Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Australia Trip Day08: Sydney

23 May 2009 (Sat)
Accommodation: Xiahe 小舅's home

It was a relax first day in Sydney.
Early in the morning, while some of us were brushing up, we saw some parrots outside at the balcony. I have seen many white parrots in E7, but these wild parrots were sitting there asking for food. =)
After brushing up, Xiahe’s uncle brought us to the city, and treated us breakfast at a Dim Sum Restaurant, 同乐轩. According to Pik Wei, it is a renowned dim sum restaurant. The food… er… to be very very frank, the food is okay, but I think it tasted just like any other dim sum restaurant I have been to… I’m not a 美食家, so I can’t really taste the difference… In fact, if I were to go for dim sum I will usually go for dim sum buffet.
Having said that, there are two dishes that’s worth mentioning: 酥皮蛋挞 & mango pudding. The 酥皮of the egg tart, is just superb. The layers of the tart, is just like a well made genuine croissant. As for the mango pudding, it is very rich. The small topping of ideal milk on top nicely bring out the taste of the mango. Nice combi.
A look at their 幸福expression, and you know how much they are enjoying the dim sum
After a fulfilling breakfast, we bid a temporary good-bye to Xiahe’s uncle, and begin our journey for the day. We walked towards Darling Harbour.
We passed by Chinatown and Paddy’s Haymarket, but didn’t visit them, thinking we will have time for shopping on our last day here.

C: Chinatown, H: Paddy’s Haymarket
An innovative street performer building clings out of glass bottles.
(video to be uploaded later when I'm back in S'pore)

Walking pass the hustle and bustle of the city, we slowly reached a more touristy area. The Darling Harbour is a recreational precinct boasts with ferris wheel, fountains, tourist train and of course Visitor Information Centre. Here we bought our 2-day Sydney Pass for tomorrow and the day after, and pick up some maps.
We then proceed to the Sydney Harbour. It was a nice place to have a stroll. To the right the Central Business District (CBD) of Sydney, and to the left, the Circular Quay, very much like the Esplanade area in Singapore. The Pyrmont Bridge is in front of us overseeing the whole Darling Harbour, and beyond that is the sea.
After a few group photos, we started walking back to the city to visit those Free-of-Charge attractions. We passed by the Queen Victoria Building, an old Victorian building with the statue of Queen Victoria erected outside, and walked into Hyde Park.

Left: Queen Victoria Building; Right: Hyde Park. Can you read the letters in the upper right corner?
We had fun imitating the figurines on the Archibald fountain, though many tourists were looking at us.. with 不屑的眼神or羡慕的眼神 that I don’t know. Right next to the fountain is the St Mary's Cathedral, the mother church of Australian Catholicism.
As a traveling Buddhist, it’s quite sad I haven’t truly been to any temple. I haven’t even visited those Wat in Thailand and Cambodia, what’s more to say四大名山in China, and go 朝圣in India. But be it temples or churches, I’d always enjoy visiting these spiritual places. They make you feel welcomed. The lightings, and the scent in the air, it gives me the sense of calmness & tranquility. Give me some time and I think I can just sit there and absorb the peace, seeking for an oasis in my heart.
From the Church, passing by the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, Rum Hospital, we walked towards the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The garden boasts thousands of species of plants. For plant and garden lovers, there is much to see and enjoy, including orchids, roses and small little bananas. For the public, it provides a good place for people to relax. And it is nicely perched on a hill, overseeing the Sydney Harbour and the Woolloomooloo Bay (a rather interesting name I must say).
Equestrian statue of King Edward VII.
They say if both front legs of the horse are in the air, the rider died in battle. If the horse has one front leg up, the rider was wounded in battle or died of wounds sustained in battle, and if all four hooves are on the ground, the rider died of causes other than combat. But seems like this urban legend doesn't hold true here. =)
Climbing down the other side of the Botanical Garden, the familiar 'shells' of the Sydney Opera House came into view. We have seen it many times in movies, in the Internet, in Sydney Olympic 2000, but really 百闻不如一见. I will talk more about the Opera House in my next blog post when we had a tour inside.
Today we just roam around the exterior. The wind is blowing strong, so strong that it can make our jacket fly when we stretch or arms wide. Again some look at us with不屑的眼神, but many actually follow suit. Looks like we带动起扮superman的潮流.
Here, I also saw my very first perfect rainbow...
The wind continued to blow and the weather slowly turned bad with drizzle. We walked along the bay, stopping by the Tissue Tree and the Museum of Contemporary Art, all the way to The Rocks. The travel guide says every weekend the Rocks Market will spring to life, but seems like today the drizzle washed everything away. By the time we reached there, people were packing up their stalls, so we decided to come back here tomorrow.
From the Rocks, we climbed up the main street to the side of the Harbour Bridge. We slowly walked on this 1149-meter bridge to the other side, with the wind blowing so strongly from our side.
By the time we reached the other side, it is almost dusk, just nice to take some night shots of the bridge and the CBD as the city brightens up under the dark. Then we go to the last destination for today the Luna Park. It has a rather spooky looking face for an entrance… Entrance is free, but the rides are not, and it is actually quite expensive, for a “seemingly-low-cost-theme-park”.
Oh ya.. I have seen limousines, but here I saw a limousine humvee!!! Can’t stand the urge, so we took photo with it while the owner were taking photo on the other side. =)
Then at around 8pm, we find our way back to Xiahe uncle’s house. And waiting for these lucky kids are nicely prepared steamboat! OMG! Piping hot steamboat in this cold weather… then still got饭后水饺. 好幸福…
It's indeed a very relaxing day in Sydney. But tomorrow we will put our Sydney Pass into use. So all itinerary must be nicely planed to make full use of the Pass.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Australia Trip Day07: En Route to Sydney

