OFF THE RECORD: Five movies later in land down under

Greetings from down under!

I've been on the road for a week in the Land of Oz and so far it's been fantastic (a word the Aussies use quite often).

Although some folks thought it was ridiculous to fly all the way to Australia for only two and a half weeks (the flight from Seattle is about 17 hours, or in my case five movies long), my family and I have packed in a lot in seven days. Since Australia is about the size of the U.S., I knew there was no way to conquer the entire country on our first go-round, so I narrowed it down to what so far has been a savory sampling of this amazing place.

The weather? Warm and sunny with only one day of rain, on Easter Sunday.


It's hard not to fall in love with this stunning city of 4 million people, which is a blend of San Francisco, Vancouver, B.C. and a little bit of Baltimore.

Our home base for three nights was the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in The Rocks, the oldest precinct of Sydney replete with its narrow passageways, artisan shops and oodles of history. The Lord Nelson bills itself as the oldest hotel in Australia, but best of all it's only a 10-minute walk to Sydney's Inner Harbour, known as Circular Quay. A walk around the harbour takes you to the Sydney Opera House and the lush Botanical Gardens.

I also took a harbour cruise to orient myself (the two braver members of my family climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge to see the city from on high).

Another fun way to see the sights is by taking a yellow water taxi to and from Darling Harbour, a fun and lively spot for lunch and outdoor entertainment. We also took a ferry to Manly Beach to watch the surfers. This is a fun beach town with a Coney Island feel.

But our dining highlight was having dinner with two South Whidbeyites: Rob Koll and his wife, Missy, who are both working in Sydney; and Amy Walker, a first-year theater student at the University of Woolongong, a 45-minute train ride from Sydney.

Although the restaurant was a bit over the top with its pretentious waiters (they refolded the napkins when we went to the loo), we had a hilarious evening and took photos in front of the Sydney Opera House after dinner.

To Bill and Gloria Koll and Tom and Claudia Walker: Your kids look great and they're all doing fine.

Barossa Valley

This is one of the main wine regions of Australia and, due to the distance, we took a two-hour flight from Sydney to Adelaide. Thanks to a reservation mix-up on my part, I booked us into a hotel in the town of Glenelg instead of downtown Adelaide. It turned out to be a fortuitous mistake, as Glenelg is a bustling seaside town with breathtaking sunsets over the Pacific. Plus, it's only a 35-minute tram ride from downtown Adelaide.

Rather than rent a car to travel around wine country, we opted for the Barossa Valley Wine Train, an all-day tour that stops at four wineries with lunch along the way. It was a relaxing way to see and sample the region's wines without worrying about driving. Best of all, we bought some fine wines and hopefully we'll have a few by trip's end to bring home.

A word about words

Just because Australians speak English doesn't mean that everything's the same. Some of their messages are amusing to say the least, such as this warning on the tram: "Do Not Protrude Limbs From Tram." Their "Yield" traffic signs are the same red and white design as ours, but simply say "Give Way." You don't "rent" a car, you "hire" a car and you don't "pass" a car on the highway, you "overtake" it.

If you want food "to go," it's called "take away" and if you order "chips" you'll get French fries in a bowl. "Crisps" are in fact potato chips (Aussies seem to eat a lot of chips and crisps, along with enjoying their beer and wine). "Ta" means "thanks" and a "POM" is a "Prisoner of the Monarchy" (those other English-speaking people from Great Britain). When you thank somebody, the response is not "You're welcome" but "No worries." I rather like that. Other common greetings are "Good on 'ya" and "Cheers." I'll second that.

Next week

Check in for a report from Kangaroo Island in South Australia and Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.

G'day mates

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