It doesn’t seem like it from up here, but over 110,000 people visit Las Vegas every day. With views like these, who needs a crowded casino floor?
For me, one of the best things about coming home after a long period away was feeling like a tourist. Suddenly, I wanted to do the touristy stuff listed in guidebooks. I managed to coax various family members into strolling the sights with me. Ultimately, some of my favourite moments were spent on, or in, the city’s landmarks including: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the botanical gardens, the Pacific Ocean, and hotel lobbies. I absolutely love the Westin Sydney’s lobby — it’s a microcosm of everything that is good about the city: spacious and sunny thanks to the glorious high-ceiling atrium, with great food, wonderful service, beautiful traditional architecture married with modern touches (it’s part of the redeveloped former General Post Office in Martin Place) and a high tea fit for two mad hatters –or chatterers — like us Chetner girls. Enjoy the views.
SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE
If Bridgeclimb is too pricey, climb its sandstone pylon. Thirteen dollars, plus 200 steps, later and you’re treated to 270-degree views that span the North Shore, Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay and The Rocks — a historic precinct.
My dad, sister, and I were led by the experts of The Rocks Walking Tours on a rainy Monday morning. That didn’t dampen our spirits, however. Over 90 minutes, we learned so many quirks about this 1788-established settlement — also the site of Sydney’s first Chinatown — that to this day, my dad continues to rave about it.
Fact: Had it not been for a green ban instigated by residents in the 70s, this precinct would’ve been demolished.
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
By the harbour, smack-bang in the middle of Sydney’s CBD, and a quick stroll from the Opera House rests Australia’s oldest botanical garden (it will be celebrating it’s 100th birthday in 2016). This bounty of natural beauty is a sensational spot to get some fresh air, traverse flourishing gardens, relax on the lawn, and just take in the city views. After getting some sun, I recommend hitting the city for a spot of high tea at the Westin in Martin Place…
After so many years of popping in for after-work champagne and cocktail peanuts at the Westin, my sister and I opted for the Alice in Wonderland-inspired Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea. White-gloved service, Ruinart champagne, a bustling lobby bar, and much to catch up on… it was a wonderfully drawn-out day tinged with lots of nostalgia.
Though I went school and university oh-so-close to this area, my return heralded my first-ever walk from famous Bondi Beach to Coogee. No wonder it’s the site of the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibit. The oceanfront stroll is stunning! A good couple of hours were spent musing, photographing, and scribbling notes. It’s a must do, and I wonder why it took me so long to get there.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did… so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~Mark Twain
Visiting the Gold Coast after a 15-year hiatus felt weird. Arriving after a fifteen hour flight from Los Angeles, I strolled the promenade just as the sun was starting its descent. Inhaling the thick sea air, I took in the familiar beach scene and its roar of crashing waves. The red-and-yellow lifeguard flags, symbols of where to plonk the beach towel and go for a safe swim, failed to lure me in — I had no desire to get in the water. Instead, I craved the company of my parents, sisters, and brothers, as well as my godmother, to draw upon memories of this oft-visited part of Queensland associated with our wonder years. Walking alone didn’t feel right.
That’s not to say I didn’t have a good laugh drawing from my own bank of memories: how my sister, Alana, and I had feared for our lives in a pedicab driven by a guy named ‘Spiro’ whose unnecessary hair-pin turns left my own hair standing on end; when I’d been dumped by a wave so hard, it embedded within me a lifelong fear of the deep; and the time a group of us had sneaked into the very same hotel where I was booked for the night — the former Gold Coast International Hotel, now QT Gold Coast — to visit our new Melburnian “boy friends” (yes, we did get caught). Later, looking down at the pool from the hotel balcony, I noticed the former hotel logo still splashed across its bottom. Directly in front of the QT, the Focus apartment building stands stoic in its cylindrical glory. It’s where we’d holidayed for a number of years, blessed with lots of space, prime ocean views, and across-the-road beach access. Rear Window was a source of inspiration on the balconies of the higher-up apartments, and judging from the number of cranes and condos against the skyline today, such activity looks poised to continue indefinitely.
