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Before Phuket

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The original plan was Danang in central Vietnam. We scrapped it when the airline took forever to confirm our mileage redemption. So we cast our eyes over several nearby Southeast Asia destinations and settled for Phuket. It was a no brainer really, with its cheap airfare and endless accommodation options though the deal breaker is the under 2 hours flight time, not to mention we’ve NEVER been there before. I know, we have a lot of catch up to do in the SEA department.

So yes, our usual traveling party of four is hitting the beach this Friday! Am really looking forward to 5D4N of complete chilling, cheap and good Thai food, shopping, relaxing and well just zoning out. But before that, there’s a lot of catching up to do on the blog sphere, AND the urgent need to offload tons of photos taken since the beginning of the year from my iPhone.

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Before long, it was our last day in Sydney. The weather was beautiful and we still had some unfinished business before catching the 8PM flight later in the evening.

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After checking out and having the hotel stowed away our luggage, we made our way to the Rocks weekend market where we spent a leisurely late morning browsing the stalls and just enjoying the relaxing and laid back atmosphere of the place. Brunch was conveniently settled at a surprisingly reasonably priced restaurant in this upmarket district. While dining out is exorbitant in Australia, alcohol is unbelievably cheap. Of course we had to have our last pints on our last day here!

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From the Rocks district, we strolled past Circular Quay and along Sydney Harbour, in the direction of the Sydney Opera House where we enjoyed more breathtaking views of this beautiful city.

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The Royal Botanic Gardens is pretty but our own Singapore Botanic Gardens doesn’t pale in comparison either. That is, if only we could have cooler weather to spend more time outdoor. We had fun just chilling and letting the monkeys kicked an empty plastic bottle around.

Perhaps it was the calm after the HFMD storm prior to the trip, but this has to be one of the best holiday we’ve had in a while. So thank you Sydney, well Manly to be exact, for recharging our batteries and refreshing our spirits. On a side note, Sydney’s northern beaches have officially nabbed a place on the future retirement nest shortlist. In any case, we will surely be back before that!

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A bright and beautiful Friday morning and the hub’s work conference was over, yippee! Morning was spent at the nearby Farmer’s Market where we had a light breakfast before strolling along the quayside for some magnificent view and good dose of vitamin D.

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October happened to be the annual Good Food Month in Sydney and Shangri-La’s Altitude was having a Friday lunch promotion and we happened to be staying at the hotel. It was too good a deal to be missed and so we took a gamble by making reservation. My traveling arsenal of tools included his favourite peanut butter sandwich, a packet of Happy Baby blueberry and purple carrot smoothie, one piece of seahorse shaped chocolate I procured from Guylian and a small handful of gummy bears (which normally does the trick of making him sit down and keep quiet longer as he licks and relishes every morsel of the prized goodie) in this order of utilisation. If all else fails, there is always the iPhone blaring Thomas tunes to the rescue. Thankfully he decided to be cooperative that afternoon and we managed a decent enough lunch before scurrying back to the room for his nap.

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As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. While both big and small boy snoozed away contentedly, we zipped downtown and spent two precious hours at the Sydney Antique Center where I dug and unearthed a vintage coat, a flower vase, two glass platters and a wooden wall hook.

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The plan was to meet at the Sydney Wildlife Zoo at Darling Harbour after nap. It is a small place housing mainly species native to Australia but it fits the itinerary just right compared to the much bigger, grander and more expensive zoo at Taronga. And since we just went to the zoo recently back home, I thought it’d be nice to get up close and personal to koalas, kangaroos and Kookaburras this time round.

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He asked for a dollar coin upon climbing up the figurine and I thought he expected it to move and sway like one of those kiddy rides, but on second thought maybe he was asking for a coin to slot into the wombat, just like one of those SPCA dog statue with the donation box.

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After the wildlife park, we strolled along the waterfront area to take in the atmosphere and as well as some pictures. It was a Friday evening, the bars were brimming with office crowd, cameras and maps wielding tourists milled about, the free Samba performance that was going on drew lots of appreciative cheers and clapping. The place was simply abuzz with life!

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We had dinner at an Adriatic restaurant located along Cockle Bay Wharf. The food wasn’t the best we had on this trip but the service was top-notch and we definitely enjoyed dining alfresco in the cool summer night’s air. The live music from the bar right next door added to the mood so much so that Jules was bobbing up and down to the beat as he chomped down his spaghetti Bolognese.

