Category Archives: Sydney

Stress-Free Recovery Time in Sydney

Just a quick check-in today. We arrived in Sydney yesterday after a flight from Vancouver to Auckland, a short layover in New Zealand, and then on to Sydney. And joy of joys, ALL of the luggage arrived!

My body might be here, but my brain and consciousness are not fully believing it quite yet. I think they’re still hanging out in the ether somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Long haul flights are simply a dreadful way to travel once you are older than 20 or 30-something!

We’re staying with friends out at the beach and beginning to do online searches for the essentials beginning with a vehicle.

I’ll try to be back relatively soon with new posts — but no promises.

Time for another nap for this jet-lagged little body!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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SAVINGS on Europe to USA to Australia Via Euro-Trains, Multiple Planes, Cars, Amtrak & Long Haul Flights!–Part 2

Shall we call this next part Money Saving Tips For Travel? Sounds good — here goes!

Yesterday’s article listed the staggering amount of country to country travel we’re about to undertake over a 6 week period. And today’s article will share some of the sites and tips for saving money along with why we made some of the decisions regarding specific airlines or transportation options. The heavyweights cost-wise are the airline tickets and there is almost always some savings to be had on accommodations and trains and daily expenses for everything from food to museum entry.

The first thing I had to do was decide what order to do things in. Once I had a clear idea of where we wanted to go country-wise and in what order, then I could start with the ferry for the English Channel booking, then the land travel portions in Europe, and finally move onto the overseas flights. After that I’d book hotels and apartments along the way.

We are taking a P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais in northern France. So I googled Promo vouchers for P&O and scrolled through the list. You have to check carefully to make sure that the codes that you will be inserting at the check-out stage of your P&O Ferry ticket purchase are still valid. I saved £12.00 with one of those codes.

Now in the overall scheme of things, a £12 savings isn’t a lot and some people can’t be bothered looking up discount codes, vouchers, and promo codes. But stick with me through this article as you start to see how it all adds up!

We needed train tickets for 3 segments in Europe — (1) Caen to Paris, (2) Paris to Brussels, (3) the Eurostar from Brussels to London. By booking through Rail Europe inserting our actual ages into the fields where passenger information is filled in (shhh!), and combining it with whatever Special Rate is on that day, I got another £36 savings. Also, ALWAYS look at the opening page of each site for the current specials. Right now Rail Europe is running a 70% off special for certain routes and our Paris to Brussels segment qualified for that discount.

Next I needed to search for reasonably priced airline fares and although I was doing these bookings a month or more in advance of departure, fares sometimes disappear, literally disappear, from the computer screen right as you are doing a booking if there is a lot of demand for a particular route.

My first searches were through Kayak and then Opodo and I input the multiple cities and countries we were travelling to. The choices were less than optimum and there were far too many connecting flights. Air travel is our LEAST favorite aspect of travelling since we travel in Economy seats and can never really get comfortable — so direct flights from point to point with no layovers is always our optimum choice. However, that kind of travel sometimes costs quite a lot more. I was crossing my fingers that I would be able to find a way around that!

Next I went to Airtreks since I had booked with them in the past quite successfully. They did offer a much better price than Kayak or Opodo, but they also included far too many stopovers. I really didn’t want to leave London and then stop in Dublin, New York, and Chicago on my way to Cincinnati! Then on the way to Australia, their only choices all departed from Seattle and had a multi-hour layover in either San Francisco or Los Angeles. That was adding hours and hours to our voyages in each segment AND the idea of having that many ‘encounters’ with the TSA in the United States was certainly not appealing! There had to be another way.

By looking at the map and thinking about where ELSE I could come into the USA from England and not be changing planes within that country, I decided to see what Canadian city was closest to Cincinnati — and that is when it all started to come together beautifully! The best international airfare from London to Toronto was with Icelandair. The flights went via a 2 hour layover in Reykjavik (so no, we won’t be seeing much of Iceland!), but it landed at a civilized dinnertime hour in Toronto and we could spend a night there and recover a bit before flying the tiny 1-1/2 hour journey on Air Canada to Cincinnati. Hooray!

Icelandair wasn’t running any specials, but Air Canada has a link right at the top of their opening page that says SPECIAL OFFERS and we saved a few £££s by going through that link, too.

