As our adventure kicked in, Ariel once again was in charge of planning. This time the journey was to the Blue Mountains, a very well-known tourist enclave. An area about three hours by rail from Sydney, the Blue Mountains were, I was assured, by all travel guides, a natural wonder not to be missed. It was an incredible feeling to be on a continent where in August, it was so frosty outdoors, we could hardly spend more than 20 minutes without scarves and gloves. The concept of traveling north to find warmth was also counterintuitive as a lifetime resident of the Northern Hemisphere.
During our time there, we wandered through a charming old town named Leura. Dotted with small confectionaries, perfumeries, flower shops and bistros, Leura was straight out of a Currier and Ives print. The apothecary that we wandered into (where we wound up spending a whole day) was a miniscule, dark wood, wholistic healing center, filled with small glass and wood boxes with brass handles of healing herbs, fragrances, tinctures, and nutritional supplements. In addition, there were both a masseur and a masseuse on-site, and a Chinese Medicine acupuncturist as well. The tiny old-world shop had such an appeal, and the proprietors were so engaging and warm and full of health-related information, that Ariel and I settled in for what turned into a six-hour tarry. Offering manicures and pedicures, as well, we filled the day perusing the million little appealing tidbits for sale, and relaxing in thick, white velvet robes on overstuffed chenille lounges upon an inviting veranda. Herbal tea and scones were our lunch, and it was an unexpected find that was purely serendipitous and beyond delightful.
The following day in the mountains was somewhat milder weather-wise, and we ventured to the top of the famed Blue mountains for a hike. And yes, they are indeed blue, and the reason, as legend has it, involves the eucalyptus oil that is exuded by the foliage that mixes with the air. The result, it seems is a bluish haze that drapes the landscape, providing a breathtaking, almost photo-shopped looking sapphire lens. The trails of the paths across the mountains offered magnificent views of the land below, and the national park offered the majestic Three Sisters viewing point, an iconic trio of rocks that sit adjacent to each other. Echo Point in Katoomba, along with a glass cable-car ride over the immense mountain drop offered a beautiful late-winter afternoon in weather that felt very much like mid-October in New York.
Back in Syndey by nightfall, we took the evening’s opportunity to visit famed Darling Harbor, which is a stunning, lit-up wonder of seaside happenings right at the center of Sydney. With the Giant Wheel at 164-feet as its main draw, the Ferris-wheel at the Australian National Maritime Museum has a home in Sydney Harbor. Of course, we had to snap up a ride on this iconic focal point. While it was surely a (cannot resist… pun intended) a high-point, somehow it paled in comparison to the world-famous Sydney Opera House. Characterizing Darling Harbor so uniquely this wonder of human imagination was simply breathtaking. After our Ferris- wheel ride, and some wandering the harbor that evening, we were able to take in a late-night tour of the opera house, learning much about the history of the awe-inspiring, immense structure that was the brainchild of Danish architect, Jørn Utzon. We even purchased tickets for an opera the following evening, starring world-famous soprano, Renée Fleming, which was, for minor opera “oficionadas,” a special treat; her performance was impeccable. Just experiencing the acoustical wonder of the Sydney Opera House, an unmatched display of both visual splendor and auditory perfection, would have been enough, but Miss Fleming’s performance, sung in English, Italian, French, and German was truly impressive, and the reason for her world fame was more than obvious. A fabulous seafood dinner for us followed that next night (the first night at the Harbor brought us to the Aussie equivalent of fast, but delicious Greek food, salads and spinach pies that rivaled those we had enjoyed in Santorini together some summers before) and we returned to our hotel both evenings satiated with both culinary delights as well as world culture.
The morning following our evening of nightlife in Sydney, Ariel and I opted to return to nature. The weather in Sydney was a fantastic 72 degrees, and sunny, with just a light breeze. We took the opportunity to take a tour that was for sure, one of the most memorable days spent together in Australia. There are two seaside spectacles that both locals and natives frequent, named Bondi and Coogee Beaches. The Walk between is beyond outstanding, almost so incredible to defy description. The distance, which people walk every day, regardless of weather, is a little over two-and-a-half miles. It is a natural phenomenon of stunning coastal views, drops, and ultimate Pacific splendor. With a clearly marked pathway for walking, Bondi Beach is at one end, and Coogee Beach is at the other of the path, and along the way are swimming pools that dot the shore and are built into the mountainside cliffs. The water is famous for its year-round icy quality, and visitors can enjoy swimming both at pools and in the ocean below, as stairs are built into the cliffside for easy access. Some Bohemian hippy-style shops can be found along the seashore as well, as can a memorable little smoothie shop, comically called “Melonhead,” where we enjoyed some fruit concoction featuring the deep amethyst, super anti-oxidant açaí berries mixed with myriad other fresh Australian fruit wonders, including the desert quandong, a tart and fleshy crimson-colored delicacy, and the quirky and unusual Australian finger, or caviar lime. Ariel had originally applied for an early-morning smoothie-making position there, kind of an “Australian fruit barista,” but a 4 o’clock wake-up during her semester abroad ended that brief career before it had even begun.
The Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School is a prestigious NYC Jewish Day School in the heart of New York City. Located in the Upper East Side, this Jewish Day School promotes academic growth through community and collaboration.