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To top off and already wonderful day, we took the ferry from Circular Quay and admired the beautiful night view of the harbourscape before alighting at Milton Point. Luna Park is as old school and cutesy as an amusement park can be, and severely overpriced if I may add. The little one got a ride on the carousel and we all went on the Ferris Wheel before calling it a night. It was a sweet night alright.

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Holiday now is so different from holiday before. From the places we go, things we see, eat, do or don’t, every little thing had to be catered to the needs and interests of the little traveller.

After a leisurely room service breakfast in the comfort of the hotel room, we found ourselves at the doorstep of the iconic and stately Queen Victoria Building. The purpose however, was not the high-end fashion shopping but a certain toy and hobbyist shop by the name Hobbyco, as tipped off by a local when he learned that DZ is a budding train buff.

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I had my doubts before reaching the place. It sounded like a store for serious rail enthusiasts and I wasn’t sure if there will be anything suitable for his age but my concerns were unfounded when the most majestic and generously set up Thomas train table with 11 new, shiny engines complete with suspension bridges, tunnels, cranes, train sheds appeared right in front of our eyes. He wasted no time as he leapt off his stroller to attack the setup with a vengeance, and he would spend the next hour and more glued to the same spot, contented and totally absorbed in his own little world of rails and trains.

Before I had a kid, I was one of those who scorned at Thomas and his friends. To my adult eyes and unimaginative mind, I couldn’t for the life of me fathom the appeal of these funny looking trains with faces who talk? Along came my train loving son who changed my mind and opened up my eyes to the whimsical world of Sodor Island and its talking engines. It is heartwarming to learn how a father’s love for trains was passed on to his son, when Reverend W. Awdry made up stories of talking engines to amuse Christopher who was suffering from measles and was confined to bed. These stories and many more were eventually made into drawings and published as children’s book in 1945, marking the humble beginning of what we know as “Thomas the Tank Engine” today.

The works and contributions of this father and son pair had delighted so many little boys including my own out there, as Thomas and his friends weather the test of time and continue to garner new little fans generations on. It makes me smile whenever I overhear his “conversations” with his little friends as he goes about chugging the toy engines. And not only are they a source of play and imagination for his little mind, he also learned the concept of colours, counting, alphabets through reading the books. Some cliché and overly commercialized merchandise aside, Thomas is a really neat series I must say.

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Finally, a well deserved late lunch/early dinner with Mom at the legendary Bills at Surry Hills to round up the day while the hub who was gonna meet an ex-colleague for dinner late in the evening babysat at nearby playground at Fox Studio.

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At the break of dawn the hub left for work while we took our own sweet time getting ready. Today’s itinerary: brunch at some café in The Rocks district, trip to one selected museum out of the many in NSW, and meeting Alvin for dinner in the evening. Simple plan really.

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We settled for Guylian Chocolate Café located conveniently at the corner of George St. DZ had toast with chocolate dip, it was heavenly for him I think, he kept dipping the toast into the chocolate till it became all soggy before eventually abandoning it. The pancake was good but nothing to shout home about, and I got us a dark chocolate muffin to go, just in case lunch situation gets tricky later, you never know you know!

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Next, he thought he was in loco heaven! This grand old dame greeted us as we stepped foot into the Powerhouse. It was Australia’s first and oldest train and I must admit it does bear resemblance to one of his favourite engine in Thomas and friends series as he stood there open-mouthed for a good few seconds before turning around and exclaimed excitedly “Hiro, Hiro!!” I was deciding between here and Australia’s natural museum which I read has a good children section as well, but picked the Powerhouse knowing that he would see engines and planes among the diverse exhibits on display here, and boy was I glad we came.

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It was a breeze keeping a curious 2yo, who couldn’t keep his hands off pretty much everything, entertained and occupied with the many interactive displays available. Something which I subsequently realised that was not to be taken for granted as Sydney CBD proved to be horrifyingly not toddler-friendly. We couldn’t go to any shopping mall to kill time because most of them do not have many shops for kids, let alone an indoor playground. We were hard pressed to find an outdoor playground even as most of them are located further out in the suburbs.

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And so the Powerhouse museum was a lifesaver as we immersed ourselves for close to 3 hours browsing, fiddling, meddling about. We were transported into the era of Beatlemania as the anniversary exhibit relive the excitement of the Fab Four’s 1964 tour of Australia; DZ had his first go at the jukebox after which we danced in a silly manner to the tune of “Can’t Buy Me Love”. We came to the final and main exhibit of the day, The Wiggles though I must admit I had very little idea what it is all about but since it’s an entire section curated especially for children, I had saved the best for last. It was good fun and by the time we left he was wayyyy past his nap again… Oh well, we were on vacation alright. *smiles*

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From Ultimo we proceeded to Darling harbour where Mom and I shared a refreshing and light late lunch of salad, frozen yogurt and muffin from earlier on while DZ had his afternoon nap. In the evening, he had fun circling the interesting water feature near Harbourside shopping centre while we waited for the hub to knock off. He eventually appeared, clad in a pair of Gap socks for 12-24M no less and we had a good laugh all the way to Chinatown where dinner was noodles at a yummy Taiwanese shop.

