The book exchange at the Novotel in Suva provided me with Worth Fighting For by Mary-Anne O’Connor. This book takes place during World War II, but rather than touching upon Europe it focuses on the war in the pacific (Pearl Harbor, Australia, etc.). I really liked O’Connor’s writing. The story was well told and the characters developed in a way that you really felt they were real.
To me it was fascinating reading a story from this wartime period from this perspective/location. I had no idea the extent of the war in Australia because we’re only taught extensively about the war’s impact in Europe. In the Author’s Acknowledgements at the end O’Connor tells us that although the story and characters are fictional many things in the plot really did happen or were drawn from historical facts. This made me like the story even more.
I recommend this novel if especially if you like historical fiction books – the story was lovely.
“From Darwin to Pearl Harbour, Sydney to Papua New Guinea, a compelling story of courage, honour and a great love set against the epic backdrop of the Second World War
Eighteen-year-old Junie Wallace is a smart girl and, with her two brothers away at war and her third brother just killed in action, she knows there is only one way to save the family farm for her grieving parents. Unfortunately, that solution involves marrying the unscrupulous Ernest, and breaking the heart of the young drover she loves, Michael.
But the war is looming ever closer, and when Pearl Harbour brings the threat of Japanese aggression to Australian shores, the fates of many becomes inextricably interwoven.
From the explosive battles of the Pacific campaign to the desperate fighting in the Papuan New Guinea rainforest; the dancehall gaiety of Sydney’s Trocadero to the terror of the Darwin bombings, this epic family saga brings home the importance of mateship and of fighting for what you believe in, even when impossible odds seem stacked against you, even when all seems lost…
Worth Fighting For is a resounding testament to the enduring force of love: a reminder of what can be achieved if you draw on your reserves of courage and listen to the truth in your heart.”
When I lived in NYC I was part of an alumni group’s book club. We met monthly and it was honestly one of my favorite nights of the month. In addition to the book discussions, the evening was a always a good way to catch up and socialize with a great group of women. I miss a lot of things from home and the book club is definitely on the list. One of the Sydney Facebook groups I’m in started a book club last month. I couldn’t commit to the February book, but I decided to join for the March book, The Sunday Girl by Pip Drysdale. We’re doing weekly threads on Tuesdays discussing the book and then plan on meeting in person at the end of the month.
A potential trigger warning: this book talks about domestic violence and other possible topics that could be triggers.
The book is a pretty pink, but the story really isn’t pretty at all. The chapters are broken down into days of the week so it’s an interesting way of seeing the mess unfold in a short amount of time. The story follows a very toxic relationship and how the main character, Taylor, chooses to deal with it. I didn’t find Taylor to be very likable and a lot of book had me on edge wanting to scream out to her and her stupid choices. That being said the author did a wonderful job in making us understand her motives even if we don’t agree with them.
Something about the text just annoyed me too. It seemed like a lot of the page was being wasted and that there was a lot of open space, but looking back at the book I think it was just the choice of text.
Even though I didn’t love this book I found myself struggling to put it down. The last third of the novel was when it got really good and the “thrill” started to come to play. This is another easy read I would recommend and especially if you’re looking for a little bit of suspense. I’m looking forward to meeting up with the girls in the book club to discuss the book at the end of March (hopefully I’ll still remember everything).
“The Girl on the Train meets Before I Go to Sleep with a dash of Bridget Jones in this chilling tale of love gone horribly wrong …
Some love affairs change you forever. Someone comes into your orbit and swivels you on your axis, like the wind working on a rooftop weather vane. And when they leave, as the wind always does, you are different; you have a new direction. And it’s not always north.
Any woman who’s ever been involved with a bad, bad man and been dumped will understand what it feels like to be broken, broken-hearted and bent on revenge. Taylor Bishop is hurt, angry and wants to destroy Angus Hollingsworth in the way he destroyed her: Insidiously. Irreparably. Like a puzzle, he’d slowly dissembled … stolen a couple of pieces from, and then discarded, knowing that nobody would ever be able to put it back together ever again. So Taylor consulted The Art of War and made a plan. Then she took the next step – one that would change her life forever.
