Osaka, Day 2

Osaka, Day 2

Since we did not go to the fish market in Tokyo, we decided to check out the one in Osaka. The Osaka Municipal Central Market is supposed to rival the one in Tokyo but is less touristy. The tuna auctions start at 4:15 AM and then the market is typically open until 2 in the afternoon. There are some famous sushi restaurants there that get the freshest fish, so we decided to hit one up for breakfast. We took a quick coffee and pancake break along the way for Ryan (sushi is not enough calories for a growing man), took a train and walked for around 30-minutes before arriving.

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Along our walk, we noticed a lot of shops and restaurants were closed and, unfortunately when we got the the market, it was closed as well. Apparently it was Vernal Equinox Day, a national holiday where most businesses, including markets, are closed. What a bummer! I was pretty upset since we had already had a few snafoos along our trip so far, but Ryan perked me up. On the way, out he noticed some stacks of fish and was like “Look! We saw fish at the fish market!”. It made me laugh. I am so lucky to have him. It really knows how to pick up my spirits.

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We walked back to the train station and found a grocery store to grab a bite to eat since the market sushi didn’t work out. We all got sushi and shared some goyza. It was pretty fresh and good but I don’t think sushi for breakfast is “my thing”. After checking multiple times that it was open, we headed towards the Osaka Aquarium. Apparently, half of Osaka also had the same idea and it was super packed! The line for tickets went quickly though and we were walking into the Power Ranger looking building in no time.

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The aquarium starts at the very top of the building and descends in a downward spiral along the main tank. You seeing 3-4 layers (top, middle, and bottom) of each tank to get the full experience and see as much of each animal as possible. It was pretty crowded in the entrance but we found that, if we walked to the end of each tank, there were fewer people than at the start and we could see better. There was a large exhibit with dolphins that I totally loved. They were racing around and jumping out of the water. So cute!

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We found ourselves at the top of the main tank and it was pretty cool with huge stingrays, hammerhead sharks, and a school of fish circulating in the middle. I was about to walk away when something caught my eye. A huge whale shark swam right in front of me! It was glorious! I had never seen one up close and it was awe inspiring. There were two of them in the main tank and we speculated that they were younger sharks as they were not as large as ones in the ocean.

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We continued down the spiral and were very impressed but the aquarium overall. There was even an area where you could pet stingrays and small sharks. Their skin felt like sandpaper.

After about 2 hours, we completed the journey and were ready for the next item on the agenda – SUMO! But first, lunch. Ryan and I broke off to find some Japanese curry and landed on a place a block from our hotel right on the water. We waited about 20 minutes for a table that overlooked the water and enjoyed some Japanese curry udon with pork and soba dipping noodles with tempura. The tempura was so delicious!

We met back up with my family and walked through the crowded streets, a mall, and down some alleyways to get to the Sumo arena. We knew were getting close when we saw a few sumo wrestlers walking sweatily away in their robes from the arena. It was packed with people out front as they lined up to watch the best wrestlers enter right before the 3:45 PM match.

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We found our seats on the second floor. There are a few ways to watch the tournament. While we were in actual seats, the rows in front of us were actually 4 person boxes with floor pillows. We would have had to buy 2 boxes for all of us to fit and they were pretty pricey so I got the actual seats instead. We still had a great view.

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I have to say, buying the tickets was a process! I had the seats were available on Feb 3rd at 10 AM and I set calendar reminders / alarms for that day and time in October when I began planning. I checked the day before and then the day they were released right as they went on sale and they sold out before I could get them on the official site. I then had to go to the licensed reseller and had to pay about $150 a person for the tickets. The tickets were then sent to our hotel in Osaka as the tickets were not released in time for them to ship to Texas. Thankfully, we got them and I am so glad we did. The tournament was awesome to watch.

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The sumo wrestlers were massive, averaging 366 lbs per, and the further in the day we got, the bigger and better the wrestlers were. It was pretty hot in the stadium, so we got some ice cream to cool us down as we watched. By the last 4 bouts, the crowd was cheering and the atmosphere rivaled any sports game in the US. It was definitely a fun experience and one I would do again and recommend!

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Leaving the stadium was so crowded. We walked back through the districts and tried to find a Tempura place for my mom. She is super picky about restaurants so it took some time to find one she wanted. Along the way, we decided to try Takoyaki, a fired octopus ball that is specific to Osaka. It was lava hot and was not the best thing we have had but still good to try the local favorites.

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We got closer to the hotel and I recommended our lunch spot to my parents since the tempura I had was delish. We dropped my parents and sister off there, set our game plan for the morning, and Ryan and I set off to explore. We went down the crowded roads and tried out Melon Pan bread with vanilla ice cream. It was delicious and we sat on the bridge looking a all of the city lights while enjoying it. Finally, some time to relax.

We continued walking and exploring and stumbled upon a shopping area with a Forever 21, Starbucks, and 2 massive H&M buildings. Looking down the street, all you could see was people in every direction. It was SO packed! We opted to walk down a side alley instead for some breathing room and found a tiny 9 person chicken skewer place to grab a bite and have some sake. The chicken was cooked right in front of us and we left a little memento of our time there on their picture wall. After that, we went back to the hotel for much needed sleep.

