advertisement
[Editor's Note: Regular links in this article connect to websites; bold links connect to images.]

June 20, 2003 -- G'day! I pulled this 7,490 mile journey off from Los Angeles at the very last minute. It all came about when I emailed my brother, Frank, and wrote in the subject line: "We fly, you buy." He knew what I meant, "We get first/business class tickets and he pays the rest of the way." Not a bad deal because who wants to sit in coach for 14 hours or pay $14,500. We used my girlfriend, Amber's, very limited and coveted "buddy passes" that she has because she's a flight attendant. A buddy pass is a stand by ticket. Meaning, if there are seats available, they are ours. It's a long and complicated process, but basically it's based on seniority. These passes are a great deal especially if you can be flexible because you never know for sure if you are going to get on or not.

We were planning on leaving the following night when I get a phone call at 8pm from a friend of Amber's who works at LAX. She said, "You better try to get out tonight because it's your best chance to leave this week." It's 8pm and neither Amber nor I had packed. You should've seen Amber's face when I said "we needed to leave in 15 minutes to go to LAX." It takes me 5 minutes to pack, Amber, well, not the case. We run around the house like a tornado, send a couple of quick emails, call a taxi, and do all the normal going away stuff like locking up the house (which we forgot to do). The taxi driver was 15 minutes late, and when we got close to LAX someone yells out, "Oh my gosh, I forgot my passport at home" (I'm not mentioning any names, but I think you know who). We tell the taxi to make a quick U-ey, which sends us flying into each other, puts a big smile on the driver's face because not only does he make more money, but he gets to listen to more of my brother's taxi cab confessions?

We show up to LAX at 9:15pm for a 10:10pm international departure. The agent, who happened to know me, just gave me a look like "What are you thinking?" I shrugged my shoulders and shifted my eyes to: you know who and he smiled. Then he wasn't too happy when he found out we didn't apply for an electronic visa, so he had to do it, which added another 3 minutes, per passenger! Our buddy said "First class actually looks good, but there are only 3 seats left and if they call our name and we're not at the gate, we lose them." Obviously, we did not want to fly coach, who does? The plane was already boarding, and they were about to call stand byes any minute. The one positive thing about showing up to LAX late is there was no security line. The negative; we had to run all the way through the terminal like a pack of hyena's. Yelling to each other, FASTER, FASTER! As we approached the gate we heard our names being called over the PA and we made it just in the knick of time to pick up our seats 1A, 1J, and 2J! First Class Baby! We felt like dancing but we were out of breath, had sweat pouring down our heads, and had one more stop; passport control. We cleared there and then hopped (umm, skipped) on to the plush 747-400 where we were immediately greeted by the coolest captain. He put Mardi Gras beads around our necks and said welcome aboard. It was my first time sitting down stairs in the very first seat of a 747. We were literally in the nose of the plane (the cockpit is upstairs). We get to our seats. Sit back, take a peek at our amenity bag (socks, eye patch, ear plugs, tooth brush, lip balm etc.), have a cold glass of water served in a glass, and take a deep sigh.

A few minutes later the purser gets on the PA and says tonight's flight time is 15 hours and 58 minutes. Amber and Frank both look at me and said "you told me it's 14 hours." I said "it always has been, must be a strong head winds, I don't know, but at least we are in first." They all agreed. The captain becomes even more popular when he gets on the PA and alleviates all the passengers when he corrects the flight attendant. He says tonight's flight time is only 13 hours and 58 minutes. What a great way to make a long flight, look short in a matter of minutes.

When you fly to Australia from the States, you lose a day. Which means we took off at 10:30pm on March 4 and landed at 7:30am on March 6. When you think about it... what the heck happened to March 5? It's crazy, isn't it? March 5 did not exist this year for us, we can scratch it off the calendar. Frank's birthday is March 6th; I said to him "imagine if we left a day later? You wouldn't have had a birthday" Being in First Class made the fourteen hours go by quickly. Although, even with a flat bed I didn't sleep much. I think I was just too excited about going back to Oz .

