TRAVEL: DIY Day trip from Sydney to Katoomba


Hey everyone! I know it’s been AGES since my last post and I do apologize for that! I did this thing called grad school which actually does take up all your free time – who knew ūüôā¬†¬† But that’s done now, so you may get more frequent posts! I make no promises because life is still crazy!

I’ve done a lot of living, traveling, eating and creating¬† since my last posts so now it’s time to play catch up with some select things I feel worth mentioning from the last two years. First up – one of my best travel days from 2016!


The Three Sisters

If I haven’t mentioned on here before how much I love my job – let’s just take a second for me to tell you that I love my job! Why? They let me travel occasionally which is how I ended up Down Under back in May! Most of my time was filled with work, but I did snag a few free days for myself. My favorite day in Australia was my solo day trip to the Blue Mountains. I’ve traveled a lot – but mostly with other people. I’ve done a few small solo trips and excursions and I always love them – this was no exception! I fully embraced being solo and had a FANTASTIC time.

My trip to Australia was a bit last-minute and I arrived in Australia without much of a plan (I didn’t even know what hotel I was staying at until the day I left!) but I knew I wanted to go to the Blue Mountains based on recommendations. Since I was there in May, all the Aussies I met told me it’d be very cold, so I checked the weather. Every single day was supposed to rain except for one – and luckily I was able to go that day. The Aussies told me it rains every day there but not usually all day so to take that forecast with a grain of salt.¬† So I packed an umbrella, but it wasn’t needed. I did just fine with only a light fleece jacket and it was perfect weather for hiking (I was there May 25th).

There were all sorts of day trips to sign up for that would pick you up at your hotel and included various options (like stopping at a wildlife preserve on the way, lunch vs. no lunch, ferry ride vs. bus ride back, etc…). It was all a bit overwhelming and none of them seemed to leave much time to do what I really wanted to do most – hike around and wander freely. So I decided to forego tours altogether and forge my own way. If you also don’t see a tour that works for you here’s how I did it (and how I’d recommend to do it differently!)


Get an Opal Card (transportation card that works for the buses, trains and ferries) from just about any convenience store or kiosks near the station and load it up with at least $20 AUD. Then, take the Blue Mountains Line from Sydney Central station (or one a few other locations near Sydney) to Katoomba. This takes approximately two hours. Check sign-boards at the station for the track number and use your Opal Card for your fare. Train runs approximately every hour with early morning departure times. Leave as early as you can for maximum time there! I took the 7:30am train, which was delayed so we didn’t leave until closer to 8:30. I got the feeling that delays aren’t super common, but they did a great job announcing it and giving us updates (thank you Sydney Transport!). With your Opal Card you don’t have to buy tickets in advance, so just show up for the time you prefer (timetables can be found online). Sydney Transport has an excellent “Plan Your Trip” tool online. There’s also free wifi in Central Station I was able to use while waiting (though it’s only on the platforms themselves, not around the station or on the trains).

I had a pre-loaded Opal card from the company I was there with but even if I had to put money on it myself the 2-hour train ride to Katoomba was about $6 AUD and the way back was around $8 AUD. Cheaper than any other option you’re going to find! I took one of the earliest trains out of Sydney’s Central station around 7:30am and enjoyed looking out the window from the quiet car for the two hour ride. It does stop quite a few places along the way but it is pretty efficient- and I saw a kangaroo sitting in a field! I was too dumbstruck by that to get a picture, though!

Once you get to Katoomba (isn’t that fun to say???) make sure to tap-off with your Opal card (the machines are much smaller and there are no turnstiles to go through like at the stations in Sydney). Head out of the train station and you’re on Katoomba Street. My biggest challenge was finding a restroom because the one at the station was closed!


For ease and convenience I decided to buy a ticket for the Blue Mountains Explorer Hop On/Hop Off bus that takes you around town. Their office is right next to the train station and super easy to find. I got the option that included Scenic World Tickets (Lyrebird Pass) which was a bit pricy at $83 AUD. Not significantly cheaper than some of the day trips (which were around $150 no food or Scenic World tickets included), but I didn’t have to spend time doing stuff I didn’t want to do.