Tokyo, Day 3

Tokyo, Day 3

Another Tully’s breakfast morning in the books. We have loved eating all of the traditional Japanese food for lunch and dinner but it is kind of nice to have some more “Americanized” food in the mix too. After we loaded up on our regular toasted ham and egg sandwich, pancakes with a butter patty that looked like banana, coffee, and toffee almond cookie, we were off to start our day.

The plan for today was to see the Imperial Palace in the morning and then we would split off so my parents and sister could check out the Edo Museum (while it was open) and Ryan and I could see the Tsukiji Market and Harajuku areas. The train ride to get to the Imperial Palace was quite easy and we emerged from the station into this beautifully modern office building for Mitsui. Mitsui is a retail store that started selling Kimonos in the 1673. Before then, rich families would have the kimono makers come to their houses to make custom kimonos that were not very affordable. Mitsui opened the kimono market to be accessible for the everyday buyer but opening a department store for one-stop shopping and bulk creation.

We exited the Mitsui building to this massive park in the middle of a modern city. Sitting on 1.15 square kilometers and surrounded by trees, the Imperial Palace is almost impossible to see from the outside. The Place is only officially open 2 days a year and can only be seen by limited numbers in tours during the rest of the year. We did not have an official tour scheduled so we opted for the free version to go tour the East Garden. While we could not see the main palace, the gates, walls, and guard towers were pretty amazing to see.

Apparently, the gardens used to be filled with houses and various buildings. The buildings were mainly made of paper and wood and had a tendency to burn down due to cooking fires. The buildings were always rebuild after time and time again of fires until the 1800’s when they decided not to continue the restoration. You can still see some guard houses and structures made from rock, but the rest of the view is mainly of the garden and cherry blossoms that started to pop while we were there.

Ryan downloaded a tour app and talked us through the different points of interest while we wandered. We were there for about 1.5 hours before heading to Tokyo station to try and find Ramen Street for launch. The malls / shops / restaurants in the subway and train stations are insane. They are all clean and look just like any nice place you would go in the States, only they are underground at the station! We entered this long row filled with shops that had all kinds of cartoon characters and cherry blossom decantations adorning the store fronts. Eventually, we found the Ramen area and opted for one restaurant with a little smaller of a line. We ordered at the machine and were quickly sat at the bar area. Ryan and I both got versions of “dipping” noodles where you dip the noodles into the broth cup. It was insanely good and Ryan declared it was the best thing he has eaten in Japan so far hands down! While the slurping and noodle to chopstick experience was a bit messy, it was delicious.

After lunch, we agreed to meet back at the hotel once we were done with our activities and split off. Ryan and I excited the station and headed to the fish market. While the main part of the market that did the famous Tuna actions was closed, the outer ring of the market is still a highly recommended tourist spot filled with different vendors and food types. Along our walk, we saw a drip coffee place and decided to get some coffee for the long day ahead. While we sat, I Googled the market and, to our chagrin, it said the that market hours went until 2ish and it was already 1:30. With that in mind, the 20 minute walk definitely didn’t seem worth it. I was pretty disappointed but we decided to pivot to Harajuku instead.

The train station at Harajuku was packed. The main road for Harajuku, Takeshita Street, was also packed. It was a mob scene and the people-watching was amazing. There are so many people in Japan that wear brown trench coats and super thick (like 3-4 inches) platform shoes or boots. We also saw some traditional Harajuku outfits which were so weird (in a great way) and colorful. The shops were full with crazy colors, patterns, and kitchy cartoon animals. There were also crepe places that smelt amazing along with other weird food vendors like rainbow cheese sticks, fried potato unicorn horns, and 2 foot tall cotton candy rainbow pyramids.

We ventured through this wild costume store and I wanted to buy pretty much everything inside. It was so cool!

We also happened upon a owl café and, to the recommendation of at least 4 people I’ve talked to, we went down the steps to check it out. It was about $10 a person to walk through this room lined with fake trees and cherry blossoms. Each turn took you to a different owl breed. They were chained up which was sad, but they were beautiful. There are animal cafes of all types in Japan. You can see everything from cats and puppies to hedgehogs, owls, capybaras, otters, and meerkats. While I would have loved to see more, I don’t feel great about supporting places like that financially since most of them  do not provide adequate environments for the animals. Buyer beware if you decide to go.

Once we dogged through the crowd to the end of Takeshita street, we decided to go find one of Harajuku’s weirdest cafes – the Monster Café. It was one the 4th floor of a high-rise and we were immediately excited about the strangeness to come when we were greeted by a giant moving eyeball at the front door.

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The waitstaff were dressed in doll-like costumes and we were lead past a cake-themed carousel, through the mushroom table forest, into the “milk bar” for our table. I got a strawberry milkshake and Ryan got this weird red and blue sugar mixture to put in his gin base. The milkshake was good but everything else we got was just pure sugar! Ryan got this cute Pikachu looking lemon tart and I got a bunny doughnut topped with a strawberry jam centered white cream ball. I couldn’t eat even close to all of it.

About half way through our time there, the lights shut off and all of a sudden a rave broke out by the cake carousel. This big purple monster started dancing with the waitresses and it was a mix of chaos and high pitched yelling. This was exactly the side of Japan we were looking for haha!

