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The war has begun and with that said it's nice to be home on U.S. soil. But how I wish there was peace in the world and that I was still in Australia. It's difficult to be upbeat with everything going on in the world, but hopefully this will take you on a mini virtual vacation for a few minutes.  I have to tell you our trip was amazing.  Everyone was so nice, the weather was great and the pace Down Under, was just perfect.  I love Australia so much that I could even live there for a year or two. There's a lot to show and tell you about our trip, so it might take a while, my advice to you is... sit back, relax, and buckle your seat belt, you're going Down Under!

First, let's get you oriented a bit with Australia.  Here's a map, so you can see how vast this country in a continent really is.  In case you didn't know Australia is one of the seven continents, and it's the only continent to fly one flag.  It's about the same size as all of Europe or the continental United States.  It might be the same size as those two places, but it definitely doesn't have the same amount of people.  The USA’s population is 285 million. Australia's population is only 19.5 million. New York City's population, alone, is 18 million.  However, unlike American citizens who occupy almost all portions of our great land, Australians don't. They mainly live along the shore and in fact, it's a whopping 84% who do. It's referred to as the Land Down Under because it's in the southern hemisphere. Which means when it's winter in the USA, it's summer in Australia, and vice versa. To give you an idea of how far away it is from everywhere: It takes 14 hours by air from Los Angeles, 9 hours from Honolulu, 8 hours from Singapore, 10 hours from Hong Kong, 14 hours from Johannesburg, and 16 hours from Santiago. European passengers have to stop in Asia for a combined airtime of 21 hours. Ouch!  The closest city is 3 hours to Auckland, New Zealand, who the Aussies have a love-hate relationship with (mostly over sports).  Most airlines offer a free stop over (not United, they only fly non-stop from LAX or SFO to SYD), so depending upon which airline, which route, and where you are coming from, you might be able to take advantage of places for a short stop over like: Honolulu, Fiji, Tahiti, New Zealand, Bangkok, or Singapore.  Also, keep in mind if you are not an Australian citizen, you can buy a Boomerang Pass. This is a terrific way to explore Australia, New Zealand and the South West Pacific.

By the way do you have any idea what the capitol of Australia is? Sydney? Nope! Melbourne? Wrong!  It is Canberra (population: 313,000).  If you guessed those other two then you were kind of close. It seems Australian's couldn't decide which of those cities to put it in, so instead, they placed it right smack in the middle.  Sydney is their largest city boasting 4 million people (Melbourne is second with 3.4 million) and Sydney is where their modern world began. No one is sure when the first settlers arrived, but historians think it was Asians who migrated there by sea about sixty thousand years ago. The natives are called Aboriginals (Here's their politically correct names) and they look something like this .  The Aboriginals have pretty much the same story as the US’s American Indians.  Many were driven away by European Colonists, had land taken from them, and were either murdered by settlers or killed by unfamiliar diseases (read more about their history).  The British fleet first arrived in 1788 on the recommendation of Captain Cook, who discovered the land in 1770.  Their ship landed in Botany Bay and carried 730 male and female convicts from Britain's overcrowded jails as well as military officers. Most of the criminals were petty thieves. Getting caught stealing loaves of bread could warrant the very long boat ride.

Australia is home to people of every different race (94% European descent, 4% Asian, 1.5% Aboriginal), religion (75% Christian, 1% Muslim, 1% Buddhist, 0.5% Jewish), and nationality.  I couldn’t find any statistics on just Sydney alone, but to me it’s as multiethnic as New York City.  I must've taken about 30 cab rides and I had drivers from all over the world: Australia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, Nigeria, Ghana, Greece, Czech Republic...  you name it.  I asked each and every one of them the same question "How do you like living in Australia?”  They all had the same answer "I love it".  How can they not?  Everyone is happy, beautiful, and genuinely friendly. 