Once on the bus I got off at Stop 8 – Katoomba Falls. I looked at the stops online before going and had a general idea of what I wanted to see, but I hadn’t planned it out quite enough so I ended up just winging it.¬† From there, I took the trail to a beautiful overlook and then followed the signs to the Furber Steps, past Witch’s Leap and saw the gorgeous Katoomba Falls from a few angles. I strategically took the Furber Steps DOWN – they’re pretty darn steep so you should be in good shape if you try to take them UP.¬† I’m in decent shape, but definitely not an experienced hiker. I hiked 10+ miles that day and didn’t once feel like I was in over my head on the trails. I also didn’t have a trail map so I was just using signs and hoping I’d end up somewhere near a stop (which worked out pretty well for me but maybe wasn’t the greatest idea).¬† Once down near the bottom, I took the Scenic Railway back up. When they say it’s the steepest incline railway, they’re not kidding! You go practically vertical and do have to hang on so you don’t fall out of your seat! However – lack of research made me miss the Scenic CableWay as I didn’t go far enough down. By the time I realized, I was back up at Scenic World and decided not to trek back down!

I got some gifts at the Gift Shop at Scenic World and ate lunch in their cafe (the prices weren’t too bad for a tourist trap). For an even more budget-friendly option – pack a picnic as there are plenty of places to sit and eat (just make sure to take all your trash with you!)¬† Then I took the Scenic SkyWay across and hiked over to Echo Point and the Three Sisters. All this took several hours and was a LOT of walking, but to me figuring out what was around every turn was an adventure. I picked the bus back up at Echo Point, but got back off again at stop 16 – Kiah Lookout and walked from there to Leura Cascades (stop 17). No one was getting off but I highly recommend it because it was so peaceful and gorgeous! Kiah Lookout itself wasn’t too different than what I’d been seeing all day, but the bushwalk from there to Leura Cascades was nice. I saw another waterfall (Bridal Veil Falls) and avoided back-tracking. Finding the next stop was a bit difficult since I hiked to it and hadn’t been dropped off there. There weren’t too many people around but I did find a nice couple (also from Indiana – small world!) who knew where it was!


Leura Cascades – my camera does not do this view justice!

I REALLY wanted to keep going at that point but I’d hiked over 10 miles and up 51 flights of stairs (according to my iPhone) and that didn’t even count any of the steps I went DOWN (which was more than I went up!). I got to the point that every time I stopped my legs were shaking and I knew it wasn’t too smart to keep going! I took the bus back to the train station but had a few hours to kill before the train came. I looked around the antique shops (they’ve got quite a few!) and grabbed a light dinner before catching the train back.


Scenic World – the rides are lifesavers on time and your legs getting up/down the mountain! You also get great views and a bit of a thrill – I love heights but they may freak some people out!¬† Less “rollercoaster ride” and more of a cool vessel that transports you from one place to another. Worth the money but don’t accidentally skip one of the included rides like I did. No lines when I was there but during peak season it’s probably worth to buy tickets in advance to skip the line! Tickets aren’t exactly cheap so you could still have a great day without these – just allow more time to get around and be prepared to hike back up if you hike down!

Waterfall trail – While hiking down towards the Scenic Railway on the Furber steps you’ll come across a small sign that says something like “behind the falls trail”.¬† I almost missed it but I was making a point to look for signs and read them all. It’s a down-and-back trail but HIGHLY worth it because it takes you right up to the waterfall (a fence stops you from going directly into it). This was such a quiet and serene little spot! There were wild cockatoos and birds and I even made a friend (he wanted my granola bar but I did not give it to him!) I only met one other person on this trail, but it was mostly flat and if you love waterfalls as much as I do, it was worth it! This was the most wildlife I saw the whole day!


My new friend the Cockatoo at the behind the falls trail

Think about what you really want to do – If you’re short on time like I was, look at your options and start narrowing it down. It’s insane to try to do all of it (even if you really do utilize that hop on/off bus and don’t do as much hiking.) I saw a couple trying to do all of it and they just seemed worn out and stressed by the end of the day. Yes – it’s all gorgeous and you want to see it all while you’re there but save your sanity! I prioritized doing the Scenic World rides (I knew they’d be great views and I really like heights even though I was worried it’d be more of a tourist trap), the Three Sisters, and as many waterfalls as I could fit in.


