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!

 

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!

AUSTRALIA DAY 12 – SYDNEY

We started off the day with a delicious breakfast at Pancakes On the Rocks which was only a few minutes’ walk from our hotel. They have such a large selection on their menus so it was difficult to decide what to order! In the end, we ordered the Aussie Sunrise and the Big Breakfast to share. The restaurant was not very busy that day but it appeared understaffed so we had to wait a while for our food. Taste of the food was not bad and proportions were large. Australian breakfast is similar to North America but they also add grilled fruits and veggies!

After breakfast, we walked over to the Sydney Opera House for our 10 a.m. tour.

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The tour is 1 hour long and costs $37 per person. Tickets can be purchased online a few months in advance and you can pick the time slot that you want. The tour runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Each person is provided with an audio device so you can listen to the tour guide as he takes you to various sections of the opera house. Photography is allowed except in areas where the tour guide specifies.

The tour was a good pace and covered a great deal about the Opera House’s history and present. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and kept the presentation interesting.

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You can purchase a souvenir photo booklet at the end of the tour. The booklet is printed with high quality resolution and there are many different photo backgrounds and sizes included. The price is reasonable and it makes a great souvenir item.

We spent some time checking out the souvenir store and headed over for an early lunch at the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar.

We made reservations online but the restaurant was not too busy around noon. We were lucky to get a table right by the water where we had a very clear view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Service was great and the prices were reasonable for a harbour side restaurant. We were still pretty full from breakfast so we ordered a few lighter items to share. We had the cured kingfish, split grilled king prawns, storm clam and a selection of oysters.

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We are not huge fans of raw oysters but figured we should try it at least once in Australia so we picked 9 based on the recommendation of our server. T

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he seafood was very fresh and delicious! We really enjoyed each dish that we ordered but my favourite was the king prawns as they tasted very buttery.

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We had a bad experience with large clams in Taiwan so we were a little afraid of ordering it again. However, this time, the clams were not chewy at all. They were very flavourful and easy to eat.

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Next on our agenda was the Sydney Botanic Garden. Despite the fact that it was already fall in Australia, the flowers in the garden were still in full bloom. The garden was well maintained and looked beautiful. There were many people visiting the garden, many were white collars on their lunch break. The botanic garden is very big so if you wanted to see everything, you would easily need three hours. We were here for two and we were able to cover 2/3 of it on a brisk pace. While we were there, they had a free floral display at The Calyx. The greenery inside this greenhouse was very luscious and beautifully arranged. It was also a good place to catch some shade on a hot day.

Along the seawall, there are also many good spots for taking photos of the Opera House.

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I highly recommend visiting the Sydney Botanic Garden because it is very pretty and it’s also free! It is a good way to spend an afternoon near the water after a good seafood lunch!

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We hopped on a taxi and headed to Pasticceria Papa, a dessert place that my friend highly recommended, in Bondi Beach. The café had a display case full of dessert which almost stretched a block long! Everything looked so delicious even though we just had lunch not too long ago!

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We ended up ordering an éclair, a chocolate dipped cookie, a coconut pastry, a ricotta cheesecake tart and a slice of their famous Nutella ricotta cheesecake. Despite all the food we had today, we still managed to finish all the desserts! Everything we ordered tasted delicious but the winner was indeed the Nutella cheesecake! The cake was creamy and fluffy but not too rich or overly sweet. You must try this dessert when you come to Bondi Beach!

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After all that eating, it was definitely time to do some exercise to burn off those calories we consumed!

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We headed over to the beach and started the popular Bondi to Coogee Walk.

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The whole walk takes about 3 hours and passes through varying landscapes, even through a graveyard!

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For the most part, the walk is on paved road which is not too bad but at times, it can be a little scary, especially when you are walking on large rocks right beside the water where there are no barricades.

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There are also several steep flights of stairs, both up and down.

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Washrooms, convenience stores and shelter are limited on the trail so make sure you come prepared with the right gear for the weather.

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Personally, the walk was not too bad for myself because the beautiful scenery was a good distraction and plus we had our eyes on the finish line to keep us focused.

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It was such a great sense of accomplishment when we reached Coogee although it was a little disappointing that there was no sign to congratulate you for finishing the trail!

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At Coogee, we waited for my friend to pick us up for dinner. I have worked closely with this colleague for 2.5 years, communicating everyday on e-mail or Skype, and now I finally get to meet him in person! He recognized me right away from across the street and we were quickly on our way to dinner at Nishiki Wagyu Yakiniku Restaurant. It is an all you-can-eat Japanese restaurant which is right off the Pacific Highway in Cows Nest.