Apart from the corridor of high-end brand stores like Prada and Louis Vuitton, a tram, a smattering of new hotels, and a couple of outdoor shopping malls, the Gold Coast felt the same to me: slightly dusty and touristy with a penchant for neon lights and thrill-seeking rides that come alive at night.
Looking out from the15th floor of the hotel the next morning, across the beautiful stretch of turquoise and deep blue water along the horizon, I was relieved of the previous day’s racing thoughts and anticipations. I was more at peace. I was in Australia — “home” — and it felt really good to be back.
We had a great time in Napa and Sonoma, and going in with an open mind, asked a lot about the region that may be obvious to those in the know, but not to us. For example, why does Korbel use the word “champagne” on its bottles when it’s produced in the Russian River Valley, CA? Same goes for Sonoma’s “port”. And why is there a ban on weddings in Napa?
I found out ten secrets about the region and compiled them here:
I hope it helps with your trip to the wine country!
I’m sprawled on a deck chair on the Relaxation Deck of the Island Spa Catalina. Blissed out after a hot stone spa treatment, I’m sipping champagne and taking in a million-dollar ocean view — I don’t want to move. It’s about four in the afternoon, and being winter, the sun will set within the hour. I call my husband and coax him to laze about with me (he’s in the hotel), before reflecting on the day we’ve had.
It began with a helicopter flight from Long Beach to Catalina Island – a 15-minute trip over the Pacific Ocean, which at this time of year is experiencing a mighty whale migration. (Our pilot spotted one, although it didn’t want to wave its tail at us.) After touch-down, we woke up over coffee at Pavilion Hotel while absorbing its oceanfront view — an instant way to de-stress. The morning was brisk but by 10am, the West Coast sun had warmed us up, dispelling any notion of winter in January. Psyched for some adventure, we were chauffeured by golf buggy – the standard mode of island transportation — to the zipline camp, where, after scaling heights in a harness and helmet, I’d shown my nerve-wracked, shrieky side. By the fifth go, fears had somewhat subsided but the adrenaline was still pumping. A “spa” lunch of Caesar salad with avocado dressing helped calm the nerves, as did the Sage Stone Purification Ritual in the spa’s luxurious two-storey Silver Peaks Suite. I kid you not, the suite was the size of a big-city condo, and I felt a little like royalty. I snuck a snooze on the ground-level couch before heading out.
Now, my husband’s come to join me, just as the sun is setting behind us; the Carnival cruise ship in front is slowly losing its gleam. He orders a coffee; I ask for some snacks. We revel in the moment. Life doesn’t really get better than this. We talk, laugh, and muse until a chill fills the air, and we reluctantly unravel and head toward our hotel. But all is not lost. Wine and cheese await in the hotel’s library, followed by a dinner of California red trout, diver scallops, and chilled Rusack Sauvignon Blanc at nearby Avalon Grill. We recline by the fire pit and bask in the moment once more.
Starting the New Year with the warm sun on my back, a glass full of bubbles, easy conversation, a school of dolphins gliding past the pier, and a twinkly ocean — being by the water is the perfect tonic for a day that’s usually filled with well-intentioned resolutions, unnecessary expectations, people nursing hangovers, and all the trappings associated with the turning of a digit.
It’s not easy to summarise Malibu. I think it’s more a state of mind, which probably explains the overexposed photos. Cheers to a sensational and memorable 2015!
On our way back home from Napa and Sonoma, we decided to detour via San Francisco’s Chinatown. A happy surprise from veering off the direct route was the drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful day — any nip from the chill was cured by the sun — and that sense of expansiveness from seeing the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean felt glorious.
Being Christmas Day, Chinatown was alive and lit with colour. Bakeries were packed with people and moon cakes; the alleyways bustled with tourists; and storefronts displayed a motley of knick-knacks: good luck cats, New Year cards, jade bracelets, hologram 2015 calendars. The air resonated with traditional Chinese string music, either from the strum of a solo busker or a quartet.
It was an unplanned side trip but such a happy one. On that note, I wish you all a prosperous and healthful 2015. May it be full of surprise, unexpected detours, and happy outcomes. XO