Friday, May 28, 2004

SPAIN Day03//01.May.04 - Of Mezquita, Muslim Motifs & Mudejar-ism: Cordoba & Granada

This day presented another day of traveling for us. Our destinations were Cordoba for the first half of the day and Granada for the later part of the day. While covering two major Andalucian cities in one day may seem a tad ambitious, it really wasn't. I learnt that most olden cities are only about 100 - 200 km away from one another. The reason for this is because that typically will be the distance that a horse can travel from dawn to dusk in a single day. Camps were established that way, and from camps grew communities, communities to civilisations. Therefore it was a less than 2 hours of traversing through undulating fields of wheat before arriving at Cordoba.

The main attraction in this UNESCO World Heritage Site was the Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba. A former mosque turned cathedral, it epitomises the Mudejar (pronounced mu-they-har) influence that is prevalent in this part of the world. The Mudejar style is the symbiosis of Christian and Muslim elements, and its happy (and sometimes confused!) existence can be seen in Andalucian arts, crafts and architecture.

The Mezquita is famously known for its pink-and-white-stripped arches and its collection of columns. The arches and the columns are made from marble, sourced from different parts of the world depending on its colour. Throughout the ages, the Mezquita has had three extensions to accomodate the growing population of worshippers. The ancients themselves were not shamelessly indulgent in this grandiose expansion as some of its 850++ columns dates older than the Mezquita itself and procured from lands as far as Egypt. We walked through this maze of columns and came upon another point of interest, the mihrab, a Byzantine-styled gold-coloured mosaic-ed dome shrine that used to house the Koran. Similar to the Santa Maria cathedral in Seville, the Mezquita has an elaborate (Baroque) mahogany carved choir stalls; and it also has a tree-shaded "Courtyard of the Orange Trees".

The lot of us exited the Mezquita and explored the nearby Jewish quarter, known as the Juderia. Along with the requisite maze-like narrow streets and quaint souvenir shops, it was the white-washed walls splashed with colourful blossoms and iron-wrought balconies overflowing with flowers that took my breath away. Locals themselves are not
immune to this vision of loveliness as paintings depicting this scenery abound and marketed to the fullest in souvenir shops. I was particularly impressed with an ingenious shop owner who got tourists to market his shop in all languages possible. There was even a hilarious Singlish signage contributed, no doubt, by a Singaporean tourist. His marketing gimmick worked as we patronised his shop out of curiosity. There were many more shops, selling a myriad of local arts and craft and souvenir items. Tourists leisurely thronged in and out of these shops, we didn't have this luxury as we had a lunch appointment at a local tavern before we leave for Granada.

Granada derives its name from the term "granada" which is Spanish for pomegranate, apparently abundant locally and also found on the city's coat of arms. We were here to visit the famous Alhambra. My expectations were high as the Travel Channel frequently air snippets featuring the palace within. The palace compound is vast and elevated, providing a panaromic view of the city below. The palace itself consists of many buildings connected by courtyards and gardens. The facade of these buildings is intricate with Islamic inscription that translates to "Allah is victor". Water is also featured prominently and its importance, three-pronged, that of irrigation, ablution, and decoration. While Islamic elements dominate, there are also Christian influences due to Charles V honeymoon inhabitation, and Jewish influences as seen by the fountain in the Court of Lions. There was also evidence of Turkish influence as seen by the baths or hamam that were found there. Separate quarters were built for the men and women and I marveled at the builders' ingenuity in using round glass sheets, located on the top of the dome-d hamam, to control the temperature and humidity of the steaming rooms. This was done by sliding the adjustable glass pieces in or out, and thus controling the heat and steam that is allowed to escape through the gaps.

What struck me the most was the gardens of Generalife (pronounced Hay-nay-rahl-ee-fay). Lush with greenery and perfumed by flowers, it was a sensory treat. Then, being springtime, the flowers were in full bloom and splendor. Neatly trimmed hedges make for an intriguing maze and provided organisation to the riot of colours. With gardens so
magnificent, the courtyard held its ground with its long rectangular tranquil body of water framed by shooting jets of water. Quite a sight!

The long walk around Alhambra and back to the bus was enough to work up our appetite. Opportune timing as next was our final destination of the day, a Chinese restaurant in the heart of Granada city before heading back to our hotel for a good night's sleep.