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We left pretty quickly after that and couldn’t put into words how to describe the experience overall. About 5 minutes into the walk back to the train, Ryan realized he left his backpack at the table. We hurried back and it was right where we had left it. Phew! I have to say, Japan feels very safe and is so respectful. People don’t even use bike locks here for their bikes because people don’t steal them. It is a very trusting and nice environment to be a part of.

The trek back to the hotel was easy and it felt great to take our shoes off and relax for an hour. We met my parents back at the rooftop bar for another drink around 6. Ryan wasn’t too hungry so he opted to stay at the hotel while we went to find a place for dinner. My dad wanted Sukiyaki for dinner – kind of like a hot put but slightly different. My sister found a tiny place only a few blocks from the hotel. It had 3 tables and 3 private rooms and we were welcomed in by a English speaking owner. His father opened the restaurant 20 years ago and now this kind gentleman owns it. He sat us down, gave us an English menu, and walked through the options. There were two flights of courses and 3 grades of meat. Since I was already pretty full, we went for the smaller course option, the medium grade meat, and sake all around. The sake was much better than the $1 sake I had with sake bombs in college!

We all got a bowl with a cracked egg in it and were instructed to scramble the egg. Our waitress started to cook the food on the grill in front of us, using a chunk of pork fat as the grease for the pan. Boy did it make things flavorful!

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She started cooking the meat with sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce, and, once browned, put it into our raw egg bowl. The egg was so fresh and added this intense flavor to the meat. I am not usually an egg gal, but this was eggsalent! (Excuse my pun haha).

She then added the veggies to the pot and, once cooked, in they went to the egg mix. This meat then veggie pattern went on for like 4 courses and we were getting so full! It was all so delicious! After the final round of veggies, the cooked noodles for us as the last main dish. We were stuffed, but still had slight room for the cherry blossom ice cream and strawberries for desert. What an amazing meal!

We asked about the price on the menu when initially ordering to make sure it was a group and not individual. The owner confirmed the price but, we got lost in translation. What we thought was going to be a 4K Yen dinner ($40 USD) ended up being 37K Yen or roughly $340. OOPS! It was so worth it though.

We walked back to the hotel and told Ryan the story of our dinner. We were going to check out the Golden Gia district for bar hopping and drinks, but it was already 9 PM (on jet-lag time) and we had an early morning so we called it a night and fell quickly to sleep.

Continue on our journey through Japan…

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park, Texas

More and more, gift giving in my family has turned from things to experiences. Personally, I love this trend, and for my birthday this year, Ryan surprised me with a trip to Big Bend National Park!

Big Bend is a national park along the Texas / Mexico border that spans over 800K acres. While my birthday is in July, we took off on our road trip to Big Bend in September so that the heat wouldn’t be in full force. We left after work on a Thursday evening and., after 7.5 hours of driving, podcasts, and yelling at our two dogs to behave in the back of my Jeep, we arrived at our AirBnB in Alpine, Texas at 1 AM.

Our dogs on our long road trip to Big Bend National Park

Our AirBnb was a traditional adobe looking building and was pet friendly, so it was almost perfect for our dogs. I say “almost’ because the fenced in back yard was missing about 6 feet of fence so we couldn’t let the pups romp around off-leash, but the inside was super cute.

Our AirBnB in Alpine, Texas

We chose to stay in Alpine to reduce the drive from Dallas to the Park and stay in a in a more populated area, but that meant some early mornings to get to Big Bend. Big Bend was about 80 miles, or an hour and ten minutes, from our AirBnb, so we only got about 5 hours of sleep after arriving in Alpine before waking up to head to our kayaking experience. We woke up around 6, walked the dogs, cooked some breakfast, and took off on the hour long drive to Terlingua to meet up with our guide.

We met at the one gas station in Terlingua and gas cost $3.15! To set expectations, gas was $2.11 when we left Dallas, was $2.83 in Alpine, and over $3 in Terlingua! We are so glad we listened to the warnings about filling up before we left to the park. The drive to the park was spectacular and went relatively quickly at 80+ MPH.

We grabbed some extra water and snacks from the gas station upon arrival and then met our guide, Erin, and the dad / daughter duo that were the other guests on our hike. We loaded into Erin’s van with all of the kayaks in the back. The drive from Terlingua into the park was about 20 minutes, and then it was an additional 40 minutes or so to get to the river entrance. Erin was full of fun facts about the park and it’s history, living in the small town of Terlingua, and her background from Tennessee. Her accent made the stories that much better.

Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

We were in awe of the views along the park and couldn’t believe the river close to the road was the boarder between us and Mexico. We finally pulled up to the parking lot and had to unload all of the kayaks and fill up our dry-bags for the trek. We even got these really sexy looking boots to wear through the mud. My boots were about 2 sizes too big so I was slipping and sliding all over the place! This made carrying the kayaks quite difficult but we eventually got to the Santa Elena Canyon entrance. We waded into the water and took off our boots to get into the kayak. The mud felt so good on my feet and was only about 1.5 feed deep, but there were some sections where you feel into quicksand like mud and it went up to your hip! It was so crazy.

Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

Once we were all in, we started our semi-relaxing ride. I say semi because we were able to paddle about 80% of the time and were stuck in mud and had to pull about 20% of the rest of the time. The Rio Grande river is damned up in El Paso and, unless El Paso releases some of the water, the Rio Grande river is very shallow in the Santa Elena Canyon. It was still an amazing experience in between the massive cliffs, especially since there were only 5 of us. It was so relaxing. Ryan couldn’t have done a better job planning this.