First, let's get you oriented a bit with Australia. Here's a map, so you can see how vast this country in a continent really is. In case you didn't know Australia is one of the seven continents, and it's the only continent to fly one flag. It's about the same size as all of Europe or the continental United States. It might be the same size as those two places, but it definitely doesn't have the same amount of people. The USA's population is 285 million. Australia's population is only 19.5 million. New York City's population, alone, is 18 million. However, unlike American citizens who occupy almost all portions of our great land, Australians don't. They mainly live along the shore and in fact, it's a whopping 84% who do. It's referred to as the Land Down Under because it's in the southern hemisphere. Which means when it's winter in the USA, it's summer in Australia, and vice versa. To give you an idea of how far away it is from everywhere: It takes 14 hours by air from Los Angeles, 9 hours from Honolulu, 8 hours from Singapore, 10 hours from Hong Kong, 14 hours from Johannesburg, and 16 hours from Santiago. European passengers have to stop in Asia for a combined airtime of 21 hours. Ouch! The closest city outside of Australia is 3 hours to Auckland, New Zealand, who the Aussies have a love-hate relationship with (mostly over sports). Most airlines offer a free stop over (not United, they only fly non-stop from LAX or SFO to SYD), so depending upon which airline, which route, and where you are coming from, you might be able to take advantage of places for a short stop over like: Honolulu, Fiji, Tahiti, New Zealand, Bangkok, or Singapore. Also, keep in mind if you are not an Australian citizen, you can buy a Boomerang Pass. This is a terrific way to explore Australia, New Zealand and the South West Pacific.

By the way do you have any idea what the capitol of Australia is? Sydney? Nope! Melbourne? Wrong! It is Canberra (population: 313,000). If you guessed those other two then you were kind of close. It seems Australian's couldn't decide which of those cities to put it in, so instead, they placed it right smack in the middle. Sydney is their largest city boasting 4 million people (Melbourne is second with 3.4 million) and Sydney is where their modern world began. No one is sure when the first settlers arrived, but historians think it was Asians who migrated there by sea about sixty thousand years ago. The natives are called Aboriginals (Here's their politically correct names ) and they look something like this. The Aboriginals have pretty much the same story as the US's American Indians. Many were driven away by European Colonists, had land taken from them, and were either murdered by settlers or killed by unfamiliar diseases (read more about their history ). The British fleet first arrived in 1788 on the recommendation of Captain Cook, who discovered the land in 1770. Their ship landed in Botany Bay and carried 730 male and female convicts from Britain's overcrowded jails as well as military officers. Most of the criminals were petty thieves. Getting caught stealing loaves of bread could warrant the very long boat ride.

Australia is home to people of every different race (94% European descent, 4% Asian, 1.5% Aboriginal), religion (75% Christian, 1% Muslim, 1% Buddhist, 0.5% Jewish), and nationality. I couldn't find any statistics on just Sydney alone, but to me it's as multiethnic as New York City. I must've taken about 30 cab rides and I had drivers from all over the world: Australia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, Nigeria, Ghana, Greece, Czech Republic... you name it. I asked each and every one of them the same question "How do you like living in Australia?" They all had the same answer "I love it." How can they not? Everyone is happy, beautiful, and genuinely friendly.

People have asked me what US city does Sydney feel like. I would have to say it's closest to it's sister city; San Francisco, but without the steep hills and with Los Angeles' weather. It also reminds me of Seattle because of their commuter ferries.

Sydney Harbour is arguably the most beautiful harbour in the world. Its main attraction is the famed Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (some locals call it the coat hanger for it's shape). Between those two landmarks sits Circular Quay (pronounced "Key"). Circular Key is where all the ferries come and go, which is how many Sydneysiders travel to work.

Now that you know a little bit more about Australia, here's my story and recommendations.

Let's begin with some recommended reading for the long flight :

Frommer's Australia 2003

Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country

The 19-hour time zone change didn't seem to effect me at all. When we cleared Customs, we went straight to an ATM to get some Australian dollars. Which by the way is a bargain for Americans. 1 USD = 1.51 AUS. So basically, it's like having the whole country on sale. That's reason enough to go, especially for our special shopper mate, Amber.

