Monday, May 6, 2019

Sydney: Darling Harbor

Every morning my kids were spoiled with a breakfast spread of their dreams (think endless pastries, boundless fruit, a juice bar, and all the cheesy eggs and bacon you could imagine) and doting servers who thought it was the cutest thing when they'd say "yes ma'am" or "thank you, ma'am." 

Apparently ma'am isn't common language in Australia. It's not really common language in the States either, but they've gotten in the habit of saying it, for the most part. And with ladies bending over backward for their every want and whim, I think they started to over-use the word ma'am to their gain. 

But it was cute and funny so I didn't stop them. 

One morning after breakfast, we hopped on a ferry and enjoyed the sights and breeze on our way to Darling Harbor.
Darling Harbor is a newer hot spot in Sydney - modern high rise living, endless shopping, waterfront dining, and family-friendly entertainment. We filled our morning just walking around and taking the sights in.
After lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes, we stumbled on this park and the kids were content to spend the next three hours playing! Zip lines, climbing ropes, giant swings, spray grounds... and ice cream. We had a perfect, laid-back, outdoor afternoon.
Once we were sufficiently tired of playing outside and ready for some air-conditioning, we walked a couple of blocks to the Australian National Maritime Museum for some hands-on lessons about Australian naval history.

Visiting a museum = history/social studies/geography = school for the day = WIN.
By now it was late in the day and every muscle in each of us was tired. And hungry. Such a conundrum, because all the backpack snacks were gone, and a walk to the ferry was another 30+ minutes.

The obvious solution was round two of ice cream, and a snails pace meander back to the ferry.
That evening when we sat down for dinner, Jaxton lasted all of five minutes before he was out.

Out cold, as in soft snores.
Next up: sun, sand, and surf at Bronte Beach...

Friday, April 26, 2019

Sydney: The Rocks and Luna Park

After staying awake for almost 48-hours, everyone crashed when our heads hit the pillow. 

Except for me.

I had a jarring headache from being overtired, and my eyes burned from having kept them open so long. Once I finally had the chance to lay in quiet darkness, my head throbbed and I wanted to claw my eyes out. 

But, melatonin for the win and I never woke up until 8:00 the next morning.

Two kids were in one hotel with Grady, and two kids were in one hotel with me. After breakfast and Grady heading off to work, the kids and I decided to explore a small pocket of Sydney.
The Sydney Harbor is unique - some places with jagged cliffs, others quiet with sandy beaches, and others boasting a beautiful and modern skyline.
Not knowing exactly where we were going, and not knowing what our energy levels would be for our first day exploring, we opted to start with a small museum detailing the British discovery of Australia and its initial use for prisoners. 

History, Geography, Social Studies: Check. 
After completing a string of clues to solve a riddle at the museum, which Micah was insistent on doing, we walked across the Sydney Harbor Bridge. This iconic bridge is the tallest steel arch bridge and contains only straight pieces of steel... even though the bridge is a massive arch.

And side note: Micah is frustrated he can't replicate the bridge in Minecraft. Apparently architecture really does have a mathematical component to it.
Once across the Bridge, we explored Luna Park, mostly just for a chance to sit down, get a cold drink, and enjoy ice cream by the water.

When we visited, Australia was in the final days of summer and beginning days of autumn. We felt a steady breeze, but with temps in the mid-80's it was plenty warm.
From Luna Park we hopped on a ferry, cruised across the harbor, and had a short three block walk back to our hotel.
After seven hours of sightseeing, I mandated "quiet time" in the hotel: kids wrote in journals, played video games, and I closed my eyes. At 5:30 Grady walked in the door, dropped his computer bag, and we were off to find dinner.
And, even though it was only 8:00, we were done for the day. The 15-hour time difference took some getting used to!

Everyone gave a one-word description about Sydney after the first day: fantastic, fun, easy-to-get-around, beautiful, exciting, and friendly. And we smiled knowing we had almost two more weeks in the city to enjoy and explore!
Next up: Darling Harbor...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Australia: Getting There

Grady (calling to me in the kitchen while doing dishes): "Hey Babe, when you have a minute come in the office."

Me (while washing dishes): "Hang on a sec - my hands are wet and soapy."

I rinse my hands, turn off the water, and head to his office, drying my hands as I walk.

Me (standing in the office doorway): "Whatcha need?"

Grady (quickly getting up and closing the doors): "Have a seat. I want to tell you something."