Monday, May 24, 2004

SPAIN Day02//30.Apr.04 - Santa Cruz, Santa Maria, Flamenco Stamps & Stomps!: Seville

Today was to be spent entirely in Seville. We will see little of the belly of the coach and will be stomping the grounds of Southern Spain's grand dame. That's how I perceive Seville. Old, dignified, majestic, but there's a hint of rouge and rustle of silk that alludes to liveliness beneath that composure. Established as a Muslim capital sometime in the 11th century, Seville still retains much of its old-world charm. The highest point in Seville still belongs to the Giralda Tower (La Giralda) which was built in the 12th century as a minaret.

La Giralda served almost as a beacon to our little group that started the day with a leisurely stroll through the Parque Maria Luisa. We passed by a monument in tribute of the discovery of America by Chris Columbus, it consists of two pillars joined by ship. The two pillars signifiy the Old World and the New World, both linked by the Santa Maria ship. A little farther, we came upon a tree, hundreds of years old, and with a trunk so thick it took 10 full grown-men to make a human daisy chain around it! As we got closer to Santa Cruz, we walked alongside the creeper plant-covered walls of Palacio de San Telmo (former palace, now a seminary). Soon, we arrived at the former Jewish quarter, Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is made lovely with rose bushes, orange trees and potted plants. And ever so romantic with the fountain-centred squares and narrow streets. There is even a street called the "Street of Kisses" because it's so narrow, that one-half of a couple will find it very convenient to surreptitiously plant a kiss on the beloved! Interestingly, Manuel, our Andre Agassi lookalike guide pointed out that owners of the old-fashioned town houses in Santa Cruz, will deliberately leave one of their front doors ajar, an invitation for the passing public will peer in at their flower-filled patios. Manuel then encouraged us to walk through house No. 9's wooden door to have a look at its courtyard. Although complete intrusion is prevented with wrought-iron grills, that did not deter us from casting admiring glances at the tidy courtyard, well-tended plants and family heirlooms on display. No wonder these owners were willing to show off the inner sanctum of their houses to strangers, it was indeed an oasis of beauty!

When our merry little walk in Santa Cruz ended, so did the musical accompaniment. We bid Santa Cruz and the busking Senoras who trailed this group of tourists farewell with some Euro coins. Our next stop was at the Santa Maria cathedral, which had the distinction of being the largest Gothic building in the world and the 3rd largest church in the world. Built in the 15th century, it was indeed impressive. It houses a 20m tall central altar decorated with more than a thousand wooden figurines, sized accordingly (~0.8m at bottom row; ~2.0m at top row) so that when viewed each and every one would be of equal height. It also has a elaborate Cuban mahogany carved choir stall. Adding to its claim to fame is also Christopher Columbus's tomb, which is hoisted by four kings representing the four main kingdoms of Spain. Manuel then challenged us to climbing the 34-floor La Giralda, the hike up was not as gruelling as I thought it would be, ramps were used as the ulamas (Muslim cleric) back then would have to go up the minaret 5 times a day. Therefore, ramps would be easier for horses to navigate as the ulamas gallop up those floors. In the end, we were rewarded with the sight of Seville from a bird's eye view and the sound of 16th-century bells tolling. Walking out of Santa Maria into the sunlight, we passed by the outer part of the cathedral called the Patio of Orange Trees, which was a former ablution site, with well designed irrigation and lush orange trees.

Speaking of oranges, never attempt to eat those from trees planted by the roadside. They are sour and not meant to be eaten, unlike the sweet and juicy variety that we had during lunch. After lunch, we made our way across the Guadalquívir river to attend the annual April Fair or Feria de Abril. Senoras and particularly the senoritas, came decked in their
flamenco finery: polka-dots, flowers and ruffles galore. I watched with fascination as they peacocked in equally colourful tents sheltering tables that groaned under the weight of tapas and sangria. I felt as though transported to the 19th-century. Horse drawn carriages and mounted riders clogged the roads, the air stank with horse poo and pee, whilst we had to pussyfoot and really mind our steps! Unfortunately, we didn't see senoritas stepping and swishing their skirts to the tune of the flamenco. Nevertheless, we were guaranteed that as we had a show at a flamenco dance hall at 7:30pm.

