Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Honeymoon Part Three: Sydney!

Our final stop on the #honeymoondownunder was Sydney! 

I was so, so excited to go to Sydney. When my sister was in college she studied abroad in Sydney - my parents went to visit her but I got asked to staff my very first MOTL trip and decided to do that instead. I have always been bummed that I never got to visit - and so this was a long-awaited trip!

We stayed at the Sydney Intercontinental for four nights and I have to say, I thought the location was fantastic. We were a five-minute walk away from the Sydney Harbor and the Opera House, which was very convenient for all the sightseeing we wanted to do... and we did a lot!

(I will make one caveat about visiting Australia during this time of year - yes, it's their summer there, and yes, the weather is stunning, so it's easy to want to visit around the holidays, but many restaurants and shops in Sydney close down for the week between Christmas and New Years. We still did mostly everything we wanted to do, but there were a couple of things that were unfortunately closed and I was disappointed! Just thought I'd point that out in case you are planning your own trip.)

Anyway! Onto the fun! These four and a half days in Sydney were our real "touristy" days and we packed a LOT into them. On the night that we arrived, we kicked off the fun with dinner at a famous Sydney restaurant, Rockpool Bar & Grill - we loved the art deco ceiling in the restaurant! And on our first day, we visited Bondi Beach, where Bailey lived when she was in Australia, ate lunch outside at a fabulous and very chic restaurant called Bill's, did some shopping and of course, admired the beautiful beaches.




We purposely planned our trip so that we would be in Sydney over New Years Eve, so we could experience what it was like being the very first people in the world to celebrate the new year! Years ago, when Bailey studied in Sydney, she had told me a story about a world famous restaurant - Tetsuya's - and ever since then, for years, I had wanted to go. New Years Eve was the perfect time to have that amazing meal, and I made our reservations there almost a YEAR in advance. 


We had a nine-course degustation menu featuring French and Japanese influences and it was phenomenal. I was SUCH a tourist and insisted on bringing our fancy camera and photographing each and every course - I won't post them all, but these were my favorite - oysters with caviar and ginger, and their most famous dish - confit of ocean trout with salmon roe. Out of this world. It was a wonderful last meal of 2014 and a very special memory we will always have.



After dinner, nearly every street in the city was closed, so we joined the thousands of people who were walking in the streets heading towards the Sydney Harbor Bridge to see the fireworks! We arrived around 11pm and found a spot where we could see them... and an hour later, we were two of the 1.6 million people watching the fireworks live and ringing in 2015! 


Rami was so excited for the first day of 2015... I had promised him a trip to the world-famous Taronga Zoo! We took a ferry there - it was a beautiful day and we sailed right past the Opera House. See how big Ram is smiling since he knows he is going to get to see the animals?! #shouldabeenavet



The zoo was amazing. We got to see all the indigenous animals of Australia and lots of other cuties as well! Some of our favorites - I liked the wallabies and Rami loved the echidnas (basically like tiny spiny anteaters). We both loved the seal show and I was OBSESSED with the tiny penguins - I seriously took like forty photos of them.





I was looking forward to seeing real kangaroos but they were slightly terrifying - look at that thing's arms! They're huge!


I can't believe I am posting this picture on the internet.. after the zoo, we wandered around the harbor for a little while, and ended up booking two seats on a "Sydney Thunder Jet" - basically, a half hour long boat ride that dips and twirls and nosedives and spins you around the water until you are SOAKING wet. We declined the protective ponchos and ended up looking like two little drowned rats, but it was SO FUN!


On our last day, we took a private yacht ride on the harbor with a tour guide who took us out on the water and pointed out the famous real estate that surrounds the Sydney Harbor... it was very cool and we enjoyed ourselves very much, UNTIL the guide had a bit of a rough patch controlling the sails on the boat and we ended up nearly tipping over into the water  #panic #notokay. After that frightening incident (which I am telling very calmly - BELIEVE ME I was flipping out and so was normally very calm Rami), we recovered by taking the ferry to Manly Beach, about a half hour boat ride away from Sydney, and walked around that little beach town before enjoying a delicious lunch at Manly Wine. I have to say - all the restaurants in Sydney (and surrounding areas) are SO cute, chic, and well-designed. Everything was Instagram-worthy! I could have taken a billion photos!


On our last night in Sydney, and our last night of vacation overall, we did something very cool... we saw a show at the Sydney Opera House! It was Rami's idea and he picked the show - we saw "All You Need Is Love," a Beatles spectacular featuring a 50-piece orchestra, with all the Beatles hits sung by four amazing Australian musicians. I think we'll remember it forever - what a once in a lifetime opportunity! We finished the night with dinner at an amazing Chinese restaurant - Mr. Wong's - and it was the perfect end to our vacation. Some great music, a little stir-fried shrimp and some dumplings... everyone was happy :)



So... there you have it. A two-week, four-city trip of a lifetime. Our honeymoon was everything I ever dreamed of and more. It was relaxing, it was adventurous, it was luxurious, and it was FUN... and I got to experience it all with my brand-new cute husband, who also happens to be my best friend :) We will never ever forget it!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Honeymoon Part Two: The Great Barrier Reef!