People have asked me what US city does Sydney feel like. I would have to say it's closest to it's sister city; San Francisco, but without the steep hills and with Los Angeles' weather.  It also reminds me of Seattle because of their commuter ferries.  Sydney Harbour is arguably the most beautiful harbour in the world.  Its main attraction is the famed Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (some locals call it the coat hanger for it's shape).  Between those two landmarks sits Circular Quay (pronounced "Key").  Circular Key is where all the ferries come and go, which is how many Sydneysiders travel to work.

Now that you know a little bit more about Australia, here's my story and recommendations.

Let’s begin with some recommended reading for the long flight:  
Before departing for Australia, I had some mixed feelings about going.  I read so many newspaper articles describing how Americans are getting verbally and sometimes physically abused abroad because of Bush's position on the war with Iraq.  I heard all kinds of horror stories especially about Europeans treating us terribly, but I didn't hear anything about the Australians. Well, now that I have been there I can tell you first hand.  I didn't feel one bit of anti-Americanism. There weren't any anti-war rallies, except for a two people wearing signs and handing out peace leaflets.  John Howard, Australia's Prime Minister is one of G.W. Bush's closest allies, and the Australians seem to have a similar mix of feelings Americans have. My attitude is "Hey, if I am going to spend my hard earned money, then I might as well spend it in a country where I feel welcomed." Australia is one of those countries. 

Amber Airplane, my brother Frank and I arrived at 7:30am on Thursday, March 6 (Frank's birthday). None of us slept very well on the flight over because we were too excited about getting on the plane and actually going. The two, two-hour power naps I took, did the trick for me because the 19-hour time zone change didn't seem to effect me at all.  It did Amber Airplane and Frank though, but more on that later.  When we cleared Customs, we went straight to an ATM to get some Australian dollars.  Which by the way is a bargain for Americans. 1 USD = 1.69357 AUS .  So basically, it's like having the whole country on sale.  Every price you see; subtract 40%.   That's reason enough to go, especially for our special shopper mate, Amber Airplane.

We jumped in a taxi and got stuck right smack in the middle of rush hour.  Can you believe they have traffic down there, too?  The good news is that it’s just not nearly as bad as in the USA. The 5-mile ride to the city cost AUS$27.00 (every price I give will be in Australian dollars, unless noted, so just remember calculate the 40% exchange rate).  We didn't rent a car for a couple of reasons.  First, they drive on the opposite side of the road than what we’re used to, and I don't know if it's my dyslexia (yes, true), but the last time I drove on the opposite side of the road, it looked like a scene from a not so good movie (horns were honking, people sticking their fingers and arms out the window at me, and I was weaving over the yellow line, not to mention the beads of sweat pouring down my head and dripping into my eyes). No thanks!  I'm not playing kill the American tourist game anymore. The real reason, Sydney has some of the best public transportation around and it's a fantastic walking city.  If that's not convincing enough, then the major parking hassle will be. No need for a car here. But if you want one, then you’ll want to make your reservation using by clicking here .

We stayed at the Sheraton on the Park (Hyde Park). This is a great four star hotel with a friendly staff, fine service, and the majority of the rooms are big and recently remodeled. The hotel brochure describes it as a “contemporary take on a classic theme”. I have no idea what that means, but trust me, you will like it if you are a business or leisure traveler. The location is great.  It's walking distance to everything: Hyde Park, Oxford Street, Darling Harbour, the Opera House and Circular Quay.  The only problem with its key location is that it’s also close to all the shops and when you are traveling with you know who… well, that equals trouble. Seriously, the girl can out shop anyone, when it comes to bargains.  So believe me when you take Amber Airplane to a country that has a great exchange rate, and she has the 40% off mentality on every store she enters:  Watch Out!  Needless to say that made her very happy.  Having great water pressure and high speed Internet access in my room ($24 for 24 hours) did the trick for me.  Having a state of the art gym in our hotel made my brother happy (AKA: the “Workout and self-help Guru”).  As you can see, we were all thrilled with our choice.  Sheraton on the Park, 161 Elizabeth Street, tel. + 61.2.9286.6000

