Thursday, April 19, 2012

End of Sydney and back to house hunting

The last night in Sydney we took a dinner cruise around the harbor.  It was the perfect, touristy thing to round out our time in the city. We almost missed the boat because we were running late but ended up making it on time.  The dinner cruise was kind of pricey but I paid $25 extra per person for us to have open bar which we easily got our money's worth.  We were greeted with glasses of champagne.  Went through probably two bottles of wine at dinner and Drew had two large glasses of whiskey.  There was a live band which played a compilation of music from jazz, oldies, to pop and no one was dancing though they were begging for people to help them out when the singer announced we were celebrating the fact we recently got engaged.  Other couples were announced as celebrating a birthday or a reunion or something but because we were on the dance floor and Drew was twirling me around, we had people stand up applaud us and start taking our pictures.  It was  SO embarrassing.  We laughed for the next 5 minutes while the singer dedicated some classic love song to us and we slow dances as people continued to take our picture and we tried not to look at the cameras.  It was a very fun night, the food was pretty good, and we were back in our hotel well rested for the very long flight back to Singapore.
Drew's flight was early in the morning so I ended up being alone most of the day Sunday which was Easter.  I felt a little homesick I wasn't with my family or around people but managed to make do.  It was also the first Easter I have never received an Easter basket which I realize to many people is crazy that as an adult my mom still gives all her kids Easter baskets but it has become a tradition regardless.  The only perk is that I did not have to try to resist the temptation of downing the chocolate in the basket and therefore was able to save myself at least a thousand calories.
The long flight back was uneventful but getting home to see Chewie was glorious.  I have not been apart from her that long in many many months so she was beyond excited to see me.  The week back from Sydney was very full of job hunting, interviews, and house hunting.  I have a couple of very interesting opportunities that I am exploring and while I have loved being able to work part time, I am excited to get back into productive mode.  The most exciting highlight of the week I am happy to share is that we finally found our apartment.  Tuesday was a long day and I viewed about 10 apartments but we definitely found our home.
I have been explaining to people that many of the beautiful new places we have been looking at are like a mercedes and the older apartment I thought we were going to get stuck with would be settling for a prius.  It's still a good car, reliable, does it's job and is more economical in many ways.  The apartment we chose, I can't believe to say, is a Ferrari.  The listing agent knew our agent and told us that this place normally rents for $2-$3k per month more than what we were able to get it for.  It is at very top of our budget but the location is perfect, it is absolutely gorgeous, and the rooms are large enough for all of our furniture.  It has a private elevator, maid's quarters, a service elevator, and a rooftop pool.   Drew and I actually feel guilty that we are going to be living in such an incredible apartment.  That said, we get the keys tomorrow and have our stuff moved on Saturday including the sea shipment.  I am SO excited to be finally moving into our own place, getting to sleep in my bed, and being able to unpack everything.  Its' been a great week.
It sounds like I may be getting an offer on a job that I am very excited about.  It is definitely going to be a pay cut since our industry doesn't pay as much here but I am very excited about being part of something big and helping to change and shift the industry in SEA.  The next week is going to be a big week.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Darling Harbor is Darling, Blue Mountains- Three Sisters and Bushwalking

The past two days have been full of activity and fun.  I went to Darling Harbor yesterday which is an adorable part of the city full of restaurants, shops, tourist attractions, and the Maritime museum.  I opted to go to the Aquarium.  I saw lots of beautiful fish but frankly nothing that was amazing I haven't seen diving except for some rare sawfish and a very cool fish called a flashlight fish.  The fish live in pitch black water but their eyes shine an eerie green color that glow in the dark. I still had some time to kill so I figured I might as well do the Wildlife experience which was right next to the aquarium.  This was pretty unique since I got the chance to see many of Sydney's rare and renown species.  I saw kangaroos, a platypus, wallabies, wild dingos, emus, and one of the world's largest crocodiles. Australia is also home to the most poisonous spiders in the world and after leaving that exhibit I kept feeling itchy.  My favorite part of the experience was I had the opportunity to interact with a koala.  This means that for $25, I get to go into an enclosure and have my picture taken right next to a couple of koalas and even get to pet them!  It has been a lifelong dream to do that and I was stoked to get the chance to do it.