I knew that Air Canada did direct non-stop flights from Vancouver to Sydney, but when I checked on that option the prices were an eye-watering £3,113 or $4,705 US dollars for the two of us going ONE WAY. The prices at Cathay Pacific were almost identical. Wow! That certainly didn’t fit into my goal of budget travel!

The L-O-N-G flight to Australia over LOTS of water!


I was beginning to think that we were going to have to just grin and bear it and deal with airplane transfers and long, long waits in California, but my final stop was a return trip to BootsnAll and a run-through with their online airfare search-and-map called “indie Multi Country Flight Finder.” What a serendipitous visit that was! Just as I was looking at possibility after possibility from either Seattle or Vancouver into either Sydney or Melbourne, a little chat screen popped up on the lower right-hand side and someone on the other end asked if there was anything they could do to help.

I typed in a response and told them that we were trying to get home to Australia without a 6 hour layover in California and I could not afford the costs with Air Canada or Cathay Pacific. A simply lovely man named Chris Heidrich at BootsnAll then sent me an email with a link to a flight that was the answer to all of our needs — a practically direct flight from Vancouver to Sydney with a tiny 2 hour layover in Auckland (in the early dawn hours — groan!) AND at the simply amazing cost that they offered for BOTH of us in US dollars saved us over $3,000!!!

That was a stunning success and I certainly recommend the folks at BootsnAll for not only excellent prices but excellent customer service. Each and every time I have had one more question, someone gets back to me in a very short time. The most I have ever waited for a response was about an hour-ish, certainly not hours and hours or days for feedback and answers.

In the next article that I post sometime between tomorrow and Tuesday, I will share how to save money on the hotels, apartments and other bits of transportation in various countries. And for travellers from countries outside of the USA who wish to go from coast to coast, I’ll share some important details of how and why each form of transportation might affect your journey.

I’ll also give you a list of all of the savings that I made with discount codes, vouchers, and promo specials. They all added up quite nicely — so stay tuned!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Europe to USA to Australia Via Euro-Trains, Multiple Planes, Cars, Amtrak & Long Haul Flights!–Part 1

Whew — that’s a huge relief! I’ve been having a Planes, Trains, and Boats moment, but with a few exceptions, the ferry tickets, train tickets, and plane tickets for our around the world adventure from the UK to France to Belgium to the UK to Iceland to Canada to the USA and across from side-to-side, back to Canada and on to Australia to are all booked except for a tiny train trip from Washington State to Vancouver and an in-country flight from Sydney to Melbourne.


Tea-stained and crossed-through planning notebook for our marathon Europe to UK to Canada to USA to Australia trip!


I am exhausted and you will soon understand why. For the last 3 straight days I’ve been dealing with website after website since I needed to be saving money everywhere! This trip is costing us a fortune because (a) the round-the-world distances between countries are simply huge and (b) the USA itself is SO BIG and the relatives over there are scattered on both sides of the country. I’ll detail it all a bit so you can see how to save money on these huge trips as long as you are willing to do the legwork, take advantage of every promo code or discount voucher online that you can find, and sit still for days whilst inputting the same information again and again and again. (sigh!)

Here’s the final schedule.

1. Return from Newcastle to Norfolk on 27 March.
2. Shipping company picks up our household goods in Norwich on 30 March and we vacate our storage unit.
3. Spend a few last days with the family here and then head to Dover on the 4th of April for a ferry to France.
4. Spend several days in Normandy with our darling friend Polly and her two daughters. Polly knows our lovely little van and has purchased it from us for her own business and we are happy to deliver it to her and spend some quality time with that charming family.
5. Leave Normandy via Caen on the 10th of April on an express train to Paris for a 2-1/2 day getaway.
6. Leave Paris on a Thalys train for Brussels on the 13th of April for another 2-1/2 day getaway.
7. Leave Brussels on 16th of April on the afternoon Eurostar to London and spend the night in a hotel near Heathrow Airport.
8. Fly from London on the 17th of April to Toronto on Icelandair via a 2 hour layover in Reykjavik. (guess we won’t be seeing much of it!) Overnight in Toronto.
9. Fly from Toronto to Cincinnati on the 18th of April via Air Canada and my daughter Jennifer will drive up from Louisville and pick us up.
10.7-plus days from 19th through 26th of April in Louisville, Kentucky with my daughter Jennifer and her family.
11.Dropped back in Cincinnati on the Friday the 26th of April just before midnight for a 1:23 AM (groan!) 27th April departure by Amtrak for Chicago. And yes, we have a sleeping car for the almost 10 hour journey!
12. Arrive Chicago at 10:05 AM on Saturday the 27th of April and depart again at 2:15 PM for 46 hours on the Amtrak ‘Empire Builder’ to Portland, Oregon. Yes, another cabin of our own to relax in.
13. Arrive Portland on at 10 AM on Monday the 29th of April, have a 2 hour layover, then depart for Tacoma, Washington arriving just before 3 in the afternoon and my son Christopher will pick us up at the station.
14. 7-plus days from 29th of April through 6th of May with Christopher and his family in Tacoma.
15. Depart from Tacoma Amtrak station on 7th of May for Vancouver where we will overnight in the city prior to flying out the next evening.
16. Fly from Vancouver on the 8th of May via Air New Zealand.
17. Arrive in Sydney at 8:30 AM on the 10th of May.
18. 10th of May onward still being planned!