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One of my favourite (yes I know I have many!) shots that captured the essence of the day. Grandma pushing the stroller with the little one looking over his shoulder as if to bade the place goodbye. The ferry in the background was the one which we eventually boarded at 1:40 PM to Circular Quay and the city where we stayed for the remaining duration of the trip.

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The hub had an early conference to attend that morning so he left before us. Meanwhile, we checked out before noon and dropped by the just-about-right size Manly Sea life sanctuary located a mere 200 metres from the serviced apartment. Having visited Okinawa’s Churaumi Aquarium earlier this year, I decided to give the Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour a miss. This place is much smaller in scale but still filled with enough interesting sea animals to thrill and fascinate a 2 year old. In 1.5 hours, we caught the penguin feeding show, cruised leisurely through the underwater tunnel ooh-ing and aah-ing as giant stingrays and fearsome sharks glided overhead and lazy sea turtles bobbed about in the water. At AUD24 per adult, it really was quite a rip-off but it fit into the day’s itinerary seamlessly, plus he really enjoyed it I know.

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Then it’s really time to say goodbye. Even before I stepped foot into the city I know I will miss Manly, miss the convenience of having the beach right at our doorstep, miss the leisurely and relaxing days spent beach combing, playground hopping, miss the sea breeze, miss the ease of entertaining a toddler in the great outdoors, miss how awesome this beach holiday had been to us.

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On our last day here we decided to do things a little differently. Instead of hitting the beach first, we walked along the promenade in the direction of Queenscliff after our morning cuppa and brekkie at Four Beans. It was a hot day (33°C) but the wind was strong and so after 30 mins or so of chilly stroll, we found what we were looking for: Manly Lagoon playground aka Queenscliff park.

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One of the very rare shots taken by the hub with the EOS-M that I really really like.

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He must have more than a hundred shots of him on various swings in Singapore, Japan and now Australia. But I never get tired of taking a swing pic, maybe because its one of his all time favourite activity and he always smiles and chuckle so happily whenever he comes swooshing down.

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Three things I noticed about this place that are very much appreciated are:

1) It is a large and fully enclosed playground, accessible only through a waist high gate with child proof lock. Not only is it a good safety measure being located right next to a lagoon, but it also prevents children from roaming onto the nearby roads and deters any suspicious figures from loitering around the area. A fantastic spot for moms who tend to get a little caught up in chatting with other moms who have been similarly holed up too long with their little ones.

2) There is a wide range of activities for kids and the play areas are designed with specific age group in mind. There is a baby corner that is very useful for moms with babes who are still on all fours; a toddler friendly climb structure as well as more challenging area for preschoolers. Unlike many modern and sterile playgrounds these days, there is a sandpit here and it keeps tiny ones sufficiently entertained when they are done with the playground equipments.

3) Last and perhaps most notably, a huge area of this playground as well as the one at Little Manly Point are shaded by pergolas hence allowing access throughout most part of the day. A feature I thought that is particularly suited to our local climate as the year round sweltering heat from the sun means that playground time is largely limited to the early morning or evening.

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Mom and I headed out for some pistachio and passion fruit gelato and light shopping at the Corso after kiddo was completely knackered from all the climbing and swinging, and Daddy jumped at the chance of a late afternoon siesta back at the room…

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Ta-da! Putting to good use our newly acquired beach umbrella at Manly Cove Beach, the last stop of our 4 days beach hop.

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Going to the beach in the late afternoon means that Poh Poh did not have to sit on the towel and look after our belongings while we enjoyed the water and sand. That evening, we played to our heart’s content, knowing that it will be our last time for the trip.

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We built and destroyed sandcastles, collected more shells and rocks, chased seagulls, blow bubbles, let the gentle waves crashed into our ankles, watched the ferry come and go, took way too many pictures, admired the beautiful sunset.

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Rounding up the stay aptly was dinner at 4pines, the local brewery where we had some surprisingly mouthwatering pub grub and free pint while it was takeout chow mein from the Japanese stall at the wharf for the fussy little one.

The golden sand, scenic views and the crystal water of Sydney’s northern beaches. Manly, we will be back.

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