22 May 2009 (Fri)
Accommodation: Xiahe 小舅's home

After one rather sleepless night being tortured by the fallen tree and the ‘定时炸弹’flooding-road, we continue our journey to Sydney. But this time, we choose the mountainous road, even when the GPS tell us the shortest route is to follow the flow of the river.
From Teven (the place where we were trapped) to Sydney, it’s just unless driving. Nothing much to write, so I will let pictures do the talking.

The site where we were trapped, with the fallen tree, and our ‘trap mark’
On and off, we see flooded road, farmland, forest, and overflowing river.
Not sure if the Aussies see this often, but I see these pics quite often every year during rainy season in Malaysia.

Didn’t get the chance to experience autumn the last time I went Sweden. This time I finally see reddened maple leaves!

The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour.
I heard there’re more "Big Thing" in Australia. Big Pineapple, Big Apple, yada.. yada.. yada..

In Sarawak, we also have the 'Big Things' and they are the icons of each cities. We have the Kuching Cat, Sarikei Pineapple, Miri Seahorse, Sibu Swam, Serian Durian, Sri Aman Doves, Saratok Oil Palm, and Jakar Pepper...
pics mainly taken from here

At late evening, we finally reach Sydney.
We were warmly welcomed by Xiahe’s 小舅. After staying in the campervan for so many days, stepping into warmly heated house with carpet floor, the feeling is just so… homely.
When dinner is served, all our eyes sparkle. ’cos the dinner is really too well prepared…
Thank you, uncle!
Look at our heavenly expression...
Free style fine-dining #2

Halfway through our Oz Trip----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Australia Trip Day06: Gold Coast

21 May 2009 (Thu)
Accommodation: Stuck in a drainage somewhere in Teven

It's another gloomy day today with on-and-off drizzle.
It didn't appear to us at first, but this turn out to be a perfect time to go to a theme park!
Why? because the park won't be too crowded and the queue won't be too long. =)

There are a few theme parks in Gold Coast: Warner Brothers Movie World, Dreamworld, Sea World, Wet'n'Wild Water World, Whitewater World... We don't have the time to go to each and everyone of them, so we choose the most famous one-Warner Bros. Movie World Theme Park.

We reach there rather early, even before the park opens.
The carpark is empty, so even a big vehicle like our campervan can easily find a space.
Today is also the first time we wore shoes, not because it's cold, but because we don't want our slippers to fly off when we were playing the roller coasters. I can't remember who started it, but somehow after wearing shoes, we all start to go yo-yO-YO-YO!, like those people singing hip-hop.