Then things get really out of control – and The Sunday Girl becomes impossible to put down.”
With the new movie recently released I figured it would be the perfect time to read Little Womenby Louisa May Alcott. I’ve actually had this book on my bookshelf for years (I had the 2004 Barnes and Noble edition that sold for $7.50 back in the day), but I’ve never read it. I asked my mom to bring it along with her to Australia.
This is a classic in many ways and even reading it in 2020 there are many underlying themes and lessons that are relevant in the modern world. The writing is simple and easy to understand even though it was written over 150 years ago. I especially see a benefit for young girls to read Little Women as they “come of age.”
If you are not familiar with the story I’ll give a very brief synopsis. Little Women follows a New England American family during the Cilvil War era, the Marchs. We are introduced to the four spirited sisters and are immersed into their daily lives and relationships as they grow and mature into womanhood.
The novel draws many parallels with Louisa May Alcott’s actual life and the reader feels as they are getting an accurate depiction of life in America at that time. Jo, the second oldest sister, is the free spirited, wild one of the bunch and has been a favorite literary character since the work was originally published. Despite Jo’s popularity, I would say that sister Beth won my heart. Regardless of which March sister you like best, you can’t help loving all of them and routing for their well being and happiness. They face the ups and downs that come with life and growing up, but overall it is a feel good story. Once you get into the groove of the book you will breeze through it. Now I really need to see the new movie…
Location, location, location. Is it really the only thing that matters? If you’re not in a good location you notice, but if you are in a great location you often take it for granted. When we got back to Sydney we wanted to be closer to the Opera House and nearby attractions. So finding a hotel at the Rocks was perfect. Yes, it’s a touristy area, but hey we are acting like tourists this week anyway. My mom wanted to be as close to the Opera House as possible, but found that this was hard to find. Even the super high end hotels weren’t “that close.” So we searched and Google mapped to no avail that satisfied my mom. She finally settled on “a short walking distance,” but with a view of the Opera House/Bridge.
My mom somehow stumbled upon the Rydges Sydney Harbour. Hmm the pool rooftop views looked too good to be true and distance-wise it was as close as you can get. So why was it so affordable and how was it not sold out? Doing a little research we found that this property was very recently just bought by the Rydges and was previously a Holiday Inn. The new ownership and changing of hands must have something to do with this. Well we thought it would be silly not to take advantage of it being that in a few months when it’s fully functioning as a Rydges property the rate would be a lot higher.
First, I’ll go over the good. The best part of this stay was by far thestaff. They were highly trained, super nice, and professional. Everyone we encountered from check in to check out was pleasant, even in not so pleasant conditions. They made it work, or at least were trying to. The small touches were great – they had a luggage scale, durable umbrellas to use in inclement weather, a map showing where guests are from, ice tea and water in the lobby, etc. When the hotel is fully operational these small touches are really what will set them apart, but for the time being they were the highlights. The rooftop pool, although smaller than pictured, is also really great especially for the area. You can some sunshine with a great view of the harbour.
Now the bad, the interior is so outdated. It reminded me of the depression style buildings from back in the day that were just put up as quickly as possible without any style. It was pretty dark and quiet throughout the day. It didn’t seem like a lot of people were staying there the first two nights and there was a lack of life and bustle that you usually find in the lobby areas of hotels. Lack of people and a lack of sound (not even background music) created a very odd vibe.
The rooms were shabby to say the least. When Rydges took over I think they tried to do a very cosmetic/superficial fix straight away with painting the rooms. However, a fresh coat of paint doesn’t help the underlying problems. My biggest issue was the furniture – it was all out of sorts and the desk chair didn’t fit under the desk; this made a small room feel even smaller and cluttered. Two it was just plain old dirty. I went to move the nightstand to plug in my phone and touched gum underneath. My mom smelt a musky/urine small from the bed. When inspecting the mattress they were brand new (and I should mention super comfortable so that’s actually a major plus) and realized the smell was coming from the carpet. Whether the trace was human or from an animal one will never know (animals are not permitted under current ownership). We asked for the carpet and nightstand to be cleaned, but they weren’t. The housekeeping manager wasn’t satisfied and moved us to a new room. No smell in the new room, but it was still pretty dingy and the chair again didn’t fit under the desk, which for some reason really bothered me. The room had TV problems – the remote didn’t connect; the resolution we were given was to hit the remote and stand close to use.
