Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

Weekend in Sydney: Beaches and Bridges

With an outbound flight coming up this Sunday, my last full weekend was spent enjoying some of Sydney’s grandest attractions.

Saturday at Bondi Beach

After an interview with proactivist Lance Lieber of Transition Bondi, it felt important to spend the last chunk of daylight down by the seaside.

However, Bondi Beach itself looked as crowded as it would on a sunny Saturday afternoon and it already seemed a bit chilly for a swim.

Under such circumstances, one must hang a right from the beach and take the scenic Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk past Tamarama instead.

P_20180407_164035

You can catch some breathtaking views from Mackenzies Point and lounge on the Tamarama Rocks while watching the surfers out on the waves.

Sunday on the Bridge Bridge

On Sunday, you can ride trains, buses, and ferries all around Sydney for only $2 with an Opal card.

This last Sunday–in the company of a few good people–I took a train to Milsons Point, right on the northern end of the Harbour Bridge.

Before beginning the bridge walk, we lingered at the Kirribilli Markets under the bridge’s arch on Burton Street and enjoyed a little picnic in the grass outside to the tune of some smooth live jazz.

P_20180408_143619

At the end of our walk across the bridge, we climbed up the Pylon Lookout for a breathtaking view of the city sprawled across the harbor. We even watched a wedding take place beneath us on a small patch of green near Circular Quay.

P_20180408_145327

There are fascinating pictures and stories of the bridge building in a museum inside the lookout as well.

The bridge will take you from the north of Sydney to The Rocks–a narrow-alleyed, a cobble-stoned precinct reminiscent of old European towns.

Once across, we made our way to an authentic Bavarian beer hall, formerly known as Lowenbrau Keller and now named Munich Brauhaus.

Not only were all the wait staff dressed as though it were Oktoberfest; indeed, the barman was a real-life German.

We sat outside to enjoy the last few rays of the sun’s warmth and, as it set, noticed a street lamp with a gas-lit street lamp.

With beer (and some very tasty french fries) in our bellies, we walked past the Overseas Passenger Terminal and happened to catch a massive cruise ship waving its farewells while enjoying some live music from the Cruise Bar.

P_20180408_151105

In one random alley, we happened upon a small window which revealed what may very well have been the rock upon which the first settlers landed in Sydney.

Also to be found on a Sunday: The Rock Market, though, to our misfortune, we got there just as they were closing up at 5 PM.

Eventually, we found a spot in the grass to sit and enjoy the sunset with a bottle of wine.

Nearby, devotees turned towards Mecca and prayed Maghrib. We were approached by a security officer with the Hindi name Sanjay, who, in the most friendly manner possible, let us know that we were drinking in an alcohol-free zone.

There were five other officers in the area who, he informed us, were not as friendly as Sanjay and would readily issue a $200 fine for our offense. Sanjay was merciful, however, and simply asked us to cap the bottle and put it away.

At times like these, I am grateful for the dazzling and diverse city that is Sydney.

 

Australia · Day Trips

Train, Beach, Camp

And when I say train, I am referring to Sydney trains–the ones with wheels–and not the act of training.

Nonetheless, a beach trip was a good follow up to what has now been six weeks of boxing and martial arts at Darkside Gym.

Honestly, we didn’t do much planning for this trip other than deciding that we wanted to spend at least part of the long Easter camped out on a secluded beach.

All we needed to pull it together was:

  • A phone to check train schedules;
  • An overnight bag with beachwear;
  • A day or two’s supply of food;
  • A water bottle to refill;
  • A tent, sleeping mats, and a light blanket.

At this time of year, it wasn’t cold enough to need sleeping bags; we also didn’t have any.

With two people, the supplies were easy to carry.

For food, we brought plenty of fruit and veggies, along with some cold cuts and hummus, for salads, sandwiches, and dips.

We didn’t roll out the door until quite late in the day and had to make a few stops to get last-minute groceries (e.g. freshly baked bread) and pick up the tent and sleeping mats we were borrowing.

From Central Station, we caught the 6:36 PM South Coast Line to Kiama on Platform 25 and disembarked at Wombarra Station just after 8.