Me (suddenly nervous and heart slightly racing): "What's wrong? What did I do? Are you upset? Just tell me..."

Grady (interrupting my frantic questions midstream): "Nothing's wrong. Just sit down."

I sit down.


And still drying my hands with the towel, but not because they're still wet, but because I have nervous energy wondering why I've been beckoned to his office and told to sit down while the doors are closed.

Grady (with a smile he can't pretend to hide): "Want to go to Australia?"

Me: "What? Why? I mean yes! When? How..."

Grady (interrupting again because my questions continue without a chance for him to answer): "I found out I need to spend a few weeks in Australia next month for work. I've already crunched some numbers and looked into my airline points. I think four of us can fly for free and it seems like I have enough hotel points to cover a majority of our stay. And..."

Me (LOUD and ENTHUSIASTIC and now standing up and flapping the kitchen towel): "Yes! Yes! Yes! Let's go! Of course I want to go! Ohmyword, are you serious? We can all go?"

And from that conversation we both went into hyper-planning mode for the next four weeks and made arrangements for our family to spend three weeks in Australia. It was surreal: we went on the trip of a lifetime and rather than spend months planning, preparing, and dreaming about going, we pulled it off in less than a month.

We had an incredible experience and made the most of every day there to see and do as much as possible. In short, we traveled more than 10,000 miles in 21 days and...

We explored the Sydney Opera House and walked the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

We swam at Manly and Bondi Beaches and made the Coogee to Bondi coastal cliff walk.

We fed kangaroos and held koala bears.

We hiked the Daintree Rainforest and snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef.

We dripped sweat in the 1,000% humidity and reveled in the beautiful views at every turn.

We laughed at our escapades of driving on the left-hand side of the road and bemoaned the fact restaurants didn't serve ice cubes.

We danced with Aborigines, learned to throw a boomerang, and listened to a didgeridoo concert (of sorts).

We traveled in planes and ferries and trains and Maxi Taxi's.

And the best part? We did all of this, and so much more, together. We have these experiences and memories to share forever. Travel is one of the best gifts to enjoy as a family.

I'll share a series of posts with pictures and video clips of our time in Australia, sparing you wordy details on all we did and saw.

With only a month to prepare, we excitedly exhaled when passports for the kids arrived in only three weeks. This made it official: Team Peeler was going to Australia!
Grady had a conference to attend in Washington, DC prior to his time in Australia. He packed what he needed for a month away from home, and we made our plans for meeting each other on the other side of the world at the airport in Sydney!
We were all smiles and happy, anticipating all that was yet to come, when we arrived at the airport. And, we were smiling and happy because we hadn't yet experienced the 27 hour travel to get to Australia.

While we waited in normal people lounges, Grady kicked back in the fancy travel lounge with food and drinks and reclining chairs.
We arrived in LA with 30 minutes to sprint and catch our plane to Sydney. Grady Lee was nervous, Micah acted chill and nonchalant, Annalyse became Jaxton's mother and demanded he hold her hand while we ran, and Jaxton just whined about needing a bathroom. Me? I was thinking how nice it would be to have a fancy lounge to relax in, but was instead grateful (or not) for the full-on sprint we had to get to our gate.
We endured a 14-hour flight, with endless movies and video games, semi-decent food, and nobody slept.

At all.

Even despite drugging them with every safe and legal sleep aid I had.

And, Annalyse puked for about two hours sometime around 2:00 am while we were somewhere over the Pacific.

It was nothing less than memorable.
We arrived, wound our way through customs and immigration, found our bags, and caught up with Grady already there and waiting for us. We took a cab to our hotel and everyone wanted to crash and sleep but Coach Grady gave us a pep talk to "push through the sleepiness and make yourself stay awake," promising us it was the best way to adjust to the 15-hour time zone difference.

So, we faked our interest in sightseeing, cruised around the harbor on a ferry, and walked the area around our hotel. It was anything but magical, but we stayed awake.
After dinner and showers (finally!), we fell into bed at 8:00 pm and didn't wake up until our bodies woke up on their own the next morning.

Correction: most of us fell into bed exhausted. Others fell asleep on the floor while waiting for a shower. Bless.
And this concludes the first three days of Australia. Yes, you read that right. We left home on a Friday evening and arrived in Sydney on a Sunday. 

Next up: highlights of our sightseeing adventures!