The property’s biggest issue was that it was actually falling apart. When we checked in we were told that there had been some leaking from the rain in some of the upper levels. Okay not a huge issue. By the end of our stay it seemed like there was a lot of leaking everywhere including the lobby with rugs needing to be pulled back and buckets on the ground. I know the building and area in general is old/historic, that is part of the beauty, but is it really fit for people to be staying in at any price point? I’m not sure.
Major renovations need to be done, but then it will be top notch. As it stands now it’s not worth even a budget price point and personally I would have gathered stayed at the Sydney Harbour YHA. I even have to check myself to see if I’m being too harsh and I don’t think I am. The staff here really made a rundown place run smoothly and nicely doing the best that they could with what they were given. I therefore wouldn’t say it was a bad experience, despite all the negatives, because most things were out of the staff’s control. Post-reno I’m going to bet that I would recommend this hotel. At the moment? Only if you get a good deal and want to be in this location and when there’s good weather in Sydney.
I can’t believe the second week with my mom has already drawn to a close. I am so thankful she extended the trip to three weeks because the original plan was just for two. We still had to cut out some major things to fit into a doable itinerary, but we are having a blast.
Our first week, we spent mostly exploring Sydney and the surrounding area. For week 2, we left New South Wales and technically stepped foot in three other states (Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia). I say “technically” because SA was only for a layover and I don’t think that counts, but in the same regard I can now say I’ve “technically” been in all of the Australia’s states. Don’t worry SA/Adelaide, I promise to visit soon. This week was a lot of firsts for both my mom and me and I’m so glad I was able to experience it with her!
Monday/Day 8 – Early morning flight from Sydney to Ayers Rock airport. We are going to the OUTBACK, BABY!! Major bucket list item for both of us, but for different reasons. Full on blog posts coming soon, but I’ll just highlight for now. We had avocado toast at the airport before taking off. We arrived around noon and were able to check in to the resort straightaway and had a small lunch at the resort. After cool and rainy Sydney, we were shocked by the heat, sun, and flies which met us in the Outback. Our first priority was to buy fly nets and a hat for myself. We have big dinner plans tonight at the Sounds of Silence dinner. We start off the evening with sunset canapés and bubbly with a breathtaking view of Uluru. Then we had a gorgeous dinner and ended the evening with a viewing of the Field of Light exhibit.
Day 9 – Had a chilled morning and rode around the property, saw an educational talk on aboriginal culture, and had a dip in the pool. Later in the day we actually enter the Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park and do a guided tour. Concluding the night with sunset, small nibbles, and bubbles.
Day 10 – Our last full day at the resort. I make use of the pool again and we go to a “Bush Talk” at the resort and learn about Australian and local native bush foods with a tasting of seasonal seeds, fruits, and spices. The evening brings what I was most looking forward to in the Outback – the camel ride. We leisurely ride for about an hour and watch the sun set.
Day 11 – We again have a chilled morning before departing via bus to Alice Springs. My mom acted very motherly here and did some laundry before we left. In the meantime I made a stop to the “Funny Farm” and spent some time with the baby camels and misfit animals. It’s a long scenic ride, but the commentary from the drivers was great. Along the way we saw wild horses, camels, dingos, and others four legged animals. I also may have gotten some shuteye. It’s already getting dark when we pull in so we explore the hotel and have dinner onsite that night.
Day 12 – Valentine’s Day – I snuck in a cheeky swim in the AM before heading into the town for brunch. Then this was a full on travel day as we were heading to Perth connecting via Adelaide. We arrived in Perth in the evening and opted for dinner at our hotel. The air is so refreshing here and we take an evening walk.
Day 13 – Vegan brunch and then my mom’s dreams came true when she held a koala. She can now leave Australia content. Her dream became a reality at a visit to Cohunu Koala Park, which wetook Uber to and from. For dinner we went to the hot spot, Petition Kitchen, and had a really great meal.
