A DAY TRIP TO CHILLIWACK

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It finally dawned on me that this was the last weekend of the summer so I try to cram as much outdoor activities as possible to make sure I fully utilize the sunshine before it is gone! Weather forecast for Chilliwack that week was a little like the stock market; one day it showed rain, the next sunny and the day after, cloudy. Since all the activities I planned for the trip were outdoors, we would need a plan B if it was to rain. With a final verdict of a cloudy forecast, we decided to take the risk and head to Chilliwack anyways.

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After a 1 hr 10 minutes’ drive on Highway 1, we finally arrived at our first destination, the Sunflower Festival! We bought our tickets online the night before, saving us each $5 a ticket!

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Although it was a Saturday, it was not as crowded as I had imagined, possibly because it was still early in the day and because of the cloudy forecast. The sun was peering through the clouds so my photos turned out not so gray after all!

 

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We had a great time wandering through the sunflower fields, taking photos with various props provided by the farm and with the beautiful mountain backdrop. They even had an area where you can pick your own sunflowers home for $2 a stem. The greedy me picked the baby sunflowers so I could maximize their life spans in my vase at home!

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Unfortunately, there is very little sunshine in my patio so my sunflowers still have not yet fully bloomed ☹ Since it was the second week already, some of the taller sunflowers were already withering away. The farm had great facilities – clean, portable washrooms; two food trucks; picnic area and a playground for the kids. Parking was free and admission prices were reasonable. This is the first year of the festival and I think it was a great success!

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Our next stop was a 10 minutes’ drive into town for high tea at Dickens Sweets & British Museum. At this location, they have a shop which sells teas, teacups and other British sweets.

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Next to it is a high tea room and a small collection of British artifacts! Reservations are recommended for high tea during the weekend as it can get busy.

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For $15, we each got a choice of tea, a scone, some finger sandwiches and some baked savoury pastries. The food was delicious, fresh and served relatively promptly.

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After a good meal, we navigated through the British museum which features a full display of a British pub, a grocery store and a computer hardware shop. There was also an Expo’86 collection as well. The owner’s collection was well organized and displayed!

Before we left, we also purchased some tea and British Cadbury chocolates. They also sell their high tea pastries in the store as well but since we were full, I just picked up two Madeline cakes for the road!

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After a delicious meal, it was time to do some exercise to burn off those calories! We headed for the Bridal Falls Provincial Park to see the waterfall.

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Since I am not a huge fan of hiking, this trail was perfect for me as it only took 40 minutes in total.

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However, it still proved to be a challenge as going up was a steep uphill climb and it was a little hard to find footing at times when climbing up closer to the falls on the loose rocks. However, the effort was all worthwhile as we got some amazing pictures!

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Another 30 minutes’ drive took us to the Cultus Lake Provincial Park.

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The sun has come out fully at this point so the park was busy with families playing in the water and also set up for picnics.

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The scenery at the park was very beautiful with bristling waters, tall trees and luscious mountain.

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We had a great time playing in the water and relaxing on the floating deck. This defines a perfect summer day in Beautiful British Columbia!

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Before heading for dinner, we made a stop at Tap-Ins Putting Course to do some putting. They also have a golfing range next door but for a golf amateur like me, putting was good enough! For $15, you get access to 18 holes and equipment rental which is a good price. The course is also very family friendly and easy to follow. Not to mention, the scenery was absolutely amazing and breathtaking. I’ve played mini golf several times before but all of them were indoors. This was my first outdoor experience and I had a great time! Although I did a horrible job (+56 from par) but it was the participation that mattered the most!

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Our final stop before heading home was at Bubba’s Big Bite. This was one of the most highly rated restaurants in town on Yelp and most importantly, opened until later! It is a small hole in the wall in a small plaza, but surprisingly we had an awesome experience. Everything is made fresh to order and done in house.

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The shop is ran by a couple who named it after their son’s nickname, Bubba. The owner was very nice and came over to make recommendations for their menu and made small talks with us. Although they were busy handling a take out order, the wait for food was not too long. We ordered the vegetarian calzone and the Meatball Oinker to share.

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The signature sandwich also comes with soup and the soup of the day was the hamburger macaroni.

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The proportions were very generous that I had to pack half of it home and the taste was delicious. I like how hot the food was and how fresh it tasted as well. It was so good I actually got a triple meat calzone for lunch the next day!

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Finally, it was time to head home! It was really nice to get out of the city to enjoy the beautiful scenery of our province and enjoy the fresh air! At first, I was afraid that there will be nothing to do in Chilliwack as I have never been out there except for that one time many years ago for the corn maze. However, when I was doing my research on the Chilliwack tourism website, I realized that there were so many things to do that it was impossible to fit them all in one day! I realize that sometimes you don’t have to go on a plane or travel far to enjoy a nice vacation. Even when you drive an hour or two out of the city, you may discover another world that you have never seen before! Chilliwack is definitely more than just corns but don’t forget to pick up some fresh, juicy and sweet corns before heading home!

 

WHY TRIP PLANNING IS CRUCIAL FOR A GOOD VACATION

I was asking my good friend whether he would like to join me for my next Europe trip. We were discussing our traveling styles and he said that he likes to be spontaneous about what he does on vacation rather than having it all planned out beforehand. That got me thinking about when and why I started creating hour-by-hour itineraries in excel spreadsheets for my vacations…

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Yes, trip planning is A LOT OF WORK. Before I travel each time, I invest hours and hours into researching about attractions to see, what restaurants to try and what passes to buy to save money. It is time consuming but like anything in life, no pain, no gain!