The best rate I found for our hotel on  Johnny was from .   It was US$145.00 a night for advance reservations, which is a bit cheaper than going directly through the hotel.  But if you are one of those people who like to gamble by waiting to the very last minute, then I found the place for you.  Airport Traveler Services.  They can be found in the baggage claim area at the Sydney airport.  We went to the one in the Qantas domestic terminal and their competitor is in the International Terminal and has comparable prices.  I spoke with an agent named Claire, who had a great selection of bargains.  For example, she had our hotel for $168(AUS remember).  She also had the Inter Continental for $168, the Park Hyatt for $360, the Quay Grand $270.  These are great deals for these 4 and 5 star hotels.  They also have plenty of budget hotels available, but who wants those when you are traveling with your generous brother?  Traveler’s Services telephone number is + 02.9654.3420.  FYI: You won't find too many hotels in Sydney that have two queen beds, so it was either two twins or one king, and a roll away for us.  I wasn't sharing a twin, so we opted for the latter.  Sharing the same room with my brother and my girlfriend went surprisingly smooth.  No fights at all, especially over the bathroom.  Besides, we were hardly in the room during the day except for them to take naps, and me to work.  We rarely watched TV, but we flipped around to see what kind of programming they had, and it was pretty much the same as America and many of the TV shows were current.  I was surprised to see NBC's Today show airing live at 1am.

It's always a challenge to arrive in the morning after a long red-eye flight.  I prefer to land late in the afternoon because all you have to do is go for a walk, eat dinner and then: goodnight. So landing at 7:30am should normally be a struggle, but it wasn't, at least for me.  My secret to fighting jet lag is to stay awake to about 10:30pm without taking a nap. I know it's easier said, than done, but I did it.  I was able to beat it this time for a couple of reasons. 1. Our room wasn't available till noon, so instead of going upstairs and lying on the bed to take a five-minute nap that always ends up to be 5 hours, a day wasted, and your internal clock ruined. We got an early jump and went for a walk and then had lunch.  I am also sure it helped that we arrived on a clear, sunny day, because being exposed to bright light is also a good method.  And Australia has bright lights, in fact it's known for it's "diamond light".   The sun is brighter and stronger there due to the depletion of the ozone layer, which, unfortunately, is also why Australia has the highest death rate from skin cancer. 

So we walked the city to get acquainted with the streets.  Frank had fruit stand all day long, I had one of my favorite Australian treats; Pot pies ($2.50).   We checked out Circular Quay, had a Starbucks (yeah, a Starbucks) coffee for its caffeine (yes, I am ashamed to admit that), and then Amber Airplane made us walk through some of the shops.  Frank didn't mind, because he found a hat store, and now he thinks he is Crocodile Dundee!  I'm serious, he really does. After literally and physically dragging them out of the shops, we headed back to our hotel. We checked-in to our room, unpacked, and I connected to the Internet.   I was caught up answering my 200+ emails when I noticed my mates passed out on their beds.  I kept shaking them and saying, "you are going to be sorry".  I didn't get a reaction, so I knew it was a lost cause.  They were out and so I worked.  Around 8pm, I finally got them up so we could go out and celebrate Frank's birthday.

Maybe I should've let them sleep because Frank was grumpy and Amber was punch happy delirious from jet lag.  No matter what anyone said, she would just start laughing out loud.  It started to get a bit embarrassing at first, and then it got contagious.  Our taxi driver had to think for sure that we were drunk or something, because he would say something and Amber Airplane would start laughing… and then we would.  We couldn't even speak.  You know how when you try to hold it in and it only gets worse, well that's what happened.  Mid way through the ride, we were all laughing so hard that we were actually snorting and pinching ourselves and one of us ended up sitting on the floor.  We finally gained our composure when we arrived at our destination, Doyles. This Doyle’s is located at Watson's Bay and is one of Sydney's most popular restaurants. They actually have one closer in Circular Quay, but this is the one you want to go to.  It's on the beach, and the views of the city are simply breath taking.  The only problem with this restaurant is that they serve seafood, and when they say seafood, they mean seafood.  That's all they have, which is bad news for someone like me.  Phone Doyles, at beautiful Watson’s Bay + 02.9337.2007.