Meng Ho had been to Brisbane and Gold Coast before, so he decided not to join us for the theme park and drive the campervan to Surfers Paradise.
As the clock strikes 9.30am, we, together with the other visitor, gush into the theme park.
We wander around the parade street, trying to get the directions and plan how are we gonna spend the day.
Then just nice, Tweety Bird and Bugs Bunny is just right outside mingling with the others. Of course we won't forgo this chance. So SNAP! a picture with the Looney Tunes.
Then since the Shrek 4D adventure just nearby has quite a short queue, we quickly queue up. But shortly after that, comes Batman. So, one by one, we go have a picture with Batman while still having someone to chope us a place in the queue. Personally find taking a picture with 'Batman' in front of the 'Daily Planet' bit funny. =)
Finally, inside the Shrek 4D adventure, we were given a pair of cool sun-glasses 3D-glasses, and greeted by a fat squire. A short clip of how Princess Fiona is captured and how it is up to Shrek to save her, brings us to the motion movie theatre.
I have been to a number of 3D/4D motion movie, but this is the best I have ever experienced. The 3D effect really makes you feel as if they are just right in front of you that you can touch them. I even see a few little kids stretching their hands to touch it. The donkey sneeze come as a surprise, and the spider lure an even bigger surprise.
Cliche but nice story, unexpected effects and surprises. Definitely a 5 out of 5.
Up next is BatWing Space Shot, and it's the first time I try something like this. I know I have been to Genting many times, but somehow everytime I go the Solero Shot is either closed, under maintenance or not opened due to bad weather. Shooting up into the sky in a 4.5G force vertical launch really is very very syok! Especially when you reach the top, you are facing zero gravity for a moment, a sensation of weighlessness...
Coming down from the Space Shot, we straight away go to the Batman Adventure Ride just next to BatWing. It's another motion movie like Shrek, but to be honest, it really isn't up to the standard of the other attractions in this park.
But the Lethal Weapon is the climax of my trip here. It's fast, it's thrilling, it's pumping up my adrenalin. This hanging roller coaster has superb upside-down turns, dizzying heights and passing structures. I come down feeling a bit dizzy but satisfied.
The next thrill is the Superman Escape. The brochure says this roller coaster accelerate from 0-100km in just 2secs, and they aren't kidding. Using the catapult launching system, the train shoots up into the vertical track, gaining potential energy to drive the train through the whole course of the tracks. And the whole process only took ~30secs. It's fun, just that the queue is too long. Me n Teo Peng waited for the first group til we beh tahan and went inside to check out on them only to know that they are still queuing. -_______-
We then survey the price of lunch, and as expected the food here is very ex... All of us pair up and share Monster Burger meal which costs AUD15.95 each... We da bao the burger and went into the next attraction, the Hollywood Stunt Driver arena.
Here we see the stunt drivers showing off their skills. I extracted interesting parts of the whole show and put them into a video below. Although all other stunts like 360 spins, parallel park, J-turn, on 2 wheels, were very typical, the last move of crashing out of the wall and driving over the hedge is amazing... I zoomed in onto a picture taken when the car is on the curve, the outer 2 wheels really is on the air... No kidding..
Previously, I admire those who can drive in a reverse direction and still speed, but after looking at the picture at the lower right, my dream shatters... so this is the secret behind those action scene, a backside-facing-front car...
The remaining half of the activities in the park are not as adrenalin-pumping but still quite fun nevertheless.
The Will West Falls
The Scooby Ride
At the cemetery outside we found 'Damien's tombstone. =)
By the time we come out from the Scooby Doo Ride, it's time for the Star Parade. The parade is quite nice, just that I find it too short.. wish it can be made longer with more cartoon characters.
Why do the girls, esp Qian Hong gets all the shot!!!
Poor Teo Peng wanted to 自拍 a shot with the Bat Mobile, too bad he press the shutter too early.
We visited the shops by the sides of the parade street. The Harry Potter shop is my favourite. It has a lot of funny funny stuff from the Harry Potter magical world, like plush toys of Hegwig, wands, hands, rode, and even the Firebolt and the Golden Snitch. Bought a pair of mood rings for Shin and I here. =)
We leave the Kids Zone to the last. Just going in, have a look and take photo. There are quite a number of rides for kids as well. Pik Wei and I took and Road Runner Rollercoaster, and my conclusion is , 'if this coaster is for kids, then the kids must be very brave, or the adults must be nuts... it's very fast! for a kid at least.'We finish the day by going for a few more rounds of BatWing Space Shot, this time trying different angle of the shot to have a panoramic view of Gold Coast.
And then we meet up with Meng Ho and off we drive to Surfers Paradise.