We jumped in a taxi and got stuck right smack in the middle of rush hour. Can you believe they have traffic down there, too? The good news is that it's just not nearly as bad as in the USA. The 5-mile ride to the city cost AUS$27.00 (every price I give will be in Australian dollars, unless noted, so just remember calculate the exchange rate). We didn't rent a car for a couple of reasons. First, they drive on the opposite side of the road than what we're used to, and I don't know if it's my dyslexia (yes, true), but the last time I drove on the opposite side of the road, it looked like a scene from a not so good movie (horns were honking, people sticking their fingers and arms out the window at me, and I was weaving over the yellow line, not to mention the beads of sweat pouring down my head and dripping into my eyes). No thanks! I'm not playing kill the American tourist game anymore. The real reason, Sydney has some of the best public transportation around and it's a fantastic walking city. If that's not convincing enough, then the major parking hassle will be. No need for a car here.

We stayed at the Sheraton on the Park (Hyde Park). This is a great four star hotel with a friendly staff, fine service, and the majority of the rooms are big and recently remodeled. It's walking distance to everything: Hyde Park, Oxford Street, Darling Harbour, the Opera House and Circular Quay. The only problem with its key location is that it's also close to all the shops and when you are traveling with you know who? well, that equals trouble. Seriously, the girl can out shop anyone, when it comes to bargains. So believe me when you take Amber to a country that has a great exchange rate. Watch Out! Needless to say that made her very happy. Having great water pressure and high speed Internet access in my room ($24 for 24 hours) did the trick for me. Having a state of the art gym in our hotel made my brother happy (AKA: the "Workout and self-help Guru"). As you can see, we were all thrilled with our choice. Sheraton on the Park, 161 Elizabeth Street, tel. + 61.2.9286.6000

The best rate I found for our hotel on Johnny Jet.com was from Lodging.com. It was US$145.00 a night for advance reservations, which is a bit cheaper than going directly through the hotel. But if you are one of those people who like to gamble by waiting to the very last minute, then I found the place for you. Airport Traveler Services. They can be found in the baggage claim area at the Sydney airport. We went to the one in the Qantas domestic terminal and their competitor is in the International Terminal and has comparable prices. I spoke with an agent named Claire, who had a great selection of bargains. For example, she had our hotel for $168(AUS remember). She also had the Inter Continental for $168, the Park Hyatt for $360, the Quay Grand $270. These are great deals for these 4 and 5 star hotels. They also have plenty of budget hotels available. Traveler's Services telephone number is + 02.9654.3420. FYI: You won't find too many hotels in Sydney that have two queen beds, so it was either two twins or one king, and a roll away for us. I wasn't sharing a twin, so we opted for the latter. Sharing the same room with my brother and my girlfriend went surprisingly smooth. No fights at all, especially over the bathroom. Besides, we were hardly in the room during the day. We rarely watched TV, but we flipped around to see what kind of programming they had, and it was pretty much the same as America and many of the TV shows were current. I was surprised to see NBC's Today show airing live at 1am.

It's always a challenge to arrive in the morning after a long red-eye flight. I prefer to land late in the afternoon because all you have to do is go for a walk, eat dinner and then: goodnight. So landing at 7:30am should normally be a struggle, but it wasn't, at least for me. My secret to fighting jet lag is to stay awake to about 10:30pm without taking a nap. I know it's easier said, than done, but I did it. I was able to beat it this time for a couple of reasons. 1. Our room wasn't available till noon, so instead of going upstairs and lying on the bed to take a five-minute nap that always ends up to be 5 hours, a day wasted, and your internal clock ruined. We got an early jump and went for a walk and then had lunch. I am also sure it helped that we arrived on a clear, sunny day, because being exposed to bright light is also a good method. And Australia has bright lights, in fact it's known for it's "diamond light." The sun is brighter and stronger there due to the depletion of the ozone layer, which, unfortunately, is also why Australia has the highest death rate from skin cancer.

