We arrived in Jeju by plane from Busan. We booked the tickets about two weeks before but there were planes leaving literally every 10 minutes so if you are more of a ‘spur of the moment’ person, there will be a seat for you.
From Seoul station, a fast KTX train takes you to Gyeong ju in about 2 h. Adult tickets are 45,000 won and children under 3 are free. There are trains pretty much every 30 min between Seoul and Gyeong ju and a prior reservation is not necessary.
Gyeong ju is dubbed as the Golden City, in commemoration of the golden relics uncovered in the ancient tombs dotted in the area. It is also a UNESCO listed heritage city with a laid back vibe and beautifully preserved temples.
We arrived in Seoul a few days ago, after a reasonably smooth but long flight from Istanbul. We had a good idea of the different options to reach the city but were rather unprepared for the post- flight exhaustion that followed a busy work week. So decided to make our life easier and splurge for a cab.
Sydney was our first stop in our six week Australia itinerary (check it out here) . We spent a couple of days recovering from jet lag and celebrated the New Year 2017 ahead of all our family and friends, overlooking the Opera House and worldwide famous fireworks.
As a sidenote, if you are planing to participate in the New Year festivities in Sydney, go to your chosen area early. The local administration organises several public viewing areas but the best ones will get filled up at about lunchtime. We even saw peple setting up tent in the morning. The good thing is that once they are filled, they will be marked as complete in interractive maps around the city so you do not need to head in that direction. We prepared for a long wait, packed some food, water and diapers in the stroller and arrived at about 8PM in the area located in front of the Museum for Modern Art. The area closed soon after we entered. At about 10 PM there was already a short firework program for ‘families’ but most people stayed for the big event at midnight.
After the fireworks are over, if you are with a stroller, you will need to wait until most of the area clears before you can head to the exit. It did get very crowded once everybody headed for the exits and hurried home. The amount of people on the streets can be overwhellming, as tens of thousands are trying to reach the metros and busses. Luckly our aparthotel was within a decent walking distance (about 40 min) from the Opera House. The LO happilly fell asleep in the stroller immediatelly after the fireworks ended. Side note ended.
Back to our favourite child friendly attractions in Sidney here is the top 6 (one for evey day of the week):
1. Taraonga Zoo – entertainment for whole family on this purposely built zoo island. We bought the tickets online to avoid the queues. You also get a small saving from the price ( aprox 20%). The quickest and easiest way to get to Taronga Zoo is by public transport. The Zoo is located 12 minutes from Circular Quay by ferry or a short bus/train trip from the city or North Sydney. With over 4000 animals to see and 20 Keeper Talks and Shows a day, you’ll need some prior organisation to get the most out of your day at Taronga. They do provide an app that will make navigation easier and show all the updated info on the events taking place. Elevators and ramps are located around the site, allowing those with limited mobility and strollers to traverse the Zoo. The Sky Safari cable car can accommodate stroller and you should definetely do the ride as it offers a different perspective. We loved the picnic tables scattered around and brought our own snacks and water.
2. Sea Life Aquarium in Darling Harbour – is one of the world’s largest aquariums – with over 700 different species and 13,000 animals in an impressive six million litres of water. It is also home to the world’s largest variety of sharks and rays, as well as Australia’s most famed marine animals, including dugongs and tropical reef fish. Only recently they have included a penguin microclimate where you have access via a raft. Temperatures are sub-zero as they try to re- create Arctic atmosphere. They also have a handy stroller parking before you board the train. Penguin colony aside, the underwater world of Shark Valley, an ocean tunnel walk-through is impressive for both kids and adults.
3. Stroller-friendly walk through the royal botanical gardens –
It’s a botanical and cultural oasis that’s perfect for a picnic and an afternoon of imaginative play amongst the plants, flowers and bushes. A great way to get around is to take a ride on the Choo Choo Express mini train service. You also get a different perspective of the Opera House.
4. The Beach – Sydney has access to a number of great beaches. With a toddler, head for calm waters and shade. Little Manly Cove (Stuart Street, Manly 2095) has a shark net and changing facilities. Another nice beach in Manly is Shelly Beach (Bower Street Manly 2095). This is an excellent beach for families, being quite sheltered, small and at a safe distance from the road. There is even some shade on the beach itself. With older children, you can head to Bondi where they can also take surf lessons. No shade on Bondi Beach and can get pretty crowded at week- ends. We hauled a shade tent from Europe that came in handy to protect the baby under the hot Summer Sun. Appropriate sun screen is a must. We also bought a full UV protection swimsuit for the baby. See our pre-trip preparation tips here.
5. The Chinese Garden – A visit to the Chinese Gardens in Darling Harbour is a wonderful option for young kids. Parents will love it too as it provides an escape from the busy city and traffic noise. It’s a magical oasis of waterfalls, lakes and exotic plants. Don’t miss the chance to feed the beautiful Koi fish at 11.30am daily! Then enjoy some treats and tea at the tea house. Some of the pathways are rocky and steep and therefore not pram-friendly so take a carrier instead if possible.