Day 14 – Tried to get an early start and headed to Fremantle in the morning. We spent some time exploring the area, had lunch, and walked around the markets. Then we took the train to Cottesloe Beach. We strolled on the beach for a bit before heading into Cottesloe Town for an early dinner. Taking the train back into Perth my mom somehow convinced me to get a pedicure, but with the store’s credit card machine not working I ended up paying for it myself…. treat yo’ self, right? We have an early morning ahead of us with more excitement ahead for my mom’s last week down under.
Last week I had my mom rate the restaurants we had eaten at. This week I asked her to rate the accommodation we had stayed at to date. Obviously, all of the properties were very different and across the entire country (you can’t really compare a basic NYC hotel to an Arizona resort to a Chicago high-rise hotel – if you get my drift), each with their quirks, but this is her opinion from best to least favorite of the properties we have stayed at during her two week stay in Australia:
When I finished Kite Runner it was time for a book swap. Usually, the options at hostels are in different languages or ancient, but one book caught my eye during my stay at the YHA on the Rocks when I returned from New Zealand. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but that was exactly what I did because this cover was so pretty and the options were sparse. The lucky book was The Problem With Foreverby Jennifer Armentrout.
Maybe I’ve been living under a rock…or more likely just out of the teen fiction world, but admittedly I hadn’t heard of Jennifer Armentrout. I brought the book with me to the pool and the friend I was with was so excited seeing the author’s name (and yes I did pass along the book to her when I finished).
This book touched upon important topics, such as the foster care system in the US, abuse, love, friendship, and personal growth. It was incredibly deep and touching. Normally, a book I wouldn’t read, but I’m glad that I did. Armentrout did a sensational job describing the main character’s psyche and struggles that you easily empathized with her.
It was an easy read, but with the sensitive topics not necessarily a light read. Anybody can easily read this book to change their perspectives and see into a world that exists in the background of daily life with in the United States. I see a big benefit in high schoolers reading this to understand that their classmates are going through more than they can imagine and everyone has a story. It’s a deeply touching eye opening book that I recommend to anyone.
Growing up, Mallory Dodge learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it’s been four years since her nightmare ended, she’s beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime. Now, after years of homeschooling, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at a public high school. But she never imagined she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood, on her very first day.
It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet soon it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory must make a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants and the truths that need to be heard.
The Sydney Opera House is iconic. I’ve seen a comedy show and a couple of ballets to date, but I was missing seeing an actual opera at the venue. With my mom coming into town it was the perfect time to finally see an opera. Don Giovanni was on the weekend we were in Sydney. We booked our tickets and were ready for a night out at the Opera House.
First and foremost, everyone on stage was incredible. Their voices were captivating and powerful. I couldn’t believe how they could project throughout the room without the use of microphones. They sang in Italian and there were English subtitles above the stage, however you didn’t need to know exactly what was said to appreciate the performance. Composed by Mozart in 1787 it was really cool seeing how the music and story have held for hundreds of years.
That being said I didn’t care for the storyline at all. I’ve also never been so annoyed with a fictional character as I was with Donna Elvira in the second act. She went from being to a total powerhouse to the exact opposite. Not to be preachy or throwing feminism around, but you could tell that this story was written by a man.
I’m glad I went and now I can say I’ve experienced an opera, however, I won’t be running back to see another one right away. I love live performances – concerts, plays, musicals, ballets, etc.; but I learned that operas aren’t my preferred art form.
My mom is easily the most important person in my life. I’m an only child and have always been close to my momma. She is my biggest supporter and I’m so grateful for her every day. That being said being so far away from her while in Australia and traveling around has been tough and that’s mostly to do with the time difference. I say mostly because there’s so much I miss about not seeing her, but the time difference makes even the conversations we do have tricky. It made sense that my first visitor to Australia would be my mom. I was so excited for her arrival. I really wanted to show her the country I fell in love with and maybe she would see the reason for my obsession firsthand. That at least would be the best-case scenario at the end of her trip.