Explorer Bus – unless you have multiple days (the pass is good for 7 days) or if you really just want to hop off, see a sight and hop back on with minimal hiking. Then it’s a much better value. Since I only had one day and I ended up hiking between most of the stop off points anyway it wasn’t a great value for me. I also realized there was a regular city bus I could have used with my Opal Card. The regular bus didn’t go to all the stops the Explorer Bus did but with some planning I still could’ve seen everything I did with that bus and some walking and just bought my Scenic World tickets. It was highly convenient and the drivers were very helpful with recommendations – but I don’t think I rode it enough to get my money’s worth! I don’t regret doing it, but if you’re on a tight budget there are cheaper ways to do this!

Expensive Transport from Sydney – Looking back – I’m so glad I didn’t pay for a more expensive tour that picked me up and dropped me off in Sydney. Taking the train was SUPER easy – even for someone who doesn’t know much about trains. AND I was able to pick my own time table and plan my own itinerary. But if you really want everything figured out for you and like the itineraries the tours are offering – by all means go for it!

This things to skip list is short because I pretty much loved every second of this day trip!

Overall – I really think you should give this place at least 2 days if you can. But don’t discount it if you only have one day because you can still have a great day! I really wanted to go to Wentworth Falls but it was a half-day recommend hike which wouldn’t leave enough time to do much else, if I’d had two days I would’ve been able to do it! I didn’t see it all, but I left completely satisfied with all that I was able to accomplish, and it still ranks up there as one of my best travel days (and that’s from all 16 countries I’ve been to!)


The Scenic SkyWay



EAT: Healthy snacks for spring part 1


I know it’s been awhile….a long while. Sorry about that. I also can’t guarantee this post means I’m going to start regularly posting again though I will be traveling again soon so there will hopefully be some Italy posts coming in May ūüôā

The weather is FINALLY starting to get nicer here after the dreadful winter we had. Then we had a few weeks of one really nice day followed by a really crappy one, then a week of rain and wind and it’s finally sunny today! It’s got me thinking about spring and doing some spring cleaning, and also getting back outside to run/walk and thinking about eating healthier so here’s one of my favorite DIY healthy snacks right now courtesy of pinterest.

The blog I found this recipe on used this for storm relief during Hurricane Sandy and if there’s a natural disaster or other crazy event near you, that’s a great idea. Luckily, that’s not the case near me so I cut the original recipe in half and tweaked it to my liking. If you want the larger recipe, click on the link it’s adapted from. This stuff will make your house smell amazing while you’re making it and it is absolutely delicious! I eat it by itself for a snack, or as a cereal for breakfast. It’d also be great with yogurt. Now I just need to find a way to make these into bars without sacrificing the taste for an easier on-the-go snack. You can switch it up to your liking as well, I thought I didn’t like cranberries but for some reason decided they’d be better than raisins and I’m now in love with dried cranberries

Almond, Coconut and Cranberry Granola
Adapted from theKitchn

2 cups rolled oats (old fashioned oats NOT quick oats!)
1 cup sliced almonds (I found coconut flavored ones at walmart but any kind will do!)
3/4 cup shredded coconut (or more if you love coconut like I do)
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup egg whites (optional)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or raisins or other dried fruit of your choice)

Preheat oven to 325 F. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients except for cranberries. In a smaller bowl, combine wet ingredients and whisk. Pour wet ingredients over dry and stir well. Save cranberries for later, do not add them yet. Spread onto baking sheet (cover with parchment paper first for easy clean-up!) and bake for 20 minutes. Take out and carefully turn the mixture using a spatula, then put back in for another 15-20 minutes until it begins to brown. Take out and carefully dump mixture into a large bowl. Now add the cranberries and toss. Spread back onto baking sheet and return to over for about a minute. Remove from oven and cool on pan. Store in air-tight container or ziploc bag.


EAT: Pearl Couscous Soup


I’m finally getting around to another post, and this time it’s about food! I was supposed to go shopping with a friend today, but it decided to snow non-stop all night and most of today so we decided not to go. I declared it a snow day and have been crafting and baking all day ūüôā I started by making some bread in the bread machine and throwing some soup in the crockpot. I also have gingerbread cookie dough chilling in the fridge! I’ve also made great progress on the baby afghan I’m crocheting (there will most likely be a post on that when it’s finished!)