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  • The process of trip planning is quite enjoyable because you actually learn a great deal about the history, culture and people of the place that you are visiting. When you understand the history or the story behind the attractions that you visit, you would appreciate the experience so much more and remember it better. For example, there are hundreds of churches in Europe, but what makes the Sistine Chapel more unique?

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  • It helps to relief that travel itch while you are not traveling! I wish I could be traveling 24/7 but unfortunately, I am only able to do one big trip every 2 years! When I feel bummed looking at my friend’s awesome vacation photos on Instagram or Facebook, trip planning is a good distraction and reminds me that there is an exciting vacation for me to look forward to!

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  • You save money and time! Doesn’t it feel great when you know you saved $20 dollars per person on admission that now you can use towards having a nice dinner? Many attractions have the option of purchasing tickets online before your visit which can be purchased at least one month in advance. Most of them offer at least a 10% discount! Some popular attractions even offer time reservation, so you show up 10 minutes before your scheduled visit and you can just walk right to the front of the line. There is so much to see on a trip and the last thing you want is to spend all that time standing in lines. If you’re traveling during peak season, some line ups could take at least an hour!

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  • Avoid disappointment! Have you showed up to an attraction that you really wanted to see on a trip but you weren’t able to because it was either closed or the line up was wayyy too long? For example, some attractions in Europe are not opened on Sundays so if you didn’t know that ahead of time, you would have wasted all that time commuting there for nothing! Also, some popular restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen are fully booked three months in advance so they do not even accept any walk-in customers.

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  • Some people argue that they just want to relax and do nothing on a vacation. To these people I ask: “Why not just do a staycation then?” If you’re going to pay a few hundred bucks for airfare and accommodation just to do nothing, I don’t think that is money well spent. And can you really say you’ve visited a place without going to their most famous landmark? A trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower and going to New York without seeing the Statute of Liberty.

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  • Be a smart and safe traveller. Each country has their own unique customs and etiquettes. It is important to have a general understanding of these prior to your visit to ensure that you are respecting the culture of the place you are visiting and also for your own safety and well being. I can give you so many examples of times when I was traveling and we experienced culture shocks! Some were pleasant such as the tip-free policy in Australia and Japan but there were also hard lessons learnt – the bread they leave on the table aren’t free (they charge you based on the pieces you’ve eaten) and even boiled water is not safe for drinking in Italy (friend got traveler’s diarrhea)! For many churches in Europe, you should bring a shawl with you to cover up your arms or legs if you are traveling in the summer. Also, there may be unsafe areas that tourists should avoid. We accidentally landed ourselves in the red light district in Singapore and also boarded a bus in San Francisco in an area where there were homeless people doing drugs…

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  • Lastly and most importantly, trip planning is necessary so you CAN have a good vacation. The last thing you want to worry about when you’re on vacation is figure out how to get somewhere, where to buy tickets or what attractions to visit. After a long day of sightseeing, you just want to hit the shower and go to bed. However, if you haven’t done your trip planning, you have to do it after you get back to the hotel each night or in the morning before you go out. You probably don’t have a laptop with you either so you’ll have to navigate through your phone which is even harder.

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Whenever I am on vacation, I print my itinerary, tickets and coupons before hand and I just bring it with me on the road. As more attractions accept e-tickets, I simply just download them on my phone which reduces the hassle of losing papers and is also more environmentally friendly! I can travel mindlessly with my itinerary; simply show up at the attractions or the restaurants as they are reserved before hand and have a great time! Transportation is planned as well so we get from point to point rather than wasting time to figure out which means of transportation we will need to take. We are not burnt out from getting lost, waiting in line or walking aimlessly on the streets! We are able to see everything we wanted to see on the trip, we’re well rested each day (not doing last minute planning at night) and we feel good because we know we didn’t overpay for anything!

Trip Planning Tips

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  • Start with It is the best travel planning tool! The website has reviews from travellers who have visited the attractions before so you are getting objective reviews and useful tips for your visit. They have reviews for every possible attractions you can think of and some travellers even shared their own itineraries. There are many filters available to limit the reviews to your preference. I find Tripadvisor very useful as often times they will have information that you won’t even find on the attraction’s website (i.e. how much time you should spend there, fast track options, best time to visit, etc.). However, like other sites with user reviews, you have to sort through those really generic ones (“It was a nice place to visit”) and decide how legitimate the extreme ones are (“The service was horrible”).

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  • You do not have to be a keener like me and plan your trip by the hour in an excel spreadsheet. As an accountant, excel spreadsheets simply run in my blood! :p There are many apps out there such as Trip It which are excellent for trip planning. The app gathers all the travel itineraries in your e-mail (ie. Admission tickets, hotel booking, airfare) and organizes them for you by day. You can go in and add any other items as you like so you can have all your information in one place. I also use this as a back-up when I am too lazy to dig out the papers from my backpack!

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  • Ask around! You get the best information firsthand from your friends who have traveled to that destination before. Ask them what they liked and what they didn’t like. There are so many times where I have changed my plans after talking to a friend. If that is not an option, Google is your best friend. Sometimes when I can’t find the information elsewhere, I will just do a Google search. “Can you drink tap water in ________?” “Is it safe to travel to _____?” You will often find websites with the information that you need.

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  • Book early. The best way to save money is to book things in advance. Some attractions or trains offer significant discounts if you book before a certain time (usually 3 months) so make sure you do some research to determine the time frame.

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  • Do a free walking tour. Every city I visit now, I always do a free tour. It is the best way to get an overview about the city from a local’s point of view. The tour guides are very helpful and can recommend attractions/restaurants that only the locals know about. The tours are free but you do have to pay a small tip. It is a good idea to do it on the first day so you have time to check out some of their recommendations.

