And we're back from the most amazing vacation ever -- two weeks in Australia visiting Sydney, Hobart, Port Arthur and Melbourne. What's most amazing is that we did it with two little kids. Andy for the most part was fine and seemed to really get a lot out of it, except when he was whining, insisting on watching more My Little Pony and refusing to eat anything. Meg was a different matter. She insisted I hold her most of the time and seemed only be consoled by me. Flattering, yes, but not so much at three in the morning.
The trip overall was amazing. Qantas Airlines is quite a step above the American airlines. Seriously. They are like the good American airliners from 10 years ago, they served meals on every flight, were clean and even offered special kids toys to keep them entertained. I was impressed.
We spent three days in Sydney at the beginning and got to see my uncle, nephew, and aunt who live in Turramurra. We stayed in a hotel near Hyde Park and was within walking distance to the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor. It was cool. We took the ferry one day to Tarronga Zoo. The zoo itself was swarming with people, half under constructions plus the kids were still cranky from the travel, but the ferry ride on the harbor was amazing. I think I took a dozen photos. With the jet lag, we were waking up at 4 in the morning, which was handy with World Cup matches on at that early hour.
Afterward, we caught a flight to Hobart, Tasmania, where we met up with my parents, both my sisters (no nieces though) for the Egan Clan Rally. It was pretty awesome. We were staying in two bedroom flats so it was great fun to catch up with everyone at the bar or in another room. Bjorn and I bought some gin on our way into the country which served us well. After the first day of the rally where we toured the City Hall and Parliament House (Hobart is the state capital), we headed to Port Arthur, home of one of Australia's most famous prisons (and also site of a sad and deadly shooting a dozen years ago that is still painful for the area like Columbine). We got to ride another boat around Stewart's Bay. I've never seen such clear ocean water. We also saw seals (well, a seal)! Pretty awesome. Mom found us these amazing little cabins near Port Arthur where we went out one night for some great star gazing. Fortunately, Mary was there to help use her geoscience background to tell us about the southern hemisphere. I swear I've never seen such bright stars. It was like we were in a planetarium they were so close to touch.
Afterwards, we were back in Hobart for some lectures on genealogy and more festivities and the big banquet that included lots of photos from when Mom and Dad hosted the rally in Dallas in 2006. Before departing Hobart, we had dinner with our hosts at their home built turn of the century. It was pretty amazing to see a private residence, much less one that had so much history. Before leaving, Bjorn rented a car and we got to visit the Zoo Doo outside Richmond, Tasmania, where we got to feed and pet wallabies and kangaroos. I loved it. We also got to watch Tasmanian Devils at feeding. Ugly little creatures, they are.
We then headed to Melbourne for a few days before catching our flight back to the U.S. My uncle and nephew also came down from Sydney to see the rest of the family. We also went out to the home of another Egan rally member who lives outside of town. They have six grown kids, and three were at the house that night with their families. It was so warm and inviting. My kids also had playmates their own age for a night. They loved it. And we all loved getting to talk to their kids who are our age about what life is like with kids in Australia.
There were some funny things about the country.
* There are a remarkable lack of trash cans. A hotel room with two bedrooms and a kitchenette might have one tiny powder room sized trash can for the entire room.
* The country doesn't seem to believe in napkins. We would order dinner and they would bring like one cocktail napkin for the whole table. If you asked for more, you might get one more, maybe two.
* The sizing on clothes was wacky. Granted, Bjorn is not petite, but the men's XXLs in Australia would fit me.
* Everything is abbreviated. Australia is Aussie, Tasmania is Tassie, football is footy. The best though? McDonald's is Mackers.
* The country is incredibly diverse. I would say half the people we saw in Melbourne and Sydney were of Asian or Middle Eastern descent.
* There was no Foster's beer served anywhere. When I asked someone about it, they laughed. Apparently it's a big joke that it's for export only and is pretty much considered crap beer locally.
* In Australia, apparently service in restaurants is optional. I know we're rude Americans, but we had two encounters where the wait staff thought we were "rude" for inquiring about our dinner. I thought it was sort of hilarious actually.
* Otherwise, the country was incredibly friendly. People would help strangers carry strollers up the subway steps and practically everyone we met was excited for us to be there and wanted to help however they could.
Traveling with family was in some ways a pain trying to coordinate the needs and wants of a group of eight, but in general, it was really awesome to do it all together.