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EPISODE FIVE: A NEAR MISS

Sydney: Monday, November 7, 2022

Sydney from airplane

Welcome to Jetstar!

After Virgin Australia Airlines challenged our carry-on weight we pre-empted problems on JetSar with a redistribution. We had 30 kg or 66 lbs allowance of weight for each of our large suitcases, but only 14 kg for each of our four carry-ons, with none of them allowed to weigh over 10 kg (22 lbs). We juggled and weighed until we found a satisfactory balance and off to Sydney we flew. Author’s Note: Part of the problem is every airline has slightly different rules and allowances for the checked baggage and the carry-ons.

Entering Sydney AU

We jumped in our rental car, rolled down the windows and headed to Estate Tuscany in Hunter Valley. But first, just a couple of quick errands. Author’s Note: Tom needed some scuba accessories. I needed a couple of personal items. We needed a new car charging cord. We both need new cases for our phones. We managed to navigate to the scuba shop without incident, despite the tight streets and the incredible press of traffic from every direction. Next we found the phone store but quickly discovered that parking ANYWHERE in Sydney without a dedicated parking lot is a problem. Author’s Note: Circling in search of a parking spot, our GPS led us down streets so narrow we had to pull in the side view mirrors and hold our breath. Finally we aimed for the mall, hoping lunch would be easy there as well the rest of our purchases. We were traveling a middle lane that seemed much too narrow for our car, when we crossed an intersection. Behind the first two vehicles on the cross street, an ambulance lit up its siren full blast. Author’s Note: If you remember we are driving on the left, so the ambulance was on my side. It felt as though the siren went off inside my head. Terrified, my quick glance left caught the ambulance. Turning right toward Tom, I saw his knuckles were white on the steering wheel. He looked at me, reflecting the same terror I felt. He thought we were being arrested. “Ambulance! Get over!” I screamed over the loudest siren I’ve ever heard in my life. Author’s Note: For anyone who is thinking this might have been the near miss, no. It’s still ahead. With our shattered nerves barely functioning, we found the mall, made our purchases and ate a calming, if not delicious lunch at Eat Turkey (the country not the bird). Author’s Note: If it had been the bird, maybe it would have helped even more. The L-tryptophan might have relaxed us.

View of Hunter valley

Nonetheless we screwed our courage to the sticking point (in this case the business end of the car fob) and proceeded to Hunter Valley. The wide roads and bucolic countryside soothed us as we drove. Author’s Note: Although our accommodations at Estate Tuscany were not quite as “luxurious” as we hoped, nor were we sure what criteria the judges used to award the restaurant the “2020 Australian Good Food Guide - AGFG Chef Hat;” Still, we were able to relax and regain some equilibrium.

Kangaroo in the distance

We saw and photographed a mob of kangaroos, although probably there were many we didn’t see at all in the tall grass. By the way, kangaroos are called mobs because it describes their behavior of scattering away when threatened. You often see a kangaroo standing on its haunches looking at you looking at it. They are curious and want to be sure you are not getting too close.

On November 2, 2022 Princess Cruises let me know they will now require a Covid PCR or rapid antigen test to board the Majestic Princess on November 12th for our cruise around Tasmania. Author’s Note: Yes we are backtracking, but being a bit behind with reading my email, I did not see this until November 7th went we got to Sydney. No problem, we can do a self test.

Dinner at Estate Tuscany

Dinner at Mill Restaurant in Estate Tuscany did not impress us and while breakfast was adequate, it was not delicious. It looked good but the flavor wasn’t there. Author's Note: I was happy I thought ahead with a booking for a different restaurant for dinner the next day. We strolled though the Hunter Valley Gardens then took a break for lunch in the Shoppes at Hunter Valley Gardens.

Author's Note: We saw several birds while we lunched. One was a beautiful black and white Butcherbird. Another was a rather cheeky Noisy Minor Bird. We read later that Noisy Minor will drive all other birds from its nieghborhood. This one, after a few seconds thought, decided to try the jelly left from my scone.

Later that evening we wound our way to Restaurant Botanica. We were greeted in the parking lot with Close Encounters of the Kangaroo Kind.

Then there was the view.

Restaurant Botantica View

And then the sunset.

Restaurant Botantica sunset

And then (best of all) there was the food. We began with a Lobster Roll (lobster, citrus mayo, dill, steamed milk bun). Then we opted for the three course meal, each of choosing different items for the best sampling: Mussels on Toast (miso & tarragon butter, saffron potato); Duck Terrine (duck, pistachio, prune, crispbread, pickles, Barbers cheddar); Lamb Rump and breast (garden peas, black garlic, root vegetable gratin); Braised Little Joe’s Brisket (beef fat confit onions, chicory, celeriac puree, pepper sauce); Pistachio and Olive Cake (white chocolate mousse, kiwifruit, olive oil crumb); and Rose Panna Cotta (raspberry sponge, poached rhubarb, raspberry sorbet).

Author’s Note: What I didn’t like, Tom preferred. What he didn’t really care for, I preferred. It was perfect and delicious.

We returned to Estate Tuscany to sit on the patio to watch the clear night sky as the blood moon emerged from the total eclipse. It was the perfect coda to our evening.

Author’s Note: I checked the parking situation in Sydney. Megaboom City Hotel (our next stop) does not have a parking lot, but there is a lot four blocks away. This was the final straw. We returned the car three days early and Uber advanced to best friend status.

Leaving our luggage at Megaboom City Hotel, we spent the afternoon sailing on the Southern Swan, a three-masted tall ship in Sydney harbor. As you can see, the views were memorable!