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The cost is $74.90 per person and there is a two hour limit. I have never been to a Japanese all-you-can-eat where they have such a large selection of grilled items, especially so many different cuts of beef!

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The food was very fresh and delicious! Unlike the buffet restaurants in Richmond, they didn’t skimp us out towards the end, they gave us the exact quantity of what we ordered each time. My favourite dish that night was no doubt the wagyu beef!

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It was so juicy and tender! For $75, it is definitely worth it. In Canada, you would not be able to get such good quality wagyu beef at that price!

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Service was also very good. It is a little out of the way but I highly recommend you to try this restaurant!

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After dinner, my friend took us to a nearby grocery store and we grabbed some essentials before heading home. It was indeed a day of non-stop eating but all the food we had were so delicious! Good thing we also did lots of exercise that day to help balance it out!

AUSTRALIA DAY 11 – SYDNEY

We took a taxi and headed to the Melbourne airport for our 8 a.m. flight to Sydney. We finished checking in early so we went to McDonalds to grab breakfast. Their breakfast menu is the same as Canada’s but a tad pricier. I had the hotcakes (called pancakes in Canada) and a chocolate macaroon. The macaroon tasted bland but I was not expecting much anyways since it is from McDonalds after all…

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We flew with Virgin Australia and the flight arrived on time in Sydney after an hour and 30 minutes flight. We are now on the final stretch of our trip! Time flies by when you are on vacation, EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. We took an Uber from the airport to our hotel in The Rocks which took about 30 minutes. Our room was not ready yet so we stowed our luggage with front desk and went out to grab lunch at a nearby café called Creperie Suzette.

The café looks very much like the cafes in Europe so I will definitely give them a 10 for that. Although the crepes and galettes were not prepared by authentic French people like Roule Galette in Melbourne, they were still pretty delicious. The crepes and galettes we had in Melbourne had a creamier taste but the toppings at Creperie Suzette were more unique. We ordered the La Tasmanienne (smoked Tasmanian salmon, capers, cream Fraiche and fresh dill), La Pekinoise (Peking duck, spring onion, mature cheddar cheese and hoisin sauce) and La Pomme Cannelle (poached apple and cinnamon). We enjoyed all three crepes/galettes but our favourite was the La Pekinoise! Who would have thought that Pekin duck, a Chinese dish, would go so well with crepes!

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After a very satisfying lunch, we headed off to our first attraction, Taronga Zoo on Uber. We bought our tickets online for $42.30 AUD which is 10% cheaper than purchasing it at the gate. My rule of thumb is to always buy your tickets online because you save money and you avoid the line ups! The zoo is pretty big so we spent about 4.5 hours here and was able to see everything. I wish the zoo map was a little more user friendly! There were a few attractions that we had difficulty finding and had to circle back a few times to locate it. They have an interactive map on their app but it was not much help either!

We saw the seal show which seemed to be the most popular there judging by how long the line up was! We also saw the zookeeper presentation for the elephants and the gorillas which was very entertaining. Even though I’ve been to a decent number of zoos already, this is the first time I’ve seen gorillas up close! Their behaviours are really human-like! Other interesting highlights for me at this zoo was their tiger exhibit, free running emus and the comodo dragon! There is also a great spot to snap a photo of the Sydney Harbour Bridge near the entrance. Targona zoo was decent but I still think The Australia Zoo in Beerwah was still my favourite on this trip! We stayed until the zoo closed and in the last hour or so, there are very few people left in the zoo so you really feel like you have the whole place to yourself! We ran out of time for the souvenir shop though.

It took us a long time to our next destination as it was rush hour so we had difficulty getting a Uber, especially when the zoo is quite far from the city and other attractions. In hindsight, we should have taken the ferry from the Zoo to the Circular Wharf Quay since they are both by the waters. However, since we left so late, we probably would not have made it for the ferry anyways!

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Despite the delay, we still managed to arrive on time for our dinner cruise! We checked in at the information booth for Captain Cook Cruise and waited by the terminal for our boat. When the boat docked at the terminal, we were surprised at how big it was!

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After we were taken to our seats, we were given the menu to pick our dishes. Unfortunately, we did not get a window seat ☹

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The interior of the boat was just as fancy as its exterior. There was a live band playing and the seats were very comfortable. We went outside to snap a few photos of the harbour before the sunset after we placed our orders. The weather and lighting was perfect at that time.

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For appetizers, we ordered the Australia smoked salmon and warm lamb salad.

Then it was followed by the duck confit and beef tenderloin fillet for our main courses.