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  • Get data on your phone. Traveling with data has made my life so much easier on the road! We can search up information on google or use google map to help us navigate. It is super important when you’re traveling in a country that speaks a foreign language as you can use google translate to help you communicate with the locals. Find out who the local network providers are and where you can purchase a sim card and prepaid plan.

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Hope I have convinced you about the importance of trip planning! You will thank me afterwards! Happy planning! If you have any trip planning tips as well, please share them with me in the comment section below!

 

3 DAY WASHINGTON TRIP – DAY 3

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We grabbed some breakfast at a café near our AirBnb before we headed for the Museum of Flight. There are lots to see at this museum so allocate at least half a day here for you to see everything. When you purchase your tickets, make sure you grab a brochure to find a list of the free tours offered throughout the day. Each tour is about 30 minutes long and are led by volunteers of the museum.

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At the entrance, you can also purchase admission for the two 3-D shows that they have. They cost $5 each and are approximately 30 minutes long. We watched the one about planets and we really enjoyed it. They also have paid rides on some simulators but the line ups were long and it was pricy so we skipped it.

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Before lunch, we were able to get through the Great Gallery, the Tower and the Red Barn. There are lots of aircrafts, artifacts and reading in these two areas.

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It was particularly interesting to learn about the work performed by air traffic controllers. The view from the Tower was also very nice as it was high up.

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We decided to have lunch at the Wings Café. There is another café inside the museum which serves a similar menu. It was quite busy as it was lunch time. The prices are reasonable at this Café and there is a decent selection of items to choose from.  I ordered the pulled pork burger and my friend ordered the hummus pita bread. The presentation was good and taste was not bad.

After lunch, we went to see the World War II Gallery. They had a very large collection of aircrafts and artifacts about World War II.

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I have been to the War Museum in Ottawa last summer which was also based on this era. Although this gallery was not as extensive as the Ottawa museum, it was still a good representation of what happened during the war.

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Then we crossed the helix bridge to the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery which is a small gallery which talks about space aircrafts.

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There are some interactive exhibits here to check out but we went through it relatively quickly.

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Cheese!

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Finally, we made our way to the Aviation Pavilion which was my favourite exhibition in the museum.

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In this exhibition, they have many 777s and 787s on display, some of which you can go inside to take a look. They even have a retired Air Force One here!

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There are two short walking tours that you can sign up near the entrance for the Boeing B-17F and Boeing B-29.  We did the one for the Boeing B-17F and we learned a great deal about this bomber which was used by the Allies during World War II.

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This Pavilion was well organized which made it easy to navigate. Before heading out, we visited the gift shop and I purchased some postcards and pins.

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There are two more shopping stops along the way home. Our first one was Trader Joe’s where we picked up some grocery items. I love Trader Joe’s as they sell organic items for decent price. My favourite is their organic dark chocolate bars and their cold pressed apple juice. Traffic was bad on I5 so it took us very long to get to our next destination, Seattle Premium Outlets. It has been at least two years since I’ve been here and it seems like they have opened up quite a few new shops. It was already 5 p.m. when we got here but the Outlet was still pretty busy. I suppose it was because they were having an early sale for their 4th of July celebration.

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We shopped for almost 3 hours and then went over to Olive Garden for dinner. We used to have an Olive Garden in Richmond, but it shut down a long time ago. The food was great so I really missed it!

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For entrée, we ordered the stuffed chicken marsala and the mushroom ravioli.

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Each entrée comes with unlimited soup and breadsticks! I had the chicken gnocchi and my friend had the minestrone for soup.

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Everything we had that evening was super delicious, just like how I remembered it used to be!

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With a full belly, we began our drive back home.

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It took us about 1.5 hours to get to the border from the Outlet Mall. Fortunately, since we came back so late, there was a very short wait at the border. After we crossed the border, it was smooth sailing going home. The three-day Washington trip was a success! I am surprised that I was still able to find new attractions and restaurants to check out in Washington even though I have visited many times in the past. Hope I don’t have to wait another 2 years before I visit again!

 

3 DAY WASHINGTON TRIP – DAY 2

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We had a little mishap in our AirBnb that morning; our shower and toilet decided not to work as we were getting ready, so we were put behind schedule for an hour. Frustrating as it was, our host was very kind and got it fixed while we were out that day and even gave us a bottle of wine and cupcakes to make up for it!

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Our first stop that day was the Pike Place Market. It was about 9:30 a.m. when we arrived and the place was already very busy. We parked in the underground parking lot right underneath the market. I think this is the closest parkade with the lowest rate ($3/hr). For some odd reason, the parkade right next to us was almost $5 more expensive per hour so make sure you read the rates carefully before you drive in!

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We headed to the Crumpet Shop for breakfast. When we got there, there was already a short lineup but the line moved very quickly. We were lucky that a table freed up by the time our food was ready.

We ordered three to try – Pesto with fresh tomato and parmesan cheese, Nutella chocolate spread & ricotta cheese, and egg & English cheese on ham.

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Out of the three, my favourite was the Nutella as I think it was the best pairing of all.

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The crumpets are made fresh in the kitchen inside the restaurant; they have a window where you can watch them kneel and bake them.

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However, the savoury items (i.e. eggs and ham) are heated up in the microwave. I think the savoury crumpets would taste better if these items were actually cooked on a stove. For  breakfast, I would say 1.5 crumpets is a good amount. They also have unlimited refills for their tea and brewed coffee which is self-served. Both are organic. Overall, the crumpets weren’t mind blowing for me but it was still worth a try.