Anyway – on to the soup! I’m a big fan of couscous and when I found a recipe for pearl couscous soup I had to try it. I hadn’t used pearl (also called Israeli) couscous before and was a little concerned I wouldn’t be able to find it at my regular store, but I found a small jar of tri-colored pearl couscous on the top shelf near where the regular couscous is. This recipe is vegan (though I’m not vegan), but you could easily add some chicken or beef if you think you need it, though I think it works perfectly fine without it! It was super easy, throw it all in the crockpot, stir, and forget it! I cut the recipe in half and it was done in about an hour and a half on high. I omitted the onion and green pepper because I didn’t have onions and I don’t like green peppers. I added some onion powder to get some of the onion taste.¬† I also didn’t have plain oregano so I used Italian seasoning, and I also only had tomato basil pasta sauce, but it turned out delicious! Note that the couscous gets bigger as it cooks, so if it doesn’t look like much don’t be concerned! I ate it with fresh bread and cheese.

No picture today as I dug right in and forgot to take one, but here’s the ingredient list and a link to the recipe which does have pictures ūüôā

Ingredients: Pearl couscous, red kidney beans, carrots, vegetable broth, pasta sauce, diced tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, green pepper

Recipe at Vegan in the Freezer


Live: Tieks by Gavrieli Review


¬†Ok – so I know this is turning into a lot of reviews, but I just happen to have a lot of things to review right now. I promise I’ll get back to more Eat, Create, and Travel posts but I just haven’t been in a cooking/baking/creative mood lately!


I found these flats called Tieks through facebook, a friend had liked their page because they donate $1 of every like to women living in poverty, so of course I “liked” them. Then I looked into them more because I liked the look of them. After reading numerous reviews, I decided the price was just too much for me to buy some. Fast forward a few months and I found a facebook offer for $50 off. Now, I NEVER pay more than about $60 for a pair of shoes, so these were still out of my price range at $125 with coupon. I realized, however, that coupons probably aren’t available all the time, and this might be my only chance to get them. I started looking up review after review online and everyone seemed to think these were the miracle flat that worked for everything and were actually comfortable. I’ve been looking for a nice, comfortable pair of black flats I can wear to work and not worry about the fact I may have to walk across campus that day (I work at a large university). I rationalized that if these really were miracle shoes I wouldn’t mind paying that price because I’d wear them so often and I’d get to quit buying cheap flats that end up killing my feet. I should probably warn you¬†now that I am not a flat person,¬†and I’ve¬†yet to find a flat that’s truly comfortable.¬†


So I splurged, and I have to say they did NOT live up to their expectation. Most of the reviews I found for them seemed to be from people who had somehow scored a free pair though so that may have biased their reviews a little bit even if it wasn’t intentionally. If I had gotten these for free,¬†I probably would have kept them but I ended up sending them back.¬†


The box they came in was adorable, and I love the fact they have blue soles, but these just didn’t work for my feet. They don’t come in half-sizes and since I usually wear a size 8 I didn’t think it’d be a¬†problem. When the size 8 arrived, they were just a bit too tight and squeaked loudly with every step I took. Several reviews¬†said they would stretch a bit to fit your feet, but you can’t return them if you wear them enough to break them in and I couldn’t afford a $125 pair of shoes I couldn’t wear. I didn’t even want to try to break them in because the squeaking was so obnoxious. I got on their website and¬†it was super easy to request an exchange so I decided to try a size 9 even though I’ve never worn a size 9 in my life. A few days later the¬†size 9 shoes arrived along¬†with a return shipping label for the pair I decided to send back. Unfortunately, while the size 9 felt a lot better and didn’t squeak, they were a tad too loose and I could feel them rubbing my feet. I guess I really need an 8.5, but they don’t make that size!¬†I¬†got back on their website and requested a return, and they emailed me a label to send the other¬†pair back as well. Once they receive both pairs, I’ll get my refund.