Author’s Note: Remember our waiter, Callum at Press in Melbourne? I fished out his card to make a call to 10 William Restaurant. Yes, they could fit us in.

When we arrived early our table wasn’t ready, but they offered us a tiny table in the corridor upstairs across from the staging area for the wait-staff. They suggested we could enjoy drinks or maybe a snack to keep us occupied until our table became available. As we passed tables downstairs I saw the lamb arrosticini which we ordered immediately.

Author’s Note: There were five pieces on the plate but we scarfed down the first two before I remembered a picture! We also ordered the buffalo mozzarella, roman beans, and peaches, which we also attacked and scarfed without so much as a thought for a picture.

Our table was ready but we were settled in where we were. We ordered the orecchiette alla norma. This time there is a picture. It was as delicious as it looks. For dessert we chose the rice pudding. Again it was too enticing and thus there is no picture.

Author’s Note: That evening I found another Princess email telling me to arrive two hours later than our appointed boarding time. At this point I can’t even remember when I told them we would be there. We are now just three days away from our cruise. Next morning another email arrived telling us to delay four hours. It’s starting to feel a bit ominous.

Thursday we walked to The Museum of Contemporary Art then checked where our ship would be docked on Saturday. That evening on our way to dinner at the Australian Hotel (part of our Sydney, The Rocks Historical Pub Tour) we passed the “Big Dig.” As construction began on a youth hostel with a deep underground parking garage, the foundations of buildings from the 1800’s were discovered. Stories from the past revealed themselves. The parking garage went away and the hostel was redesigned to preserve what was found. One of the pictures features a well that exposed more than just stories.

After dinner we joined Tom, our guide from Dave’s Tours, to visit four historic pubs with loads of stories paired with the beers of our choice.

Author’s Note: We were the only couple on the tour and we definitely got more than our money’s worth.

Following our guide’s parting advice, we stopped at the Hotel Palisade to take a gander at their view. The guardian of the gate informed us that we couldn’t have a drink because their dress code forbids “athletic gear,” but we could step onto the balcony to see the view.

Author’s Note: I told him I would never be able to have a drink in his establishment because plantar fasciitis has reduced me to nothing but sneakers. All I wanted was the view anyway.

As you can see, the view was stunning!

Friday we walked to the Chinese Garden of Friendship, a collaboration between Sydney and its sister city, Guangdong, China. Our tour guide explained the intricate design of the garden, a peaceful oasis that was once a parking lot and is now surrounded by tall buildings. In the tea room, we opted for dumplings (yes, there is a theme here) and jasmine tea wanting only to stave off starvation yet not spoil our appetite for dinner at Kitchen by Mike (another Callum suggestion).

Author’s Note: It seems we are eating our way through Australia. Maybe I should change from a travel blog to a food blog, but my philosophy is that if you haven’t eaten good food while you’re traveling, it wasn’t a good trip!

Back in Megaboom City Hotel, we self-administered our rapid antigen tests, posted the results in our Princess Medallion app only to discover we were now required to delay FIVE hours for boarding.

Unfortunately, during our evening meal at Kitchen by Mike mostly escaped my camera, but here are the highlights. The thick slice of homemade bread filled a dinner plate and for once there was more than enough butter. Pictured is the Vannella (the name of the company that makes the burrata) burrata, confit fennel, raisin, preserved lemon. We also had the lamb rump, anchovies, capers and mint; buttered kipfler potatoes, herbs; and the warm chocolate cake, cinnamon custard, sugar snap.

Author’s Note: Thin slices fennel were confitted in sugar. This added an unexpected depth to the dish. In the final analysis the potatoes were basically parsley potatoes and we agreed that the cinnamon custard could have had a little more pizzazz, but the lamb was outstanding so all in all it was a wonderful meal.

Saturday morning we rearranged our luggage for cruise check-in, keeping Tom’s back pack with our laptops and his CPAP as our only carryon. Instead of just coffee we had a more substantial breakfast: Eggs Benedict for me and a breakfast BLT for Tom. When we arrive at the pier they accepted our luggage, but we definitely could not board until five in the afternoon. We noticed camera crews. The big news was that 800 people had just disembarked positive with Covid. YIKES! There was nothing to do but find something to do. The backpack already felt too heavy, so we found a place to check it till 5:00 pm. Tom found a Sydney Harbor lunch cruise for $125 AU each (about $84 USD), but we’ve had enough experience with that kind of food cruises to know that the food is never very good. Anyway we already enjoyed a lovely harbor cruise on the tall ship. If we want food…how about one more restaurant from Callum’s list. Ester’s here we come.

Author’s Note: At first the $125 AU tasting menu price seemed high, but we were willing to pay more than that for mediocre food on a boat. This promised to be much better.

The meal stated with Fermented bread with Kifer and Dashi and roasted Pacific Oyster with horseradish mignonette. Next came the sunrise lime pickled vegetable plate and the duck terrine, hot mustard. In anticipation of our main course: potato pasta, koji eggplant, mountain pepper. Main course was rare flank steak, black garlic, rösti potato, and Ester Salad. Dessert: crepe brulee and whole mandarine sorbet. Ester’s was so good we may go back when we return to Sydney. Read the menu. Look at the food and drool your heart out. Every bite was amazing!

Author’s Note: I will say, the potato pasta was not on the same level of excellence as the other dishes. Then we were asked for feedback on the dish. Apparently it’s in development. There’s one more restaurant on the list, but no reservations available. We may try calling….

We were worried when we returned to the ship, but the lines were moving and people were boarding. Although it was a slow tedious process, we boarded the Majestic Princes. Now all the driving for the next eight days on the shoulders of our able Captain.

Whew! Covid didn’t shut us down this time. Let’s relax.



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