Pulling our kayak through Big Bend National Park, Texas

We make it about 2 miles up the river before stopping for lunch. I made some PB&Js and we enjoyed some Sun Chips while taking in the view. I found a nice-looking log and pulled it into the shade as my lunch chair. It was a truly great spot.

Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

Eventually, finished lunch and relaxed in the river for a little bit. The water temperature was absolutely perfect. We really lucked out. While the other duo on our trip power-paddled back to the exit, Ryan and I took our time to really enjoy the view and take it all in.

The most difficult part of the whole day was getting the kayaks back to the van. We were covered in mud, our boots were super slick, and there were rocks all over the place to push you off balance. We had quite the time trying to carry the heavy boats back but, eventually, made it. We got quite a workout in for the day! After loading up the van, we hit the road for the hour long, educational drive back to the gas station. It even rained a little and Erin joked that Big Bend judges rainfall by “drops per square foot” since they get so little.

We were pretty exhausted and didn’t dawdle in Terlingua once we arrived. It was back in the Jeep and off to the Airbnb. Our pups couldn’t be happier to see (and smell) us when we got back. We showered off all of the mud, took the pups for a walk, and relaxed a bit before finding a spot for dinner.

There is a pretty popular place in Fort Worth that we have both been to called Reata, and apparently, the original location is in Alpine! We went around 6:30, were starving, and ended up ordering waaaay too much food. We started with some delicious corn bread and biscuits, had crab stuffed, bacon-wrapped peppers, split a goat cheese salad, and then got two massive entrees. Ryan’s chicken fried steak should looked like two entire chickens, and my steak with enchiladas had two bread-plate sized pieces of steak, corn, beans, and enchiladas.

We were soooo stuffed and had to take the majority of the food back home. Since it was my birthday celebration, they even boxed up some apple pie and ice-cream for us, which we enjoyed cuddled up on the couch at the Airbnb before hitting the sheets for bed.

Day 2 – Big Bend Hike & Marfa, Texas

Our 1 year old dog, Dixie, was not a happy camper at night. She was barking in her kennel all night and we had a rough time sleeping. I had to get up at 3 AM to take her potty, which actually turned out OK because I looked up into the night sky and saw millions of stars. It was beautiful!

Combined with the 6 AM wake up to head to Big Bend for our hike, we were so tired. Thankfully, we grabbed a bunch of caffeine at the gas station which perked us up for the 2 hour drive to our hiking spot within the park. The drive was beautiful and we got to watch the sun rise over the mountain range in all of these amazing pastel colors. It made the drive much less boring. We even passed a Target along the way!

Target by Marfa, Texas

We arrived at our hike and were excited to start on the 4.8 mile journey up to the top. Originally, we were going to hike the Emory Peak Trail, a 12 mile rigorous hike that reminded us of the Tongariro Pass that we hiked in New Zealand. However, we opted to hike the Lost Mine Trail instead so that we could check out Marfa in the second half of the day.  We were not disappointed by Lost Mine in the slightest. The views were amazing there was some cloud coverage so we didn’t get too much sun. The temperature was perfect for hiking and there was even a cool breeze to cool us down. We got so lucky.

Hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

Even though Big Bend is technically a desert, the plant life is so diverse and beautiful. There are cacti of various types all over the place, flowers in different colors, grasses, and other weird looking plants that, when combined, made for a gorgeous looking landscape.

Hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

It took us about 1.5 hours to get to the ridge top. Again, you couldn’t beat the views. We spent some time at the top taking it all in. We even took a snack break and attempted rock climbing on a big boulder just to enjoy it further.

Hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

The dad and daughter from our kayaking journey the day before were also supposed to hike Emory Trail, but we ended up running into them on our hike down from the top! They said that they got to the Emory trailhead too late and the park rangers were cautioning people not to go since it was going to get too hot! I am glad we didn’t waste time driving over to that trail only to get rerouted to Lost Mine.

The hike was the perfect length and we were sore but feeling good once we got back to the Jeep. We ate our PB&Js on the 2.5 hour drive to Marfa. Marfa is a town of 1.8K or so in the middle of nowhere. Marfa has become well know among the art community for Chinati Foundation which is on 340 acres and is a permanent house of certain artists work. There is also a random Prada store (similar to the target) about 30 miles north of Marfa which is now an iconic image for Marfa. With all of the driving we did to and from Big Bend, we decided to skip the Prada installation and check out the gallaries in Mafa instead.

We started by going to the Chitani. When we got there, the two people at reception did not even look up to greet us. It was pretty strange and they told us that the only thing we could check out there was the outside cement block installation. We walked through what sounded like rattle snake infested grasses down to the art- which really just looked like a dumping ground for giant concrete blocks. We didn’t get it, but that’s OK. Every type of art is not always for everyone.

We then went to the Ballroom – another gallery. This one had this creepy exhibit of motion triggered things – like ladders with dog heads that had long wigs and the ladders moved closer to you when you walked towards them. It was very strange and, again, not my cup of tea. We went to Inde / Jacobs Gallery and had a great conversation with the owner. We actually liked the style of art at this Gallery. We kept walking, got some coffee, and checked out the Marfa Store. It was run buy this young guy from Minnesota who moved to Marfa with his boyfriend. We talked to him about transitioning to such a small town and he had some interesting perspectives.