After finishing my touristy activities, I met up with my friend  Ranjani who was also visiting Sydney from Singapore.  We found a restaurant that was already serving happy hour at 3:30 and shared a nice bottle of wine over the course of the next two hours and talked about what our experiences have been like moving to Singapore since she has had to go through about everything I have experienced as well including finding a new job, apartment hunting, and being home alone a lot. I am very grateful I connected with her since we moved.
We met up with Drew, Ranj's husband, and another colleague from the LinkedIn Sydney office at a bar and had a drink before going to dinner at Malay.  I know it doesn't make any sense to leave Singapore, go all the way to Sydney, and eat Malaysian food, but several people all said this was their favorite restaurant.  The food did not disappoint. It was extremely flavorful, not too heavy, and absolutely delicious.  We had black pepper chicken, a coconut fish curry, and some kind of lamb dish. I walked out feeling extremely full.
Today I took a two hours train ride out of Sydney and up into the Blue Mountains.  From everything I have read online, it didn't seem a trip to Sydney would be complete without coming up here.  I braved the CityLine and drug my suitcase and backpack to the train station, had to change trains at Central, and then rode a good 2 hours through the suburbs of Sydney and up into the mountains.  I am staying in the city of Leura at a quaint little hotel by myself tonight and am proud to say I have managed to navigate my way around pretty well.
I got up here around 1 and rather than taking a taxi from the train station, I decided I would walk.  It ended up being almost 2km (1.2 miles) dragging my suitcase through residential streets to find my hotel. Once I checked in, I packed my backpack and called a taxi to take me to Echo Point which is the central point in Katoomba (the next village up) to go bushwalking.   Bushwalking is the Ozzie term for hiking.  I enlisted the help of a guy in the information booth and told him I wanted a challenging hike that would also be beautiful.  He sent me on the perfect route.  You start by walking out to Three Sisters, which many people know of as a famous rock formation in the Blue Mountains, and then down the Giant Stairway.  I find it pretty funny they couldn't come up with a more creative name, but it really is a GIANT Stairway.  There are 1,000 steps down from the top of the cliff into the canyon and they are very steep, uneven, and narrow.  Many are formed right into the rock and if there were not two railings on either side, one misstep would lead to certain death.  I was very happy the guide has suggested I go down these steps first rather than sending me the opposite direction so I would have ended up coming up them.  The others bushwalkers seemed miserable that were on the way up.   Once I was down at the bottom the stairwell, I made a left toward Dardanelles and walked through this forest and had to fight off wild snakes, dodge poisonous spiders and machete my way through the greenery.... JUST KIDDING.  The forest was very lush though and there were several huge trees that had fallen across the path so that you had to nearly crawl underneath them.  Because there is such heavy rainfall in this region, I trekked through a lot of mud and at one point my shoe sunk down several inches and I was worried I wouldn't be able to get it out. I walked the first 30 minutes without seeing another person which kind of concerned me but finally I passed a couple and then later another guy.  After Dardanelles, you walk through Federal Pass.  This is a gorgeous area full of waterfalls, creeks, and beautiful scenery.  I took so many pictures initially and by the end you're just thinking..."oh, there's another one"'.  I was very happy to have made the trip, ended up hiking for almost 3 hours and worked up a huge sweat in doing so.  I will have lots of great pictures from today.  Going to try to catch a bus and head into town to grab dinner and then get a good night's sleep tonight as I have a full 8 hour day tomorrow of canyoning and abseiling (rappelling) before getting on a train to head back to Sydney and have dinner with a comScore colleague.
Also, our offer was rejected on the apartment and even though we gave the almost asking price, the brother and sister who own it decided they wanted to ask for an additional $700 which is what the previous tenant was paying. Drew and I might put in an offer on one of the older places we saw that was substantially cheaper but had beautiful views, lots of living space, and was well located. Trying to keep up the attitude if it is meant to be it will happen.  Two years is a very long time to sign a lease for and we don't want to get stuck in a place we will end up hating.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trip out to Manly

The past two days have been wonderful. It has been so refreshing to walk around without humidity torturing us.  The weather has been wonderful and around 77 degrees the past two days.  We slept in very late on Saturday not quite used to the time difference here.  We walked down to the Opera House and had a late lunch at Opera Bar which sits right next to the water in the harbor.  I had a salad that had roast pumpkin, asparagus, and feta. It was delicious.  Drew ate a pizza that was topped with Wagkyu Beef.  We then took the short walk to the Opera House and took pictures admiring the amazing architecture.  We were hoping to maybe catch a play while we are in town but the only thing that seems to be showing is "MacBeth" so we might see it, but were hoping for something a little bit more light-hearted. One of the fun things about being there on a Saturday afternoon was that there were weddings everywhere.  There were three different couples we saw taking pictures in their wedding dresses and tuxes and then saw several other groups wandering about the city as well.