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They also had a guest artisan market that day so we took a stroll around the booths. The artwork was quite nice but a little pricy as expected. We also went through the market to do some shopping. In the market, they sell fresh flowers, fruits, honey, seafood and other handcraft items. I bought some lavender body lotion and dried lavender. My favourite store in Pike Place Market is La Buona Tavola Truffle Café. I always do lots of shopping here everything I visit Seattle. They sell wine and honey as well but my favourite is their truffle collection. I always buy their squid ink pasta, truffle pasta, truffle salt and truffle cream. It is very easy to do a lot of damage here! Their products are not cheap but everything is made in Italy and I have yet to find a store in Vancouver with the same quality they have here. I wish I could come back more often to stock up!

My friend wanted to try the Starbucks at the first Starbucks store and Piroshky Piroshky but both line ups were very long.

We only had time for one so we picked the Piroshky Piroshky. We waited about 30 minutes but it went by fast as we were given menus to look out so we can pick out what we wanted as soon as we get into the store.

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We were chatting with the person who stood in front of us, who was a local, told us the Pike Place Market location is actually not the first Starbucks Store, the real one was actually a few blocks away but they shut it down and moved to this location. She also told us to visit the Starbucks headquarter as they are not as busy and they actually serve better coffee. Finally, it was our turn inside the little store and we ordered the potato and cheese, apple cinnamon roll and the cinnamon cardamom braid.

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Prices were moderate for these Russian pastries but it was very delicious and baked fresh. Credit card and cash accepted – good to know before hand so you’re not standing in line for 30 minutes for nothing!

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Our next stop was the highlight for me on this trip. We got a Groupon deal ($39 for 2 VIP tickets) to see the Julia’s Queen of the Brunch Drag Show at Le Faux which was only about a ten minutes’ drive from downtown. There is a parkade next door for $3/hour parking. We were seated at the two seats by the wall on the left-hand side of the stage. The place was already very full and the place felt a little cramped.

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Our server took our order for drinks and we waited for the show to start. This was my first time seeing a drag show so I was not sure what to expect. The show ran about 1.5 hours and we had a great time!

20180701_131045.jpg The performers had excellent make up and costumes and they were such amazing dancers! They were also very funny and entertaining. There was never a dull moment during the whole performance. Many people were here to celebrate birthdays and bachelorette parties so there were many large groups. The funniest part was when they had to get on their knees to eat the penis shaped cake!

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It is definitely an adult only event but the performance was very professional. I will definitely come back for a show again next time! Don’t forget to bring $1 bills to tip the performers. There is a girl that goes around before the show to help people break their change as well.

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After the show, we headed over to the Starbucks Reserve at their headquarter. The woman was right!

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This location was way less crowded than the one we visited the day before and the décor looked even nicer!

20180701_144241.jpgMy friend grabbed a brewed coffee and I had a smoked salmon arugula flatbread. The flatbread was not bad but a little pricy at $7.50 USD for a light snack.

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Be sure to check out their fancy washroom which is unisex.

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We relaxed here for a bit and then headed back to the AirBnb to catch a quick nap!

Our attempt yesterday to try Cheescake Factory failed so we decided to come earlier today. We parked our car at a nearby parkade ($13 flat rate!) and went to grab a table. This was 5 p.m. and the wait time was already 30 minutes. They gave us a buzzer which buzzes when your table is ready. However, the maximum distance you can go is to the sidewalk which isn’t really useful if you wanted to go walk around.

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We came back after 30 minutes and got seated. Cheesecake Factory is one of my favourite restaurant chains in the States and I try to squeeze in a lunch or dinner every time.

20180701_172855.jpgI always order the same thing too because I can never find something similar in Vancouver! I got the Pasta da Vinci which is a chicken breast and shitake mushroom pasta served in wine sauce. It never fails to satisfy!

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My friend was not very hungry so she got a parmesan stuffed mushroom as a snack. She also said it was very delicious! They also give you assorted bread and garlic butter to start which are also very yummy!

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If you still have room left, make sure you try their cheesecakes! They have so many flavours to choose from but I am usually full after the pasta so we would get one for the whole table to share. The proportion is huge for one order and it is served with a generous amount of whipping cream!

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We walked about 15 minutes down to the Pier to board our 6:45 p.m. Arbosy harbour cruise. It had been cloudy and rainy the last two days but we were very lucky that the sun came out just in time for our cruise! The cruise runs for an hour and takes you around the harbour of Seattle while their guide provides a narrated presentation.

20180701_184957.jpgYou can get beautiful pictures of the Seattle Space Needle and the Seattle Great Wheel from here.

20180701_185830.jpgMy favourite part of the tour was when we got really close to the cargo terminal and we were able to see the cargos being moved around. It was really scary because at one point, it looked like one of the cargo was going to fall over! The boat is clean with plenty of washrooms and a concession stand.

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There are indoor and outdoor seating, both on deck and above. We had a great time and enjoyed the beautiful scenery! They take a photo of you at the beginning and you can purchase these at the end of the tour. Not a bad deal if you get two photos.

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Our last stop of the night was the Flatstick Pub. We also got a Groupon deal as well ($25 for one pint of beer, one souvenir cup, a round of golf and a game of duffleboard for 2 people).

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This was another one of the highlights of my trip! This place was so much fun! If the Pub were not closing so soon, we probably could have easily spent another hour or two here.

20180701_212823.jpgWe first started with the duffleboard and it was my first time playing. Instructions are provided at the boards as well as the point cards.

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Each station had a unique Seattle sports theme which was really cool. It took us about 30 minutes to get through all of them. We took a break and grabbed some beer and snacks. They have a large selection of beer but limited options for snacks.