So, while I love¬†the idea of these shoes and think they’re super duper cute, they¬†just didn’t work for me.¬†At least I know I tried¬†now and can quit¬†wanting to buy them. Their customer service was¬†superub, so if you’re on the fence about getting them know that it’s super easy to send them back if they don’t work out ūüôā ¬†


And here’s some pics:





Live: New Yoga Wear – Fabletics Review


I’m still working on my 30 day yoga challenge, and I think I’m going to be pretty sad when the month is over (maybe I’ll just start back from day 1!) I’m on day 15 and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon (though keeping it up through Thanksgiving at home MAY be a challenge since my parent’s internet doesn’t do streaming very well and a certain puppy dog loves to try to do it with you!)

Keeping along the lines of the yoga challenge, I wanted to share with you all about Fabletics, which are the new workout clothes I’ve just discovered¬†that are perfect for yoga (they have stuff more suited for running and other activities as well). I think it’s partly the new outfit that makes me want to do yoga just so I can wear it, but that’s the beauty of finding exercise clothes you like!¬†I ordered these online, which I never do, and was nervous about the fit, but the website assured me they had great customer service and returns if I didn’t like them. It helped that if you sign up and order within 24 hours that your first outfit is 50% off, making it $25 for both a top and bottom (good exercise clothes are never that cheap!) First they’ll give you a quick quiz to determine which outfits they think are best for you and then you can browse recommended outfits as well as their entire collection. To get the discount, you have to become a VIP member which means they’ll send recommended outfits to your email on the first of every month and you need to either buy an outfit or log in and “skip” the month, or they’ll charge you for the month anyway. You can skip as many months as you’d like, or cancel, and the prices are cheaper if you’re a member!

The thing that originally got me interested in this brand was that I saw it in SHAPE magazine and Kate Hudson helped create it. I’m easily suggestible to things I see that I like in magazines, but I can rarely afford them so finding out this was something I could afford made me happy.¬†Kate Hudson also happens to be one¬†of my favorite actresses, which also swayed me to buy! Shipping was free and when they arrived, it was a perfect fit!¬†They sell them in outfits, which I like since I don’t have to figure out what pieces go best together (or you can¬†buy separately but it’s cheaper as¬†an outfit!)¬†I got the Nadi¬†leggings and Oula tank (outfit was named Drive) and if I¬†could live in this outfit forever, I would. It’s that comfortable.¬†The shirt doesn’t ride up when I’m doing upside down yoga¬†poses and the leggings¬†sit slightly higher than normal on the waist so they also stay in place¬†and you don’t have to pull them up during a workout. If these were just a bit cheaper, I’d buy a lot more but for now I’ll have to settle for treating myself to a new outfit every few months!

They’re also doing¬†a yoga Instagram challenge this month where you post a pic of yourself doing a certain pose everyday (goes perfectly with my yoga challenge anyway so I’m participating!) Here is yesterday’s picture of me in my outfit doing down dog (I have no idea why there area bunch of yellow dots on this photo) :


For the record yoga selfies are not easy! And since the lighting in my apartment isn’t great, here’s what it looks like on their website:


If you’re interested in checking them out¬†here’s the link: Fabletics ¬†

*For full disclosure I’m writing this entirely on my own and not being compensated to endorse Fabletics in any way. The link is my personal referral link and if you click it and end up buying I’ll get reward points for referring you.*

LIVE: Earth Hour Follow-up


Back in April I posted about Earth Hour and changes I would be incorporating into my life to honor it. I never posted an update, and even though only¬†a few people read it and even less commented on it¬†– I had one comment that I really appreciated and I’ve decided I owe a follow-up.

I did not manage to make all of my goals.

I did not recycle in April, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. This is because my town offers curbside recycling to “all” residents and therefore doesn’t operate recycle centers. After much searching and asking around, I was unable to locate a recycle center. The problem with this is that the city only offers curbside recycling to traditional hourses or apartments with 4 or less units. I live in an apartment complex and the only thing available is a dumpster which is not a recycling dumpster. Luckily, later on in the summer a co-worker offered to get me a recycle bin and now every other week I drop my recycling off at his house in the morning and pick the bin back up after work. It didn’t cost him anything to request an extra bin and now I can recycle. So while I didn’t meet my goal in April, I’m now able to do so!

