Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hong Kong: Harbour Grand Hotel- Home away from Home

So I found us a great deal for when we were moving. Trust me, when you've done this enough, you know that finding a "serviced hotel" or short term apartment is so important. This is where you will spend the first month or so once you move to a new country.

Our place in Sydney was found by someone that worked for Jason's company- and again, you want something done right, do it yourself. I am not a brat by any means, but yes, I like nice things and that includes where I stay. Jason would probably stay anywhere- as would the boys. But as someone wise once said (Yea Mr. Bartlett!), "If mama aint happy, no one is happy!"!

I searched for a few good weeks on finding someplace to stay. Finally I found a spot I wanted, but knew I had to get the price down. And for those of you that know anything about Asia, EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE- and that includes hotels. After 3 or 4 days of negotiating, I finally got the gal down to the price we needed.

Now, the room/suite was a little smaller than what we would have hoped for, but this was what came with:
*A superb area- complete with international food stores, kids playgrounds, walkway along the pier/water, international restaurants (including Outback Steakhouse), and pretty big shopping malls (including Toys R Us and home stores)
*maid cleaning EVERYDAY- thank goodness! Ping was our maid- she was fabulous- even lined up our shoes by the door in a row
*superb attention and friendliness by the staff- they even helped Jason book a sitter one night for my birthday so we could go out alone!
*amazing food- pricey, yes, but excellent
*amazing views-
*a pool and fitness center- vital for all

There wasn't much that they didn't have. It was comfortable, relaxing and quite wonderful. OH- the hotel was the Harbour Grand Hotel in Whampoa, here's the site: http://www.harbourgrand.com/kowloon/luxury-hotel-,default-en.html
They have another one in Central as well- Jason has stayed there as well and equally nice.

Here are some photos:

Rooftop pool and the great view- well when it's nice! 

Plenty of room to have some sun and have a drink! 


Our living room- plenty of room for a short term stay

The Harbour Grand!

Entry- they had lots of weddings while we were there. :) 

Our room- not bad. :) 

Right outside of our hotel- the walkway- and it goes all the way to the Avenue of the Stars in TST. I ran it a few times. The boys and I took lots of strolls in the area






Now I will say (and you'll find this out if searching for a hotel) that it's not like in the US where the standard rooms are either 1 King or 2 Queens. It's usually 1 kind and/or 2 twins. So try fitting a family of four in one room. It doesn't work so well.

Anyway- we thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Harbour Grand. But like everything with a big move, we didn't get our house in time, no our shipment so we had to extend past the month lease. Well, of course, the month terms you can always get cheaper. Needless to say, we didn't get the deal we wanted (well, we did, but I had already booked at another hotel and it was too late to cancel!! UGH!) so we had to move.

We are now at the Harbour Plaza Metropolis- right next to the Hung Hom MTR Station. Now, while it has great access to the train, I'm not happy with it. At all. Miserable. I'm counting down the days. Jason keeps trying to tell me to think positively- well I am- positively that we have 4 more nights in this wretched place and I"m out of here! ha ha!

Now, as I mentioned, I have high standards. The hotel is not that bad but long term (we booked 10 days) it is. The service is sub par, the waiting lines downstairs are atrocious, the furniture, decor, bedding, etc., is all mediocre. We do have nice views and the pool is nice. There, I said something nice. :)

Anyway- T minus 3 days until we are in our house! 4 more sleeps- as Jack would say! :)

Cannot wait!!!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Catching Up: Sydney, Blue Mountains

So sadly this was our first trip that was actually "outside" of Sydney, although it's only about an hour and a half away. We spent most of our time just enjoying Sydney, soccer on Saturdays and beach days. We'll get back to Australia one day and do a big trip around the land.

This is definitely a cool experience. We drove, but they do have the fast train that gets up there and I've heard that's neat as well. They also have Blue Mountain bus tours that you can go on as well. You can check out more of the information here: http://www.bluemts.com.au/ While we only did a day trip, you could easily spend a night or weekend up there- they have great spas, caves to explore, botanical gardens, horse back riding- you name it, they have it!

We got up early on a Sunday morning and took the short hour or so trip up. It was so funny since we've never been outside the Sydney city limits how drastically it changes- and quickly. I kinda felt like I was in Oklahoma again- no tall buildings, quaint little flower and fresh produce markets on the side of the roads. It was just a neat drive. There are actually many different small towns/suburbs that the "Blue Mountains" are located in, so you just have to choose where and what you're going to see.

We drove straight up and stopped to see the "3 Sisters at Echo Point" in Katoomba. Gorgeous! It was a bit nippy still when we arrived, but we had a gorgeous clear crisp day. Perfect!

We parked and walked the short distance to the main area. Of course, a little browsing in the gift shop was a must. Then off to the peak to view the "3 Sisters" Mountain. They have walkways that go up and down- and bushwalks that take you to other areas of the mountain. Henry was only 2 1/2 at the time, so we just walked around a bit, took pictures, then went on our merry way.

View before you get to the peak

Stop off in a little "cave" hut

3 Sisters Mountain- the unusual formation of the rocks  is told by an aboriginal tale that says that the represent 3 sisters that were turned to stone- who knows? :) 




A nice walk that leads all the way to the gondulas and over by Scenic World- a bit too far for us to walk with Henry! 