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We grabbed some nachos and guacamole. Next we headed down to the putting area to play golf. The golf course is spelt out by the letters of Seattle and the last round was to putt by a model version of the Space Needle.

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Absolutely loved it! It took us about an hour to get through the course as we had to wait for the other groups before us to finish. There are so many other activities to do here as well – they had giant version of jenga and other board games. They also provide free water and pretzels! I really wished we had something like this in Vancouver!

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However, my one caution of warning is that the Pub is in a slightly more sketchy area of downtown. We walked here from the Pier and the walk was a little scary because there were many homeless people along the way. Catch an uber or drive here instead. We took an uber back to our car.

We were one of the last few cars left in the parkade and the security guard escorted us to our vehicle which was nice given that it was already 11:30 p.m. at night. We drove back to our AirBnb and I finished off the leftovers from my pasta as I was getting hungry already from our early dinner. I had a great time today!

3 DAY WASHINGTON TRIP – DAY 1

We decided this year to celebrate Canada Day by visiting our neighbours down south 😊 We thought we would avoid a long line up by getting to the border at 8 a.m. but I guess everyone was thinking the same thing! It took us an hour to get through the border which was absolutely no fun, especially when you need to use the washroom!

I have been to Washington many times so it becomes more and more of a challenge to find places or activities that I have not done before. This time, we have decided to go visit the corporate headquarters of Starbucks and Boeing!

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Our first stop of the day was at the Restoration Center & Reserve Collection. Admission is $5 and can only be purchased at the door. The center holds the aircrafts and automobiles that needs to be repaired before being sent back to the Museum of Flight.

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Repair can take between five to ten years because the repairs are all done by volunteers! Volunteers are usually retired Boeing mechanics who come to repair aircrafts as a hobby. Unfortunately, there were no volunteers doing repairs the day we visited so there was not much to see.

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We stayed about 45 minutes before heading to our next attraction. It is a hit and miss with this attraction as you cannot find out beforehand if there will be volunteers coming in that day. I think you won’t miss out too much if you decide to skip this though.

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We decided to grab lunch before we visit the Future of Flight. With the help of Yelp, we found a Greek restaurant called Kostas close by. Despite the fact that it was lunch time on a weekend, the restaurant was almost empty. We were a little worried about the quality, but we decided to try it anyways.

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We ordered veggie wrap with soup and chicken delight from their lunch specials menu. To our surprise, the food was actually very delicious!

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My rice pilaf was cooked in broth which made it more flavourful and the chicken was marinated with a lemon spice rub. The chicken was also very juicy. They also provide complimentary bread with garlic butter spread. The food here tasted better than any of the Greek restaurants I have tried in Vancouver!

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After getting gas, we headed to the Future of Flight Aviation Center. It was quite busy here so we had to park a little bit further away in their free parkade.

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We made reservation for the 2 pm Boeing tour so we explored the Aviation Center Gallery first. Be sure to allocate at least 45 minutes here as there are actually quite a lot to see in this gallery.

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There are many interactive exhibits and displays where you can learn more about the different types of planes, the future of jet fuel and the parts of a plane. They also provide a complimentary photo that you can e-mail to yourself or print from the store with various backgrounds to choose from.

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The highlight of this aviation center is definitely the 90-minute Boeing tour. Make sure you reserve a spot a few days before because they sell out very quickly! You are not allowed to bring anything with you on the tour so you must store your personal belongings in the free lockers provided. Washroom breaks are highly discouraged, and photos are prohibited. Moderate pace walking is required so make sure you wear comfortable shoes!

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After a quick orientation, you hop on a tour bus that takes you over to the Boeing factory. The Boeing factory is the largest building in the world and they also hold the Guinness record for the largest painting in the world (painting of a plane on their sliding doors).  They employ over 30,000 people and has their own fire department and six cafes.

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Our tour guide took us around various viewing areas of the Boeing factory from the second floor as she explains about the different types of planes they assemble and the assembly process. We also learned which countries all the different parts of the plane are sourced from. It is definitely an information overload but it was very fascinating. The facility is top notch and well equipped with the manpower and technology to assemble these large aircrafts in a short period of time. It was interesting to see the 747, 767, 777 and 787 planes in various stages of assembly!

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After our tour ended, we browsed around their souvenir shop. There are lots to see there and the souvenirs are reasonably priced. We also took the stairs to the top floor which is an observation deck to get a better look at planes landing or taking off. In total, we spent about 4 hours at the Future of Flight Aviation Center and we had a great time.

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From the Aviation Center, we drove about 35 minutes to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room on Pike Street. Parking in the area is very limited so be expected to park on the streets a few blocks away. Boy, was it busy in there! Each area was flooded with people and there were no empty tables so we grabbed a drink and walked around.

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Towards the back of the café, there is a cold brew bar and the Princi bakery (Starbucks has a partnership with them). In the middle, they have the coffee bean station where you can see them roasting the beans and also kiosks to purchase Starbucks merchandise.

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On the other side of the café, there is another bar and a quiet reading area. This tasting room is the fanciest café I have ever been to; it looks like a collaboration between a high-end bar and a coffee shop.

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I don’t drink coffee but I loved the vibe here! I bought a coffee mug and some coffee beans as souvenirs. The coffee beans are sold in the Roastery only for a limited period of time before they are launched in the regular Starbucks.

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Our next stop was the Chihuly Garden and Glass. We purchased the Museum of Flight 3 Pack which includes the admission for the Museum of Flight, the Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Space Needle which is cheaper than purchasing them separately.

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You can purchase the tickets a week in advance of your visit on the Space Needle website.

