My first trip was to The Blue Mountains, which are about two hours West of Sydney by rail. The mountain range is famous for two things--"The Three Sisters" rock formation and the eerie blue haze that sits over the mountain range (it comes from eucalyptus tree oil vapors). And it's true! The mountains really look blue --photos to come. It's beautiful up there and Katoomba (the main town of the mountains) is a cozy, funkylittle place. It reminded me of Asheville, NC--vegetarian cafes (I've SO missed my avocado, tomato and hummus on wheat!), artsy shops and laid back bookstores where Ben Harper/Joni Mitchell-esque musicians rock out to a view of the blue range.
Since I was only there for the day, I didn't have time to do an extensive "bushwalk" (hike), but I did undertake The Great Stairway, a two hour climb up the side of the mountain, looking up at The Three Sisters. Most people, I later learned, walk DOWN this path, but not this little American, no siree. Going in the opposite direction, all sorts of hikers passed me by, including an Canadian couple who looked to be about my age ("Go gihrl!"), an Aussie family ("G'day! How ya going?") and a panting group of pasty English blokes ("Ello. Do you reckon we're close to the baut-tim? Whateva gave you the idea to walk UP this nosty lit'el poth?).
Finally, I made it to the top, snapped some photos and hopped on the last bus back to town where I met a fun English guy (who took the below photo of me with my camera) and convinced me to get some dinner with him before we caught the return train to Sydney. I gave him my best pitch for the vegetarian cafe, but he "fancied a beer or two" at the town pub and couldn't quite see the allure of veggie burgers with soy cheese and cold herbal tea. Those Brits can be such savages! :)
After some beers, we rode the train back to the city and he told me how he paid "400 quid" (about $800 US?) for a dinner boat through Sydney Harbor on New Year's Eve. This made me appreciate my rowdy house party where we drank our dinner from an "esquie" (cooler)that much more, even though I still have a bruise on my arm from getting knocked into the kitchen wall by some guy "on the piss" who was yelling at his mate about "the cricket." No worries, I guess…
The next day, I was up and out of Chris' flat by 6:00 am and onto a tour van headed to The Hunter Valley, the Napa Valley of Australia. There were ten people in our group, and I buddied up with two English guys who were "keen for a day of laughs and giggles." Count me in. It's a good thing I was on a tour since I soon realized that "The Hunter" (as the locals call it) is HUGE. It's not like Napa where you cruise up one main road (and perhaps back on one smaller road if you're up for some diversity). This place is really spread out and you have to know where you're going.
Our tour guide ("Priscilla, Queen of the Hunter," as she called herself) knew her way around and focused our visits on family owned, boutique wineries. We got to check things out behind the scenes and I tried my first of many Semillons (the white wine that The Hunter is famous for). By the second stop, my English mates, who had started to feel like older brothers, had almost convinced me that the gray, woolly headrests on the top part of our van seats were made of "koala bum" (see below photo). It was a long day...
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