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Started: 2007-08-29 22:22:01

Submitted: 2007-08-29 22:39:41

Visibility: World-readable

1935 AEST 14 August 2007

I've been in Australia for about a week and a half and I'm ready to go home. Sydney's a great place (even though I haven't seen much of it, being cooped up in an office and all), but I've been away from Kiesa for too long, and the novelty of having to hunt down new and exciting places to eat is wearing a bit thin. Even if Sydney has great food, the service is usually a bit unresponsive. (I don't like clingy wait staff, but most places I've been are far from clingy.) It's interesting and all to get into the development of another set-top box, but being able to fix it is an entirely different matter.

On Saturday, 11 August 2007, Steve and I took the day off and took the train from Sydney to Katoomba, deep within the Blue Mountains a hundred kilometers inland. The train took two hours, stopping at every little town along the way. I tried calling Kiesa (it was Friday evening), but I kept loosing coverage in the moving train. I played New Super Mario Bros, documented my first week in Sydney, and filmed the eucalyptus forests rushing by the window.

1059 PDT 18 August 2007

Upon arrival in Katoomba, I surveyed the immediate surroundings of the train station and tried to figure out what to do. Various pay-for-tour options presented themselves, but I opted to walk two kilometers south, along the main road, to the edge of the table-top mountain for the view into the valley below. I turned on my GPS receiver and was able to fix my position in the southern hemisphere, thousands of miles from home and the nearest waypoint.

We found the overlook I sought, looking at the Three Sisters, a vertical limestone formation said to be three young women from a local tribe who were changed into rock to protect them from either defiling men of an adjacent tribe or an arbitrary beast, depending on whether one subscribes to the family-friendly version of the legend. The overlook was windy and was completely mobbed by tourists, mostly Asians. I visited the tourist information and picked up a trail guide and a topographic map; I wanted to hike into the valley but conceded that the map was a bit excessive.

Before descending into the valley, I grabbed a snack at a local tourist spot. (When I ordered coffee, the cashier asked what kind -- coffee refers generically to drip coffee and espresso-based beverages. I had a latte. I never figured out what a "flat white" was.) Steve wasn't up to hiking into the valley, so I left him at the top with plans to rendezvous on a different point on the canyon wall.

I descended the Grand Staircase, looping around the Three Sisters to drop about a thousand vertical feet on a combination of worn steps carved into the sandstone and steel grid stairs providing a view straight down, often hundreds of feet. I used both of my cameras, still and digital, recording my climb using the special talents of each media. At the bottom of the stairs, a network of trails spread out going both east and west, staying at a level contour at the base of the sandstone cliffs. I headed west and looped around the Three Sisters. The forest on either side of the track (Australian for "trail") was dense rain forest, packed with eucalyptus trees, hanging vines, fern trees, and other plants I lack the vocabulary to enumerate. I hiked past an old coal mine and continued along the track, which became much fainter after passing the Furber Stairs, which I planned on taking back up to the plateau. I turned around with enough time to climb up to Scenic World and rendezvous with Steve at the appointed time. Scenic World offered a number of rides onto and above the valley floor. I bought a non-cheap ticket giving me a descent into and return from the valley. (Steve had arrived hours earlier and bought an all-day pass; he had already ridden everything but did it again with me.) On the gondola down, I did the generic dorky tourist thing: videoing the descent from the window. (I did see more than simply looking through my viewfinder.)

At the bottom again, I walked along the elevated boardwalk designed to give city-dwelling tourists a chance to see the valley without getting their feet dirty. While I wouldn't have minded mud, I did appreciate the interpretive signs telling me about the plants and coal mining history.

We could have taken the gondola back out of the valley, but we opted instead for the rail route, which claimed to be the world's steepest cable car. Originally built to haul coal out of the valley's coal mines, it quickly proved more profitable to haul tourists up and down the inclined railway. We scored front-row seats for the trip up; the ground gave way and the car tilted back and I began to worry about the lack of restraints keeping me attached to the car and whether there were any mechanisms in place to keep the car from running out of control should the cable break. Disaster was averted; the ride was over quickly and we disembarked at the top.

I purchased an AU$3 stuffed animal kangaroo that looked the right size for our cats to play with. That completed my sight-seeing adventure in Katoomba; we hiked back into town and ate supper at Niche Nosh, a vegetarian restaurant I found with a bit of Googling. The food was good, but the service was a bit troubled; when we asked for dessert, our waiter disappeared, never to be seen again; we ultimately got our dessert. (Mine was better than Steve's, though.)

The train left Katoomba Station for Sydney once an hour; by ordering dessert, we ended up getting to the train station half an hour out of phase. It was cold and dark outside (although the dark lent itself to some potentially-interesting long-exposure shots of the station and its surroundings in which Steve and I tried to steady our respective cameras against the platform railing), but the station waiting room was warm, albeit crowded.

We arrived in Sydney two hours later; I played more New Super Mario Bros and continued documenting my trip so far. Back at the hotel, there wasn't much to do but check my e-mail (at AU$0.55/minute) and go to bed.