Blue Mountains with Boszormeny’s and Ben and Aidan

Our return from New Zealand saw the end of the third school holiday break.  But thankfully our time with the Boszormeny family didn’t have to end when we left the South Island!  George, Julie, Amber and Abby were able to spend a week exploring Sydney and the Blue Mountains with us.

Arriving hot on their heels to the land down under were Matt’s brother Ben and his wife Aidan, who had just spent a week in Bali, Indonesia at a friends wedding. Ben arrived with what appeared to be an infection on the top of his foot, and what was originally going to be a brief 3-day visit with us, turned into a trip to the Lithgow Hospital for antibiotics, the cancellation of plans to travel up the coast, and a 6-day stay with us in the Blue Mountains!  And although we felt bad that Ben had to deal with an injury, we were certainly thankful for the extended visit!

The day the Boszormeny family arrived to Blackheath, was also the day that Matt had been invited by his friend Julian to the Bathurst 1000 at Mount Panarama.  The boys arrived home from the race and the celebrations continued while the final laps were watched from the comfort of our lounge room!

During our time together in the Blue Mountains, we explored the Jamison Valley and took both families on a cable car ride down into the rainforest, had lunch at the base, and then rode the steep railway back up to the top.  We enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner, and delighted in a bonfire and children’s talent show, complete with headlamps!

Ben was well enough to travel down the coast to Callala Beach with Caroline and Aidan mid-week, so while they were off skinny dipping in the ocean, the Boszormeny family went on a big hike down to Bridal Veil Falls at Govetts Leap where they were shocked to find a snake coiled up beside the hiking trail and Amber was dive-bombed by a nesting magpie!  They were completely mesmerized by the views.

Amber and Abby were fortunate enough to experience a day in the life of an Aussie student and attended Blackheath Public with Leina and Cohen during their week with us.  Amber was in a year 5 class for the day, while Abby shadowed Leina in her year 1/2 class.  The students were treated to maple sugar candies brought especially to Australia by the Boszormeny girls!  Some of the students at the school still rave about those treats!

While the kids were at school, the adults, and Elijah, hiked at Wentworth Falls and had lunch out at a unique spot, The Garage, in Leura, one of our favourite towns.  Although the service was mediocre, the meal was quite good.  We arrived to pick up the kids at the end of the school day and they had many wonderful stories to share about their time in an Australian school.

Our last night with the Boszormeny’s was a real treat!  We hired a babysitter for the evening, and delighted in dinner out at Thai Silk in Blackheath, and a night-cap at the local pub, the Ivanhoe.  Upon leaving the pub, the temperature outside had dropped considerably, and so it wasn’t surprising that the following morning we awoke to snow!  And it snowed.  And snowed.  And snowed!  Matt and the kids never made it to school that day.  Matt tried to drive to work, but quickly realized that the icy roads, mountainous terrain, rear-wheel drive car, and lack of winter tires, were the wrong combination!   In fact the roads were so bad that they closed them until 4 in the afternoon.  Branches were creaking and breaking off and we lost power from about 9AM.  Needless to say, the Boszormeny family didn’t make it to Sydney until late that night.  Thankfully their flight home to Canada wasn’t until the following day!  By the time the snow had turned to rain at about 1PM, we had received 14 cm in 7 hours and we had played 15 rounds of euchre by the woodstove!  And although Sydney families were flocking to the Blue Mountains to experience the snow, we were one of few families who kept their kids indoors all day!  The reasoning behind this was the combination of branches breaking and improper clothing and footwear!  Poor excuse for Canadians, eh?!  We never imagined having an authentic ‘Snow Day’ while living in Australia!

Once the roads opened, we said farewell to the Boszormeny family and then headed down to Glenbrook to Caroline and Collin’s place for a visit and to leave our kids for a sleepover with them while we partied it up in Sydney for the night with Ben and Aidan, Amy and Alex, and good family friend Chris Walker, who had come from Melbourne by bus for the weekend.