6. Powerhouse Museum ( suitable for 5 years + and grownups that want to play)-Located in the old Ultimo Power Station building adjacent to Darling Harbour, the Powerhouse Museum is the flagship venue of Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). Its unique and diverse collection spans science, technology, design and decorative arts, engineering, architecture, health and medicine, fashion and contemporary culture. It is a dream come true for every little explorer. They have regular educational events and workshops for kids and it is worth checking the program if you plan a visit.
These were our favourite places in Sydney to visit with a toddler but they were definitely enjoyed by the adults as well.
Anything we missed? Make a mention in the comments.
With our toddler well accustomed to the train travel, on our 7th day in Japan, we headed to Kyoto. From Takayama we first had to go back to Nagoya for 2h30 min on the Hida express train. We then changed in a hurry (consider that the Shinkansen is usually in another part of the train station compared to the local (slower) trains) and took the Shinkansen for about one hour to Kyoto. We timed the departure at lunch break so that the LO would sleep on the train. This time it worked.
Japan was long on my list but somehow we never got the chance till this May to jump on a flight to Tokyo. As we traveled with our 18-month year old baby, this trip required a bit more preparation in terms of advance booking of accommodation and itinerary setting. I do plenty of research before almost every trip (to make sure I do get my pick of the nice hotels at affordable prices and book ahead any sights to avoid long queues) but for the trips with the baby, it moves to the next level – control freak level that is!
This trip will be split into at least two different posts as the information is very fresh in my mind and I will probably dwell on the details more than usual. Also, if you plan to take this trip with a toddler (like us), I guess the more info the better. Please note however, we did not choose the itinerary or accommodation to suit the baby but rather tried to ease the baby into our travel pace. Therefore, no all inclusive, baby clubs or private transfer for us.
From about the time I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to use part of my parental leave to travel. The usual yearly holidays are a good place to start but, as I was looking at a few extra months of leave once the LO would join us, I wanted to use them to travel as well. This is how the idea of a long road trip through Australia was born.
We bought the plane tickets in Summer for a trip that took place shortly after Christmas 2016 and lasted a bit more than 6 weeks. LO was one year old at the time of travel so the first rounds of vaccinations were done and he already showed some willingness to accommodate plane constraints (we took him for 8 or so European flights since birth). This being said, we were still prepared to the teeth with squeaky toys, blankets, pacifiers and bottles. I might have even brought 8 or so jars of food and powder milk which was totally unnecessary as, you probably guessed it, everything is easily available pretty much everywhere except maybe the outback.
Planning: After buying the flights to Sydney, I started with drawing up the itinerary. The initial idea was to travel by car, maybe even a caravan, and go down the East Coast. A classic! As we were reading more and more about the country, several other points of interest popped up so we had to give up part of the road trip in order to cover more ground. Also, we were not too keen on driving in the outback with a one year old baby. After a few iterations we ended up with the following general itinerary :
- A week or so in Sydney upon arrival: to recover from Jet lag and see the Opera House fireworks at New Year. Fly to Melbourne
- About 8 days in Melbourne and up and down the Great Ocean Road. Return to Melbourne and fly to Uluru.
- Three nights in Uluru (also referred to as Ayeres Rock)
- About 26 days to drive down from Cairns to Sydney (including plenty of time in Cairns to dive the Great Barrier Reef)
As there is plenty to say and even much more to do, I will do separate posts for each of these legs.
What to bring from home (and what not): If it would have been just me and the Mr travelling, I would have probably said nothing or almost nothing.
We had our sun hats, sun glasses and diving masks, PADI certification and diving logs, international driving licence, emergency kit with some medicine in case of traveller’s tummy or sunburns and some insect repellent. Do not bring Sunscreen. The rays are much stronger, especially if going in the Summer as we did, and local Sunscreen is better suited. Also took the camera, the underwater camera (GoPro) and water shoes.Good walking shoes or sandals are also a must as you will be spending lots of time outdoors.
For the baby, the list got somewhat longer and included also his health book and proof of vaccinations, powder milk, baby porridge, several jars of pureed food, a couple of bottles an teats, several soothers, some liquid soap to wash said bottles, a brush, skin cream and diaper cream, bath soap, baby insect repellent, a blanket, a small towel, a bed sheet, a few muslin cloths, a bunch of his favourite toys and clothes for pretty much any weather conditions you can imagine. We each had a backpack with our own stuff and an extra luggage for the baby. And the stroller.