Hello again! Welcome to day two of the honeymoon recaps... I sat down and banged these out and didn't get up from the computer for hours. I wanted to make sure I recorded all of my memories for posterity so I can always go back and remember how amazing the trip was :)

So! From Fiji, we left and flew directly to Brisbane for one night. This was just a stopover, because there were no direct flights from Fiji to Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef. To be honest, I was not psyched about having to stop for a night, but our travel agent made reservations for us at a restaurant right on the river in Brisbane and even though we were exhausted and kinda jetlegged, we went... and it ended up being the BEST meal of the trip! Funny how that works out :)

The next morning we woke up and flew to Hamilton Island, which is part of the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands. When we had started planning the honeymoon, the GBR was high on our list, and our travel agent had insisted on us going to Hamilton Island, and staying at one resort in particular - Qualia Resort.


Let me just say this - I am a very lucky girl and am part of a family who loves to travel. I have visited lots of amazing places and stayed in beautiful hotels and I never take that for granted. But never in my life have I stayed anywhere like Qualia before, and I don't think I ever will again. It was by FAR the nicest, most luxurious resort I have ever been to in my entire life. We didn't even know this, but apparently in 2012 it was chosen as the best resort in the WORLD. I kept saying to Rami, "This is way out of my paygrade" and he kept joking "Why the hell did we stay in Fiji so long if we could have been HERE instead?!" #wejoke #justkiddingfijiwestillloveyou


From the moment we stepped off the plane and were greeted by two Qualia employees, who handed us ice cold water bottles and glasses of champagne and explained one of them would take us to the hotel directly while the other waited for our luggage to come off the carousel (Rami and I were literally blown away by this) to the absolutely stunning state-of-the-art room with a full living room, ipod docks and speakers, a giant soaking tub and a huge steam shower, a beautiful patio with chaise lounges overlooking the reef itself, to the genuine kindness and helpfulness of the Qualia staff... we were in heaven. The whole time. It was just pure luxury. I can't describe it better than that.

Look how beautiful this place is!



And here is our room. We stayed in the Leeward Pavilion and it was just beautiful. I very much enjoyed that enormous tub.




There were a couple highlights from the entire honeymoon and both of them took place while we were on Hamilton Island. Probably the coolest thing we did on the entire trip was snorkel the Great Barrier Reef! We booked a half day snorkeling tour and sailed on a boat out to the reef itself. I was REALLY scared because I get nervous in deep water but I knew I would be very disappointed with myself if I didn't make myself go. So we suited up and jumped in!




I am so glad we did it. My cousin lent me his underwater camera and we got to take up close photos with all the fish - we saw soooooo many different kinds in all different colors and really beautiful pieces of coral and seaweed too. I was honestly expecting to be swimming at the top of the water gazing down at the fish below us, but I was genuinely surprised once we jumped in and I realized that these fish are NOT scared of humans - they swam right up to us at the water's surface! A few times we were literally swimming THROUGH the school of fish. It was unbelievable.




The instructor who was with us gave Rami some food to feed them with - I was terrified one would bite me so I didn't do it - but Rami did it. As soon as he put his hand with the food in the water a MILLION fish swarmed him to eat it! He said it felt like little ripples on his hand. See them jumping out of the water to get to the food?!


And the second major highlight? We got to hold koalas!!! When we first booked the trip, we told our travel agent that this was a MUST. Since touching koalas is illegal in New South Wales, we knew our only option was to do it while on Hamilton Island, so off we went to the Wildlife Park!


Let me just mention that we had an appointment to hold them booked for 8:30am our first day and I was so excited I could barely sleep and woke up at 6am that day... and when we arrived, they LOST our reservation and I SOBBED. LIKE A BABY. Rami had to take control of the situation and give me a popsicle and do an imitation of a koala while simultaneously making arrangements to come back at a different time. WHAT A GEM. Anyway - when we came back for the afternoon "koala cuddle session" it was amazing. We didn't get to hold them long - only about a minute each - but they are so cute!!! Rami calls them "teddy bears who hug you back" and they were scratchy but cuddly and kind of smelled like menthol cuz they eat eucalyptus all day. I loved them. Ours was named WILLY!!!!



Here were two other things we loved about Hamilton Island.... Number one: barely anyone on the island drives cars. Instead, everyone drives GOLF CARTS!!!! Even on the main roads! When we checked into Qualia, they gave us the keys to our very own golf cart - which they call a "buggy" - for our entire stay. It was crazy driving on the wrong side of the road! Number two: anywhere you go on the island, even if you're off your resort property - restaurants, bars, drugstores, clothing shops - lets you charge whatever you buy back to your room. So we were literally in the equivalent of Australian CVS and we were able to just tell them to put it on our room tab! It was very cool and I'm not sure why I liked that so much. Maybe because it meant I didn't have to carry a purse anywhere?