You can get the South Coast Line train schedules on Google maps.

Wombarra is the station just after Scarborough but it is the closest to Scarborough Beach–our camping site of choice.

On the train, you’ll likely be charged between 2 to 6 Aussie dollars on your Opal card each way. Spend what you please on groceries and the trip is highly affordable.

I suppose I should mention that camping is not technically allowed on Scarborough Beach; however, locals have confirmed that it is conventionally condoned. Don’t be leaving anything behind, is all.

We arrived at the beach after sundown but were fortunate to have plenty of light from a gorgeously full moon to set up the tent and have a bite to eat.

From the beach, there is also a pathway leading up to a well-lit building with bathrooms and showers that stayed open all night.

The next morning, we unzipped the tent to this spectacular view that made a somewhat uncomfortable sleep on mats that were, on the one hand, small and easy to carry but also just a bit too thin, entirely worth it.

P_20180331_071529.jpg

In all, a full 24-hour cycle was spent enjoying the beach-dwellers life at Scarborough.

At the break of dawn, surfers were out on the waves. As the morning progressed, flags were set up and Surf Rescue volunteers took their stations.

There never appeared to be more than two or three groups of people on the beach at any given time, from yogis doing handstands to couples walking their dog and families with young children playing in the swash.

Regardless, we had enough privacy on our end of the beach to feel quite comfortable doing as we pleased.

Although we had enough food to stay another night, we decided to leave at sundown that day so we could make it back to the city by 9 PM, buy alcohol (bottle shops had been closed over the holidays), and enjoy such luxuries and modern comforts as beds.

Nonetheless, being beachside was exhilarating and wonderfully relaxing at the same time.

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

First Swing at the Sydney Surf

Summer is slipping away here in Sydney and I realized that I’d been here since December and had yet to have an Aussie surf.

Back in November, I went surfing for the first time in Baler, Philippines and it was an unforgettable, totally affordable experience. Of course, a one-hour lesson here in Sydney costs nearly seven times as much as a lesson over in Baler.

Fortunately, board rentals are more affordable.

As far as city beaches go, I’d only been to Manly and knew that it was good for surfing. However, both Manly and Bondi beach tend to be insanely crowded on sunny weekend days.

I found this Beginners Guide to Surfing Sydney’s Beaches, which has a brief and helpful overview of beaches in the city, listing the pros and cons of each.

We ended up opting for Maroubra Beach because it’s only an hour from Newtown and the bus drops you off right in front of Let’s Go Surfing. (Check out their website if you want to book lessons.)

Board rentals here are $15 for one hour, $25 for two, and $40 for the day. The shop guy was super chill about us being able to start off paying for two hours and extend if we wanted to surf longer.

He told us to take whichever board we wanted and said we were welcome to come and switch it out for another one if it wasn’t quite right.

We showed up around 1pm and went straight for the waves; when I wandered back to the shop to check the time it so happened that he was ten minutes from closing up.

What I enjoyed about Maroubra:

  • It wasn’t particularly crowded. The surf guide I mentioned earlier said it’s always crowded on weekends and to watch out for locals but I found the crowds fairly sparse and the locals non-threatening.
  • The waves were both fun and manageable at more or less a meter high–similar to what I was used to from Baler.

Surfing setbacks:

  • Later in the afternoon, blue bottle jellyfish swarmed the beach and everyone pretty much had to clear out of the water.
  • Although it was a nice hot, sunny day and the water temperature was initially great, it did get quite cold when the wind set in. If you’re used to a place like the Philippines where you can stay out in the water till the sun sets and hardly feel a chill, you might find that your hands are starting to feel numb and your teeth are chattering come late afternoon down under.

If you’re in Sydney, what are you waiting for? Catch a ride to a beach, pick up a board at a shop, and give surfing a shot.

Even if you don’t catch any waves the first time around, it’s an excellent arm workout and exercise in salt-water tolerance.

Seriously: if you’re a beginner, you’re going to have to work hard for a wave. When you catch it, though, and manage to get yourself upright on the board, the momentum of the ocean below your feet will make you forget every preceding hour spent struggling and want to spend every successive one trying to have that again.