Now do you see why I am tired? There are so many segments to this trip and by some clever juggling and using multiple airlines and discounts, I have saved thousands of £££s off what I would have paid through a standard booking site or even a multiple-carrier-checker like Kayak or Opodo. AND I had to book apartments in Paris and Brussels and hotel rooms for the overnights in London, Toronto, and Vancouver.

May I just say it again — whew!!!

My next post will give you some money saving tips for everything from plane flights to accommodation to train travel and will include links to ALL of those fabbo sites that saved us money. When you are in THIS MANY COUNTRIES in a 6 week period, saving money is essential!

Stay tuned….

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Is Sydney Always Sunny?

Today’s photo might deflate those folks who live in colder, wetter climates worldwide and who have the mistaken notion that it is sunny in places like Sydney, Australia 99.9% of the time. Nope! They get some whopper thunderstorms. And the scene below is after a particularly wet day out dodging the rain and trying to take decent photos.

A Wet Walk Quayside in Sydney, Australia


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Wrapping Up A Temporary Life in Sydney Australia

Step away from the gelato, sir! No, not really — just kidding. Don’t look at me like that!

Gelato goodness at Coogee Beach

The friend who gave us the keys to her apartment while she was away for the holidays just happened to mention that there were three gelato shops in this tiny community. And then she issued the challenge to Mark to try them all and report back on which one had the best gelato. I can honestly report that he has thrown himself into this task with gusto and thus far the hazelnut gelato from the shop at the far end of the beach has been his all time favorite.

We have loved it here. The smell of the sea or the harbour, the positively perky people who all seem to glow with good health and fitness, the vibrant hum of daily activities, the quiet times in slower-paced neighbourhoods, and the technicolour look of the place. Is it any wonder that this city is the first choice of spots to visit for most overseas visitors to Australia!

But by actually living here for several weeks, we have enjoyed a different pace of life and have, except for one visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, stayed completely away from all of the ‘sights’ that are thronged with tourists. Instead we have ambled up and down the hills of Sydney in the radically different neighbourhoods of North Sydney and Coogee Beach, shopped in the local stores, cooked almost all of our meals in our temporary homes, and relaxed into the experience in a way that we never could have if we had been staying in a hotel.

Art Deco era apartment at Coogee Beach

We had the use of a splendid apartment in an Art Deco era building and our proximity to all of the fresh groceries, seafood, butchers, etc. made our frugal travel concept quite easily manageable.

I will be posting more travel tales and photos in the days ahead from Amsterdam. But for now (and we will be back!), we bid a fond farewell to the lovely, friendly Sydney, Australia!!!

Beachside Surf Rescue Team at Coogee Beach in Sydney Australia

Parents with Child Wearing Sunblock Swimwear at Australian Beach

Living Like A Local at Coogee Beach in Sydney Australia

Intense glare, stunning heat, sunburnt bodies sprawled on every inch of sand, men in swimming trunks wearing Santa hats, and the unmistakable fragrance of coconut-scented suntan lotion — it all conspired to give me a serious flashback moment to childhood Christmas holidays spent on Florida beaches. But then the smell of beer and sizzling sausages combined with the overlapping Aussie or British or Irish or Scottish or German or French or whatever other accents and it jolted me back to the 21st century. I looked around and knew that I was in Australia for Christmas at the beach.