After viewing the opera house, we walked back to the hotel to relax for a little bit and then freshened up to head out for Happy Hour.  We were hoping to find a place that had a rooftop bar or sweeping views of the city and the concierge directed us toward the Goodwin Hotel.  We arrived to find out that is has been closed for renovations.  We meandered through a part of the city called The Rocks which is full of restaurants, shops, and cobble-stone streets.  Heading down Argyle Street, we passed a venue called "The Argyle" which was a huge indoor/outdoor club lined with rainbow banners, tables topped with feathers, and boas. It looked like a fun spot for later in the evening but it wasn't quite the place for happy hour.  We continued down toward the water and in front of the cruise terminal, we found a perfect spot to enjoy twilight. Drew has discovered his new favorite drink, a lychee martini and downed a couple of those while we tremendously enjoyed people watching (I cannot figure out Australian fashion- it's interesting to say the least) as the sun went down.
After happy hour, we headed back up Argyle street to a sushi restaurant called Sake which came highly recommended to us by Drew's coworkers. The food was fantastic and the sake sommelier ended up guiding us through the entire menu and brought us several different cocktails and varieties of sake to bring out the flavors of the meal.  It was divine.  Several of the courses we had included King Fish, which is not something I would normally associate with high end sushi, but it was GOOD! We left feeling very happy.
Just down the street from Sake was a German pub called Lowenbrau.  They actually brew their own beer here, have a beer garden, and a dance club upstairs.  We made our way up the steps and proceeded to dance for the next three hours to music ranging from oldies, disco, 80's rock classics, to modern day pop.  It was SO much fun.  In a brave moment, I jumped up on Drew so he lifted me up I and rocked out to "All the Single Ladies" which received a round of applause when the song was over.  When we didn't think our booties could shake anymore and Drew had sweat all the way through his shirt, we made it back to our hotel around midnight and had a good night's sleep.
Yesterday Drew got me up way earlier than I would have liked and we headed down to the wharf to catch the ferry to Manly Beach.  Manly got it's name from when the beach was discovered, the local tribes were known to look very "manly".  The ride on the ferry was gorgeous and gave us beautiful views of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.  So far, the weather has been perfect but there is a 70% chance of rain today (Monday). Once we got to Manly, we were amazed by the tall trees that stand over the ocean, the beautiful blue color of the water, and coziness of Manly.
We walked through the Corso (their version of third street promenade) which takes you out to the beach on the other side. The beach is very large but because of the strong currents, most of the water is only open to surfers and the swimming area is a very small section in between two flags.  We set up camp on the beach and enjoyed the water very much.   It was cool and refreshing, but not too cold to enjoy.  After a couple hours of relaxing, the clouds started to come in a little bit and the air got a bit chilly so we decided to rent some bicylces and go for a ride around Manly.  We rode up the bath to Shelly Beach and were constantly dodging pedestrians and am fortunate to say I didn't hit anyone (hard). Shelly Beach is in a secluded cove and is a beautiful area where it is best for snorkling.  We stopped and took a couple of pictures but since the sky had turned grey I don't think they will do the beach justice.  We rode past Shelly and ended up in a residential neighborhood where the houses looked spectaucular.  Glass windows everywhere which I'm sure provide amazing views of the beaches. We then went the other direction past Manly and ended up in a park where we hopped off the bikes to ride the swings for a few minutes before heading back.
After returning our bikes, we went up to Murray's Ale House for happy hour and another great view of the sunset on an outdoor patio. We tried the beer sampler and an appetizer and then walked up to Manly Wines. I loved this place and could have stayed for hours. The wine was very reasonable priced, the decor was french country meets art decco and the view was beautiful.  We had a pitcher of rose sangria and a pitcher of white sangria which were both delicious and unique (and only $15 each!).
We headed back  toward the wharf to check ferry times and then decided to try Hugo's for dinner at another recommendation.  I ordered Wagyu Beef and Drew had a pizza that came with lamb and figs.  Hugo's is known for their unique pizza selection and so it was something we had to try.  The meal was incredible and was the perfect way to finish off our weekend.
That said, I am going to head to the gym and try to burn off some of the gluttony from this weekend.