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

4 Sydney Beaches to hit this Summer

With hardly a day left to 2017, I’m ready to breathe a sigh of relief that this crazy ride of a year is coming to an end.

I can look forward, with hope, to a new one of excitement but to look back with gratitude, I find it best to single in on three simple things: sun, sand, and waves.

If there is one thing I can say about 2017, it’s that it’s taken me to many a beautiful beach–possibly more than in any other year of my life. Goals!

From a relaxing vacation in Puerto Galera and a surf trip to Baler in the Philippines to camping in Port Macquarie and road tripping to Byron Bay in Australia and of course all the day trips to beaches in and around Sydney, it’s been one sunny year.

I can’t think of a better way to wrap up this (half) year of blogging than with a write-up of four beautiful beaches I’ve visited this month, all of which have some standout features that make them excellent spots to bask in the hot, hot glow of summer as you start the new year right.

Here’s a quick look at our four beaches.

map

1. Manly Beach

Manly, the first beach I visited in Australia, is still a favorite.

It’s a scenic 30-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay and the walk from the wharf to the main beach takes you through warm streets graced with park benches, fountains, sandwich shops, bookstores, cafes, surfboards, and the occasional talented musician.

While it can get crowded in summer, it appears to be an excellent surf spot and one I look forward to trying out in the new year.

IMAG7115

When the sun starts to dip behind the trees and cast shade on the beach, you can chase it back to a nice little bit of sand just beside the wharf.

IMAG7112

2. Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach is a 15-minute walk along the coast from Manly but you can also drive there directly, park just up the path, and have a nice barbecue in the shade. The waves that hit Manly don’t reach this little spot so it’s great for little kids and snorkeling.

P_20171216_142907

From the parking lot, and before heading down to the beach, catch this gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean.

P_20171216_142925-EFFECTS

3. Whale Beach

Whale Beach, north of Sydney, features a pool and fun rocky area for adventure play and exploration. On the opposite end of the beach, there is a surf rescue and, coincidentally, a gnarly surf spot. Those seen slashing the waves over here certainly had a seasoned appearance.

P_20171229_151059

This beach has also got tables and grills for barbecues and a little playground in the shade for the kids.

P_20171229_194032

4. Wattamolla Beach

Wattamolla is south of Sydney and tucked away in a beautiful nature reserve. You’ll have to drive here and once you get off the main road you’ll lose signal on your phone–a beautiful thing, really.

P_20171223_135340

This stretch of cool ocean water is perfect for a swim because the waves are very mild. If the open sea is a little too chilly for you, however, you can hang out in the warmer pool of water on the other side. There is plenty of shallow water here for little kids to wade in and rocks off of which the older ones can jump.

P_20171223_135406

There you have it, just a small taste of Sydney beaches but I dare say it’s a good start.

Here’s to a beautiful evening and a blessed 2018!

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Tips

A Day to Wander Sydney

Sunday is a perfect day to wander around Sydney because you can take unlimited bus, train, and ferry rides for only $2 with your Opal card. (That’s Australian dollars, so about 1.50 USD)

Start at Circular Quay and mosey to the Opera House

From wherever you are, catch a bus and/or train to Circular Quay. Make sure you say “key” and not “kway”.

For routes and schedules, Google Maps is all you need and it will give you real-time updates on changes and delays.

From the train, you will emerge at the ferry terminal and we’ll get back to that. First, walk along the harbor, past the Harbor Bridge, and head toward the Opera House.

Take your time and definitely stop to enjoy the street artists and performances.

P_20171210_113120 (1).jpg

There are plenty of spots to grab a coffee to go or a bottle of water, both of which will cost you $4-5.

Get your photos of and with the Opera House and the bridge and go down the steps to the lower level of the Opera House for bathrooms and the cafe.

Stroll the Royal Botanic Garden

Get lost here for a while; it’s already one of my favorite places in the city and a beautiful place to kill however many hours you’d like.

Have a picnic, have a nap, read a book, eat a snack, and enjoy the view.