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Remember that you must visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Space Needle on the same day!

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I am not a huge art fan but I enjoyed my time at this gallery. The blowglass artwork is beautiful and colourful. I am amazed at how malleable glass can be and how it can be molded into so many different shapes and sizes! Don’t forget to check out the garden as well!

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Like the Future of Flight, they provide a complimentary photo which you can e-mail to yourself. The gift shop is a little pricy but I think it is still worth taking a look.

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We asked he cashier at the gift shop to recommend us a good place to grab dinner nearby and she suggested the Seattle Center Armory. This is a performing center for shows or events held in the city with many eateries to choose from.

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My friend decided to try Mod Pizza which was highly recommended by the cashier and I decided to try this place called Skillet Counter.

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My friend waited almost an hour in line but he said it was well worth it. He said it was one of the best pizzas he’s had as the price was good and they were generous with the toppings.

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I ordered the salmon burger with tomato bisque. My food was freshly cooked and tasted delicious. The salmon patty was juicy and the rest of the ingredients were very fresh. It was a little pricy for a food court but it was worth every penny.

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There was also a stall selling kettle popcorn outside and we grabbed a mixed bag (salty and caramel). It was pricy for $7 but I was craving it since last summer so I bought it anyways!

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After dinner, we headed up to the Space Needle to see the night view of Seattle from up top. It was cloudy that day so the view was not the best.  However, it was still pretty busy as everyone was trying to catch a selfie of themselves near the glass windows.

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The restaurant was still under renovation so everyone was hanging out in the open area. You can also get a complimentary photo here and you can e-mail it to yourself using the kiosks in the gift shop. Although the view wasn’t the greatest, I had a good time chatting with the staff working there.

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They were very helpful in answering the questions we had regarding the various landmarks of the city. It is always nice to learn something from the locals! We headed back down and walked around the souvenir shop.

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The souvenir shop is actually quite big so we spent almost 30 minutes here looking at the merchandise. By the time we finished, it was already dark outside so I was also able to snap a night view of the Space Needle. The Space Needle looks great both at day and at night!

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My friend did not want head home yet so we decided to make one more stop at the Pike Place Market.

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It was my first time visiting the Market at night which was much quieter than the day. We went to check out the famous Gum Wall which I find personally a little disgusting… The Gum Wall has grown quite a bit since my last visit many years ago!

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We then drove down to the pier to get a picture of the Seattle Great Wheel at night. It’s too bad that it doesn’t change colours! It was 11 p.m. and we finally headed to our AirBnB. It has been a long day so it was time for shower and a good night’s rest!

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AUSTRALIA DAY 14 – SYDNEY – END

Today is our last full day in Sydney! ☹ However, it was also one of my most memorable one! We started off the morning with breakfast at Bread & Fill which is in the food court of Gateway Sydney. We ordered the Smoked Salmon Roll, the Smoked Salmon & Egg Box and my uncle ordered a customized poached chicken sandwich. Food was served promptly and ingredients were fresh. Also, proportions were just right and prices were reasonable.

After breakfast, we met up with my cousin and his wife at The Rocks Market to do some shopping. The Rocks Market is a weekend artisan market which stretches about two blocks in The Rocks area close to Circular Quay.

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We spent about 1.5 hours here and I purchased some hand made postcards and bracelets. Compared to most artisan markets I have been to previously, I feel that prices here are quite reasonable.

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From The Rocks Market, we crossed the Sydney Harbour bridge to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Sydney CBD from a different perspective.

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The bridge is barricaded by tall, metal wires which makes it hard to get good photos of the Sydney Opera House but I believe this may be a safety precaution.

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The volume on the bridge is quite high in terms of cars and people and we could see visitors who were doing the walk at the top of the bridge as well. I believe it took us about 20 minutes to cross the whole bridge but we did stop at times to take photos.

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We boarded a train at a station close to the bridge which took us to a main terminal station. I was not paying too much attention to the station names as I was engaged in conversation with my cousin as we walked. I do remember, however, that the train was spacious, clean and had strong air conditioning!

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From the train, we transferred onto a tram which took us right to the Sydney Fish Market. The tram was much more crowded compared to the train so we had to stand for the duration but it was only a few stops.

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My cousin lent us their Opal Cards which is the transit pass used in Sydney. They have a device at the stops where you need to tap on and off with your card to deduct the correct amount of travel fare. Their transit system seems to be user friendly and easy to navigate.

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It was a Saturday and it was lunch time so the Sydney Fish Market was jam packed when we arrived.

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There were long line ups at each of the stalls and it was difficult to find a table. We decided to split up to be more efficient; two of us went to grab tables, two to order the raw seafood and one to order the cooked ones. After an hour, we finally got everything and sat down to eat!

We got a bit of everything to try since this was our first time here.

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We got salmon sashimi, raw oysters, spot prawns, abalone, oyster Rockefellers, baked lobster with cheese, grilled prawns, grilled barramundi, baked scallops and grilled octopus. In total, we spent about $375 which is a really good deal for all that seafood!

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In Canada, you will definitely not be able to get it at that price! The washrooms are cleaner than I expected and it was nice that they have janitors there who came around to collect the garbage very promptly.

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I have two tips for this fish market, firstly, do yourself a favour and come here during non-peak hours! It will save you so much time lining up and looking for a table. When we left around 3 pm, there were half the people we started out with. Second, there are seating outside so don’t waste your time waiting for a table inside. However, the caveat of sitting outside, is that there are birds everywhere! They WILL swoop down to steal food from you! I’ve seen it happen to a girl next to us! Keep your food covered at all times and throw your garbage in the garbage can as soon as you are done!

