Penguin Parade

I hadn’t quite gotten my fill of animal sightings, even after our Sydney zoo tour featuring the koala breakfast, so I rallied Mike for another one-day bus tour, and we took a voyage down to Phillip Island to see the parade of penguins. Every night (I think) at this point about 2 hours from Melbourne, a number of tiny penguins waddle in from the sea and make their way up to their wooden nest boxes on the coast to sleep or feed their kids or mate (very noisy) or whatever else penguins do in their nests. I was told there would be hundreds of penguins to view, so it sounded like a sight worth seeing. Count us in.

But first, we needed to find more kangaroos, so we were taken to a stop at an animal sanctuary where they had koalas, emus, and a dingo for viewing and a bunch of kangaroos for feeding.

sleeping koala
emu

The kangaroos were very relaxed and open to being fed, but the whole feeding event really was a testament to the ridiculousness of human behavior when new animals are present. Everyone was crowding, poking, and generally bothering the very calm kangaroos, so it was a little disheartening.

Maru animal sanctuary

After the sanctuary, we visited the beach and ordered iced coffee, which is actually either coffee with ice cream or with a whole bunch of sugar. I should’ve just gotten a Golden Gaytime like everyone else was doing.

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We stayed in our habit of not listening to the time we were supposed to be back on the bus and then arriving to find we were the last ones on the bus. Then it was time for a stop at a place called the Nobbies, which held excellent seascape views and the Seal Rocks where, unfortunately, the seals are too far away for the naked eye to see.

The Nobbies

Finally, onto the much awaited final destination. We arrived at the penguin march around 7 and entertained ourselves with a light dinner and sunset vistas while waiting for the penguin migration.

Phillip Island

They started coming in around eight o’clock and, I must say, there were far fewer penguins than we were expecting. Like, we saw 8 when we were expecting hundreds. Still cool to see I suppose, but also a bit anticlimactic after all the hype of waiting. However, when we turned around to walk back to the van, we did see at least tens, if not hundreds of the tiny birds. The trip was saved, either by the viewing of the penguins or by the hot chocolate that was waiting for us when we got back.

Fairy Floss

During the trip, I overhead someone say that a visitor to Australia will take one of two sides: you’ll either decide that you’re a Sydney person or a Melbourne person. I had heard cool things about the art, music, and culture coming out of Melbourne, so Mike and I decided to make a weekend out of it and flew on the budget Tiger airline to check it out. I’ve also heard that Sydney is more like the west coast of the US and Melbourne is more like the NYC area. So, you can probably figure out which one I prefer as I sit here writing this from my sunny SoCal apartment with lots of grass in the backyard.

Melbourne botanical gardens

I didn’t dislike Melbourne at all, I was just surprised to find it so similar to big cities that I’ve seen a lot of before. Hip bars, delicious restaurants, but overall not much newness. Well, there was one new thing… Melbourne is well-known for its coffee, and we were promised some of the best cups of coffee in the world. However, I hadn’t been that huge of a fan of Australian coffee at that point. I don’t like to add cream, so I found the long and short blacks all too bitter and the lattes much too milky (even though they sometimes came with adorable koala designs!) I (and Mike, too) missed the good old fashioned drip, which, while it might not be the fanciest or highest quality, felt familiarly like a satisfying cup of home.

Melbourne coffee

On our first day in Melbourne, we were off to try this famed coffee, but I decided to mix it up and sample something new based some intriguing Yelp reviews. Enter, fairy floss. What was this? It looked like a cloud in a cup and appeared to be more about novelty than actual taste. I can be into that, especially in the midst of an impromptu vacation down under. I ordered what looked like (and was like) plain cotton candy and selected the matcha to pour over top. There was also a hot chocolate option, but when I tried to order a coffee version, the waitress looked at me like I was crazy (which was a lot coming from someone who seemed like they had inserted an IV drip of caffeine for her entire shift), suggested the matcha, then brought me an extra shot of espresso just in case I wanted to try it.

Matcha fairy floss

The pouring experience was quite a treat, and it was the best matcha I’ve ever had. No joke! Our caffeine choices gave us the energy to continue on explorations of the botanical gardens, figure out the public transportation system (some free, some not free, some trolleys), and eat the most incredible Italian dinner from this unbelievable restaurant, which you should go to and tell me seriously, how is it all vegan??

While I might label myself a Sydney person, I enjoyed the rest of our stay in Melbourne, playing hipster Guess Who?, drinking craft beers, and checking out the local music scene. I would certainly go back for more of any of what Australia has to offer.

Basking in the Blue Mountains

Towards the end of my time in Sydney, I was able to make a little excursion to a place I had heard a lot of wonderful things about—the Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters rock formation. I joined a bus tour, though I found out later it would’ve been just as easy to take the train, but I was happy to have company and a guide. We started the day with a lovely waterfall hike, where we saw some beautiful nature and some not-so-beautiful homes of the famed Australian spiders that will all quickly kill you.