The flamenco dance hall is a double-storey building. We were ushered to the upper floor and had a good view of the stage from there. The 2-hour long show consisted of solo dances, pairs and even a romantic play act. Sometimes the dances will be accompanied by live singing and guitar, other times, the singers take a break while a
record is played. The show was lively and it was entertaining watching the intricate footwork, the stamps and stomps, the clicks of the castanets, and the snaps of the fingers. A particularly memorable performer was one who wore and all black outfit with a tight lacy top (and this is a man we are talking about) and had a pained expression throughout the performance. Mr. Pruny Face was either very into conveying the passion and intensity typical of a flamenco dance, or was wearing too-tight boots!

By the time the show was over, it was well into dinner time. Our energy was spent on the full day and the vicarious dancing and we were more than happy when we were led to a nice Spanish restaurant. We had bean-based soup, saffron-coloured paella and the best creme caramel that I have tasted in years. Yum! What a meal, to end what a day!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

SPAIN Day01//29.Apr.04 - Adeus Lisboa, Ola Sevilla: Portugal - Spain

Today, I had one last look at Lisbon city as we crossed the 18km long Vasco da Gama bridge over the immense breadth of the Tagus river. We left early and saw the sun rise as the bus took us east towards Spain.

I left Portugal with a deep sense of satisfaction. Two days may seem to do little justice to Portugal's rich maritime history and influence. However, Portugal is one of Europe's smallest country, where we have easily traversed north to Fatima, and south to Cascais. Being small, Lisbon is also one of Europe's more compact city, with attractions near one another and thus, giving us scheduled-bound tourist value for our time! Most importantly, it was the all encompasing experiences that I was subjected to that made this short trip worthwhile, from politics (evidence of its naval dominance and conquests - Torre de Belem, Manueline architecture) , religious (Jeronimos Monastery, Fatima), and social elements (fadistas singing Fado, port wine, original Portugese egg tarts!).

As I was saying, Portugal is small, and therefore we were already in Spain by lunchtime and had lunch in a border town called Badajoz. And by dinnertime, we should already be in Seville. Our trusty coach captain, Jose, got us to Seville by 5:30pm and gave us an unscheduled orientation city tour.

In 1992, the World Expo was held in Seville. As a result of that, various buildings popularly know as pavillions were constructed to represent and showcase multitude Spanish colonies. Most of these buildings are now converted to offices. And one of these buildings actually have the trademarked "accenture" sign! The most visited pavillion would be Plaza de Espana, or Spanish Pavillion in English. It was obviously the grandest of all the pavillions, so the lot of us went down for a photo shoot and from there wandered around town on foot. It was a pleasant walk, especially when we got to rub shoulders with bevies of senoritas dressed in colourful traditional flamenco-styled costumes. We learnt that they were on their way to 'Feria de Abril' or April Fair, which is held every year in Seville and most women will go to great lengths to look their traditional best.

Our jaunt took us to Santa Cruz, a quaint Jewish quarter. It was lovely! The cobblestoned paths, orange-tree-shaded squares, and charming old buildings. We couldn't linger as much as we would like to as it was getting close to dinner time. Thankfully, we were told that we will be back with our local guide tomorrow.

After dinner, we were transported to Grandhotel Solucar where I spent a restful night in a double-storey loft style room.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

PORTUGAL Day02//28.Apr.04 - Faith, Fortune & Fado: Fatima - Cabo da Roca - Cascais

The previous night of rest has fueled everyone's appetite. Everyone ravenously approach the breakfast buffet spread and return to their respective tables with plates of bacon, sausages, rolls and cereal. After wolfing down breakfast, we were ready for the 105km drive up north that will take us to Fatima.

Fatima is a small village with approximately 10,000 inhabitants. However, every May 13 and October 13, thousands would descend upon this quiet village as it is an important pilgrimage site due to the apparition of Virgin Mary that occured from on the 13th of every month for six consecutive months starting from May to October of 1917. The initial apparition was witnessed by three children and by the last sighting, there were close to 70,000 witnesses.

What we witnessed when we got there was that of devouts walking on their knees round the central square in front of a huge cathedral that was built shortly after the sightings in 1917. This sign of penance was again seen in the Chapel of the Apparitions, which has a single white column marking the spot where a small oak once grew, and where Mary first appeared to the three shepherd children. The oak tree was apparently torn to pieces (as souvenir items) by believers. These days, some believers would instead bring with them candles as long as 4 feet to be burnt as offerings.