We cut dinner short because the mosquitoes (Aussie's call them Muzzy's) were biting, everyone was tired, and we saw a convenient taxi pull up.  Frank didn't want a birthday cake, but we had to give him something.  So when we got to the hotel Amber Airplane gave him one of those boxes of chocolates I keep in my carry on bag to hand out to people that go the extra mile (or put me in First Class) and used a match as a candle. You probably had to be there but... we started singing happy birthday at the normal pace, and when Amber Airplane gradually got closer she started singing faster and faster.  I looked at her "like what are you doing?" Then I saw the flame almost burning her finger.  Again, I guess you had to be there, but it was funny.

Well, this newsletter is quite long and if you are still reading it, don't worry, next week, I will post the nearly 100 pictures I have and give you all the places you need to go and see.

God Bless America, and safe travels.

Johnny Jet

  • WTMY 1280am- Sarasota Florida
  • If you heard about us somewhere else please reply to this email and let us know where!
  • Please arrange to get back to the USA immediately. It seems that war with Iraq is imminent. Safer to be here on the ground than in the air, under these circumstances. Love, Dad
  • John, that is one of the nicest pictures of you and Amber Airplane under the welcome to Sydney sign.   And a belated Happy Birthday to Frank. You look like John's younger brother in the photo of you two. We just got back from the Dominican Republic where the food was terrific, the weather a 10 and the warm, blue green waters of the ocean a welcome respite from the 38 below zero days we had this winter in Vermont.   Love to you both, Aunt Anna
  • Thanks for the great lodging links. My parents and my family are planning to meet up in Paris this coming May. So I have been trying to find lodging in Paris and in the Loire Valley. Your links have been most helpful, we found some super-looking properties  Cheers! Lisa A.
  • I like your website and e-mail newsletter. Richard M.
  • HOW about promote an airline flight attendant website...WE fly and sell real estate in Long Beach, CA --- Check it out.
  • I watched the TV Land Award show and couldn't believe all the stars that were there.   Some of them looked so old (How did that happen) you must've been in your glory.   Enjoy your website and newsletter very much.   Pat - Washington, DC
  • Keep up the good work. I live to travel.  Don
  • Just found your site, great stuff. I have it marked as a favorite. Thanks a ton, Jay
  • I don't have to tell you that Oz is the best place to live or visit and Qantas first (or biz) is the only way to go.   How many shades of green with envy am I? Somehow I knew that the hyperlink pic of 7490 miles would be the little screen from the plane that charts your course as you go.   Thanks for the great shot of Sydney too and the one of your cute bro and girlfriend, you lucky bloke!   
  • I would like to see you arrange the pics for your newsletter so that they come up in a single new window arranged in chronological order with the story. Then you could click on them as you read the story and not have to go back and forth with the back button opening and closing the main window. Since I have a 21" screen I can leave the pic open while reading the story.   Also, if they were cropped to a standard size (allowing for both horizontal and vertical pictures of course) it might make it more convenient as well.  Sincerely,  Your avid reader and fellow world traveler Don L. in NJ

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I especially enjoyed your comments on going into a hotel without checking rates on line. I was in the Washington, DC area last month and decided to stay the night. I knew that as a "walk in" I wouldn't stand a chance. I found a Kinko's rented a computer for .20 a minute (12.00 hour) and found a Mariott's Suite near Dulles Airport for $59.00 a night. One of the nicest room I have ever stayed in. I figure I spent $2.40 a Kinko and saved over a $100.00 on a room. Another travel trick that I have learned. Many motels have a 4PM or sometime a 24 hours from 4PM cancellation policy. When you are travelling sometimes it is hard to figure out where you will be the next day and I know that you sometimes can not find a room if you wait to the last minute. So I have a Red Roof Redi Card. This allows me to make reservations without a credit card guarentee and they hold the room until 8:00 PM. I usually like to stay at 3 or 4 star motels and if I can't find a reasonablly priced room at one of the nicer changes I have my Red Rook room to fall back on. Thanks for the great work on your web site.

From Reader Carl Swaijn

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