 

We the checked out the town square and the shops / galleries within. There was one gallery with 3 massive Andy Warhol paintings! It was so crazy seeing such high caliber art in Marfa, Texas! We walked past a few places for sale and decided to check out the real-estate prices on Zillow. Holy cow it was expensive. The homes were comparable price-wise to Dallas, but some of the homes didn’t have city water or even AC! We were so shocked!

We took off back to the AirBnb to spend some time with the dogs. Ryan and I hung out in the hammock in the backyard for a bit before we decided to go find some food. We went into the town and settled on an Italian place called Guzzy’s. It was strangely decorated insides and reminded us of a night club. I got some ravioli with Alfredo and Ryan got some pizzas. The food was average but did the trick and we spent the remainder of the evening with the dogs before passing out around 9 PM.

Guzzy's in Alpine, Texas

Sydney, Day 5 & 6

Sydney, Day 5 & 6

Sydney Day 5:

We enjoyed a lovely breakfast at the Kirkton Park. They had some to-die for hash browns, fresh braked bread, and yummy fruit, not to mention freshly made marshmallows for the coffee. Also, the rose garden was right out back and the gardener brought in fresh cut roses and rosemary to decorate the kitchen and tables – it was enchanting!

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After we filled up, we took off on the 2.5 hour drive back to Sydney. We saw a few kangaroos on the way back but that was about as exciting as the drive got.

We parked back at the Adina Hotel and decided to walk down to Chinatown and explore. I have fond memories of getting Dim Sum (Yum Cha) with my family on previous trips and I wanted to show Ryan around. We ended up exploring the huge market with tons of booths jammed packed with random stuff. Thankfully for my wallet, I didn’t have any cash on me so I couldn’t buy anything.

We walked up the street further into the restaurant section of Chinatown and ended up at Noodle Company. It had great reviews and all of the noodles were made fresh. We ordered pork fried noodles, sweet and sour pork, and lamb and chive dumplings. Yum!

Obviously, we should have looked at the portion sizes before ordering! Usually an order of dumplings came with 6 total and we had 12! They were sooo good and we decided to box up the rest for enjoyment later.

We were stuffed so the walk back to the Adina was welcomed. Ryan went back up to the room and I took off to the grocery store to buy a few things for home. My mom always had the best BBQ sauce imported from Australia, so I bought two bottles of bbq sauce, my moms favorite gummy snakes, and my favorite Aussie candy – Violet Crumble. Violet Crumble is chocolate covered honeycomb and is sooo yummy! I like to freeze it and it just melts in your mouth afterward. I highly recommend!

Once I got back with the groceries, it was time to catch up on some blog posts. Ryan napped and we relaxed for a few hours before deciding to go out for a pre-dinner drink. My cousins and sister were meeting us at Muum Maam for some Thai food at 8, so a pre-drink was a good way to pass the time.

We ended up walking to Lil Darlin, which looked packed and had a great happy hour – cocktails for only $10. We walked in and I saw this crazy looking pink drink that, upon glancing at the menu, consisted of cotton candy and I had to get it. So glad I did!

 

We got so much entertainment and joy out of eating the cotton candy (fairy floss in Aussie lingo). I really wanted to try all of the other yummy drinks on the menu but it was time to meet everyone up. We sat at a communal table and enjoyed some tasty pork rinds while we waited on the remaining cousins to show up. Unfortunately, our cousin’s dog was acting up right before she was heading over and she had to take him to the vet. It was a bummer that we could not see her and her husband, but we are big “dog people” and totally get it.

Anyways, we had some super yummy crispy spring rolls and duck paper rolls to start with. Ryan and I decided to share the Panang curry but we got the heart breaking news that they ran out so we ended up with some tasty Pad Thai instead. Who knew that we would be eating so much Pad Thai this trip? But I am not complaining!

After dinner, we wound up walking to an ice cream place and enjoyed some delicious macadamia nut, white chocolate ice cream. Such a great way to end the night with my awesome Aussie family!

Sydney Day 6 –

Today was Royal National Park day. We walked down to the little organic grocer down the street for a quick and delicious breakfast of rocket, aioli, bacon, avocado, and scrambled egg wraps and flat white coffee, and then we were off in our rental car to the National Park. The weather was absolutely perfect for hiking with a cool breeze that made you forget the work of the hike.

The views from the hike were awesome and the water was sooo blue!

Apparently, there was a huge brush fire in January of 2018 which wiped out 60 hectors (148 acres) of brush along the coast. While it was sad to see all of the burnt toast looking trees, there was tons of promising new growth.

The trail led us to some amazing heights,

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And some sandy, relaxing lows. We ended up snacking on apples and enjoying our beach view for a while.

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We walked for a good 1.5 hours before needing to turn around and head back to the car. We had a 5 PM drop off for the rental and didn’t want to cut our beach time short so we hustled back. It was definitely a good workout and we were thankful for the hats, sun glasses, sunscreen, and water we brought (though I think Ryan and my sister were getting annoyed with my “mom” habit of reminding them to reapply frequently!).