Well... I always imagined Surfers Paradise to have long white beaches, and super wavy seas. But to my surprise, there are many high-rise buildings here as well! and shops, eatery, etc... and on the way to the beach we saw a small small theme park, very much like the Euro Fun Fair we always had at MJC, Kuching. They even have reverse bungee! But after going through all those rides in the morning, I'm just not that into any ride anymore for the day.
We had chinese food for dinner, but from the way the dishes are prepared and presented, they somehow look more like malaysian/singaporean food.
Then we walked to the famous beach in Surfers Paradise. At night, we can't really tell how beautiful it is. But one thing worth mentioning is the foamy waves. From afar, we can see patches and patches of foam on the beach. It doesn't smell salty (we don't dare to taste it) but it's not like any bubbles 'cos it won't really burst. I was caught by a sudden wave when I was filming the sea, and the foamy stuff stays on my feet until I go and wash it off...
A bit disgusting if you ask me...
Here are some pictures taken from Meng Ho as he went to the Wax Museum here in the morning after sending us to the theme park. IMHO, it was quite bad... the wax figures were put behind glass panes, meaning visitors can't pose for pictures with the figures. Then I heard the space also quite small with limited figures. Now that 'everyone can fly' with Air Asia, I would suggest taking a trip to London and visit the famous Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, that will make your money more worth.
After this we drive off to Sydney our next destination.

Well, I sure hope i can end my day here... but what comes next is enough to haunt me for the coming months.
I was driving that night, and Teo Peng was the vehicle commander.
It wasn't one of the best night to drive, but the rain and wind was manageable. Everything was smooth, until suddenly the GPS want us to take a right turn off the highway going down the hill. I look a peep at the road sign and it says 'Tourist Drive'.
After a short drive, something tells me it isn't right, the road is getting smaller while the woods by the roadside are getting denser. We saw a patch road covered by running water, but we drive through with ease. Then further up front, comes another one, this time the water looks faster and deeper. We still drive through it, but this time, my heart is beating rather fast, and my hands are getting cold.
We begin to see broken branches and fallen leaves on the road. and finally comes a broken tree. Teo Peng and I went to investigate, trying to shift it aside. But one look at the size of the tree, I kinda know it's impossible... some more part of the roots are still attached to the soil.
The only way left is to reverse and find an alternative route. I did a 3-point turn, but guess luck wasn't on my side that night. After reversing, just as I was gonna hit gear 1 to move forward, the back wheels slided and went down the road shoulder. and we were stuck...

Many side stories happen, to cut the long story short, here's a summary:
  • We help a man to push his car over while he promise to look for help to bring us back onto the road
  • Later the man we helped was trapped again, and this time we push but to no avail. He approach the house owner in front for more help, but really nothing can be done. We are both trapped. The owner then ask the man if he is a local. He then tell us the situation... if it rains in the morning, together with the tide, the river will overflow and wash our car away... I decided not to tell the girls yet...
  • Yi Feng called the Apollo call centre but they say help would only come earliest at 6am.
  • 2 young men came in a truck scaring the freak out of the others in the car saying, 'you this this line on our GPS, this is the river, YOU'RE IN THE RIVER!'. But they did offer to get our campervan out, and suggest to us an escape route, RAN UP THE MOUNTAIN WHEN YOU SEE WATER COMING.
  • Meng Ho was kinda 'abducted' for a short while by the man we helped 'cos we can't find them when we go look for him considering he was out for too long in not-so-warm clothes
  • We play truth or err... more truth. obviously nobody is in the mood for dare. This is when I realise mine is actually the most complicated... hmm... 需要检讨...
  • We tried slotting broken branches at the back tires, while Qian Hong drives, but the car was not 4WD, and it was simply just too heavy.
Over the course of the night, some prefer to stay hyper, some prefer to stay awake.
I prefer to stay calm, I prefer to take some rest while keeping my ears open. for I am the one who get them into this mess, I should be the one to get them out of this shit..
I prayed, silently, whole-heartedly, for strenght to endure this obstacle
I try to keep my head clear, and keep the others calm

The night went on peacefully.
At early dawn, more cars start coming by. For those who stopped, I explained to them the situation, trying to get their help. But a glance at the size of our campervan, they all give a sorry expression.
I then went to talk to the house owner further up, asking how can they endure such disaster everyyear. To my surprise, this is actually the first time they seen something like this. The flood, the wind, it's horrendous. their garden is completely destroyed not to mention the crops around the area...

As I waved good-bye and walked back to our car, I saw the tree that was blocking our way moved! Thinking the rescue team had arrive, I quickly walk back, only to see an old truck trying to push the tree away. I was stunned! Where got people move tree like that one? aren't you suppose to chop the tree into pieces then slowly shift them out of the road?
But since he is so 'adventurous', I approached him to try my luck. And guess what, he agreed to help. He isn't sure if his rope is strong enough to pull us out, but he would try. We were all eagerly watching him as he starts the engine.
Vroom.. and the dangling rope tightens...
Vroooom... and our campervan is out of the drainage.