Some other fun things we did: we had lunch everyday at the hotel by the pool overlooking the waters of the reef. So gorgeous. When we checked into the room, the hotel had left chocolates and chilled champagne for us (actually, every hotel did that! #honeymoon perks). We went to delicious dinners every night off the resort property on the island - our favorite was a place called Coca Chu, which served Asian fusion. Yum!




We were only in the Great Barrier Reef for three nights and I am not kidding when I say I was SO SAD to leave. I could have easily spent a whole week there. I am not sure when we'll ever be able to go back, but I vow to return one day! 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Honeymoon Part One: Fiji!

Hello friends. Happy 2015! A new year is here and it's gonna be great :)

We have been back from our honeymoon for about two weeks now and I'm in serious withdrawals. We had the BEST time. Seriously, it was probably the best trip I've ever been on. We were away for two full weeks and we really did it up while we were gone. We relaxed and we did fun activities and we went sightseeing and acted like tourists and ate amazing food and just really enjoyed each other's company... it was the best. 

I am going to break up these recaps into three different posts because otherwise, you'll be here reading into 2016! We took like 500 photos and I will try to refrain from posting 499 of them :)

So first... FIJI!!!


We flew to Nadi, Fiji on Air Fiji on Saturday, December 20th on the redeye (with a TON of luggage in tow... oops). The flight was 10.5 hours and it passed super quickly - we sat in business class and they fed us constantly and had a million movies so Ram was in heaven :) Because of the time difference, we didn't arrive until very early in the morning on Monday, December 22nd. We waited a few hours for the town to wake up and then took a ferry to our resort on Malolo Island. 


We stayed at Likuliku Lagoon Resort and it was amazing. I don't really know how to describe it without it sounding like a cliche? It was SO beautiful - crystal clear turquoise water, white powdery sand, unbelievable rainbow sunsets, huge palm trees, the bluest sky with zero clouds, green rainforest-y areas... it is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen!


There are only 45 rooms at the resort - they call them "bures" and each one is a little different. Likuliku is known for being the only resort in Fiji that has the over-water bungalows you see in movies all the time - I had thought about staying in the over-water bures, but our travel agent recommended the Deluxe Beachfront Bures, and I am SO GLAD she did. We had our own little pool on our patio, with a huge comfy daybed and chaise lounges, and we were TEN FEET from the ocean. It was unreal. We could watch the tide go in and out just a few feet away and at night we could hear the waves crashing... so relaxing. Here are some pictures of the room and the patio!




Since this was our first stop, we had just come from work and running around and a million errands and we were in dire need of just plain old time to relax... and that's exactly what we did. We spent our days tanning and walking around the resort and laying on our patio and dipping into our own little pool to cool off.

Check out this image I made using Diptic!

Likuliku is an all-inclusive resort - usually I am a bit skeptical of all-inclusives because I feel like sometimes the quality can suffer, but everything here was wonderful. All the staff was SO GENUINELY KIND - the Fijian people are truly lovely. Within a few hours of us being there, the staff all knew our names and what room number we were in and said hello ("Bula!" in Fijian) everywhere we went. The food was amazing - you all know I am a major foodie - and the Liku restaurant had an amazing chef who changes the menu for every single meal! We loved everything we ate (and the drinks were so good I even had a couple)!



Other highlights: one day we took a kayak out (I got scared and so Rami had to return me to shore and then strike out on his own). He also went snorkeling (I waited until the Great Barrier Reef... more on that later) and saw a stingray! We saw Fiji mudcrabs and frogs everywhere - they run away from people so I wasn't too scared of them :) We each read four books and slept ten hours every night and had a great couples massage (Rami even fell asleep). We took silly photos in our little pool with our underwater camera. It was just so relaxing. It FELT like a honeymoon - does that make sense? Literally the only downside of the entire week was the mosquitos... they were out of control (they bit me EVERYWHERE including my FACE)!





We were there over Christmas Eve and Christmas and it was so nice to see how the Fiji people celebrated it! On Christmas Eve, the restaurant put on a gorgeous eight course meal and the staff wore hats and sang Christmas carols. The next day, we were treated to an amazing Fiji BBQ complete with a giant meat platter and little gingerbread houses, and when we went back to our room after dinner, we found Christmas gifts from the staff - amazing little lotions and soaps and a framed photo of us from the day we arrived!




More pictures of the island... seriously ridiculously gorgeous:





 If you are thinking of going to Fiji for your honeymoon... I highly recommend it! It is seriously the most beautiful place and it was so, so relaxing. We loved Likuliku and would go back again in a heartbeat. We were there for four and a half days and I was so sad to leave... but little did I know, the best was yet to come! :)