Holidays: from Sydney to Hel

Unexpectedly spring turned into summer and Ramadan has passed in-between. It was the 3rd year in a row we were diligently fasting, while exercising. We only escaped in the very last week to our long-planned trip of the year 2019: Australia.

Why Australia? Well, first off, with my credit card points I got a free companion ticket so we could literally fly wherever business class. Considerations were – LA, China or Australia. Since we are no fans of the US, and China I only got back from in March, we decided let’s try something from our bucket list – a 16 hour flight to Sydney from Abu Dhabi. This time, I let my husband plan and book most things – car, diving in Cairns, crocodile farms … – while I only took care of booking hotels and restaurants, the easy part 😛

Unfortunately the trip started quite stress-fully. On the day off the trip early in the morning we realized we didn’t check for visas – apparently, Lithuanian passport holders can apply for eVisa and get in on the same day. Phew.  Back home, packed, off to airport, checking in at 8pm that night only to hear… “sir, you are ok, but mam, you don’t have a visa”. After an hour of calls, and begs, we were told my visa process may last DAYS as I was a suspicious profile (I bet it’s my 2-line surname…). So here we were, on what was meant to be the last day of Ramadan, picking up our 4 pieces of luggage and returning home to order sushi for Iftar (breaking fast).  Next day, we rushed to Australian embassy in Abu Dhabi, where we were directed to Dubai consulate – there we managed to get in, and a friendly guy helped us by calling to Australia and sorting things out. We were on the way back, ordering new tickets to Sydney on that same night! Lesson learned: when planning details, don’t forget the key things.

Anyway, we made it, only lost 1 night of a hotel. In Sydney we decided to skip any public transport, only took cab to and from airport. The weather end of May was pretty chilly (+10-+17), but for us, and for walking, it was like a perfect Danish summer. We walked at least 25km per day, every day. In no time we saw all the must-visits, the Opera House, the Rocks, the parks, the Bondi beach… We lived in China town, which was a pretty good spot for street Thai food. But for dinners we went out to do the usual, tasting menus of the local cuisine. We liked most the place hidden a bit away from the city center, called Sixpenny – it is arguably one of the top restaurants in the world, Diner’s Club top 50. Very simple and very Scandinavian by design, but food was exceptional. While presentation was not a 2-star Michelin (Australia doesn’t do Michelin), the food quality definitely was. Most importantly they served kombucha in the non-alcoholic menu, which is one of the reasons we came to Australia – to explore the rich culture of the drink! We were not disappointed.

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We only spent a few days in Sydney, as we knew it’s gonna be mostly “wine&dine” part of your holiday. For the more active part we flew 3 hours north to tropical Cairns. There the plan was to go on a boat overnight for diving in the Great Barrier Reef, to rent a car and go around tropical forests, see crocodiles, kangaroos and other wild creatures.

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The highlight of the trip definitely was diving in the Great Barrier Reef. Many warned us that it’s dead, nothing left to see there… but I personally was amazed by the variety of corals, types of fish we haven’t yet seen in the UAE, including the sharks which we saw not only circling around the boat overnight, but also in the water, swimming not too far. I was chasing one to take a pic, while my husband was chasing me 🙂 This was one of the best diving experiences we have had so far. The only drawback was the reef was around 45 mins away from the shore, and the sea was very rocky… so on the way back we saw some people throw out. Yuk.

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Other than that, in Cairns we drove the coastline, saw crocodiles, kangaroos and even the wild birds which people say are rather rare to sea – called cassowary – which is called the world’s “most dangerous bird”. It crossed the street we were driving, which got us rather freaked out! Nothing happened.  But for a while, we really felt like we were in some Jurassic Park or the dinosaur era, because the nature out there is really pre-historic.

Overall, it’s not very fair to try answer “how is Australia” having only been 10 days in 2 tiny spots of the continent. But I must say, first impression for us, nature lovers, is really – awesome. The lifestyle itself reminded that of Scandinavian – people are health conscious, lots are eating well and doing sports, it’s not difficult to find anything from good coffee or kombucha to good steak or fish.  On the other hand, taxi drivers were not that happy, telling cities are expensive to live… Indeed, Australia is undergoing some slowdown in the housing market which is holding the economy back.

After Australia, we only had a few weeks of break…from holiday. With summer in full swing and heat (35 degrees outside) we decided to escape to Nordic Europe for 2 weeks in early July. We are just back after great 14 days, 6 of which we used for a road trip to neighboring Poland. Lithuania and Poland have a lot in common so we decided to do a historic tour – visiting Masurian castles, notably Malbork, the historic sites like Wolf’s Lair where Hitler resided and was assaulted. In Gdansk at the Baltic sea, we visited probably one of the best museums for World War II – as Gdansk is where World War II actually started.

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In the end we went all the way to Hel peninsula – a 35km stretch of land and forest where we stayed at the very tip in the hotel under the same name, Hel.  It wasn’t hell, for sure 🙂 It was rather a heaven. With a few shops and restaurants serving fresh local fish, the place is still very much untouched by human – nature is pure and clean. Running in the mornings, we saw wild pigs and a roe dear, on the beach we met a swan. During the World War II, this place was at the heat of the battle, so for long time it was used for military only – hence, no tourism.  Now tourists are allowed, and we have met people from Poland, Germany, and a few from Lithuania – people who want to escape from busy city lives to wild nature. We even managed to swim in the +18 Baltic sea, which, you can imagine, after the +28 in the UAE, is quite a bit chilly.

The rest of the holiday in the Baltics we spent by the lakes, in the countryside, just relaxing and getting a vitamin boost of seasonal berries, especially my favorites – the gooseberries! This is one of the few things I am missing in Abu Dhabi.

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