Planning for her three-week trip was challenging. I wanted to show her everything and go everywhere whilst not overdoing it and still relaxing. My mom kept saying she would be happy just by the beach, but there’s so much more to see in Australia. It was stressful and took a lot of planning, but we narrowed our itinerary down to get a little bit of everything without running around like crazy. The first week would be focused on Sydney and surrounding areas.
Day 1 – Mom arrives on the 3rd, but she flew out of the US on the 1st (a long time traveling) so we were having a chill day. We dropped her bags off at the hotel and went to grab some brunch. Avo toast #1 check. We walk around the surrounding area of Darling Harbour not venturing too much, but we do stop for a passionfruit sorbet at Messina. That night we go to the hotel’s happy hour and later order in Thai via DoorDash.
Day 2 – have a bit of a sleep in thanks to the black out curtains in the room and then have breakfast (avo quinoa bowl) at a restaurant in Darling Harbour. Today we are taking on the Costal Walk from Coogee to Bondi. We take it at a very leisurely pace and really take in everything along the way. When we finally made it to Bondi we treated ourselves to a meal at Bucket List and then shopped around. Mom was a fan of Bondi and the costal walk in general. Win!
Day 3 – It’s Manly time. I was so excited to get over to Manly because well it’s an amazing, underrated part of Sydney. I think the other beaches overtake Manly in popularity, but that’s okay with me. The ferry ride over had an aweing effect on my mom and it was the first official view of the Sydney Opera House she got. Once in Manly we had brunch at Girdlers and then headed to the beach. A perk of traveling with your mom was being a little fancy and we actually rented beach chairs and umbrella. Something I wouldn’t have thought to do on my own, but now that I know how nice it was I don’t think I could go without. We grabbed Acai bowls to cool down from Acai Bros and then walked over to Shelly Beach. After more browsing in the stores we had dinner at MooBurgers with a great view and my mom tried a kangaroo burger (she wasn’t a fan). Then we hopped back on the ferry and headed back across the harbour.
Day 4 – Super early wake up call, but it was worth it because we were going to Hunter Valley.
Day 5 – Spent the day/early afternoon in Hunter and got back to Sydney around 7pm. We checked in to our new hotel in a prime area – on the Rocks. We had a late, but delicious dinner at Pony and then walked around the Rocks a bit.
Day 6 – Scheduled for today was a trip out to Watson’s Bay, but the weather was not having it. The rain was coming down hard all day. We had brunch on the Rocks (mom had another avo toast…I think she might be becoming a millennial). I checked another dining bucket list item off with dinner when we went to Sake. We thought we had allocated enough time starting dinner at 5:15pm to make it to the Opera before 7pm, but we had to dash over there. We were seeing Don Giovani. This was my first opera. The production was very well done and their voices were incredible, but now I can say with certainty that operas aren’t really my thing. It was still really great to experience especially at THE Sydney Opera House.
Day 7 – This day was originally going to be a day trip out to Jervis Bay, but with the forecasted rain we decided to stay in the city and maybe go to some markets and walk the Harbour Bridge. Oh boy were we wrong. The rain was at a constant downpour with heavy winds closing pretty much everything down. We had tea and scones at the Tea Cosy (another foodie bucket list item check), broke my umbrella walking back to the hotel which was one building over. The day was looking like a chill day, but it was also our last day in Sydney so it felt like a bit of a waste. We went to the QVB for a little bit, but weren’t in a mood to shop. For dinner that night we ventured to Newtown to try Golden Lotus, a fully vegan Vietnamese restaurant (another check). Wow the food was yummy and it’s BYO so we enjoyed the bottle of wine we brought back from Hunter over our shared plates. We ended the night with a night cap (can a beer technically be a night cap?) at the Lord Nelson Brewery.
It was a super fun week and although the schedule didn’t fully go as planned it didn’t matter. Just spending time together was what really matters. Almost exactly a week from my mom’s arrival we were heading to the airport once again to fly to our next destination…
Here are my mom’s officially unofficial rankings of Sydney’s food scene:
In true Sylwia fashion I waited to the last minute to book our Hunter Valley trip. In my defense I was waiting for the weather and thought that since we were going on a weekday there wouldn’t be any issues. I was in contact with one hotel, but never actually made the reservation. When we finally decided to book, our first choice actually ended up being sold out so we had to go for a plan b. That took form as the Crown Plaza Hunter Valley. Not really sure what to expect we were blown away when driving up to the property. It was huge! Even including a golf course, two onsite restaurants, a fitness center, two pools, and more. The property itself was gorgeous.