We took a stroll in Chinatown after our delicious lunch.

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In one of the stores, I saw the Uggs that I wanted to buy in Gold Coast and they were actually on sale! They had it in my size so I bought it right now! I had already given up since they were so pricy but now I was finally able to own a pair!

There are several Chinatowns in Sydney but this was one of the most popular one. My cousin said many international students live here as rent is cheap and it is close to many restaurants.

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Their Chinatown is relatively cleaner and safer than the one we have in Vancouver.

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We also took a very quick stroll inside Paddy’s Market which is a large retail market that sells grocery and souvenirs. We did not have too much time so we only stopped at a few shops. We bought some cute Australian towels as souvenirs.

Our final stop with my cousin was at Max Brenner, an international franchise which sells chocolate drinks and desserts. They are headquartered in New York but most of the stores are in Australia. My friend who lived in Australia told me that I must try this place!

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The closest one nearby was in Westfield Sydney which is a large shopping center located under the Sydney Tower. It was very difficult to find parking as it is right downtown and the parking lot was very narrow. The café was busy when we visited so we did have to wait in line to place our orders.

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We were still pretty full from lunch so we ordered a chocolate soufflé to share.

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We each got our own drink – hot white chocolate, banana milk chocolate, mocha frappe, classic milkshake and New York iced coffee. The drinks are quite pricy here but they are amazing!

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I had the hot white chocolate and it was so smooth and creamy. It was also just the right amount of sweetness. The café has nice décor and it’s a great place to relax with a drink on a hot day. They also sell some of their merchandise so I bought a dark chocolate bar to try.

We said our farewells after my cousin dropped us off at the Fleet Steps for the La Boheme Opera. We arrived a little early to pick up our tickets and also to grab some refreshments for the show.  This was one of my most anticipated activities on this trip – to see an Opera at Sydney Harbour! Although it’s not inside the Opera House, but it is a performance hosted by Opera Australia and I think it’s even better to have the Opera House as a beautiful backdrop as we watch the performance! Many people were trying to get photos in front of the Opera House before sunset, including us. The weather was perfect that day, with blue skies and no clouds.

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There were a few eating options available and we went to our nearest one to grab a tuna sandwich to share and to grab some water. Usually you have to pay a premium for food and beverage at special events like these, but I thought the price we paid was not too bad. It is definitely cheaper than eating at a restaurant with the same view on the other side of the harbour!

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At 7:30 pm, the show finally began! Everyone was seated and quietly enjoyed the performance. The performance was in Italian but fortunately there were subtitles on screen. It was interesting that they had Chinese subtitles along with the English!

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Right before intermission, the scene ended with a huge snow storm and they used snow machines to make it snow in Sydney harbour on a 24-degree evening! It was really fascinating! The performance continued until 10 p.m. and concluded with beautiful fireworks right along the harbour! It was the perfect way to end our Australia trip – it ended with a bang! :p The performance was amazing and we had a great time. We arrived early and left early so we did not have any issue with traffic or the crowd.

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We wanted to meet my friend Andrew one more time before we leave so he picked us up from Fleet Steeps and we had a late-night snack before heading back to the hotel. He took us to this restaurant in Chinatown called Golden Century Seafood Restaurant.

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It was already 10:45 p.m. but the restaurant was still quite busy. They have many large tanks filled with seafood; the crabs and abalone were huge! We already had enough seafood for the day so we ordered a barbeque combo, some vegetables and beef stir fry to share. It was our first time having Chinese food in 15 days so it was quite refreshing!

The food tasted pretty authentic! After our meal, we said goodbye to my friend and we went back to the hotel to start packing our stuff for our flight tomorrow.

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Can’t believe it’s finally time to go home! ☹ The last 14 days have been a blast! I was a little worried at first whether we will enjoy our visit to Australia as we don’t enjoy being outdoors too much. However, because we decided to challenge ourselves to do activities that we normally wouldn’t do, we experienced joy and excitement that we have not encountered before! Despite the fact that we were completely drenched at times or dripping with perspiration under the hot sun, we did not mind it at all because we were so focused on having a good time!

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When I tell my friends that I visited Australia, they all said Australia was not on their bucket list as they think it is very similar to Canada. To that, I say that the two countries are very different! The experiences that we had in Australia – feeding wild dolphins, sand tobogganing in a First Nation desert reserve, and seeing 1,000 penguins wash ashore on Philips Island at sunset – these are all one in a lifetime experiences that I would have never got to try back in Canada! If someone like me who normally doesn’t enjoy being outdoors that much can have this much fun in Australia, how much more fun would a person who is an outdoor fanatic will have!

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Hope you enjoyed reading about my 14 day trip in Australia! Please leave a comment to let me know what you enjoyed reading about the most or what you enjoyed the most about Australia. Cheers Mate! 😊

AUSTRALIA DAY 13 – SYDNEY

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We had signed up for a Blue Mountain tour with AAT Kings for the day. Blue Mountain got its name from the blue haze that is created when the sun shines on the eucalyptus forests. The Three Sisters, the most famous landmark in Blue Mountains, is an unusual rock formation formed by land erosion. The Three Sisters are called Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo. There was an aboriginal legend tied to these three formations which was later proven to be a fabricated story to promote the landmark.  Blue Mountains are bordered by the Jamison Valley and the town of Katoomba.

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Pick up time for our tour was at 7:55 a.m. so it was another early morning for us. Our tour group was quite large with approximately 50 people so it took a long time for us to check in. The bus was much larger than the one we rode on in Melbourne with more comfortable seating. There was a washroom onboard and there were also pull-down shades available.

