With our friends from New York, Luke and Mandy, visiting us for 10 days, we decided to take them to the Blue Mountains their first weekend.
The first time we went there, with Sharon's sister Dalia, it was so foggy we couldn't actually see anything. The second time, with my brother Andrew, we could actually see what was around us, but the day was overcast and we got rained on.
Both of these times we had gone to Katoomba, the main tourist spot; this time around we decided to hike a trail in Wentworth Falls to mix it up a bit. As we pulled into the parking lot, this attempt seemed destined to be a repeat of those earlier experiences: dark clouds were gathered up over the area, threatening rain at any moment.
Starting at the top of a plateau overlooking a valley, we meandered down a very muddy path towards the falls. We walked across a short rock bridge across the stream at the top of the falls, just a few short hops from where it plunged hundreds of feet to the valley floor. A very steep staircase winded its way down to the bottom. About halfway down the rain let loose, which was soon accompanied by some impressive thunder.
|About to begin our descent down some very steep stairs. Mandy is freezing in the back.|
Once at the bottom, I made us stop to consider whether to go back or press on given the very real possibility of being caught in a serious storm with no gear. No one was interested in going back up the stairs we just came down, though, and Sharon, whose middle name is "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead" wasn't about to entertain a retreat.
|A wet shot at the bottom of the first waterfall.|
|Under the waterfall.|
|The main waterfall from a distance.|
We decided to continue, which turned out to be a good decision; the view of the falls from various points of the trail was spectacular. And as we began our climb up another path something wonderful happened: the rain stopped, the clouds cleared, and the sun beat brightly upon us, drying out our soaked jeans and t-shirts.
Our trail, about halfway up the cliff face, wound past a few more waterfalls, though none were as impressive as the first. We even encountered some people in wetsuits rappelling down the ravine carved by one waterfall.
Unfortunately, what goes down must come up, and there were several hundred steps to reach the top of the plateau where we started. Mandy, who grew up in the flat country of Ohio, told us the ascent was the hardest thing she'd ever done. As a reward for our efforts, we were treated to a stunning view of the valley and tablelands at a lookout point about three quarters of the way up. At the very top we collapsed at a café overlooking the area and ordered up some milkshakes and snacks.
|The view from the top...with much improved weather.|
We then took Luke and Mandy for a quick spin over to Katoomba so they could see the Three Sisters, the most famous rock formation in the Blue Mountains, and decided to head to the hotel to check in, get cleaned up, and find a restaurant for dinner.
We plugged the hotel address into the Garmin and begin following its recommended route. As we approached the destination, the pink line on the screen didn't deviate off the main highway like I expected it to. This meant the hotel was on the highway. We hadn't passed anything that looked promising on the way in. This can't be good, I thought.
We soon came to an enormous pink building called the Grand View Hotel. "This is it," Sharon confirmed. We parked around the back and entered the building through a large pub, walked through it and out into a hallway. We couldn't find the check-in desk. I wandered over to the bar and asked where it was.
"This is the check-in," the woman informed me. I knew it was going to be bad. We got our keys and walked up the stairs to the second floor, along a dingy hallway, and to our rooms, passing the shared men's and women's bathroom along the way. Sharon was first through the door of our room. "Oh, Adam," was all she said. Those two words made my heart sink: it was going to be very bad.
At one time in the 1900s, the room's carpet would have been pink. It was now brownish-pink, with a number of particularly high-profile stains throughout. The walls were scuffed and dirty. The room had a dresser, a bed, a chair, and a sink. The bed looked like a hand-me-down from the first Australian convicts. I've stayed in some awful places before (see Exhibit A: Hotel room with Hummer blanket), but even this place skeeved me out.
|Exhibit A: Hotel room with Hummer blanket|
"I'm not going to put my head on the pillow because I don't want to get the flesh eating virus," Sharon wailed.
Luke and Mandy were having a similar reaction in their room.
"I'll protect you." Luke offered.
"From what? Bed bugs?" Mandy replied.
Luke and I headed to the showers to wash off the dirt and sweat from the hike. The bathroom did have two separate shower stalls, separated by a wall. We shared shampoo and conditioner by throwing them over this wall.
From his side of the wall, Luke made a very good suggestion: "You know, we don't actually have to stay here; we're only an hour and a half from home."
"That's true," I replied. That it took someone from New York who had been in Sydney all of 36 hours to make this observation was somewhat embarrassing. But I wasn't going to let that stop us. I went back in the room and told Sharon to pack it up.
We went to the bar to check out. When the bartender asked for a reason more specific than "the rooms look much worse than on the website" I said they were so dirty looking I didn't want to touch anything. We didn't get a refund since the hotel claimed they advertised themselves as a "budget hotel" -- that is true, but budget doesn't necessarily mean disgusting. There's a little chain of places in the U.S. called Motel 8 that's capitalized on this reality. At $100 a pop, those showers turned out to be the most expensive of my life.
We drove back to Sydney and had dinner in a tiny, charming French restaurant in Elizabeth Bay called Café No. 9. Then we spent a beautiful Sunday chilling at the beach followed by ribs at Hurricanes. Despite the snafu at the Grand View, it was a great weekend and was great to have our friends in town.
|The Browns' last night in Australia.|