As we made our way to the impressive cathedral, we could hear faint melodious hymms from the choir, which resonated clearly by the time we arrived at the heart of the church. We experienced a moment of hushed silence when the priest addressed the mass. As a sign of respect, we dutifully waited for the mass to disperse before touring the church. This church holds the tombs of Jacinta & Francisco, two of the three shepherd children. I am not a Christian, nor a Taoist, and usually proclaim myself an agnostic, but I was so overwhelmed with the faith and devotion that reverberated in the church that I donated a token amount to Jacinta's tomb.

Jacinta died a nun. But it was live nuns that was running the hotel cum restaurant where we had lunch. Lunch was simple yet delicious. Murmurs of approval mingled with the smell of freshly grilled sardines, roasted potatoes and fresh garden salad drenched in olive oil. Stomachs full and lulled by the engine of the bus, most of us slept all the way to our next destination - Cabo da Roca.

Cabo da Roca has the distinction of being the most western tip of continental Europe (i.e. not including the UK). It faces the Atlantic sea, beyond that, the Americas. Cabo da Roca is a few hundred metres above sea level. As we meandered uphill, we ooh-ed and aah-ed over the bright wildflowers, blue horizon, green valleys and hillside bungalows that were within vista. Strong gusts of wind tangled my hair and threatened to blow mom's hat away. But the view of the ragged cliffs and white-washed lighthouse, and to be at the very tip of Europe was worth it. From where we were, it was a 485 feet drop to the turbulent Altantic ocean.

We came back down to sea level and took a coastal drive up to Cascais. Touted as Portugal's version of the Riviera and playground for the rich, that soon became apparent with the appearance of beachfront bungalows, dock-filled yachts and the Estoril Casino. While the rest traded money for a shot at instant fortune, parents and I took a leisurely stroll along the beach.

Lisbon beckoned for dinner and we had to adhere to schedule so as not to miss our after dinner Fado show. Fado is a traditional Portugese singing of wistful, melancholy tunes. It is usually done solo accompanied by guitars. The richly-tiled restaurant had bowls of jumbo peanuts, pretzels, and biccies for us to snack on while enjoying the performance. As the evening progressed with performances from Fado singers and castanets-aided dancers, the waiters made sure that our wine glasses were religiously topped up with more porto wine.

It was the porto wine which made dad squeal with glee as our Schumacher wannabe taxi driver took us to Lisbon's biggest shopping complex after the Fado show. The Colombo complex closes at 12am and we had around and hour to shop. We spent all our time at the supermarket that has 100 cashier counters! After paying for our purchases, we took our goods and weary legs back to the hotel.

Friday, May 14, 2004

PORTUGAL Day01//27.Apr.04 - From Porto to Port: Around Lisbon & Belem

From the window seat, I was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city as the plane circled to land at Lisbon's International Airport. With the clear blue sky, our blond local guide, Christina should have been at the beach instead of ushering this group of Malaysian to lunch. The Portugese restaurant is situated next to Eduardo VII Parque, a green area named after Portugal's famous fado singer and populated with olive trees. Whether or not the bowl of olives situated at the centre of our lunch table comes from the nearby park, I would never find out. But it went immensely well with the compliementary nectar sweet Port wine. The restaurant had big windows, which allowed me to gaze out at the tranquil sight of people eating al fresco, no doubt cooled by the body of water from the nearby pond and its solitary fountain. There were even ducks gliding lazily across the pond. It was altogether a different kind of bird that was served at our table. Roasted chicken with potatoes and saffron rice followed by diabetically sweet portugese caramelised custard to end lunch.

Portugal was once a formidable maritime country, therefore, the Tower of Belem (Torre de Belem) built in the 16th century during the height of Portugal's naval glory still remains as the symbol of this country. Other than the unique stone-carved knots of rope design found decorating this tower, the tower seems almost diminutive compared to the huge and modern Monument of Discovery that features famous personalities (Henry the Navigator being the star of the lineup) of Portugese past. In front of this monument is another point of interest i.e. an old world map (in the very sense, as Malaca was spelt out where Malaysia should have been) made of tiles and highlighting Portugal's geographical conquests. Aside from these brick-and-mortar attractions, there was a 1922 airplane that was displayed, its significance is that of being the piloted by the first non-stop transalantic flight from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro.