Our night was slightly overshadowed by news of Matt’s dads very serious fall and head trauma and surgery, but we still managed to leave a dent in some of Sydney’s iconic pubs and hotels thanks to our fearless leader Chris.  Our favourite by far was the ‘Hollywood Hotel’ where the beer flowed freely, the music was ace, and the urinals epic!  After experiencing the atmosphere and cocktails on the patio at ‘The Beresford’, we ate the most amazing food at a spot that Aidan found on the internet – a Loation/Burmese restaurant on Oxford Street called the Pink Peppercorn, and we continued the party at a couple more pubs before grabbing another bite and crashing at the hotel at 3AM.  It was a memorable night for many reasons.

So, once again we were fortunate to host some very special visitors from Canada.  Our afternoons were enjoyed sitting on the back deck in the sunshine, and dinners were always lively.  Everyone pitched in.  In fact, I think Julie was in the kitchen more than I was!  And she spoiled Leina by styling her hair every day!  Ben was on bath duty with the kids in the evenings, and Aidan and George were dynamic story tellers at bedtime!  We went for long walks, and we wowed them with the size of the Aussie spiders, the colorful birds, and the awesome views from the lookouts.

George summed it up best by expressing that their visit was an opportunity of a lifetime and we couldn’t agree more!  We are once again blessed with memories made with some wonderful friends and family members – George, Julie, Amber, Abby, and Ben and Aidan – our lives are richer and our year down under made memorable because you came to visit!

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Oh Momma!

If you could take 2 things on a trip, what would those things be?

For us, it was a sense of adventure, and another family to share the memories with!

We were so excited to experience the South Island of New Zealand during the third Australian school holiday break and good friends of ours from Canada, the Boszormeny family – George, Julie, Amber and Abby – were willing and able to join us.  Our motto for the trip quickly became “Oh Momma” thanks to the expression being uttered by George early on in the trip and then incessantly repeated by the 5 kids!

We arrived in Christchuch, from opposite sides of the world, and spent two weeks in convoy in our rented campervans, exploring Kaikoura on the east coast, Blenheim and the Marlborough wine region, Picton and the Marlborough Sounds area, Nelson, and Hokitika on the west coast and the Franz Joseph glacier.  Then we moved in land to explore Wanaka and Te Anau, the magic of Milford Sound, and finally Queenstown before returning the campervans to Christchurch.

New Zealand is AMAZING!   If you ever have the opportunity – take it and run!  The scenery and landscapes are absolutely stunning.  Spring was a perfect time to go – the lambs were running in the fields, the flowers were starting to bloom, the campgrounds were virtually empty, the weather was pleasant during the day and cool in the evenings, perfect conditions for exploring and for sleeping in the campervans.

We certainly came away with some wonderful memories that seem extra special because they are shared with the Boszormeny family.  We certainly noted our favourites and would love to share some of those here.

Our favourite campsite had to be our site down at Milford Sound.  It was more about the atmosphere and company, and less about the actual site.  Our experience at campervan parks in New Zealand was such that  you were practically parked on top of one another;  but the campground at Milford Sound is perched right on the edge of the Cleddau River, in Fiordland National Park, and the mountain peaks surround you in this stunning setting, in one of the most peaceful places on earth.  The night was absolutely magical and it involved getting our feet wet in the river, some good ole’ belly laughs, and a few beverages!

Our campsite at Kaikoura was stunning for the view.  Snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance while we were metres away from the ocean.  And the campsite at Hokitika was memorable because we were right on the beach on the west coast and the campground had a little hobby farm in the middle, which made it memorable for the kids.  Unfortunately the campgrounds in New Zealand do not allow campfires, however, the site at Lake Wanaka had an outdoor oven (“the pizza oven”) and plenty of wood, so we warmed ourselves by the fire that night and although the campground itself was a bit tired, the fact that we were able to enjoy an outdoor fire, made it one of our favourite spots!

Our favourite town was perhaps Picton, in the north.  It is a quaint port town with a wonderfully designed waterfront with a spacious playground and park area on the water’s edge with magnificent gardens.  It had a very welcoming feel to it.

Some of our favourite views were from the Marlborough Sounds in the Picton area.  The fiords and waterways in the Marlborough Sounds are absolutely brilliant and breathtaking.  We enjoyed a hike down onto the shores north of Picton and explored the pebbly beach we happened upon, much to the kids delight!