There was a large beach was right next to the car park so we took a detour before heading out. My sister and I got our feet wet and had a good time reflecting on our time in Aussie as kids and now. It was so special to spend this time with her, especially in a country of our heritage.

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We walked back to the car and tried to de-sand our legs and feet before dirtying the rentals. Our GPS showed quite a bit of traffic on the way back, so we opted to stop at a food court for some of the best butter chicken curry with naan bread I have ever had. It was so good that I ate all of it before snapping a pic. Oops!

Thankfully for us, traffic cleared up when we got back on the road, so the drive back into Sydney was easy. Getting the rental car back, however, was not so easy. The driveway was not clearly, marked and we definitely drove up the wrong way to trying to get in! It took us even more time to go down all 7 levels to our car drop-off. We got dizzy driving around and around so much!

Finally, we made it successfully and walked back to the hotel for much needed showers. We still had some delicious herb feta cheese and Semillon wine from the Hunter Valley in the day prior and enjoyed that while packing the rest of the evening. Our flight home was bright and early the next day.

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The Hunter Valley – Day 2

The Hunter Valley – Day 2

WINE TOUR DAY! Today marked our full wine day experience with Two Fat Blokes wine tours. We had a delicious breakfast at the Kirkton Hotel (that was included), went and checked out the smelly pigs in their barn, and got picked up for our tour promptly at 9:30 AM. Our super energetic guide, Julie, told us to keep our eyes out for kangaroos as we set out to pick up additional guests. It was only about 10 minutes into our drive to the next stop that we saw a bunch of them in the bush! It was so awesome to see them hopping around in the wild.

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We picked up a total of 10 other people and were on our way to our first winery by 10 AM. Apparently we were a bit early so Julie took us to her “secret” kangaroo spot in a vineyard. We pulled up and there must have been about 100 of them all hanging out along the road! It was so cool to see – there were even some mums with their joeys!

After snapping a few pictures, we were back in the bus and off to Mistletoe Winery. The vineyard was very pretty and chockablock with beautiful sculptures in the yard and an art gallery inside.

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We all lined up at the bar and started our tasting. The lady leading that tasting told us to be aware that, if we drank all of the wine at all of the tastings we would be drinking 2-2.5 bottles of wine each! Not including the glass of wine included for lunch and 3 beers at the brewery stop at the end of the day! Geesh! I usually never waste wine but that knowledge made it easier to just taste some of the pours I didn’t prefer. (I am a light weight after all!)

Our second stop was the Two Fat Blokes wine and cheese shop to sample 9 cheeses with 9 wines! We were taken to this cute room in the back of the shop and had quite the spread.

We were told to have a bite of the cheese to get the full flavor, sip the wine, and then have another bite of the cheese to see how that flavor changes with the wines influence. It was pretty substantial! I love cheese and wine so I was in truly a happy place! There was this feta with chives that was so to-die-for we bought some to share with my sister back in Sydney.

After we ate all of our cheese, we relaxed in the winery grounds for 15 minutes before heading to the next place for lunch. I was glad some hearty food was coming our way because I needed something to soak up all of the yummy wine (as you may start to tell from the photos moving forward)!

Our next stop was the Audrey Wilkinson winery. Julie told us that the wine makers used Audrey’s old photo as the logo for the winery and on all of the bottles. A few years in, an older local man came into the winery and asked why they used a photo of Audry’s brother as the main logo for the winery! Apparently, the wine makers didn’t realize the mistake but already had brand recognition and all of their marketing materials with the brother and not Audrey. To fix the problem, the took the photo of Audry’s head and photo shopped it on his brothers body to keep similar imagery. How crazy, right?

We had lunch on the veranda of the winery. Lunch was included with the tour and I assumed it was going to be something like our fabulous lunch on our Tuscany wine tour, but I was a bit wrong. We brought the lunch in coolers from the Two Fat Blokes restaurant and it consisted of pretty average cold meats, salad, and pasta salad. I was slightly disappointed but the rest of the day was so amazing that it did not bug me too much.

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Lunch’s disappointment quickly evaporated as we went inside after we ate for yet another tasting! We started with a Semillon, a wine specific to the Hunter Valley that has strong notes of lemon and lime. The white wines at Audrey were a little to tart for my taste, so we did not buy any, but they were still decent. The best was the desert wine at the end. It was delicious and our host even gave me extra when I finished mine first and joked that I never got any to start with!

The view from the winery was beautiful and we had to snap a pic – even our guide Julie wanted to be included!

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After another quick ride on the bus, we arrived at winery number 4, Ivanhoe. It also had amazing views and we sat on the porch tasting about 7 wines. Our host at this winery was very lively and apparently worked at Disney for several years so he could travel the world to the various parks. What a great way to see the world!

Our last winery for the day was one of my favorites because it included the chocolate pairing! We had 4 chocolates to taste with 7 different wines and they were soooo yummy (at least that is how I fuzzily remember it at this point). Ryan and I bought two bottles of wine and a few of the white chocolate coconut truffles to share with my sister. One of the bottles we bought had a picture that was supposed to be Marylin Monroe but she didn’t look anything like her.  She didn’t even have her signature mole! We still bought it though since, apparently on trips, we randomly buy things related to Marilyn like we did in Santa Fe!