Of course, if you know us, it was about 11:30 or so, and what else do we need to stop and do, but grab lunch. On the other side there is a small strip of restaurants and shopping. A few coffee shops, ice cream parlor, and some souvenir shops. So we did a bit of walking around then chose the top restaurant- basic food and had a great view. I did have the most amazing scones and cream that I have ever had- so light and fluffy! Delicious. Like anything in Sydney though- it was expensive. Ah well! :) 

Not a bad view for our lunch!



We then went back to the car and took the short trip to Scenic World in Katoomba (as well). It was pretty neat too- especially for kids. Lots of walking but overall pretty stroller friendly. When getting your tickets- you can choose what you want to do- there are a number of different "rides" as in the skywalk, the cableway and the railway. You can do all or just some. Obviously you need to get down the mountain then back up, so we did the railway down and the cableway back up. Here's more info on ticketing, etc.,: www.scenicworld.com.au/
Steepest railway in the world! And it was! It was such a fun ride!!!

Classic Asian shot- really??


Ready for the big ride- well it was pretty short, but steep and fun!
 We then spent about an hour and a half walking along the trails- their wooden planks, so again, stroller friendly. There are a few steps/stairs here and there but as long as you have someone with you to help, then it's okay. There are beautiful views and it's great exercise, just make sure you bring some water. There are no kiosks down in the mountain!



A view of the railway

A picture of the old railway when they first opened up



Suckers- as can tell by Henry's blue mouth


Ha! Like I mentioned- lots of water breaks and rests were needed!

After our walk and exploring down in the mountains, we then took the cablecar up. That was really beautiful. Again, a short ride but some amazing views. The boys loved it. 




Of course we stopped in the BIG gift shop at the top. We bought some stuffed animals- Henry got a Koala bear that we named "Wally" and Jack got a kangaroo that we named "Coolie". Oh boys. The car ride was nice back home to Sydney. Then we got to relax, eat dinner and enjoy some American football- (thank heavens we have been able to record football- or even have it- here in Sydney!)




Friday, March 22, 2013

Catching Up: Ferry to Watson's Bay in Sydney

A continued posting from our trips in Sydney- I'm so enjoying these because I miss Sydney and loved our city! :)

This was actually one of my favorite things that we did. We did it once with Jan in October and once with Amy and Brendan when they came in November. It's super kid friendly, a beautiful way to see the city by water and just a relaxing day. You can easily leave after breakfast, grab a coffee in Circular Quay before catching the ferry over. Then spend a good amount of time strolling around Watson's Bay- come home have a nap/rest, then go out for dinner!

Watson's Bay is actually known as the oldest fishing village and famous for the 1st Doyles Restaurant ( http://www.doyles.com.au/ - it's a famous seafood restaurant- we didn't get to eat there because it was too long of a wait for us!) Some great information is here: http://www.sydney.com.au/watsons-bay.htm though just about the area in general.

Jason on the boat!

Nana and Jack- in their seats and ready to go! 

A shot of the bridge- heading out towards Watson's Bay

love- Sydney Opera House!

Ha  all of us- in the back of the boat!

One of the best shots I took- just love this view! 

There are a few stops on the way but gorgeous and neat seeing all of the different houses, boats, etc.,

The ferry's in Sydney are so easy to take- and pretty cheap (for Sydney). We took the train from our apartment (short trip) to Circular Quay. Then grabbed the ferry to Watson's Bay. Granted it was October so it still was a bit chilly (we needed light jackets) and windy, of course, on the boat, but beautiful! Sunny and a great day to be out in Sydney.

Once we arrived at Watson's Bay, we took a little walk along the little beach. They have some great houses/apartments along the beach and lots of people have little boats set out ready to get to their "bigger" boats. There's also a few restaurants in the area- great places to get some fish & chips and seafood. You've got a few casual and then some a little more upscale. Depends on what you fancy!


Right off the pier

One of my favorite pictures!

Just a little bit of a beach- but nice! 

Some of the restaurants

Where we ate- yummy! 

Jan and I on our little walk along the beach


The area really is fantastic- you have the Tasman Sea to the East and then the harbour Sydney view to the west. You can take a small walk up the hill (right when you get off the ferry) to "The Gap". Gorgeous views! (We didn't actually do that this time, but did in November with the Costello's).

Of course we didn't get there until about 11:30 ( the ferry trip from Circular Quay only takes about 20 minutes) but my boys were, of course, starving! So off to find something to eat. Yummy fish & chips and barramundi (delicious fish if you haven't tried it!) at Watson's Bay Hotel Restaurant- it's all mostly outdoors but mostly shaded. Does get quite packed at about 12:30. And you have to watch for the crazy birds that try and steal your food- I was carrying a tray of food and one literally swooped down, grabbed a fry and took off. They really have alot of nerve! ha ha! :)

After lunch we headed out to get some ice cream (they sell some right in front of Doyles at a little Kiosk) and sat along the beach. It was such a nice day- not too hot and a nice little breeze. The boys enjoyed their ice cream while Nana ventured in the sand for, well, whatever she finds interesting. :)

Aren't these trees amazing?!?! 

View of the park area- there's a kids park and lots of room to have a picnic of game of soccer! 

Ice cream treat! 

View from the beach! 

Notice the birds- they're just waiting for him to drop something!


And what a wonderful day it was! :) We took the ferry back then caught the train back to our apartment. It was a pretty full day. I think we probably just ordered pizza that night and relaxed. :) A must do it you go to Sydney. 

*There are lots of walking trails and "bushwalks" in the area as well. Check out the sites above. Sometimes we are just limited with the boys and enjoy a "laid back" sort of day. :)