Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jenolan Caves

I feel like I've been blogging about my trip to Australia forever. I'm just dragging myself over the finish line, which is why the posts have less and less text. But this is it: the final Australia post.

We took a day trip to the Jenolan Caves, a 90 minute bus ride from Katoomba.

All the caves require a tour. Some of the them are adventure caving, but with only time for one we did Lucas Cave, which has been open to tourists since the late 1800s. It has concrete paths and lighting. I think that the photo above is from the Cathedral Chamber, where they often have music concerts.

Lucas Cave is the most popular with tourists and may have the biggest chambers, but it is not the cave with the most impressive crystal formations. It is still very cool. And if you have the time and find yourself in Australia, I highly recommend going out to the Jenolan Caves (which just goes to show you that you should always take the advice of strangers).



I was going to do one post about the Blue Mountains, but instead I'm going to split it up into two: one about Katoomba and the scenery and one about the Jenolan Caves.

The Blue Mountains is the mountainous region west of Sydney. Their blue tinge (not so apparent in these photos, but obvious in person), I've been told, is from the oil in Eucalytpus leaves. We stayed in Katoomba, a 2 hour train ride from Sydney and where you can see the Three Sisters (the rock formation in the photo above).

There's a bunch of nature walks along the cliffs (yes), down to the Three Sisters (yes) and into the valley (no). We sprang for the cable car ride across a portion of the valley and the funicular railway ride down to the valley floor.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sydney - In Which I Pet Some Animals

Way back in 2006, I wrote this on the blog: "One of my original goals for the blog was to take a lot of pictures of animals." This post probably makes up for any deficit in animal pictures in the past two years. In Sydney, Sean and I went to the zoo and the aquarium, but most of these pictures were taken at the Featherdale Wildlife Park, where we got to pet some of the animals. I'm pretty sure the rest of the post makes me sound like an excitable 8 year old, but I'm willing to make that sacrifice to share the pictures with you guys.

Flying Foxes

A ton of flying foxes (which look like giant, 1 meter wingspan bats) live in the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. It's pretty creepy to walk under trees and trees full of resting flying foxes.


Wombats are marsupials. But their pouches are backwards so they don't fill with dirt while digging. I think they're pretty cute. At Featherdale, all the wombat habitats had signs warning that wombats bite. They, however, don't have signs saying not to touch the wombats.


Somewhere in this pond, there is a platypus. We never saw it because, unfortunately, platypuses are very shy. We did eventually see a platypus at the aquarium, so I can confirm that platypuses are the coolest animal ever. Platypuses are monotremes -- mammals that lay eggs. They feed their young (known as puggles) milk but they don't have teats. And they're venomous.


All but the last picture is from Featherdale, where, yes, I got to pet a koala. They look fat, but it's all fluff. The last picture, with the baby koala is from the zoo.

Wallabies and Kangaroos

The first picture is of a wallaby and the others of kangaroos, I think. We also got to pet the wallabies and kangaroos.


Another option to interact with the kangaroos was to buy a ice cream cone and fill it with kangaroo chow and feed them. This, however, was risky because everytime you tried, an emu would show up and peck the cone out of your hand and eat it.


Echidnas are also monotremes.

Other (Still Awesome) Animals

Dingoes are prettier than I expected.

That's a 4 meter long crocodile.

A cassowary.

Featherdale had a lot of albino animals. This is an albino peacock.



Puppycam live-feed. A whole herd of them.


Sunday, November 09, 2008


I've been lazy and actually put off blogging about Sydney, but this is the first of three posts about Australia. I'll talk about the city in this post, devote a post to the cool animals, and one to the Blue Mountains.

Now the question everyone wants an answer to is "how did you like Sydney?" And I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea: I liked Sydney. But I traveled for more than 24 hours from Germany all the way to the Southern hemisphere. I guess I was hoping -- admittedly totally naively -- for a more unique experience. As it turns out, Sydney is San Francisco with better weather and funny accents and where they drive on the wrong side of the road. There's a pretty bay with a bridge, a big Chinatown, lots of hills, and everything is unreasonably expensive.

Here are a few pictures that Sean took of the Sydney Opera House and the city:

Pretty huh? But, in real life, the Opera House is surprisingly small and not so gleamingly white (the roof is not smooth but constructed with lots of little tiles).

Okay, enough of the complaints. It's a pretty city to walk around, it's got a lot of cool neighborhoods, and (I hear, I wasn't there in summer) some nice beaches. There's a ton of backpackers (I stayed in a 7 story hostel one night) and half of them are German. It also has awesome wildlife -- but I'll save that for my next post.

Instead, let's talk about the important stuff: food. There are two things you can get in Sydney that you can't get in Germany (but, yeah, you could find them in CA).

Bubble Tea

Bubble tea is a Taiwanese thing which has spread to the U.S., other parts of Asia, and Australia. If somehow you're unfamiliar with it: it's typically black tea sweetened with milk (usually evaporated or maybe condensed) and with chewy translucent balls of pearl tapioca on the bottom. You drink it through a straw thick enough to fit the pearls. I like it cold, but it can be ordered hot or cold. I'm also craving it right now.

Sean and I spotted a bubble tea place in Chinatown while walking around. Drinks in hand, we walked up the street where we'd seen some benches in a mall. After finishing the tea, we figured we might as well wander through the mall where we just happened upon the sign for this:

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung is dumpling heaven. Busloads of Japanese tourists constantly mob the original restaurant in Taipei. I'm sure I waited an hour for a table there and I think the bookstore next door survives solely on overflow business. There are now more than two dozen locations in Asia. There 's one near L.A. and the newest location opened in Sydney, Australia in May. Although there were a lot of people waiting, Din Tai Fung has dealing with crowds down to a science. When we asked for a table, they handed us a menu, an order form and a pencil. We ordered. When we got a table (we shared a big table with a lot of smaller groups) the food came promptly. It's also not a particularly expensive or fancy place.

The thing to get are the steamed pork dumplings -- xiao long bao. Put a xiao long bao on a soup spoon. Use your chopsticks to poke a hole in the very thin but chewy skin (the key component that makes these dumplings better than all the dumplings you've ever had) and let some steam escape (you don't want to burn your mouth). Soup will probably start to seep out of the hole. If you're so inclined, you can slurp it a little bit. Finally, eat the dumpling. Delicious.