Lastly, we ended the evening off with the coconut mousse, chocolate hazelnut cloud and the slow baked lemon and lime tart.

The food was delicious that evening and proportions were good. A glass of champagne was complimentary but other beverages were not included. The cruise lasted for 3.5 hours and we had a great time! My phone does not have the best camera so the pictures I took after sunset did not turn out that great. Nonetheless, the experience was very memorable!

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After we disembarked, we walked around the gift shops by Circular Quay before heading back to our hotel. This time we stayed at the Rendezvous Hotel Sydney in the Rocks. It is a very close walk to Circular Quay and Sydney Opera House. I love the area and highly recommend staying here when you are visiting Sydney. It is a simplistic and older hotel but it was sufficient for our stay. It also has a small kitchen which is a bonus. Given that we were staying here during peak season, the price was not too bad at $285 CAD a night!

AUSTRALIA DAY 10 – MELBOURNE

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Today is our last full day in Melbourne! It was nice to be back in the city again after being on day trips for the last two days. We started off the day with a delicious French breakfast at Roule Galette. The restaurant is split up in two locations – the dining area on one side and the kitchen on the other. We ordered the chicken avocado and truffle salmon galettes as well as the maple syrup crepe.

My aunt ordered the flat white and I had the organic apple cider. Food and drinks here were amazing! You know the food is authentic when it is served by staff with French accents!  The galettes and crepe were cooked just right and were piled with fresh ingredients. The service was also excellent. I highly recommend this café!

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After a delicious breakfast, we visited the infamous Hoiser Lane. I can’t emphasize this enough…come early during the day so you can get pictures without being photo bombed!

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We got here around 10 a.m. so it was not too bad. We were able to take our time to look at all the artwork and get some nice pictures with it. There was a musk coming from the garbage cans as there are quite a few here but it was still bearable.

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Hoiser lane is an area where artists can legally do graffiti art on the street. Each time you come here, the artwork you see will be unique as new ones would have been drawn over old ones.

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Later on in the free walking tour, we found out that there’s an artwork here drawn by a famous Australian artist of a native boy. In one of his eyes, you will see a reflection of his past while in the other eye, a reflection of his future which is to signify the change experienced by the first nations in the country throughout time. We spent a good 45 minutes here taking photos before we headed off to our next destination, the Queen Victoria Market.

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The Queen Victoria Market is only open on select days and time so make sure you check the hours before visiting. This was probably my favourite shopping stop on this entire trip so I highly recommend a visit here. I allocated two hours for the market but we ended up spending three hours here and still not getting through the whole thing! This market was way larger than I expected and there was way more to see so I would say three hours is a safe amount of time to allocate here. They only have paid parking here so I would recommend catching a Uber here to save a few dollars.

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The market is divided into three areas – souvenirs, cooked food and produce. We spent three hours alone in the souvenir section! There were at least six rows of souvenir shops which stretched for three blocks.

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Although some shops sold similar souvenir items like the boomerangs or koala plush toys, we did see some unique items such as rugs made from Australian wool, Ugg lookalikes, and handmade leather wallets. The prices are very reasonable here and unfortunately, we were only able to bargain at one stall! If you need to pick up some souvenirs, this market is a one-stop shop.

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I bought two pairs of Ugg lookalikes here for $69.99 each which was really good quality and the designs were very unique. They also had a large selection of sizes and colour to choose from. They also accept credit card so you don’t have to worry about running out of cash! I also purchased a customized leather wallet here which I absolutely love! They have many different styles and colour to choose from as well. They also have various embellishments you can add to customize it to your liking and they will engrave your name for free. My wallet came up to $45 which is a steal for the quality and the customization!

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Since we went overtime at the market, we had to forgo our fancy lunch and we had to grab something quick to eat before our free walking tour. We grabbed some dim sum at a small Chinese stand across the street and the food actually turned out to be pretty delicious. Melbourne definitely lives up to their name as the city with the best food in Australia! We sat and ate our lunch as we waited for others to arrive for the free tour. We had a large group that day so we were split off into two groups. The walking tour was approximately 2.5 hours long and you got to see a glimpse of the different areas in Melbourne while learning about the history of its development. I felt the tour is a good way to get a general understanding of each area but you will have to come back to it on your own time to truly see everything. No reservation is required for the tour. You simply show up at the State Library of Victoria and look for the tour guide wearing the free walking tour t-shirt. Since the tour is free, a tip is highly recommended at the end based on what you think the tour is worth. We paid $50 for the three of us.