So we walked the city to get acquainted with the streets. Frank had fruit all day long, I had one of my favorite Australian treats; Pot pies ($2.50). We checked out Circular Quay, had a Starbucks (yeah, a Starbucks) coffee for its caffeine (yes, I am ashamed to admit that), and then Amber Airplane made us walk through some of the shops. Frank didn't mind, because he found a hat store, and now he thinks he is Crocodile Dundee! I'm serious, he really does. After literally and physically dragging them out of the shops, we headed back to our hotel. We checked-in to our room, unpacked, and I connected to the Internet. I was caught up answering my 200+ emails when I noticed my mates passed out on their beds. I kept shaking them and saying, "you are going to be sorry." I didn't get a reaction, so I knew it was a lost cause. They were out and so I worked. Around 8pm, I finally got them up so we could go out and celebrate Frank's birthday.

Maybe I should've let them sleep because Frank was grumpy and Amber was punch happy delirious from jet lag. No matter what anyone said, she would just start laughing out loud. It started to get a bit embarrassing at first, and then it got contagious. Our taxi driver had to think for sure that we were drunk or something, because he would say something and Amber Airplane would start laughing? and then we would. We couldn't even speak. You know how when you try to hold it in and it only gets worse, well that's what happened. Mid way through the ride, we were all laughing so hard that we were actually snorting and pinching ourselves and one of us ended up sitting on the floor. We finally gained our composure when we arrived at our destination, Doyles .This Doyle's is located at Watson's Bay and is one of Sydney's most popular restaurants. They actually have one closer in Circular Quay, but this is the one you want to go to. It's on the beach, and the views of the city are simply breath taking. The only problem with this restaurant is that they serve seafood, and when they say seafood, they mean seafood. That's all they have, which is bad news for someone like me. Phone Doyles, at beautiful Watson's Bay + 02.9337.2007.

We cut dinner short because the mosquitoes (Aussie's call them Muzzy's) were biting, everyone was tired, and we saw a convenient taxi pull up. Frank didn't want a birthday cake, but we had to give him something. So when we got to the hotel Amber Airplane gave him one of those boxes of chocolates I keep in my carry on bag to hand out to people that go the extra mile (or put me in First Class) and used a match as a candle. You probably had to be there but... we started singing happy birthday at the normal pace, and when Amber gradually got closer she started singing faster and faster. I looked at her "like what are you doing?" Then I saw the flame almost burning her finger. Again, I guess you had to be there, but it was funny.

We woke up at 5:50am and decided we should go watch the sunrise at the Opera House. Getting up with the roosters is one of the best travel tips for any tourist destination. This way you can enjoy the place without the busloads of people and have some peaceful moments to yourself. The sky was starting to get light so Frank made us run down to the Opera house to ensure we would catch the sunrise. The place was empty, except for a few locals getting in shape.

Sydney's most famous landmark has to be the Opera House. It was built between 1959 and 1973 and had a lot of construction and political delays. In fact the Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, resigned midway through because of the political turmoil. That's all in the past and today it's one of the world's most popular subjects for photographers. I mean it's hard to take a bad picture with that in the background even after you've just woken up. The roofs are shaped like white sails but were supposedly inspired by palm fronds. I don't see the palm fronds, but either way it's beautiful. Their are all kinds of performances taken place, from theater to classical music, ballet, film, and of course the seasonal opera performances. They also offer guided tours which we passed on, but would be interesting. We were just so thrilled to be there. Frank pretended he was Rocky, Amber, Ginger Rodgers and I, Inspector Clouseau. This is what the roof looks like.

Later in our trip we went to the Opera House for a performance. Well, there was no opera going on, and the only event was a play called the Way Of The World. Unfortunately, it was down stairs in the basement, not in one of the tortoise shape shells. I couldn't really enjoy the play, because my A.D.D. totally kicked in, and it didn't help that the play was written ca. 1800, or some time around there. Don't listen to me, because almost everyone else loved it. The good news we bought our heavily discounted tickets at Halftix, which is similar to TKTS in NYC, except no lines.