Looking back, except for the minimum documentation, emergency medical kit for all and a few favourite toys, bottle and pacifiers, I could have left everything home. Baby food was easy to find in all supermarkets and the LO had no issues with changing the milk to a local Bio brand. Almost all places we stayed at had access to a washing machine and provided detergent and liquid detergent for dishes. Also, we had requested baby beds in advance and there was no problem in getting them as well as the sheets and towels. This experience served us well to understand how little a baby actually needs to travel, especially if your destination is in a country with similar standards of living as Western Europe.
Rent a car: we went via Autoeurope and found good deals both for the car that we rented in Melbourne and the one in Cairns. We were lucky with the car seats, as both cars had quite new, good quality seats. You can travel with your own one if you want as well. We decided to give up the baby car seat and only travel with the stroller to reduce the number of luggage and also because we had periods (in Sydney and Uluru) where we had no car available. As for the transfer from the airport to the hotel in Sydney, we booked in advance a service that offers car seats (Bubs Taxi). It was not cheap but it gave us peace of mind. On the way back to the airport, we asked the reception to book as a taxi transfer with child seat and everything worked out fine (and cheaper that the first transfer).
Accommodation: As we were spending 6 weeks in Australia, we opted for flexibility and only booked Sydney, Melbourne and Uluru before leaving Europe. Sydney because that was the first stop and our period coincided with the New Year so we expected high prices and some crowds. Melbourne for similar reasons but also because we were in the Australian summer break. Uluru is a bit of a special scenario as there is a self contained resort and you are constrained by a limited number of accommodation places in each price bracket. If you are planning a longer journey, my advice would be to book the first two stops (for recovering for the flight, get accustomed to the place and enjoying some well deserved exploration time) and any other accommodation that might fill up fast or in a special location.
As we were expecting some jet lag induced early mornings for both us and the baby, we decided for a small apartment in Sydney. We booked the Meriton Serviced Appartments on Campbell Street. The small flat had a washing maschine, dish washer and fully equipped kitchen. More importantly, the sleeping room was separate, meaning that when the baby would wake up early, one parent could go out to the living room and entertain him or watch some TV while the other could still sleep a bit and take the early shift the next day. It worked out really great to give us some flexibility in the difficult first days of adjustment.
Internal flights: We ended up with 3 internal flights. 1) Sydney to Melbourne (aprox 1h), 2) Melbourne to Uluru (via Sydney aprox 5h30) and 3) Uluru to Cairns (about 2h30). We booked them all in advance as we were afraid the prices might go up over the holidays and once we are in Australia. Also, for the itinerary we chose, there were limited alternatives to/from Uluru. There are a few low cost carriers that go between Sydney and Melbourne but be careful about luggage fees as this might add up. We decided for two Virgin Australia and one Quantas flights for around 1200 Euro for all three flights Euros for the three of us.
International flight preparation: The golden rule of baby travel: book a bassinet as soon as you can! I called the airline the next day the tickets were booked (about 6 months in advance) to request seats with a bassinet. We went with Qatar Airways and bassinets were available but for the first part of the journey, to Doha, me and my husband could not sit next to eachother. That was not a big issue as most of the journey was during the day and the LO played, looked around and was generally easy to handle. We changed planes in Qatar and prepared LO for the night travel that followed by putting him in a pyjama and giving him the bottle as the flight to Sydney was taking off. Once he was sufficiently tired, I put him in the carrier and walked a bit in the plane. That was enough to put him to sleep so I then took him out of the carrier and laid him down him in the bassinet. He managed to get about 7h sleep in the bassinet which is not that bad bad considering the new surroundings and the noise. The most disruptive parts (for me rather than for him 🙂 were when during turbulence, I had to remove him from the bassinet and take him in my arms again. As this is a security measure to avoid injury, there is no leeway from the crew so even if I was just managed to get him to sleep in the bassinet. I had to pick him up a couple of times during the night and secure him with the seatbelt.
We arrived in Sydney in the evening of the second day of our adventure , with our previously booked transfer (fitted with baby car seat) waiting for us at the airport. We went directly to our hotel-apartment (30 -40 min from the airport) and, after a very short dinner in a nearby arcade, all fell to sleep tired and jet lagged.
Of course, LO woke up at 3 AM refresed and wanted to eat and play. We had this for about 2-3 nights and the best cure for the jetlag was to actually try to keep him awake as long as possible during the day. We also immediatelly changed his meals to fit the new daytime hours ( he had an early breakfast when he would wake up and a small snack to keep him going till lunchtime). By the end of day 3, he was fully adjusted to the new timezone. It was actually faster for him than for us. We continued to wake up very early for a week or so.
Essential buy on arrival: a SIM card with a data plan. Already on our first day in Sydney we had identified a big shopping mall close to the aparthotel and compared several offers. If you will be in Australia for more than a few days, it makes a lot of sense to switch to local number. You can enjoy internet everywhere and pay a fraction of the price compared to Roaming. We went for Vodafone. It costs around 20 AUD and the initial credit is valid for 30 days. Offers may differ.
Stay tuned for great activities to do with children in Sydney in my next Australia post.