I didn’t try to take an expensive professional camera with me on Christmas Day because we would have gotten jostled in the thick crowds. The picture below was taken on Boxing Day — the very next day after Christmas — and the crowds were back to a manageable size. But this gives you a glimpse of this little piece of heaven.

Boxing Day at Coogee Beach in Sydney, Australia

Even the ‘Mums and Bubs Pool’ (aka Mothers and Babies Paddle Pool to you non-OZ folks) was thinned out compared to the previous day. But as you can see by the clock on the Surf Life Saving Club building, it was late in the day and rather a lot of people had already packed up and gone home.

Beachside Mums and Bubs Pool at Coogee Beach in Sydney Australia

We are currently enjoying our final week in Australia and the beachside Christmas which is quintessentially Aussie. We were able to have this final holiday in Australia because we were quite generously given the keys to a friend’s apartment which sits just up the hill from these scenes — a less than ten minute walk away. She lives in such an idyllic spot and we feel very blessed to be living in her gorgeous apartment while she is out of town.

Sometimes it’s the little things that allow you to relax into your holiday a bit more thoroughly — and having a full sized kitchen, a big deep bath tub, a spacious living room, and a view of a beautiful beachside neighbourhood has certainly contributed to our sense of well-being. I’m not a loving-the-sand kind of person but Mark certainly is. There are days when he goes down for a swim three times in one day. And watching the stress of our former lives just melt off of his face is quite joyous.

I do enjoy the beach scene as a spectator and observer. And as you can see, there is always something worth taking pictures of!

Gateway to the Baths — a natural pool set in the rocks.

Coogee Beach is around the bend from the well known surfing spot, Bondi Beach, but Coogee is definitely more laid back and family oriented.

Back down the hill from the apartment where we are “living like a local” is a very convenient street that contains well over a dozen cafes and restaurants along with pharmacies, gift shops, numerous banks, doctors and dentists, and a full-sized grocery store. Just like our previous stay in North Sydney, the proximity of all of these stores allowed us to shop for food and supplies every few days and cut our daily expense budget in half or less.

I’ll be sorry to see this end tomorrow, but we are off on an evening flight to Kuala Lumpur, a one day layover, and then it’s on to cold and wintery Amsterdam for a week before we travel to England. What a shock to the body that change of temperature is going to be!

We will be arriving in Amsterdam on the morning of New Year’s Eve. After a bit of sleep to recover from the jet lag, we will be ushering in a New Year AND a new life in the Northern hemisphere. And yes, we will be “living like a local” there, too.

Stay tuned for more travel adventures and a wrap-up of our temporary life in Sydney!

© Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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The North Sydney Neighbours

The neighbours came for a visit the other day — and how very cheeky they were. Completely uninvited, one of them walked right through the open door of the balcony and startled me since I was alone in the apartment just them.

Later that day we got a long distance call from the owner of the apartment and she filled us in how how these neighbours frequently made themselves at home and were actually a bit demanding. Then she explained how to handle the situation. I felt a bit more prepared for their return.

The next morning, I awakened and opened the balcony door to let some fresh air in — and sure enough, the neighbours walked right in and began to demand that I give them something to eat. Mark found it quite amusing and he had much more patience with the process of getting to know them than I did, so he leaned forward to speak quietly and soothingly to them. Deciding to just stand back and observe, I picked up the camera to record their behaviour.

Mark building trust with the lorikeet

Our rather bold neighbours, the ones who simply walked in the door each morning and loudly demanded some food and drink, were this pair of Rainbow Lorikeets. Our hostess had explained that they were accustomed to their morning bowl of warm water with honey dissolved in it and she said that the lorikeets would come inside each day and pester us until we complied with their demands.

Rainbow Lorikeets on the Balcony Railing

Amazingly, by the time we had been in residence in our temporary home for a mere few days, the bright and beautiful visitors were no longer waiting for Mark to carry the bowls out to the balcony. As soon as they determined that he had finished stirring the honey into the water, they would fly in and perch on his fingers as they gargle-slurped the improvised nectar down their throats. I wasn’t keen to try holding them, but I was fascinated at this interaction between previously unknown humans and wild birds and I was quite content to stand quietly and take pictures.

Rainbow Lorikeets on fingers2