Our next visit was to the Jeronimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos). It was here I learnt about Manueline style of architecture. Its namesake King Manuel I ordered the monastery to be built to commemorate Vasco da Gama's voyage to India. It also serves as the ideal place to house the tomb of this famous explorer's remains. This tomb, along with the entire building is evident of the unique Manueline style which incorporates elements of the Portugese's seafaring discoveries. Stone carvings of palm trees from south america, bananas, japanese blossoms, vitamin C rich artichokes (eaten by sailors to deter scurvy) decorated the facade and interior of this 1502 monastery. We ended the tour of this remarkable building taking group pictures at its expansive cloisters, made especially for the monks to socialise and relax. We too needed to R&R after the long plane ride, and a good half day of exploring Lisbon and Belem. Thankfully, the next stop was dinner and back to the hotel.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

KL Day00//26.Apr.04 - Euro-phoric & Excited: Jetting away on Lufthansa

The flight was to be at night. It has been been raining heavily that very evening, little did I know then that the rain would follow me all the way to Europe.

Unlike the rain, it was not wind conditions that led me to Europe, rather, it was due to to both a stroke of good timing and (most importantly!) partial sponsorship from my parents. The once-in-four-years international printing fair, DRUPA, was to be held in Dusseldorf early May this year. And my parents, true to their nature of being propagators of wanderlust, wanted to scout and sample Spain before attending DRUPA.

They asked if I wanted to join them. I replied that although the timing was good as it would have been the tail-end of my project by then. However, my financial reserves have already taken a hit from this year's trip to Australia and to go on another trip, one that was double the cost, would cause the Alan Greenspan in me to break out in cold sweat. But lucky ol' me broke into a grin instead. My parents generously offered to subsidize the expense, and that deal helped me board the plane.

Save for an interesting neighbour, the entire flight was uneventful. Wiebke ("little woman" in German) was friendly, chatty and well-travelled. We collectively shook heads over Siebel, she taught me how to say "thank you" in Portugese ("Obrigado"), and me promising her to write and send photos from my trip.

AUSTRALIA Day05//26.Jan.04 - Abalone hunt: Chinatown & along Yarra River

Our last day in Oz. We had the final last few morning hours before departing for the airport at 1pm. My parents were on a mission. They will not be getting onto the plane without a few kilograms worth of choice frozen abalone. My mission was to get them to Chinatown at Lil' Bourke St. as quickly as possible so that I can have a few spare hours to traipse around Melbourne town and have one last look of the Yarra River. My parents quest to find the freshest abalone at the best price have left both me and my brother reeling from sights & smells of dried abalone, canned abalone, frozen abalone, abalone-flavoured macadamia nuts! We probably walked up and down Lil' Bourke St. a few 100 times before settling for a store that was selling AUS$180/100g. My parents bought 5 whole abalones. Although we cannot for the life of us fathom why our parents would pay so much for something that will end up on the other side of the digestive tract in less than 24 hrs, we both sighed from relief. Time to explore! We got no further than Greek precinct when my parents declared their abalone fix cannot be fulfilled by only 5. They wanted more. By the time we were down with Chinatown, we were left with not much time but to take cursory glances at the Federation Square, the Clocks, Arts Centre, Southgate, Crown Casino, the Aquarium as we walked along Yarra River and headed back to the hotel at Flinders St. Wearied from the Melbourne marathon and weighed down with RM2000+ worth of abalone, we were looking forward to the wheels and wings that will be taking us back to Malaysia.

AUSTRALIA Day04//25.Jan.04 - Sun, Sea, Strawberries & Scent: St. Kilda, Strawberry fields, Lavender farm & Phillip island

This long day started with a drive along St. Kilda's beach, with quirky beach/vacation houses on one side, and the sea on the other side. We stopped at a lovely arts and craft market along the beach. Melbournians are quite a creative and artistic lot! Works of arts made from recycled, gum trees, shells, springs, etc. It was quite a feast for the eyes. Next on the itinerary was fish & chips for lunch at Mornington, popular with local sun/sea/sand-worshippers. After that, it was a pleasant drive to the strawberry farm. We made a pit stop at Arthur's Seat which gave us a grand view of the peninsula before continuing on to the farm. At the farm, instead of strawberries, the first sight that greeted me at the farm was bowls piled high with scoops of ice-cream in shades of pink. Tourists seated at the open air café were spooning Sunnyridge's strawberry ice-cream with triangular wafers. Instead of joining these merry strawberried-out tourists, we were given punnets and ushered to the fields. Strawberry picking was a blissful affair. Every sighting of a plump, rosy strawberry is greeted with joy and ceremoniously plucked and carefully arranged in the punnet to ensure maximum capacity!