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We first started outside of the Old Melbourne Gaol to learn about how the city started as a prison for British Convict. We learned about the infamous Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly, who was sent to the gaol and later hanged for murder. The 2003 movie Ned Kelly was based on this true story. We then walked over to Chinatown where our tour guide told us a little about the history of Chinese immigrants in Australia and where was the best place to grab steamed dumplings in town.

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From Chinatown we headed over to Pellegrini’s which serves Melbourne’s best coffee for the last 60 years. It is an Espresso bar which serves cheap but delicious Italian food and they have no menus with prices!

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We then sat outside the steps of Melbourne’s Town Hall where our tour guide told us about its history and talked about the history of performing arts in the city.

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She told us that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be playing in Melbourne in 2019 so if you are a Harry Potter fan, you must go to check it out!

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We stopped for a bathroom break at Collin’s Place before heading over to the AC/DC Lane. This lane was dedicated to Malcolm Young, a member of the Australian hard rock band, AC/DC when he passed away in 2017. The artwork in this lane is very well done! We also stopped by the Hoiser Lane but it was a very brief stop. There were many people gathered at the lane now so it was a good thing that we came for pictures earlier!

While we passed by the posters, our tour guide told us that the Melbourne International Comedy Festival was coming up soon and it is one of the biggest Comedy Festivals in the world. How I wish we were in town for that! We walked across the Princes Bridge to our final stop, the Hamer Hall, which is the art center for Melbourne.

Our tour guide told us that Sydney Opera House has the best physical structure but the Hamer Hall has the best sound system in Australia.  I can’t really comment on that as I did not watch any performances in the Hamer Hall.

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From the Hamer Hall, we took an Uber to Brighton Beach, which was about a 45-minute drive away during rush hour. After seeing pictures of the colourful bathing boxes, I knew that we had to make a stop here.

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Brighton is an affluent coastal suburb of Melbourne and there are 85 bathing boxes here which date back to the 1900s.

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Brighton Beach is one of the most popular beach destination in the state of Victoria.  We spent about an hour here walking from the first bath box all the way to the last one and then back. Each bath box was unique so it was a great deal of fun checking out each one.

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We stayed at the beach after sunset so we got some stunning pictures of the bath boxes both before and after the sunset.

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We had an interesting ride back to the city as we chatted away with our Uber driver who had moved to Melbourne about a year ago from Dubai. It was sad to hear that he still had to work as a Uber driver after his full time job in the office in order to support his family in Melbourne. Melbourne housing prices are equally as bad as Vancouver’s! He dropped us off for dinner at Ezard where we had made dinner reservations. We wanted to have a fancy dinner for our last dinner in Melbourne so I picked this place based on online reviews. With any fancy restaurants, you would of course expect a pricier menu. We were able to get away with only a $300 damage after tips and full bellies which is not too bad. For drinks, my aunt ordered the flat white (her favourite drink this trip) and I ordered this non-alcoholic drink called The rise of rose. My drink was pretty good, bubbly with a strong rose scent. For appetizers, we shared two oyster shooters, scallop dumpling and the Western Australian marron. The oyster shooters were served in ponzu sauce and Japanese sake.They were very fresh and the Japanese sake gave it a nice, sweet kick.

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The steamed scallop dumplings were served in a broth with white fungi and basil. It tasted a little like the shrimp dumplings you have in dim sum!

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The marron was fresh and it was paired with interesting ingredients such as granola and nasturtium. The dish came in a tomato-coloured casing which was also really neat.

20180327_212629.jpgThe restaurant also served us a free appetizer which was some sort of pickled cucumber with masago.

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For entrees, we had the barramundi, Ora salmon and the Chinese style duck. We shared the three dishes so we could try each one.

All three dishes were fresh, flavourful and well presented but my favourite was the barramundi. The chef did an excellent job to ensure the fish meat was succulent while giving the skin a nice crisp finish.

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We also got an order of Crème Royale potatoes with miso and wasabi butter to share.

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Overall, the food was amazing and each dish was so well thought out by the chef. The pairing of each dish was so unique. Who would have thought that Western-Japanese fusion dishes would taste so delicious! The only complaint I have about our dining experience at Ezard was the service. Our server disappeared half the time and towards the end, we were assigned a new server without any notification beforehand. I would have given this restaurant a 9 but decided to knock it down to 7.5 due to the service!

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After a delicious meal, it was time to head back to our hotel to get packing for our last stop, Sydney! Melbourne is a lovely city and I wish we had spent a little more time here! Food was amazing, the city was bustling but not overly crowded and there were so many things to do! I was joking with my fiancé that we should move to Melbourne and live here for a while…. Melbourne and Vancouver are quite similar in many ways. Who knows! Maybe one day we will!