Adjacent to the Opera house is the Royal Botanic Gardens. Naturally (pun intended), we walked through and it's really quiet in there and indeed peaceful. And how many public places do you see a sign that says, "Please walk on the grass?" The gardens have everything you might expect and more. Take a look at this picture and guess what's hanging from the tree? They're bats. That's right: bats! And they are big ole' bats, too. We'd spotted them the night before flying around Hyde Park at dusk and wondered where they came from. Now we know. This is where they hang out (Get it?) during the day. According to one of the park workers, there are about 5,000 in the Gardens, and supposedly 10,000 in Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens. They official name is Grey-headed Flying-foxes, but to me they are big ole' bats. You can learn all about them here. If you would like to take a better look around the garden, then click here (I found it on the web). The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney Mrs. Macquaries Road, tel. + 02.9231.8111

After getting our early morning exercise we stopped at an outdoor cafe. This local spot was one of Amber Airplane's favorite meals of the trip. The ham, egg, cheese, and pineapple were mighty tasty, but then again so was everything else we had. What's weird about Australia is that people are not expected to tip. According to the locals, the general rule is to tip around 5% or round up to the nearest $10 for a nice meal in a restaurant. For taxi's, just round up to the nearest dollar in a cab, but you don't have too. (WARNING: Don't try this in NYC!) Most people tip bellhops and porters but no one tips bar staff or hairdressers.

We went back to the room, showered and headed down to Circular Quay to catch a ferry to Manly Beach. Circular Quay is built around Sydney Cove and is considered by many to be the heart of the city. It's main focus here is transportation. They have plenty of ferries, busses, taxis, and a train stop. Ferries are a key way to get around Sydney and they depart often. Not only do they get you to your destination quicker but you get to enjoy one of the most beautiful harbours close up. (The big joke on Americans is that supposedly during the Olympics, one of us tried to buy a ticket to the Great Barrier Reef. I think it's just the Aussie's way to poke fun at us, because who doesn't know the reef is 1,200 miles away?

It's a thirty-minute ferry over to Manly, and we were on one of those 300 passenger boats, so no worries about getting sea sick. Besides, it doesn't look like the harbor gets very rough. The fare is $5 each way, which was reasonable. When we arrived, we had about a quarter of a mile walk from the wharf to the beach. The main street everyone takes, is a pedestrian walkway, known as "the Corso." The Corso reminded me of an older version of the Third Street Promenade, in Santa Monica. It offers plenty of shops, restaurants and good people watching.

The weather in Manly was perfect and so was the beach. Manly Beach is quite beautiful. What I like about it the most, are the tall Norfolk Pines that line the beach. The smell of the pines and ocean together is something cool and special. I wish I could have bottled it. The sand here is white and the surf is up! The surfing here is supposedly some of the best in the area. We walked along the footpath about another quarter of a mile and enjoyed all the scenery. Then we came across to the quaint little cove of Shelly Beach. Now this is why they call it Shelly. There are spectacular views of the ocean from here and million dollar homes. Instead of eating at all the touristy cafes on the Corso, take the walk and dine at the very nice and pricier alternative, Le Kiosk. Amber and I had chicken wings served over some of the best Asian noodles we have ever had, while Frank chowed down on fish. LeKiosk ; is at 1 Marine Parade, Manly NSW 2095 ? tel. + 02.9977.4122

I don't have any pictures from night two because I don't think you want so see a picture of my brother and Amber Airplane out cold. That's right, those two made the mistake of taking a "5 minute nap." The only thing I could get out of them when I shook 'em around 8:00 pm was a few grunts. No eye contact. Don't laugh, jet lag does strange things to you and when you fall into the wrong pattern, it's tough to get back on track.

It was just as well, because I had a ton of work to do and that kept me busy 'til a good bedtime of 10:30 pm. Naturally, I woke up early, but not as early as Frank did. His internal clock was tweaked, and Amber, well she can sleep for days. I call her sleeping beauty. When I made my morning stroll to the bathroom at 5:30 am, I was stunned to see what I found. Frank. I thought I was seeing things. See people, this is what happens when you go to bed at 6 pm! You wake up at 2 am wide-awake, nothing to do. Frank's only alternative was to read his book by Bill Bryson. He didn't want to wake us by turning on the light, so he laid in a waterless tub with a blanket and pillow. Now, how funny is that?