We were getting very chummy and silly with the rest of our tour group by this point and the photo bombing continued at a hilarious pace!

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One last bus ride later we arrived at Hunter Valley Beer Co. – a micro brewery that only serves the surrounding area. The beer was pretty good and I know this because I usually don’t like beer and I LIKED the beer at HVB. We played some Aussie beer trivia (which I quickly lost at) and then got a tour of the beer making process. It was a nice way to end our big day.

Julie did a fabulous job of getting all of us safely back to our accommodation. One guy even drunkenly ran out of the bus at our hotel to go pee in a bush. That took us all by surprise!

Ryan and I had a 6:30 reservation for dinner at the hotel restaurant because we definitely we re not driving anywhere at that point. It was a set menu and we were already pretty full, so we decided to cancel our reso and get a pizza from the bar instead. We played pool while waiting and I did not get one single ball in! Of course, that had nothing to do with my skill and everything to do with the wine… right?!

Our dinner was served at the bar and my award-winning food photography skills really captured my bbq pork pizza….

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It truly was delicious though! After we filled up and I gave up trying to win at pool games, we relaxed on the patio of our room with another glass of wine before zonking out.

Continue on this adventure…

Sydney, Day 4

We got up around 8 and, after a yummy breakfast or Weetabix (an Aussie staple), my aunt was nice enough to drive us to the Taronga Park Zoo! On the way, we stopped at where my mom and her family grew up in the cove right next to the zoo. My aunt showed us their old house / stomping grounds. It was really cool to see. Apparently, they used to walk over to the zoo and hop the fence to get in! The view from their house was not bad either…

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We got to the zoo relatively early so there were not a ton of people. It is right in the harbor across from the Sydney Opera House and all of the animals have an amazing view!

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We got to hang out with Kangaroos, wallabies, cuddly koalas…

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…red pandas, and other of my favorite animals. The Zoo overall is very well done with great exhibits awesome plant life! I highly recommend a visit!

We were in the zoo for about 4.5 hours before it was time to take the Skyrail down to the harbor side exit.

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We hopped on the ferry to get over to the Sydney Opera House. It was such a beautiful day too – we got very lucky.

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Once docked, we grabbed some very expensive but average gelato. It made our stroll much more enjoyable and we found the perfect spot on the steps of the House to take it all in ( a good view makes everything better!). After that, we walked through the botanical gardens behind the Sydney Opera House and back to the hotel for a refresh before dinner at PhoMo right on the waterside.

We hopped on the train to get to Barangaroo area in downtown where there are strings of restaurants along the harbor. We were meeting my sister and her friends for dinner at PhoMo so we grabbed a few glasses of wine while we waited. It was the perfect temperature out and all of the patios were “chockablock” with people! Once our party of 8 arrived, we moved to the table and ordered some delicious soft shell crab spring rolls and rare beef pho. A few of the girls had never had pho soup before and they quickly fell in love with it – seriously the best!

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My sister’s friends were from all over the world and were all temporarily living in Sydney. It was awesome to hear their stories of how they got to Aussie and how they met my sister. I was pretty proud of my husband, Ryan, for being the only guy at the table and making the most of it. We were planning to get drinks after dinner so we let Ryan head back to the train station to go home and relax.

We talked for about 30 minutes longer and, since it was a Tuesday night with a work day for everyone except me, the party disbanded. My sister and I ended up taking a cab and beat Ryan back from the train station! He had taken the train in the wrong direction and was having quite a time getting back. Even though he left 30 minutes prior, he got in a good 10 minutes after us and was so peeved (in a funny way) that we took a cab and beat him back. I have to say, this trip has been an adventure for the both of us!

Continue on this adventure…

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier

I opened up my computer one day in July and read the best email I had ever received. It was from my sister, Julia, who requested a long-weekend sister trip to one of three national parks! I couldn’t be happier to respond “YESSSS!!!” We decided to take a long weekend in October to hike around Mt. Rainier which is outside of Seattle, Washington.

Thursday  –

We flew in from different cities but landed within minutes of each other and had quite the exciting, hug-filled reunion in the Seattle airport. We gabbed as we walked to the Uber pick-up area and got lucky that we did not have to split our Uber-Pool Prius with another 3 people – that would have been so cramped!

It only took 20 minutes or so get to the Marriott Seattle Waterfront hotel that had the most beautiful view! The check-in guy asked us if we were twins which made my day since I am 5 years older! I am not sure how my sister feels about the mix-up but I think she lets it slide for my sake.

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We got up to the room to clean up before heading out for dinner. We opted for sushi since the seafood in Seattle is so darn fresh and delicious! We opted to try Umi Sake House since it was only a few mintue walk from the hotel. We cheersed to our reunion with some cocktails and split seaweed salad, edamame, and two of the best rolls I’ve ever had in my life! (Unfortunately, I Snapped and didn’t actually save my food-porn worthy photo evidence.. ugh!)

Totally stuffed, we walked back to our room and chatted until late in the night. You’ve got to love an old fashion sister sleepover (except when you get touched by cold feet)!