Can't say how happy I am at that moment. Don't know how can we repay him besides the many thanks. He is truly an angel.

Moral of the story:
1) Never trust your GPS completely
2) Never take the Tourist Drive at night, in fact, don't even try the Tourist Drive in a Campervan

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Australia Trip Day05: Brisbane

20 May 2009 (Wed)
Accommodation: Treasure Island Holiday Park (Gold Coast)

Brisbane is slowly moving into winter so it's kinda cold in the morning.
To make things worse, the rain hadn't really stopped since yesterday. =(

We begin our day with driving the campervan to Coles at Newmarket to top-up our food and of course, to settle the wet weather plans.
We had our breakfast here as well in an award-winning pastry shop, Ray's Patisserie. Just look at the number of awards won.
I had Beef & Bacon Puff. The taste? Well... It looks nice, smells nice, but tastes bit salty. I prefer it to be a bit more pepperish and less salty.
We then drive to Wilston, a train station not-too-near-not-too-far from the city, such that we can park our campervan there, and take a train to Central. As expected, it is also raining in the Central. So, we execute our wet weather plans:
I must say, us in umbrella look cooler than those in ponchos. =)

Walk down a few streets and we reach Queen Street Mall. It was raining rather heavily (picture below: left), and we have to reconsider our plans for the afternoon because almost all the places we are going is outdoor. We visit the Tourist Information Center to get maps, ask about weather forecast, and possible plans (the personnel there actually suggested us to go for a movie, or bowling. OMG! we are tourists, not locals. Don't suggest me something I can also do back at home...). Not able to much, we stopover for lunch at an indoor food court. Pik Wei and I shared a Miso Katsu-Don, and I am still not very used to their big portion of meals.

Lunch: rather localised Japanese food, and Crepe ordered by Yi Feng
When we come out after lunch, surprisingly the rain had stopped! and Queen Street Mall is bustling with people (picture above above: right). We had a short stroll along the street but really just window shopping, then move on to our next destination on the list, the South Bank.

On the way there, we pass by the Treasury Casino. We try our luck to see if we can go in, but Nar... the bouncer won't let us in in our 邋遢样. He pointed at my slippers and shook his head. So I guess if next time we were to enter the casino, we should at least wear shoes.

The Tresury Casino

Looking at the number of people holding umbrellas, you know that some of the poncho-guys have 跳槽over to our side. =)

We then walk across the Victoria Bridge to the South Bank to visit the Museum.
Brisbane River
Queensland Museum South Bank Campus housed a wide collection of stuff. From history of Queensland, to its aboriginal people, war times, underwater animals, vehicles and planes, and a whole gallery of animals arranged from big to small.
Queensland Museum South Bank Campus

The underwater world. I like the way they hang the seagulls, fishes and turtles on the air, making it seems like they are really swimming or flying.
Vehicles and planes of the olden days
The Museum Zoo: a collection of animals arranged from big to small.
I never know a kiwi (lower left) is so big!
From the museum we walk along the promenade on the South Bank, taking photo with the Wheel of Brisbane and a beautiful archway draped in thousands of bougainvillea, the ENERGEX Arbour.
Beyond the ardour, is the Streets Beach, a man-made inner-city lagoon with white sand beaches, clear water and palm trees. It is a beautiful beach, but obviously it is just too cold today for anyone to swim or play or bath in the water. But it give me a sense of tranquility.
Further up front is a small water-play park called Aquativity. Here there are small small fountains and water-jets and water-curtains and a map of Brisbane with water flowing through the 'Brisbane River'.
Our version of the CityCat

After the South Bank promenade, we wanted to visit the Maritime Museum, but too bad it was closed. So we climbed up the stairs to a small nearby Memorial Park. And then take a train back to Wilston and continue our drive to Gold Coast.

We reached Gold Coast about 2 hours later, found our caravan park for the night at Treasure Island Holiday Park. This caravan park was quite well-equipped and clean. We did our laundry here to prepare ourselves for the journey to come.
As for dinner, we had one of the best 'own-prepared' meal of the trip, with roast chicken, noodles and watermelon. =)

Contrary to what most people told me, I find Brisbane quite relaxing and fun. And there are still a few things that I have yet to try, like the CityCat. Might come back here some other day.