We were booked into a standard room, but were upgraded to a villa. However, this was a bit too much space for two people for one night (and it was also away from the main building and its amenities) so we opted for a normal room instead. The room was spacious and clean. The bed was super comfortable and they also provided a deep sleep pillow spray – what a cute little touch!
Both on-site restaurants were yummy and our dinner at Redsalt was fantastic! Lovedale is a slightly more casual and has a sports bar feel, this is where we had lunch the next day and again it was delicious. They even had the option of making a pizza with vegan cheese and/or a cauliflower base. Two thumbs up for the food.
I utilized the gym, but with the weather I wasn’t able to make the most of the onsite pools. There was also a spa and on weekends they have a brewery tour. If we stayed longer we would have made use of everything available.
The amenities were nice, food was great, room was above average – what else could you ask for? Well the staff and all the workers were so professional and we were impressed by how friendly and efficient the reception staff was. They really were the icing on the cake for the entire experience.
I would highly recommend the Crown Plaza in Hunter Valley if you were to stay in the area overnight.
Besides being known for its beautiful beaches and wildlife, Australia is also known for its wine. The hot, dry climate is similar to other more well-known wine regions. Australia’s history is filled with European expats, and much like the coffee culture, it makes sense that the European wine culture also made its way to Oz. Growing and producing wonderful wine was never an issue, but the far distance of exportation and travel time, mostly by boat in the earlier days, made it difficult for the wine to become well known around the world.
The five main wine regions spread across Australia are the Barossa Valley and Coonawarra in South Australia, Yarra Valley in Victoria, Margaret River in Western Australia, and Hunter Valley in New South Wales.
Hunter Valley is a day trip away from Sydney. Hunter Valley produces many kinds of wines, but they are most well known for Semillons, Verdelhos, and Shirazes. My first trip to Hunter Valley was actually back in October on a day trip and really loved it. Hunter Valley is just under a two-hour drive from Sydney’s city center and there are about 150 different wineries/cellar doors to visit. You pretty much have to drive here or take a coach. Public transportation doesn’t really get you into this area and you would still need a way around once here. Given that there’s a lot of drinking involved my first trip to Hunter I opted for a bus day-tour.
With my mom visiting, I wanted to go back so she could also experience Hunter Valley. I had such a great trip back in October I decided to book the same exact tour, but we would stay a night and be picked up the next afternoon instead of squeezing everything into one day. Booking was a bit of a pain and if it was my only experience with the company it wouldn’t have been positive, but in the end it all it worked out.
The tour was exactly the same as the one I did in October, but it was equally as enjoyable. We started the day with the De Iuliis winery. We tried three whites, three reds (including one rose), and a sweet wine. The next stop was at Hermitage at Hunter Valley Resort and we had four wine and cheese pairings and at the same location we had our lunch. After lunch we stopped by Leogate Estate’s cellar door, which is a gorgeous property and events venue, for five or six more tastings. Finally, we were done with wine and went to the Hunter Valley Distillery for some vodka and spirits tastings. The trip rounded off with a stop for something sweet at the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company.
Normally, the tour would go straight back to Sydney, but we were dropped off at a hotel for the night. Not only were we spared the normal bus ride back after a day of drinking, the next day we also learned that the bus we would have been on broke down an hour and a half out of Sydney and everyone had to get Ubers back into the city whist it started raining. My mom and I had an awesome evening safe and sound/oblivious to what everyone else was facing in our hotel and spent the following afternoon relaxing around the hotel until our ride came.
Hunter Valley was a success! I really enjoyed the tour again, but probably wouldn’t do it a third time, however, if I lived in Sydney I would make it a weekend getaway every once in a while or for special occasions. If you’re in the Sydney area I definitely think this is a must do to get out of the city for a day.