I did go vegetarian for the month, with the exception of one meal so I’m going to call that one a success! The only reason I ate meat for one meal was because I went to my cousin’s and did not warn her about my self-imposed challenge. Now I could’ve told her last minute and figured out something else to eat for dinner, but I didn’t want to be rude and she would have went out of her way to make me something special and I didn’t want her to do that. I didn’t keep up being vegetarian, but I’ve definitely cut down on my meat intake.

I mostly used reuseable bags. A few times I forgot my bags and did not stick to my promise that I had to have them to go shopping. I decided wasting extra gas just to get the bags kind of defeated my purpose and made an effort to go through the self-checkout and cram as much into the plastic bags as I could. I hate to say that this is something I did not continue after April, though I have been making sure to recycle my plastic bags.

I guess I more or less made my goal of having only one light on at a time and this is something I continue to try to do. Sometimes I have on more than one, but I’m making a conscious effort not to leave lights on in rooms I’m not in. I overheard some international students at a restaurant awhile ago complaining about how their American roommates seem to¬†need every light on in the apartment even when one would suffice, and how they found that odd. It made me realize that as Americans, we take things like constant access to electricity for granted, and waste a lot more of it than is necessary so I’ve continued to try to be more wise about my energy use. I haven’t really seen this reflected in my energy bill, but I’m doing my small part!

So there’s my lengthy follow-up! This did inspire me to come up with more monthly challenges, but I think I need to stick to one thing a month instead of trying to do four completely different things. Currently, I’m doing a 30-day yoga challenge and plan to come up with other challenges for 2014.

LIVE: 30 day Yoga Challenge


A friend of my recently came to visit and while she was here I mentioned that I’ve been wanting to get back into yoga, but I haven’t been able to find a studio nearby that has decent prices or class times I can attend. She told me she had found the 30 Day Yoga Challenge on¬†and really liked it. Since I’m a fan of monthly challenges (see my post on Earth Hour), I was game to give it a try!

As soon as she left, I looked it up and because this is a FREE daily yoga challenge, I decided to try it for myself and it’s GREAT! I’m not sure when it first launched, but you can join at any time and they’ll email you a new video every day (they’re also all on YouTube¬†so you don’t have to get them emailed daily and you don’t have to go in order if you really don’t want to). This is a great option for me because I can do yoga in my living room whenever I want and wear whatever I want and I don’t have to worry about being on time for class or paying for it. If you’ve ever found yourself wanting to try yoga, but being scared off by the prices, this is definitely worth a shot! You’ll probably need a yoga mat, but the courses are designed so that you don’t need to buy any other props (blocks, straps, etc…) so it’s a relatively risk-free way to try yoga. If you’re like me, you’ve dabbled in yoga before and have a mat or two laying around somewhere (or maybe know someone who does).

The videos are all relatively short with most falling between 10-20 minutes and each has a focus for the day (yoga for the lower back, yoga for core strength, yoga for runners, learning crow pose, etc…) and unlike a lot of online yoga videos in which I find the instructors boring, I really like the instructor (Erin Motz) for these. She makes sure to give variations of poses so anyone from beginners to someone who’s been practicing for awhile can get something out of these and I also like her sense of humor – she makes it fun. Did I mention it’s FREE?¬†That’s the best part ūüôā

I found this at just the right time too, because Erin Motz and DoYouYoga¬†just launched a Kickstarter campaign to expand the 30¬†Day Yoga Challenge into an online yoga platform complete with hundreds of yoga classes. Their campaign ends in December and has already been completely funded¬†but the¬†cool thing is that while¬†My Yoga Pro will not be free, if you get in early as a backer you can secure a lifetime access pass to it¬†for less than the annual membership will be once it’s launched. I decided to back¬†it early and for $45 I secured a lifetime pass (I believe the annual pass will be around $100). I think this is a worthwhile investment because I really like the instructor and¬†it’s cheaper than¬†one month of classes at a local studio. If you’re interested in finding out more, you can check it¬†out at the link below! I think the $45 level was limited and is now gone, but there are other less expensive levels, or higher ones. Of course, you can always wait until it launches and pay full-price for access, but who wants to do that?

30 Day Yoga Challenge

Kickstarter for My Yoga Pro   

Disclaimer: I am not being compensated to promote this and they have no idea I am writing this, I just really like the Challenge and am looking forward to trying out My Yoga Pro!