Blue Mountains
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Then it was off to scope out the breathtaking landscapes around the Three Sisters. There wasn’t much hiking here, just a hop off the bus and take pictures sort of situation, but the views were certainly worth the trip.

Three Sisters

Afterwards, we went off to search for kangaroos IN THE WILD!!! And we were handsomely rewarded with three sightings. Two of them were moms carrying joeys in their pouches! The babies were actually pretty big, and I’m still not sure how they fit into the pouches. I also learned during this trip that kangaroos have two uteruses and can be perpetually pregnant. Yeesh.

Kangaroos

The day ended with a stop at a swimming hole, which was really nice, but would have been even nicer had I known that “wet clothes” is Australian for bring your bathing suit. Whoops!

Steps through Sydney

After our week in Bondi, I was back on my own to wheel my giant suitcase through the buses, trains, and city streets until finding my way to Redfern to stay with Mike, one of my bff’s from college. Redfern appears to be the Brooklyn of Sydney; it’s hip, featuring cute parks and coffee shops, and less crowded than the central business district. Mike has a very sweet and very adult real-life apartment there, and he was gracious enough to accommodate me on the couch-bed for the week.

Redfern, Sydney

Mike was working during the days, so I had some time to explore more of actual Sydney, which I hadn’t seen much of yet since I’d spent most of the first weeks in Manly and Bondi. I walked and walked, and sometimes took the metro. I visited the Royal Botanical Gardens and sought out fancy donuts that my friend had seen on Instagram.

Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

I did more yoga (at an amazing studio) and afterwards indulged in the famed Australian meat pies (mine was chicken; it was just okay).

Yoga Moves Sydney
Australian meat pie

When Mike got out of work, we visited pubs and found fish & chips, among other foods. I was grateful to have some extra time to explore Sydney, and glad that my visit took me to three very different parts of the city so I could get a feel for it all.

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Best of Bondi

Much to our dismay, our coveted beach week in Bondi, which started out looking like this:

Bondi Beach

Ended up, by the third day, and for the rest of our time, looking like this:

Bondi Beach

Oh no!

We ventured out on a scattered showers day for our Bondi to Coogee trek, but most mornings we were resigned to stay inside.

Bondi to Coogee walk

Although we had to content ourselves with the yoga and the sampling of Bondi’s outstanding places to eat and drink, we were able to make the most of it. For heaven’s sake, The Nine even made me this koala latte while I worked inside on a stormy day:

Koala latte The nine

Some of our other favorites were:

  • Bad Mama: We stumbled in here on a night when we were planning to go into Sydney, but the rain kept us home. We hadn’t made a reservation and Bondi restaurants can get crowded, so we weren’t expecting too much when this cocktail bar had open tables and seated us right away. We weren’t even sure they served food. How wrong we were! Everything was mind-blowing and we would happily come back for more.

  • Bangkok Bites: Incredible Thai food! Super crowded, but super excellent and fast service!

  • Bondi’s Best: Yummy seafood. We tried to come here without a reservation and ended up having to make one for later in the week.

  • BondiTony’s: The BEST burgers! Grass-fed, organic stuff, craft beers, healthy-ish options, and vegan milkshakes. We came here twice during our stay.

  • Fonda: Our first stop after the first day of practice. Of course you should drink multiple margaritas and much Mexican food after three hours of yoga, who’s to say you shouldn’t?

I was lucky on my final morning at the beach, when my mates had departed, that the sun finally came our for a few AM hours and I go to do Yoga by the Sea. It was a much appreciated way to wrap up a rainy week.

Yoga by the Sea

Koala Brekkie

Just to confirm that Australia is every bit as amazing as you’ve always imagined it to be, here are some photos of our brekkie with at the zoo with the koalas.

Koalas

Yup, they do call it brekkie in the Aussie way of shortening everything to make it sound 100 times cuter and more fun.

Tasmanian Devil

We saw all of the Big 5 (kangaroos, a crocodile, wombats, platypus, and the aforementioned koalas).

Wallaby
Koala selfie

The Anti-Plan

Usually, when I go on a trip, I’m at the forefront of the planning process. I want to see and do everything, so I fill up every second of the day with activities and places to go. I love being able to experience all that a city has to offer, and I don’t want to waste any time.

Because this trip to Australia was a recent surprise, I didn’t take many of the usual steps in scheduling out an itinerary for every day. I made sure I had places to stay and friends to visit, and there was the yoga training, but beyond that, I left the schedule pretty open. Much to my delight, the results of the non-plan have been incredibly positive so far!