Milford Sound, in Fiordland National Park, is definitely worth exploring for the memorable drive in through the Homer Tunnel and for the views from the boat cruise.  It is convincingly one of the most photographed places in New Zealand.  Sheer granite cliffs tower into the sky and plunge into the depths of clear water amid vibrant native rainforest.  Iconic Mitre Peak looms silently at the head of the fiord, a massive peak guarding this amazing and peaceful place.  Nowhere is the wild beauty of New Zealand displayed with more effect than in the stunning landscape of Fiordland.  It stuns and enthralls, and leaves lasting memories.

Our favourite meal was enjoyed in the best company at the campground in Nelson.  It was this night that we dined on mussels – greenshell mussels to be exact!  Native to the New Zealand shores.  What a feast.  And the sunset was almost as memorable as the dinner that night.

Some of our favourite memories include the pebbly beach at Kaikoura where the waves crashed with fierce abandon at our feet.  Hiking up the short trail at Ohau Point to see the baby seals frolicking in the waterfall just north of Kaikoura was incredibly memorable, as was the marriage proposal at this location!  Wine tasting in the Marlborough region at the Villa Maria Estate vineyard, where they provide a box of toys to keep your children amused while you sample their fare.  The Hunter Valley wineries should take note!

We will never forget the memories made at the campground at Nelson, as we tried to hire the bikes and ride to the beach, only to be told that the bikes are strictly for inside the park grounds!  We hiked to see the glow worms at Hokitika and will never forget the magic and sight of the iridescent display.  Almost equally memorable was the very graceful display by Abby as she unsuccessfully tried to dodge a large wave at the beach at Hokitika fully clothed and ended up on her bottom in the massive wave!  She handled it like a pro!

We enjoyed the hot pools at Franz Joseph, especially after hiking along the river bed to the base of the glacier.  And we will forever remember the baby lambs that graced the fields around this amazing country – the wagging tails and the playful leaps.

Our most memorable rest stop was our lunch stop at the Blue Lakes between Queenstown and Christchurch.  The lake reminded us of Moraine Lake or Lake Louise in western Canada.  It was that same shade of turquoise and was absolutely stunning with Mt. Cook looming at 3700 metres in the background.

Old Mout, a New Zealand cider, quickly became a favourite night cap on the trip.  And many evenings were often spent sitting around on our camp chairs, contemplating life, and drinking the delicious cider.

If you ask the kids what they enjoyed the most from their trip around New Zealand, they will undoubtedly mention some of the playgrounds in the various campervan parks!  Their favourites included the hamster wheel at the park in Blenheim, the Koktopus swing at the beach in Nelson (would love to know who named that children’s swing), and the old tractor at the campground in Wanaka.  The other thing they will mention are the nicknames for the campervans – Turd and Deuce.  It will be a long time before the 5 kids relinquish the chant “Big Ole’ Rolling Turd (or Deuce) Coming Down – Woo Woo”!

New Zealand’s geography, while providing scenes of unsurpassed beauty, poses some difficulty in terms of time.  The countries rough-hewn nature makes travelling time often longer than you expect.  That being said, the South Island is the absolute perfect setting for a road trip.  We were amazed at the vineyards, the orchards with apples, olives and cherries.  And we found the one lane bridges and culverts, each of them named, endearing.  We will never forget the majestic snowy mountains, the silent fiords and sounds, ancient glacier, wide-open plains, lush green pastures, and sparkling blue lakes.

We took a sense of adventure and another family to share the experience with, and we left this magnificent island with so much more.  We came away with some beautiful photos, some amazing memories that will last a lifetime, and a deeper love and connection to the Boszormeny family.  And for that we are so incredibly grateful.

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Babes in Bikinis in Bowral

A weekend away with three girlfriends – Robyn, Amelia, and Sam.

Charlie, the only male.  13 month old lucky boy.

Holiday house in the charming town of Bowral, 3 hours from Blackheath.

Retail therapy and a few drinks.

Superb pastries at the Gumnut Patisserie.

Lunch and dinners out.  BYO wine.

New nickname.

More shopping.

More pastries.  Great coffee.

A weekend and 3 girlfriends that will be impossible to forget.

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“You Did It!”

Olivia, our 13 year old niece, was greeted by Elijah and I at the airport in Sydney on August 16th with a small home-made sign that read “You Did It”!  Escorted through security and immigration by one of the staff at the airport, Livi and I spotted each other, and proceeded to dissolve into each other’s arms – the sign crumpled between us – both of us relieved that she had made it safely!