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Our first stop was a washroom break after a two-hour ride. There is a café, gift shop and observation point at this stop so our tour guide gave us 30 minutes to browse around. Although it was a week day, there were many tourist buses heading up to Blue Mountain and all the buses stop at the same stops so it was very crowded everywhere we went.

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We were dropped off at the Skyway East Station to take the scenic skyway to Blue Mountains National Park. The line up was so long! We waited almost 30 minutes to get on the skyway and the skyway was jam packed with tourists. After a few minutes, we were dropped off at the bottom of the hill of Blue Mountain National Park where you can select between two trails to either take the cableway or the railway up.

Along the trail, there are many signs with information about the vegetation grown here. There are also plaques that talk about the history of mining and the building of the coal railway in Blue Mountain.

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We decided to take the scenic railway up. It is interesting to see photos of visitors who took this same railway back in 1945. The railway cart was however much simpler and dangerous back then! There was fortunately a short line up so we did not have to wait too long. You can adjust the seat to pick the level of steepness you want as you go up. I was feeling adventurous so I picked the cliffhanger which is the steepest option.

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We were heading up the hill facing backwards and it was going quite fast! It was a tad scary but a great deal of fun! It was recently redeveloped in 2013 with glass-roofed carriages and is currently the steepest passenger railway in the world!

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I bet it would be even more exciting going down! We wanted to try it going down but the line up was way too long. It was also unfortunate that the souvenir photos were only offered for the riders going down the railway. We really wanted a souvenir photo but they only had it at that one station which is so stupid!

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We also tried the scenic cableway as well but it was not as exciting as the railway. No wonder the line ups are much shorter.

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The allocated time here was not sufficient for more than once on each ride. Therefore, I highly recommend doing all the rides first and start off with the railway first as it is the most popular. With the remaining free time, we browsed around the gift shop and bought a few souvenirs. To be honest, I would recommend driving up on your own or maybe consider joining the afternoon tour so you can take your time to look around when it is less crowded. Also, I think it makes no sense why the tours would allow the option of not purchasing the pass for the Scenic World rides. You would just be sitting at the gift shop for three hours with nothing to do! Also, the Three Sisters looks almost identical regardless of which angle you take it at; the backdrop in each one of your pictures is pretty much the same. Even if you skip Blue Mountain altogether, I don’t really think you’re missing out on too much!

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After we boarded the bus, we were taken to a small town called Leura to have lunch. All the tour buses are stopped here for lunch so it was very difficult to get a table at the limited number of restaurants. There are also many boutique shops you can check out but since we had to wait for a table at lunch, we only managed to check out a few of them.

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This is also one of the area which I thought the tour was poorly organized. They offered the option of having paid lunch where you will be guaranteed a spot at a designated restaurant and the food was ready to serve when you arrive.  If they knew that the town was going to be so busy during lunchtime, why didn’t they give the tour group a heads up so people will be more incline to opt for the paid lunch option? I know I definitely would have picked that instead!

After we placed our order at the Wayzgoose Café, we checked out a few of the shops. My favourite one was Josophan’s Fine Chocolates which sells a variety of fair trade, Belgian handcrafted chocolates. I got a bar of their dark chocolate and a jar of their glitter sprinkled chocolate frogs and both were very delicious! After doing some shopping, we went back to eat our lunch. We ordered the creamy chicken and mustard pie with mash, fish and chips and the Southern-fried chicken burger. Food and prices were decent.

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We started our journey back to the city after lunch and made our final stop at the Featherdale Wildlife Park. It is a medium sized zoo which was neatly organized and carried all the major Australian wildlife species.

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My favourite part about this Park was their option to take photos with koalas! Unlike the state of Queensland, you are not allowed to hold a koala in New South Wales, so we got one standing next to them while they are perched on a tree. We got to rub them on the waist only. The price was reasonable for the photos and the quality was much better than the one we took in Melbourne.

I also liked how we could see animals like the Small Penguins and the crocodiles up close! After checking out the gift shop and using the bathroom, we got back on the bus for our ride home.

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The ride was about 1.5 hours and some of the tour members were being dropped off at the ferry for an evening cruise. We were headed next to Darling Harbour for dinner so we asked our tour guide if he could drop us off at a nearby hotel which he did.

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The tour ended around 5:30 p.m. which was a little earlier than we expected.

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We made dinner plans with my cousins and friend at The Star Casino at 7:00 p.m. so we had some time to spare to walk around Darling Harbour.

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The area is quite nice with many restaurants, a shopping mall, a convention center, museum and casino all along the harbour.

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You can also catch the water taxi here as well. We had a nice stroll as the weather was not too hot in the late afternoon and we stopped to watch a street performance.

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We met up with my cousins at the entrance of the Harvest Buffet in The Star Casino.

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This was the first time I have met these cousins as they have been living for a long time in Australia and their family line is from a different grandmother. Nonetheless, we had a great time bonding with each other on this trip. I am glad to finally meet them! We lined up briefly and got seated at a large table as we had quite a big group. We were all pretty hungry so we went to get food right away.

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The buffet had a good selection of food items to choose from, especially their seafood. They also had different types of cuisine such as Italian, Chinese, and Japanese.

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They also had a large dessert area!

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We spent about 2 hours here and everyone had a great meal.

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The food was fresh and served hot! They did run out of a few items but was refilled relatively quickly. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced seafood buffet in Sydney, I definitely recommend this one!

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We took some group photos and parted ways. It had been a pretty long day so we decided to head home and skip the casino. The Blue Mountain was our final tour on this trip. It was nice that we don’t have to get up early anymore for the tours but it was also sad because we know it is almost time to head home!