Day 2 – Seattle

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Day 2 began with a 45-minute drive out to Westfield Southcenter, a giant shopping center in Tukwila. My Filipino friends have been raving about this franchise chain that serves authentic, delicious Filipino which was only available in the States so one of my goal for this road trip was to try it out. The closest Jollibee to Vancouver was the one in Westfield so it worked out perfectly. Anticipating long line ups, we went there as soon as the mall opened only to find out that it was shut for renovation!!! They didn’t mention anywhere on their website about this renovation! ☹

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Fortunately, the Filipino bakery shop next door, Red Ribbon, was still open so we still managed to try some delicious Filipino food! We ordered the Arroz caldo (chicken congee), palabok (noodles with sautéed pork, eggs and fried garlic), beef empanada (small calzone) and the ube overload cake. It’s a little heavy for breakfast but the food was delicious! Prices were very reasonable as well.

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All their desserts on display looks appetizing as well but we were already too full. We did purchase some butter mamon (sponge cake) and cheesy ensaimada (fluffy bread top with cheese) to bring home with us. Even though we had these pastries a few days later, they still tasted so fluffy and creamy! How I wish we had a Red Ribbon in Vancouver!

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For the good half of the day, we spent time checking out the shops in this huge mall. There are a good variety of stores with a good combination of restaurants and a large food court. They have Din Tai Fung here as well, an international Taiwanese franchise famous for its xiao long bao (another franchise that we don’t have in Vancouver ☹). They also had Christmas decorations up already which looked very pretty and festive.

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After shopping for a bit, we met up with a friend of mine who had moved down to the States for a few years to catch up over lunch in the food court.

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K had the sushi burrito and I ordered a beef teriyaki bowl. Food was decent for a food court.

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We bid farewell to my friend and we headed back into Seattle to catch up with another one of my friends who just had a baby. We spent some time catching up and headed out for an early dinner in the city. There were just soooo many restaurants that I wanted to try and not enough time to try everything! Given it was a Saturday night, some of the restaurants that I wanted to try were already fully booked a few days before hand! We ended up getting a reservation for a Japanese restaurant called Yoroshiku.

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The layout of this restaurant kind of reminds me of those hipster, trendy restaurants on Main Street in Vancouver. It was only 6:30 p.m. but the restaurant was already completely full. We got seated right away and given menus. We ordered the umami dashi ramen (bonito, kelp, school dashi stock, chashuu), ebi soba ramen (prawn with lobster broth) and a pork okonomiyaki.

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The food was soooo good!! Both the ramen were super flavourful and the ramen was cooked just right. The ramen absorbed the broth so you were able to get the flavour in each bite! The broth was rich but you could tell it was not MSG.

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The okonomiyaki was equally as delicious and authentic, reminds me of the one that I had in Osaka! Proportions were a tad smaller that I would like but that was expected for restaurants like these.

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You know food is authentic when all the chefs are Japanese! I would definitely come back next time. The long line up when we left proves that it is worth the wait!

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It was still early in the evening so we headed to Trader Joe’s to get a head start on our grocery shopping. Ever since I’ve been eating healthier, I’ve realized how much my grocery bill has gone up! Getting organic, low sodium, low fat or fresh ingredients in Vancouver is so expensive! I am so jealous how they have Trader Joe’s! Everything here is almost half the price of Vancouver even with the exchange rate being so high! They also have products here that are so unique that I haven’t seen anywhere in Vancouver…butternut squash pizza crust? Turkey bone broth?! Pumpkin pasta sauce?!?! My mind is blown…I am like a kid in a candy store whenever I come to Trader Joe’s! We did a preliminary run since we can’t get anything frozen yet and I’ve already spent $120…! Since we already bought so much stuff on this trip already, we had to spend some time back at the AirBNB to logistically figure out how we’re going to fit everything in my trunk! Day 3 still to come!

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Day 1 – Seattle

It’s been a while since my last blog entry! Life has been busy lately and I just haven’t had the time and money to travel! Hopefully there will be some opportunities to travel again before my big trip next October to Maui!

After watching Magic For Humans on Netflix, K and I completely fell in love with Justin Willman! When we heard he was going to perform at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle, we decided to make a road trip out of it! Luckily, we were able to get 4th row tickets and the tickets were only $25 USD each! Show tickets are always significantly cheaper in the States compared to Canada. It’s not fair! ☹

We headed down Friday morning and the border wait time was not too bad. After taking a short coffee break, we went full steam ahead to Pike Place Market to grab lunch and do some shopping. Pike Place Market is my favourite market of all times and it is always busy here, even on a working Friday! Make sure you park at the garage parking of the market itself as that is the cheapest lot around, only $4 per hour!