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Livi was going to be away from her dad Scott (my brother), her mom Julia, her sister Grace, her friends and other family members, and her soccer teammates (during playoffs I might add!) for a total of 2 weeks!  We were so impressed that she wanted to come visit us and that she was willing to come on her own!  It is not a short journey, nor is it uncomplicated.  But with minimal assistance from the airlines, airport staff, and good friend Caralynne in Vancouver, Liv was able to get herself here and home again safe and sound.

Olivia was the absolute perfect visitor.  Our kids literally sparkled the entire time she was here with us.  Leina stuck to her like glue and tried to spend every waking moment with her special cousin.  While she was here, the kids enjoyed playing charades, and card games, and we went for bike rides around town and walks in the evenings, and hiked in the mountains.  Afternoons were often spent jumping on the trampoline in the backyard and evenings were always capped off with story time.  The kids were so proud to show Liv how well they are reading in English.

Olivia got introduced to their school and their teachers and some of their friends.  She went on a tour of their school, got to read in Cohen’s class, attended one of their weekly assemblies, and even rode home on the school bus with them!  Olivia marveled at their accomplishments and was impressed with their awards and certificates.

Olivia was at the perfect age for this visit.  While she enjoyed sitting and playing with the kids as much as possible, she was equally interested in sitting around with adults to talk about current events and life in Glengarry.  She was responsible enough to make the kids dinner one night and to babysit, so that Matt and I could go out on a date!

She managed to charm the pants off everyone she met and everyone was amazed at how mature and polite and gregarious she is for someone her age.  One woman even mistook Liv for being a university student!  Liv thought that was great!

Liv was able to visit Katoomba and rode the cable car and steep railway into and out of the Grose Valley and rainforest below.  She hiked at Pulpit Rock and picnicked on the side of a cliff, and she was blown away by the views at Govetts Leap, and her favourite lookout, Anvil Rock.  She came with us to celebrate Damien and Amber’s little nephew Ollie’s 4th birthday party at an indoor play place and spent the afternoon crawling and sliding right along with the other kids, much to the delight of Leina, Cohen and Elijah!

The kids introduced Liv to some of their favourite Australian animals at Featherdale Wildlife Park, and she loved seeing the kangaroos randomly out in the fields not unlike seeing deer at home!

Matt introduced Liv to an Australian high school for a day, and matched her with Caitlin, a year 8 student at Lithgow.  Liv had many observations from the day, and came away with an appreciation for life at her little rural high school in Glengarry.  She even got published in the school’s monthly newsletter!  Thankfully she didn’t fall in love with any year 8 boy and decide to stay here!

One of the highlights from our time together was our weekend spent exploring Sydney.  We spent time with friends Amelia and Huw and their children Imogen, Annika and Charlie, at Shelley Beach near Manly and rode the ferry back to Circular Quay at night time with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge sparkling with light.  We introduced her to Sydney’s Chinatown and dined on Chinese food.  We spent time on Cockatoo Island exploring the Biennale art exhibit, bought gelato and souvenirs in the Rocks Market, and watched buskers playing their didgeridoo’s.

We’ve discovered that Liv is an impressive shopper and managed to get some wonderful little gifts to bring home to her family, as well as a few new “back-to-school” wardrobe staples.  She enjoyed shopping at the Factory Outlets down in Sydney, as well as the little shops in the Blue Mountains, and succeeded in buying herself a pair of authentic UGG boots!

Regardless of how brief our time together here in Australia was, we are grateful for the quality of her visit.  We are indebted to all of the generous individuals who made her trip possible, and we are grateful to her parents, Scott and Julia, for giving their daughter firm roots as well as wings.

It was not easy to say good-bye to someone as special a visitor as Livi, but I must say, it was touching to witness the compassionate exchange between very fond cousins – both when she arrived and when she had to leave.

There is no greater gift than the gift of love and family and we are all so proud and lucky to have such a beautiful, brave, and fun-loving gem like Livi in our midst!

And Livi – congratulations – you did it!  You are an amazing young lady.  And may this just be the start of some fantastic worldly travels.  You, and the people you will meet, will be richer for it.