Pink gave way to purple as we made our next stop at a lavender farm. We were given a tour and history by the owner on how she converted a barren patch of land into rolling hills of lavendar shrubs. The tour ended with lavender tea and lavender cookies overlooking the serene landscape. Simply lovely!

One more stop at a koala sanctuary before we reached Philip Island, in time for dinner. After dinner, we huddled up against the freezing cold winds and waited for the penguins to waddle up shore. Didn't expect them to be so adorable! They were so cute, especially when they waddled about that it was worth the long ride to Philip Island and back.

AUSTRALIA Day03//24.Jan.04 - The place to be: Melbourne

The day started off too early as we needed to catch a morning flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Except for the 1 hr or so spent in Queen Victoria's Market, everything else on the Melbourne city tour was a blur. Some of the sights (or sightings rather, as it was so fleeting) were the Cathedral, Botanic Garden, James Cook Cottage, and the Mint. The pace slowed down as we settled for dinner at Crown Casino by the Yarra River. Instead of being the usual cool, sophisticated hangout, there was an air of festivity at the Casino stretch. In conjunction with Chinese New Year, stalls have been set up selling all sorts of Chinese food and curios. There was even martial arts demonstration, traditional Chinese orchestra and even a lion dance! After soaking up all these sights and sounds, we called it a day and headed back to our hotel.

AUSTRALIA Day02//23.Jan.04 - Farther afield: Blue Mountains & Safari Park

This was to be a day with nature. But mother nature was not in a particularly cooperative mood as the drive up the mountains was shrouded with gloomy skies and by the time we reached Katoomba it was drizzling and by the time we reached Echo Point to view the Three Sisters it was already raining in earnest. Thankfully, visibility was still relatively good and despite the rain we trek a bit, went on the Scenic Railway tram and the Skyway cable car.

From mountains we headed to plains, where we were introduced to safari inhabitants. Very educational. I now know that there are 3 different types of zebras and the difference between antlers and horns. :p A final stop at the Olympic Park as we headed back to Sydney city, and dinner at Star Casino wrapped up the tour for the day.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

AUSTRALIA Day01//22.Jan.04 - City Centre: Sydney & Surrounding Areas

What a sight the lot of us were as we trudged out of the airport, everyone was still bleary-eyed and shielding themselves from the bright Sydney sunshine. We were quickly herded to the bus and driven off to Mrs. Macquarie Point for a view of the Opera House and to plonk ourselves down at Mrs. Macquarie's stone-carved seat. All in all we probably spent less than half-an-hour before been driven to the next destination, Paddy's Market. Mom did a rather good job buying souvenirs at the market given that we only had less than an hour before we had to be ferried off to the harbour for the James Cook cruise. I don't know if it was the fact that we were told that the cruise would last about 1.5 hrs, or the expansive shimmering waters, but everyone seem to breathe a little easier and settled down to take in the view. Almost everyone else chose to enjoy the cruise within the cool confines of the ship while Dad and I opted for premium view at the deck. And boy was the view worth the sun-damaged skin and threat of melanoma. I lack the words and flair to describe the panorama. (if I did, I would have been with Frommers instead of here in this sub-zero windowless project room) The jewel of the crown, was of course the Sydney Opera House. And that was the closest I ever got to the Opera House, few hundred metres away as we cruised pass this famous landmark. I still begrudge the tour operator for not having included a tour inside and about the Opera House. And they should have included some free time for me to wander around and revel in the quaintness The Rocks, which I only managed to glimpse through the windows of the bus as we leave the harbour after the cruise for lunch.

Lunch was at Chinatown, after which, we were given some free time to wander about, we ditched Chinatown and pop over to Paddy's Market again. In my opinion, if you've seen one Chinatown, you've seen them all. And if you've seen one aquarium, you probably have seen them all. And that was where we went next. Okay, I admit, I found the seals, sharks and stingray slighty fascinating, the rest were just fins and scales to me. Something I would eat at the dinner table, which was where I found myself next. After dinner, the bus was supposed to make a drop off at the Casino, but my family & I opted to explore the city on foot. We ended up in a shopping complex called Central and then at The Strand, I remember wandering and peering quite forlornly at the already closed and darken shops. With minimal lighting, I could still tell that there were treasures and bric-a-bracs that I wouldn't be able to even have the opportunity & time to buy on this trip. The journey back to the hotel on my first night already have me vowing to return to Sydney on my own.