Our first stop was to grab lunch at Pike Place Chowder. There are great online reviews for this restaurant and always long line ups so we decided to give it a try. There was already a line up when we got there but fortunately it was moving quite fast.

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We probably waited less than 10 minutes. We ordered all 3 of their rolls – lobster, shrimp and crab.

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Also, we got 5 flavours of their famous chowders – clam, scallops, seafood bisque, Manhattan style chowder and a crab & oyster chowder. The bill came up to $63! That’s a pretty pricy lunch considering that it’s self serve and the small proportions! Now let’s see if the food is worth the $$… The rolls were pretty good; the buns were buttery, crunchy and stuffed with seafood.

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With regards to the chowders, they were good but not mind blowing…If we had to rank the 5, it would be the seafood bisque, scallops, clam, crab & oyster and the Manhattan last. The soups were warm and flavours were decent but I would have preferred it hot and flavours more condensed.

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You can help yourself to free oyster crackers and sourdough bread to fill up. Overall, the food was good but not good enough for me to come back again considering the cost and the wait. If you do want to try it out but don’t want to deal with the long lines, you can pre-order ahead online. However, pre-order is only limited to the chowders!

We had a little more time to explore the market on this trip so we went from floor to floor to check out all the shops. I’ve been to this market so many times but we’ve only had time to check out the first floor. Who knew there were so many interesting shops underneath! There are many vintage shops that sells clothes, records and stamps. There is also one of the oldest magic store here which is next to the Giant Shoe Museum. There is so much to see at this market you could honestly spend a whole day here! Of course, a trip to Pike Place Market is incomplete until we stock up on some truffle goodies at La Buona Tavola. Absolutely love their truffle pasta, salt and creams!

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Before we left, we also took a stroll along Pier 57. It seems like their pier has been under construction forever as it was already under construction the last time I visited! At the pier, you can check out the Miners Landing which includes several attractions such as the Seattle Aquarium, Seattle Great Wheel, Wings over Washington and a handful of famous seafood restaurants like Crabpot.

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Since we had more time, we explored their mini indoor amusement park which includes an arcade, a vintage carousel and some midway games. There are also many interesting statutes here that you can take photos with and don’t forget to check out their giant gumball machine!

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The Pier is a quick 5-minute walk from the Market; there are steep stairways going down on each block. Take caution as you will pass by some homeless people on the way down but the area is generally quite safe.

Cheesecake Factory is another one of our favourite American franchises. The one on Pike Place is always super busy so we decided to grab takeout this time. We went there at 4:30 p.m. and placed our order. There was a 25 minute wait so we decided to check out Gameworks across the street.

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Gameworks brings back childhood memories when my parents used to take me to play arcade games at Playdium! We need a giant arcade again in Vancouver!

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You can purchase a card with credits or play unlimited for an hour for $10. Since we were only there for a short while, we purchased 20 credits ($7).  We decided to play DDR for old time sakes. 10 credits had us dancing for 5 rounds and we were there for almost 35 minutes.

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It is actually a pretty good deal! They also have a large selection of other arcade games, a restaurant and some pretty sweet prizes. Definitely will check it out again next time we are in town!

We grabbed our takeout and headed for our AirBnB. We were starving at this point so I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the food before we devoured it! Cheesecake Factory is always so delicious! The experience is a little less satisfying now since they display the calories on their menus! Being more health conscious now, we went with the cheesecake that had the least calories….Food was so good but you can’t help to feel a little guilty when you’ve eaten your day’s worth of calories in ONE meal!  After we settled down, we headed out for the Justin Willman magic show, the main purpose of our trip!

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The show was at Neptune Theatre which is a vintage and cozy theatre in the University district. Parking was a sweet deal as it was a flat rate of $6 for the evening. We found our seats and eagerly waited for Justin Willman to come on stage! The opening act was a local comedian by the name of Kermet Apio who was absolutely hilarious. This guy deserves a Netflix show! After a good laugh, it was finally Justin’s turn! The next 1.5 hours was mind blowing! Magic is 1000x better when you are so close to the stage and you can see everything so well! Justin was funny, entertaining and amazing at story-telling. I felt like a kid again! The highlight of the trip was definitely the time when we got to talk with Justin! He also signed autographs and took a selfie with us! He was the nicest and most down to earth celebrity I’ve met! I really look forward to seeing his next show on Netflix or seeing him live again!

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I told K during the show that I needed a BBT fix and he shot me down by saying that there’s no bubble tea in the States! Funny enough, there was a Chatime just across the street from the theatre…! The night was just getting even better! The bubble tea here was decent but not as good as Vancouver and it was also more expensive too! There was a group of customers playing mah-jong at the back which was quite an interesting sight at a bubble tea restaurant! After getting gas, we headed back to our AirBnB to get some sleep. It had been a long day but we had an amazing time! Stay tune for day 2!

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!