On my second day here, I decided to walk down to the beach while Amanda was at work. As I strolled along the sand, I looked over to my left and noticed a tall, sporty blonde woman stretching about 20 feet away. “Is that Kerri Walsh??” I asked myself. I creepily walked a little closer and then noticed the nets and setup for an obvious volleyball tournament that was going on behind her. Pretty certain it had to be her, I circled around to the top sidewalk to find out which teams were playing in the tournament. I perched on the wall and checked the schedule on my phone. It was her! And the US team would be playing next on the court that I was now sitting on the wall right above! I played volleyball for about 15 years, and I definitely didn’t think I would ever have a front row seat to watch the USA women’s team play, so this was a Pretty Big Deal. I settled in to watch the match, and they won! It was definitely a point for leaving a day unplanned, since I wouldn’t have been wandering around the beach if I’d scheduled a snorkeling appointment or a tour.

USA Womens Volleyball

Lucky for me, the ladies I was traveling with in week two did have a plan, and I was able to join in for some key experiences. On one of our first nights in Bondi Beach, we went to a show at the Sydney Opera House. I hadn’t even thought it would be possible for a normal person like me to go to a concert inside the building I’ve seen in so many images from afar! It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience (or many times in a lifetime when I sell all my belongings and move down under) that we had to seize, and if you’re ever coming here, I recommend checking the schedule because you may find something you like.

Sydney Opera House night
Sydney Opera House inside

And finally, a top reason I’m glad I opened my planning palms and left my vacation fate in the hands of others on this trip was the KOALA BREAKFAST! Yes, you read that correctly, and in Sydney at the zoo, you can eat breakfast on a patio in full view of about 6 koalas. After you finish your eggs and Vegemite toast and weak instant coffee, you may enter the koala enclosure and have many many pictures of yourself taken with koalas. And the staff members are actually very patient and don’t even rush you through the whole koala photography experience. And the koalas are sleepy, so they don’t seem to care what you’re doing either way. What a treat!

Koala

So I’m here this month supporting the non-planning process. When you’re booking your next adventure, consider leaving some time open to see what kind of magic takes hold.

Manly to Bondi

I’ve gotten used to managing my way up and down public transportation stairs wielding my backpack and giant suitcase, that’s for sure. After Amanda and I finished doing yoga on grassy hilltops and taking coastal walks to swimming holes, it was time to trek to Bondi Beach for the yoga workshop.

On a Monday morning, I took my favorite and the most exciting form of Australian city transport, the ferry! Like, this is the view that people are getting when they take their regular commute to their regular jobs (or wherever else they happen to be going that day):

Sydney Opera House

Wow!

The ferry brought me to the train, which brought me to the bus, which brought me to Bondi Beach where I would meet Colleen, Katie, and Laura and where we would spend the seven days.

Bondi Beach



Mysore Practice: Day One

How did I end up here? I'm wondering as we're doing the 100th jump back of this afternoon's class. I feel like a kindergartener in a fifth grade classroom. I also feel like I shouldn't have eaten so many french fries during the first few days of this trip. I look around the room, and it seems like everyone is able to hold themselves up with their hips off the ground in a cross-legged seat. I'm hot and humbled. My hips are firmly rooted on the mat.

Body Mind Life Bondi Beach

One of the main reasons I came to Sydney was to participate in an Ashtanga Mysore yoga intensive. It was an interesting choice considering I've hardly taken any Ashtanga classes in my ten year stint as a yogi. I've checked it out a few times, but never really got hooked or felt like I could figure out what I was doing enough to feel comfortable. I've recently become more curious and have been feeling like my usual practice could benefit from the consistency and discipline of the Ashtanga method.

If you're reading this saying, “What the heck is Mysore/Ashtanga and how is that different from any 'normal' yoga class?” I would say that Ashtanga yoga is a very traditional sequence of postures and the practice can be pretty intense. There are three series or levels of poses, so you always start and end with the same opening and closing sequence, but what you do in between depends on your level of ability. Mysore means that you're basically conducting your own solo practice in a community room, and the teacher will come around to offer one-on-one advice. Usually, you won't add variations or more difficult poses until you 've mastered the ones earlier in the series. The style of yoga that I practice is more varied, flowing, and (I think) forgiving. But it can be easier to develop bad alignment habits when you're not getting the same strict level of individualized attention. In Ashtanga, I'm learning that there can be a bit of an ego check when you realize you can't just fake it and slip through the cracks, even though, like in any yoga class, you're meant to be accountable only to yourself.

I was relieved to hear that the first day of class would be led by our teacher, Maty, the famed instructor I've heard so much about. That didn't make practicing any easier, but at least it wasn't so apparent that I don't know the correct order of the sequence. I've realized that by only attending classes with familiar teachers and in teaching my own classes, I've managed to avoid a lot of the poses that are hard for me or that I don't like. I realize this while I'm attempting to hold my leg out in front of me and, impossibly, trying to reach my forehead towards my shin. I try to find the silver lining in the struggle. A new experience with an amazing teacher! I'd better get some sleep so I can survive the rest of this thing.