We woke up Miss Sleepy Head and went for another early morning walk. This time we walked briskly through the city and took a left at Circular Quay (the Opera House is to the right). We went straight for the world famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. The "Coat Hanger" which many locals call it, is the world's largest (but not longest) steel arch bridge. It has eight vehicle lanes, two train lines, a sidewalk and a bike path. Now the thing to do in Sydney is walk over the bridge. I don't mean walk over on the sidewalk; I mean WALK OVER the arches. Can you see those people? It's called the bridge climb and it's one, if not the most popular tourist attractions. The rates vary ($125-$175), depending on what time you walk. The most expensive rate is usually for weekends and/or the sunset walk. The sunset walk is what you want to do. This way you see the city going up by day and then by night when coming down. The views are unreal, but so are the heights. Click here for bridge history and statistics .

There are strict rules to climb. First of all, it's mandatory for everyone to take a Breathalyzer test (just to make sure they aren't still drunk from the night before). You're not allowed to bring anything with you, including a camera (they take digital pictures for you). Don't worry about falling or your other climbing mates jumping because everyone wears a special jump suit that is harnessed to the bridge. The climb takes roughly 3 hours and you really don't have to be that fit to do it. I was planning on doing it, but when we walked across the bridge on the sidewalk, I looked up to see the path and my knees started to shake. I have a little problem that used to be much worse when I was a kid. I'm sometimes afraid of heights. Luckily, it's not that bad. Just certain things I can't do and this is now one of them. It's sad, I know. Bridge Climb, + 61.02.8274.7777 and to contact them via email: admin@bridgeclimb.com. Make your reservations well in advance.

One advantage to being in a safe city is you can go for walk and not worry about getting lost. And that's just what we did. I can't even tell you where we went on our morning walk because I still don't know exactly. All I am certain of is we crossed the bridge and were in North Sydney. In a town called Kiribilli. The views from Kiribilli are amazing. In fact we got so lost we ended up in front of John Howard's (the Prime Minister) residence. When the guard told us whose residence it was, I thought "What?" The capitol of Australia is in Canberra but the Prime Minister's home is in Sydney? That doesn't make sense. The guard couldn't even explain it, but we both agreed with a view like the one he has, who can blame him?

We were all getting pretty cranky by now. We had walked at least 5 miles, mostly in circles, it was getting hotter and hotter, and we were famished. Not a good combo, especially when you are with Amber. We eventually gave up finding a place to eat on the North Side of Sydney and hopped on a 5-minute ferry that we had stumbled upon. Pulling into Circular Quay, we got up a close to the ResdinSea (you know the cruise ship that's a condo) at port. When we arrived we headed straight to the closest restaurant we could find. I can't even remember the name of the 24-hour joint right in front of the ferry stop. Our American breakfast hit the spot nicely and we were off to our hotel room to get cleaned up.

We decided since it was Saturday and sunny, that it would be a good time to go to Bondi beach. We jumped in a taxi. Here's an observation: What's pretty cool, but strange to us Americans is that many Aussies who take a taxi by themselves will sit in the front passenger seat and not in the back. It's much more friendly and humane don't you think? But imagine trying this in NYC? The cabbie would probably put a gun to your head.

Many of the taxis have plastic shields around the drivers, which surprised me because violent crime in Australia is very low. When I asked the driver about that he explained it's for the late night drunks who tend to get a bit rowdy. Ahh... "We all know Aussie's like their beer, we see the Foster's commercial a lot in America." This might surprise you too: Not too many Aussie's drink Foster's. In fact most seem to dislike Foster's. They prefer VB (Victorian Bitter), Crown Lager (up market beer), XXXX (Queensland Beer) and Tooheys.