P_20171210_120559 (1).jpg

Catch a ferry to Manly Beach

When it gets too hot in the gardens and the water starts to look quite inviting, walk back to the ferries and catch one to Manly Beach. They leave Circular Quay every 30 minutes and it’s roughly a 30-minute trip across the harbor.

P_20171210_150210 (1)

Cool down in the Pacific Ocean

Walk through the pleasant shopping street, grab a bite, and find a spot in the sand. Watch the surfers and the waves or maybe even take them on.

Eventually, the sun will start to set behind the trees and they will cast shade on the beach but if you want to, you can walk back toward the ferry and catch a bit more of the sun on the beach beside the wharf before it sinks into the harbor.

Without any waves, the water on this beach is beautifully translucent and, once it touches your toes, its cool clarity will pull you right in.

Have a drink to the setting sun

Find a pub with a view and sip on a cold one to the last of the day’s light.

Day Trips · Philippines · Travel Tips

Breakfast at Antonio’s (and the Commute to Tagaytay)

And I said what about breakfast-at-Antonio’s…

This is quite a late post but here we are, regardless. Life has been life; it catches you up short sometimes.

Recently my mother visited the Philippines and during her stay, we had a wonderful family vacation at Coco Beach along with my daughter and her father.

Before her return to the Netherlands last week, I took her down to the cool and breezy Tagaytay for a break from the city’s smog and heat. We enjoyed the mother-daughter time without the constant demands of a wonderfully active handful of a toddler.

Tagaytay is a city in Cavite, south of Metro Manila. It’s about 60 kilometers from the airport and it can take one, to two, to three or more hours to get there.

It is a popular destination for day trips and weekend getaways because it’s close to the city and boasts a temperature drop of a good five degrees Celsius, at least. It’s not as cool as Baguio but it is a lot closer.

The small and temperate city of Tagaytay overlooks a beautiful lake, featuring Taal, which is–according to Google–“probably” the world’s smallest volcano.

Commuting to Tagaytay

Let’s start with the commute, which was quite an adventure for two Dutch girls.

Granted, I’ve been here eight years, but I’ve always taken either a car or a motorcycle to Tagaytay so the commute was, in fact, a new venture for me.

From an inquiry or two and a quick Google search, it seemed we would be able to get a bus to Tagaytay from Starmall, which is close to where we’ve been staying.

Instead, I was told there was no bus from here and that we would take a van first and then catch the bus on Emilio Aguilardo highway at Pala Pala. This is the road that goes straight down to Tagaytay from the coastal side of Manila.

So, the van. Expect to fit less comfortably into this vehicle than “Antonio’s” dubs into the song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

Let the van driver know you want to catch the bus to Tagaytay and he might pull one over on the highway for you to hop right onto. If not, you’ll get out at Pala Pala and catch the first one that comes along.

If you’re going to Breakfast at Antonio’s, be sure to get a bus with Tagaytay and Nasugbu on the sign because that’s the highway you’ll want to go down. Tell the driver you’re going to “Breakfast” and he’ll let you off right in front of the restaurant.

For the way back, catch a jeep along Nasugbu Highway heading back to Emilio Aguinaldo. Walk to where the busses are pulling over and catch one heading back up to Manila. If you live in the Alabang area, you’ll get off the bus at SM Molino and get a little jeepney-cab up Daang Hari.

Incidentally, you can get the same ride down from the corner of Alabang Zapote Road and Investment drive heading down to Tagaytay, meaning you’ll catch the bus at SM Molino instead of Pala Pala.

Brunch at Antonio’s

It was noon by the time we got to the restaurant but let’s not call it lunch.

We started our meal with some delicious pancakes, followed that with quiches, and ended with pour-over iced Sumiyaki coffee and their signature bread basket with jams.

What can I say? I’m not a food blogger but everything was delicious.

I found the coffee exceptionally enjoyable: every sip was bursting with that intense coffee-bean essence and I found that it hardly needed any sweetener. I thought it was great that a syrup was given on the side as an option for those who find the bitterness too overpowering and that the iced drink hadn’t already been sweetened far beyond my personal preference, as most tend to be.

That is that. If you’re in the mood for some good food and a great cup of coffee, venture out to Tagaytay: it’s worth it.