Merry Christmas from Sydney

The Armidale airport was tiny! It had a small check-in area which was not open yet when we arrived, a small cafeteria, two gates, and no metal detectors. The same person who checked us in also checked our boarding passes at the gate. There were so few passengers he welcomed us each by name without even looking at the boarding passes! The plane was small, our flight was uneventful, and we landed in Sydney a short time later.

We had roughly $800 left in the budget to spend over three days when we arrived in Sydney. This was a dramatic increase from our normal $100 per day spend, so we might have gone a little crazy with our spending.

After paying the hefty AUD 17 ($11.73) per person train fare to leave the Sydney airport, we caught the train and then a bus to Glebe where our Airbnb was located. We checked in without issue and went out immediately in search of dinner, which we found at an Indian restaurant on the main street in Glebe. It was dusk as we were walking to the restaurant, and there were lots of large bats flying around a nearby tree. A few weeks ago, Jess’s sister, Angie, had shown us a picture of a thing she had seen in a tree in Sydney that she was pretty sure was a bat, but we had not really believed her. Now there was no mistaking it; there were so many of them flying and hanging upside down from the tree!

The next day we met up with Jen, a friend we had made in Paraguay in the beginning of February! We had had a great time exploring Asunción with her for a day and stayed in touch with the intention of meeting up with her in Sydney where she lives. She was working in the morning and attending a wedding in the afternoon, but she found time for us in between and showed us around Darling Harbour. After a long walk and a quick lunch, she had to run, so we continued our Sydney exploration on our own.

Darling Harbour

Given the news reports while we were in Armidale, we had expected it to be 46 degrees C (115 degrees F) and very smokey in Sydney. We were lucky though; while we were there the temperature had dropped to a more manageable 26 degrees C (79 degrees F) which made walking around more pleasant. Compared to Armidale, the air quality was also vastly improved. With the exception of the final day at the beach, we did not notice any smoke or haze in the air.

We walked north to the Bangaroo Reserve and then under the Sydney Harbor bridge. We got our first glimpse of the Sydney Opera House from under the bridge. and it did not disappoint! It is funny to see something in person that we have seen so many times on TV, in movies, and on postcards. We think of the sails as being white, but they are actually golden.

From there we started wandering south, intentionally not venturing too close to the Opera House, as we had booked a tour of it for the next day. We stopped in the Museum of Contemporary Art, which had some free galleries, and explored for a few hours before starting our walk back home.

First sighting of the Sydney Opera House

On the walk home, we walked through Hyde Park and St. Mary’s Cathedral. The cathedral was very ornate, with a particularly long and skinny floor plan, making views of the altar difficult. They had television screens mounted every few rows to broadcast Mass to the back. Despite the screens, the cathedral was very pretty.

We finished the day off with another delicious meal, this time at Despaña, a tapas restaurant in Glebe. The food was good, the staff was friendly, and we ate way too much! We rolled ourselves home, admired the bats on the way, and tucked ourselves into bed.

We started Christmas Eve day with a tour of the Sydney Opera House. At AUD 42 per person ($29), the tour was expensive, and we might ordinarily have skipped it, but we had the extra money. It was well worth the splurge!

The hour-long tour started outside “the House”, as it is known colloquially. The sails are amazing! They are built out of huge pre-fabricated concrete pieces that were cleverly designed using the surface of a sphere. This was a brainstorm that came to the architect, Jørn Utzon, more than three years after he won the design competition for the opera house. Prior to this breakthrough, nobody was sure how to actually build them. The sails are tiled with more than one million Sydney Tiles which were inspired by the texture of Japanese ceramic bowls. Utzon wanted the tiles to stand out against the blues of Sydney harbor and the sky without reflecting too much.

Then we went inside to see the elaborate internal concrete structure. The concrete ribs that hold up the sails are beautiful. The tour took us inside two of the six performance spaces that collectively host more than 2,000 events each year! We saw the Studio, which seats up to 300 and can be configured to host a diverse array of productions, and the Joan Sutherland Theater where a theater troupe was rehearsing for Madame Butterfly. We got to see the incredible revolving stage in action! Unfortunately there was a rehearsal of an acrobatic performance in the Concert Hall, so we could not go in.

After the tour we had some time to kill, so we found a place for Jess to get her hair cut. She had not had it cut for over a year and it was long overdue (no pun intended). While Jess was at the hairdresser, Eric found a Thai massage place in the same complex. The massages were also considerably less expensive than they would be at home, so we opted to squeeze one final massage each into our trip. They were the best massages we have had all year!

To celebrate the final night of our crazy honeymoon adventure, we had made a reservation for a fancy Christmas Eve dinner at O Bar, a revolving restaurant on the 47th floor of a building in Sydney’s business district. The views from the tower were stunning and the food was amazing. Every dish was beautifully presented and was a delicious melange of flavors and textures. Jess thinks it might have been the best meal she had all year which is good because it was definitely the most expensive meal of the year!

Our final day was Christmas Day! We walked through Sydney’s Botanical Gardens, caught a final glimpse of the Opera House and took the bus to Bondi Beach to do the cliff walk. The beach is very popular on Christmas and was absolutely filled with people! People were surfing, swimming, and having picnics. There was a lot of Christmas music and many people wearing Santa hats, but it was definitely a bizarrely warm Christmas to us. There is something about singing about one horse open sleighs when its 80 degrees F that does not quite feel right. All the red and white made Jess feel like she was in a live Where’s Waldo picture.

Bondi Beach on Christmas Day

The cliff walk was pretty and took us to a few different bays. We dipped our feet in the cool water in the last bay before catching the bus back to Glebe to retrieve our backpacks. That evening, we boarded our flight to Honolulu, Hawaii, the first leg of our journey back to the US.

Cliff walk

We arrived in Honolulu on Christmas morning and celebrated our second December 25th, 2019 in a row! The second Christmas wasn’t quite as nice as the first; we spend it in the airport lounge waiting for our flight to JFK. And just like that our second Christmas was over, and so was our year of summer!

Heading home! We obviously have mixed feelings about it.

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