We were headed to what is probably the second most famous beach in the world right behind Waikiki. We arrived at Bondi Beach. Remember, it's Saturday and one of the last days of summer in Australia for this year. The sun was cranking and the waves were pumping. The sand on Bondi makes the sand in California look like dirty gravel. The beach is full of tourist and locals who aren't shy about taking off their tops.

Since we forgot our beach towels we rented really lousy ones for $4 apiece right on the beach. We also got an umbrella ($5) and chairs ($8). The prices aren't bad, especially when you compare them to Waikiki.

Besides the beach, Bondi has a promenade that is full of ice-cream parlors, outdoor cafes, greasy fish and chip restaurants, surf stores, and touristy shops. If strolling down the street is not your thing, then take a walk along the rocks (to the right of the beach). The rocks are so cool here and the walk is so worth it .

On the way back from our walk we checked out the Bondi Beach swimming club. How cool is that pool? That's a great way to enjoy the salt water without the thought of sharks or the fierce riptide. The Pool is open to the public for a fee of $3.30. Above the pool you will find the hip icebergs club and bar which is also open to the public for anyone who lives outside of a five-kilometer radius. If you live within the radius you have to join to get in. There are fantastic views at this great bar. The top level is a four star restaurant and it's very chic and trendy. Everyone was well dressed except of course for the American tourist (we just got off of the beach). We met a lot of locals and they were all very kind to us. icebergs swim club and bar, 1 Notts Avenue Bondi NSW 2026, tel. (02) 9130 3120

Day 4: We woke up early again and Amber got to pick the day's events. Naturally, we started out on a leisurely walk through the shops. The good news is the two main department stores, David Jones and Grace Bros, were not open yet. Phew! So we took a walk through Circular Quay, passed this hilarious street act, and went to breakfast at the Rocks. The Rocks is the oldest part of Sydney and is full of colonial history. It has many buildings that still have the look and feel of the past. The streets are full of shops, restaurants, pubs and art galleries. This place is always packed with tourists, but especially for the weekend markets where you can buy all kinds of souvenirs. On a tip from a reader we explored the less developed area of the Rocks and checked out the famous Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, which is one of Sydney's oldest pubs (the other is The Hero of Waterloo).

Lucky for us, we didn't have much time to shop because we had to rush back to our hotel to meet our friend Laura. Laura, came over to America for one year to work as my sister Carol's nanny. She was so awesome and everyone (especially the kids) were truly sad to see her go back home this past January. Well, when we told her we were in Sydney, she and her father drove 5 hours to see us. Her father was way cool and refused to let us take an hour train to our next destination to Featherdale Park. He drove us in his "Jackaroo ," I am sure you are wondering what that pipe is to? It's a "snorkel, so he says. The car can pretty much go under water and that pipe allows it to happen. The drive to Feather Dale was close to an hour, but well worth it. By now I am sure you are wondering what Featherdale is? It's the coolest wild animal park around. Not only do you get a close up of the Koala's, but you get to pet them as well.

The last time I was in Sydney, I went to the Taranga Zoo, which is nice, easy to get to, and has amazing views, but it doesn't compare to Featherdale. It's not much fun seeing animals in their cages. I mean how many times do you get to hang out with a kangaroo? Not only do you hang out with them, but you can pet them, feed them, and run from them. All right, so some of the animals you probably don't want to get too close too, but other's you will. We have all seen the cartoon character, but have you ever seen a real life Tasmanian Devil? Have you ever heard of a Wombat? At Featherdale, all of your Australian animals are there. Featherdale is open 7 days a week from 9.00am-5pm, every day (except Christmas) 217-229 Kildare Road, Doonside NSW 2767. tel. (612) 9622 1644.

On the way home Laura's dad dropped us off at the entrance to Chinatown. We weren't there to get lunch but rather to go next door and shop. Remember, it's Amber's day to pick the game plan. Next to Chinatown you will find Paddy's Market. It's only open on weekends and it offers a true market shopping experience. This place is huge! It has over 1600 stalls of food, clothes, souvenirs and junk. If you shop wisely you can find some great bargains or bring Amber with you! Paddy's Market is located in Market City, corner of Hay & Thomas Streets, Haymarket.