Friday –

My sister mentioned she had to work a tiny bit when we first planned the trip but the “tiny” turned into 1/2 the day, so I made some solo plans. I had been wanting to try out an out Orange Theory class and there happened to be one about 10 minutes from our hotel! I booked a 10 AM class and my sister and I grabbed a yummy continental breakfast before I started the walk to Orange Theory. The directions had me go up this awesome bridge with a beautiful view of the water way. I then turned into the city for a short tour before arriving at the studio. Unfortunately for my body, it was “National Burpee Day” and the class totally kicked my butt! Maybe wasn’t the best idea with a big hike coming up the next day… (Oh, foreshadowing!)

The day was glorious – 60 degrees and sunny – and I loved walking through the city. Once I got back to the hotel, I freshened up while my sister finished her conference call. Our stomachs were rumbling so we took off to check out Pike Place Market and find a spot for lunch.

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Pike Place Market was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel and we had a great time sampling the different products for sale, like questionable moisturizer, and smelling all of the flowers. It took me back to the last time I was in Seattle for our Alaskan cruise.

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We came across a little cheese and wine shop and sampled some cheeses. We ended up buying two cheeses and a nice bottle of red to take back to the hotel for snacking later. We also found an Italian place and split a scrumptious pasta dish. (Mmm, carbs!)

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Another meeting popped up on my sister’s schedule so we decided to grab some coffee and head down to the wharf. Talk about an amazing view to take a call from, especially since happy hour with wine and oysters at Elliot’s Oyster House was to follow.

Feeling good after our wine, we went back to the Marriott to get ready for our exciting comedic evening. We were going to dinner at Local 360 before seeing Iliza Shlesinger live! I watched her Netflix special, “Elder Millennial”, a few months before our trip and could not believe she was premiering in Seattle the night we were there! I was beyond excited.

Dinner was probably an 7 out of 10. We split a weird goat cheese and beet salad, but a delicious squash soup with so, so, so much bread. My hand-made, pesto pasta dish was very good and my sister had a veggie medley over thick-cut toast.

We were so stuffed that we were glad for the walk to the Moore Theater. We had every intention of finding a bar to hang at before the 10:30 show, however, while passing by we noticed that the theater was really dark. It looked like there was a big metal gate and that the doors were closed. We walked up and, to my completed sock, we saw the below:

The sign for our canceled show - bummer!

I was SO sad that we could not see Iliza. Instead of going to a bar, we decided to go back to the hotel and get an early night’s sleep since we had an early morning to Mt. Rainier the next day.

Saturday:

We woke up bright and early to check out of the hotel and head to Mt. Rainier! Even though it is a 2 hour drive from the city, you could actually see the mountain from the wharf in Seattle. The drive was absolutely beautiful as all of the trees were changing to the most vibrant colors for fall!

The drive to Mt. Rainier in Washington

We took a pit stop at a grocery store on the way to grab some food for our hike. I was looking for something quick, prepackaged, and easy to eat and found the perfect lunch – Pizza Lunchables! My 5 year-old self would have been so proud.

We finally started the accent to Mt. Rainier. The mountain kept getting bigger and bolder as we drew closer and we were in awe. We took a quick stop to take some photos at a lookout point and finally made it to the hike area. The weather was perfect and the trail was up, up, and more up. Oh, my butt was burning from those burpees!

Hiking Mt. Rainier in Washington

The views and the hike got us talking about everything – wanting to move from Texas so I could hike more, previous hikes with our parents (like when we accidentally hiked through a nudist beach *cringe*), quirky family songs that we used to sing when we hiked with family, dating and relationships, and how we were going to make these sister trips an annual tradition. I have to say, I am so incredibly lucky to have Julia as my sister and built-in best friend / travel buddy. We are quite the quirky pair:

The view from the top of the hike made all of the climb worth it. We decided to post up on an out cropping for some relaxation and Lunchables.

Eventually, we had to make the trek down the path back to the car. It was pretty steep with shale rock everywhere. It was a bitter-sweet decent as I could have stayed by the mountain for ages.

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Our spirits were lifted though as we were staying the night in a tiny cabin! It was only 800 or so square feet and the bed was in a lofted area up-stairs. We were so excited!

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We were going to celebrate our day with the wine and cheese we bought in Seattle, but someone left the cheese in the hotel fridge (I finally forgive you Jules) so we “nommed” on some chocolate and went to watch the sunset in the National Park. Unfortunately, the trees were too tall and we couldn’t get a great sunset view. We were starving so we decided to try out the local Sherpa-Himalayan Cuisine at the Wildberry restaurant. It was beyond our expectations and so good!

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With full bellies and very tired bodies, we went back to our little cabin in the woods to sleep.

Sunday:

Another early morning for our last day in Washington. We made some toast for breakfast, packed our bags, and drove the 2 hours to Seattle. We had a few hours before our flights, so we parked the car with our bags hidden and took off around the city. The first stop was a Vietnamese restaurant called Green Leaf with the best vermicelli and pork I’ve ever eaten in my entire life (and I’ve eaten A LOT of vermicelli). I would go back there in a heart beat!

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After lunch, we walked through the park under the Space Needle  to the Museum of Pop Culture. I had been there once before and had to share it with my sister. It has awesome exhibits all about various artists and movie genres. If you are in Seattle, I highly recommend a stop.

The weather was perfect and we spent the rest of our time on the lawn of the Museum watching kids play in giant bubbles being carried by the wind. It was the perfect end to our trip before our journey home.

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