this bustling, chaotic flower and food market was the first thing to make me fall in love with the city.

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Jennifer the Turkey

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I’ve never cared too much for turkey. Deep fried, baked, white meat, dark meat, gravy, no gravy–it was all the same to me. But this year, my second Thanksgiving in Seoul, I couldn’t get the idea of a big turkey dinner out of my head. I had to have it.

So, I found a couple options. I could spend $50 on a turkey buffet in Itaewon (the foreign part of town), I could indulge in a $70 sit-down dinner in Apgujeong (the Beverly Hills of Seoul), or I could pick up a pre-made dinner from the military base (enough to feed 10-12 people) for $100. It was a no-brainer.

I decorated the apartment with hand turkeys and Thanksgiving Day wreaths I made at school. I mopped the floors and scrubbed the stove. I made sure there were enough paper plates and plastic cups for everyone attending.

“Jen, do you need me to go with you to pick up the turkey dinner,” asked my roommate Cory.

“No, just pick up some wine and get excited for what’s to come,” I said. “I’ve got this under control.”

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But I didn’t. Not at all. On my way back from picking up the bird, I somehow lost my footing and fell to the ground–the box landing on my ankle. I knew right away it was broken.

After the doctor confirmed my prognosis, my roommates came by the hospital to check on me, and to pick up the highly-anticipated Thanksgiving dinner. “Just make sure to save me some,” I said.

But, in true Korean fashion, I was out of the hospital 30 minutes later, hobbling to my apartment on crutches.

A couple glasses of wine, two plates of food, and a pack of painkillers and anti-inflammatories later, I was in my bed watching Anthony Bourdain with my friend Jason–trying to drown out the music and laughter from the living room.

“I know this sucks,” said Jason. “But you have to admit, that was some pretty damn good turkey.”

HOGen-Dazs

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I was good all week. Veggie omelettes for breakfast, chicken salads for lunch, fish for dinner. Come Sunday, I’d had enough.

All it took was two glasses of wine and the mention of chocolate, and next thing I knew, I was sitting at the Häagen-Dazs café in Hongdae, staring at an enormous plate of bite-sized cheesecake, brownies, fruit, and a full sampling of the ice cream chain’s most popular flavors. And as if this weren’t decadent enough, it was served alongside a giant bowl of melted chocolate.

It’s called “Sweet Fondue,” costs 30,000 won ($26), and instantly adds about 2-inches to your waistline.

*May not be available in the States.

Korea Runs on Kimchi and Rice

 This morning, I stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts for a bagel and cream cheese. “I am sorry, no bagels. No cream cheese,” said the woman behind the counter.

“Seriously?” I felt like asking. “This would never happen in the states—especially not at 9 a.m. on a weekday.”

But I bit my tongue and thanked her in Korean.

On my way out, I took a picture of what they did have to offer: kimchi croquettes and glutinous rice donuts.

 

Some Things Never Change

I was already two drinks in when I broke the news to my girlfriends.


“I’m moving to Korea!” I blurted out.


Looks of shock and confusion filled my friends’ faces. Then came the questions.


“When are you leaving?”

“Why Korea?”

“How long will you be gone?”

“What the hell are you going to do there?”


I took a deep breath. “Next month; Korea pays the most money of any foreign country; one year; I’ll be teaching children English.”


My friends bursted into laughter.

“Seriously, Jen?” said my friend Rita. “You’re going to teach children? Do you even like children?”


I ordered another martini. What the hell am I getting myself into?



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Seven months later, I’m happy to report that I’m doing just fine. Turns out, I actually like children. (And they like me too!)


I take my camera to work so I can post class photos on facebook. Colorful construction paper cards hang on my walls. I’m constantly telling stories about the funny things my kids say and do.


“Jen, I feel like I don’t even know you anymore!” joked my friend April during a gchat conversation.

“Girl, I feel like I don’t even know myself!” I joked back.

Then she asked if my biological clock was ticking.

“Fuck no!” I typed in bold letters.

“Now there’s the Jen Stevens I know an love, LOL! So, any guys you wanna tell me about?”



A Painful Recovery

In a painkiller-induced fog, watching yet another movie, my phone rang. Unknown number.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Yoboseyo?” a husky voice responded.

“Eh, yoboseyo. Do you speak English?” I asked.

“Uh, a little,” he answered. “This is police. Is this Jen-nee-pa?”

“Yes.”

“Autobike accident…report…ugh…yoboseyo?”

“Um, yoboseyo. It’s still me.”

“Yoboseyo, do you speak Korean?” It was still the same husky voice.

“No, not really,” I responded. “Give me your name and phone number and I’ll have my wan jang nim (school director) call you back.”

Two days later, still hopped up on medicine, I was in the backseat of Wan Jang Nim’s car, on my way to the police station. Holding on to my broken ribs, and cringing at the sight of each passing motorcycle, the 10-minute car ride felt like an eternity.

“It’s just up these steps,” said Wan Jang Nim, as she climbed to the third floor.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I stood at the bottom of the staircase, arm in a cast, bandaged nose, cracked ribs and a leg bearing a bruise the size of Texas. There was no elevator.

I’ve been homesick only a handful of times since I’ve been here, but this easily ranks as number one.

I’ll spare you the hour-long conversation I had with the police officer–his questions translated in English, my answers translated to Korean, his follow-up questions translated to English. Basically, the officer didn’t understand why, after suffering a concussion, I would have no recollection of what the man on the motorcycle looked like.

I cried on the way home.

My roommates were waiting for me at the apartment when I arrived. They helped me to bed and asked if there was anything I wanted–anything they could do to make me feel better. I said just hearing them speak English was enough. Then I asked them to hand me my pills.