This night we planned to take Laura out for a spectacular dinner, but guess what? That's right, another 5 minute nap that turned into 8 hours. Shocker, huh? I just looked at them from my laptop and shook my head.

Well, the good news is at least we woke up early again. We all took a taxi to Double Bay. Double Bay, otherwise known as Double Pay is awesome. It's only a few kilometer's from the city, and it's very accessible. The town is one of my favorites and I definitely could live there. In fact, I stayed there for one month back in 1994. I was happy to see my favorite juice shop was still there: Top Fruit. Trust me, just go in there and order a mixed fruit juice and you won't be sorry. Top Fruit: 53 Bay St., Double Bay NSW 2028 tel. (02) 9328 7420

We finished up our morning in Double Bay at one of their great outdoor cafes. Then we took 10-minute ferry back to the city so Laura could catch a ride back home with her dad. You've to got love what the ferry can do for your hair .

We walked around the city some more until we stirred up an appetite and then went to Harry's famous pies in Wooloomooloo. Wooloo? whatever, is right outside of the city and cost only $7 by taxi. We would've walked but it was raining. Harry's makes the best meat pies. Not only are they great, but also they are cheap. You can get all kinds and they all come with a huge scoop of mashed potato's and mashed peas on top. For $3 you can't get a better bargain. Harry's is right next door to the W hotel, which is also worth a walk through, even if you aren't staying there. The place is amazing and we hear the bar on weekends goes crazy. If bars aren't your scenes, then one of the fine restaurants along side the building might be. They are all recognized as some of the best in the city, especially Manta Ray and Otto. Otto Ristorante Italiano tel. 61 2 9368 7488. W Hotel and Water Bar, tel. (61)(2) 9331-9000. Later in our trip we ate at the fine Manta Ray bistro. The food was excellent, the waitress was one of the best ever, and the atmosphere was great. You won't be disappointed at Manta Ray, The Wharf at Woolloomooloo tel. (02) 93323822.

The next day we went to Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour used to be a busy port, but it declined, then the city rebuilt it in the 80's to what it is now. It's this huge waterfront tourist park that has shops, restaurants, gardens, museums, an aquarium, a convention center and a casino. You can easily walk there from downtown, but the best way to get there is to jump on the Metro Monorail. The monorail is supposedly one of only a few above ground rail systems in the world that operates through the heart of a major city. In my opinion, it's more of a tourist attraction then mode of transportation, but its still worth taking.

Amber and I walked around and had lunch at an awesome noodle bar called Wok on Inn. What a great name. Here we could choose our type of noodles, vegetables, meat, and what style: Thai, Malay or Chinese. Wok on Inn Darling Harbour, Level Two, Harbourside Shopping Centre, tel. 9212-6655.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped at the Sky Tour. It's located in the Sydney Tower at Centrepoint. You can't miss it because it's in the tallest building (820 feet). The views from the top are supposedly amazing, but we never made it to the top, even though our ticket included a free trip up there. We just didn't have enough time. Instead we stayed on the third floor because Amber really wanted to do the Sky Tour. The Sky Tour cost $12USD a piece. It takes about 30 minutes and was just OK. The highlight is "The Great Australian Expedition Ride" which is similar to Soarin' Over California ride at Disney's California Adventures, but doesn't even come close.

Our last day Down Under we woke up, packed and took a taxi to beautiful Bronte Beach to have breakfast at an outdoor cafe with the crew. Bronte Beach reminds me a lot of Laguna and La Jolla beaches (both in California). It was relaxing just to sit there and feel the warmth of the sun, hear the roar of the ocean, and see the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, time went by too fast and we had to say our goodbyes.

Other helpful websites for Sydney:

John E. DiScala (aka Johnny Jet), is the founder of www.JohnnyJet.com, the ultimate travel website and weekly newsletter. He logs over 150,000 miles a year, has been featured in over 200 major publications (including Frommers.com, USA Today, Time, Fortune, the New York Times, CNBC and MSNBC), and has recently published his first book: You Are Here Traveling With JohnnyJet.com.