Sydney is full of places for outdoor enthusiasts to discover and enjoy, one of the most prominent being the Blue Mountains. The famous range and its Three Sisters formation are known around the world and frequented by locals and visitors alike.

Now comes my confession: though I’m an avid outdoor fanatic and I’ve lived in Sydney for over two decades, I had never been to the Blue Mountains before. When a group of friends and I were talking about possibly taking a weekend staycation and one of them mentioned wanting to tour the Blue Mountains, I jumped at the opportunity.

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The Three Sisters

We started out on a Friday morning and went to settle into the bed and breakfast suites we had reserved. I was finally going to see The Three Sisters in person, and couldn’t have been more excited. However, I was surprised that the experience surpassed my already lofty expectations. It’s hard to describe how I felt looking at sandstone peaks that had stood for thousands of years towering high above me.

We ran into another group of people touring the area, one of which was a professional tour guide taking a short vacation. My friends and I talked with them while taking a rest stop, and the guide told us all about the Aboriginal folklore surrounding the history of The Three Sisters.

It’s believed that there were three gorgeous sisters from one tribe who fell in love with three brothers from a different tribe. The ladies were forbidden to marry the brothers, so the men captured them. A terrible battle ensued and the sisters were turned to stone for their protection. It’s quite a tale, but definitely befitting of such a storied landmark. Gaining cultural tidbits like this definitely makes exploring the outdoors a richer, more fulfilling experience.

Important Lessons

Our trek back down to our car was filled with laughter and sharing, and though we hated to leave The Three Sisters behind, we were famished and looking forward to some much-needed nourishment. There are an incredible number of restaurants and cafes in the area, but we chose to eat at a cozy spot in Katoomba before heading back to the bed and breakfast. Lesson number one: bring more than three trail mix bars and a quart of water along if you’re going to spend the day hiking in the Blue Mountain range.

Thank goodness one of my friends had more experience and sense and brought some spare food to share, or else I would’ve had to drag myself drown the mountain instead of walking. The views are out of this world, but it’s physically taxing and you need plenty of fuel to make it through.

Lesson number one: bring more than three trail mix bars and a half litre of water along if you’re going to spend the day hiking in the Blue Mountain range. Thank goodness one of my friends had more experience and sense and brought some spare food to share, or else I would’ve had to drag myself drown the mountain instead of walking. The views are out of this world, but it’s physically taxing and you need plenty of fuel to make it through.

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Caving On The Fly

My group enjoyed a great rest Friday night and decided to spend the day touring the Jenolan Caves on Saturday. This is yet another site that was new to me, so I was anxious to go exploring. I took heed from my experience the previous day and packed a good sized picnic for all of us to share, we got our gear together, and then hit the road. “Magnificent”, “stunning”, and “breathtaking” don’t sufficiently describe how I felt after entering the caves. There were many other people taking tours that day, but I hardly noticed them because of the beauty of the formations.

We meandered our way through and had a blast along the way. If you’ve never been through a cave before, be careful which one you choose. The Jenolan Caves have many routes, and we went through Lucas Cave. It’s not for the faint of heart or novices, but it’s quite the challenge for anyone with spelunking experience.

After exiting the cave, we took a walk around Blue Lake to have our picnic lunch and I saw one of the highlights of our trip — an adorable platypus. The curious little guy waded around the water, and though he didn’t come too close to where we were, it was amazing to see one in person.

Yet Another Lesson

We all felt a world away from everything else while experiencing the natural wonders within the Jenolan Caves, but on this particular trip, it’s a good thing that we weren’t too far from civilization. We went back for our final night at our accommodation. The following morning one of my friends — the one who had driven us around — discovered he no longer had his car keys in his pocket. We searched high and low, but couldn’t find them. With no spare around, we had to call a car key cutting service to get us out of our bind. Lesson number two: great adventures require careful planning and a secure place for your keys!

After all the fun and craziness of the last couple of days, I was more than happy to settle back and relax in my own bed. Then again, it won’t be long till I get the itch for a new for more outdoor adventures with my friends and seeing what new experiences await us in the world. The hard-learned lessons were well worth all that I gained.

Ever since Walt Disney created Disney World he set the standard for today’s amusement parks. Even to this day, not many can top it. Disney World finds a way to make a simple amusement park meal, into a magical experience. You have the opportunity to be transported to a baseball game, New Orleans, or even under the sea. Eating at Disney World is more than just a meal, it’s an experience! Here are 5 unique and magical places to eat that are a must see on your next trip to Disney World.

Coral Reef Restaurant

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This is definitely a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Located in Epcot’s Future World, The Coral Reef is lined with giant windows that gaze into an even greater aquarium. The scenery slowly diversifies during your meal so you will always be stunned at the ever-changing wildlife of the sea.

This restaurant is one of the pricier ones found in the Epcot’s Future World and has a primarily seafood dominated menu, but you can easily find something for all. The scenery itself is what the majority of the tourists come for but they stay for the ambience and comfort after a long day of adventure. The price range is about $15 to $29.99 USD per adult.

Casey’s Corner

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This ballpark food themed restaurant is located on Main Streets USA in the Magic Kingdom.  If you miss the unique taste and feel of a ballpark hotdog this is the place for you. The uniquely themed restaurant makes you feel like you’re stuck in the 60’s and getting prepped for the 1961 World Series.

They have a very simple and classic menu that serves hot dogs, fries, nuggets and corndogs. The average price is about $14.99 and under. Casey’s Corner is a quick stop option for the family to grab a bite in-between their travels.

 

Tusker House Restaurant

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The Tusker House is located in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It is an African-American family style buffet. This restaurant has absolutely everything. Even the pickiest of eaters can find something they can enjoy on the buffet menu. They serve everything from scrambled eggs, strawberry turnovers, and fruit cobbler for breakfast to oven-roasted red skin potatoes with rosemary for dinner. The average price is around $30.00 to $59.99 USD per adult.

They also offer an in-character dining experience, but it is only for breakfast, so keep that in mind. With its wild theme, the whole family can enjoy the night at the Tusker House.

T-Rex Café

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Looking to take your kids on an adventure of a lifetime? Look no further, the T-Rex café is like eating dinner on the set of Dinosaurs the movie. It is located in the Downtown Disney Area; you can’t miss it, just look for the giant dinosaurs. The Diner has a full prehistoric atmosphere; they even have a Build-A-Dino workshop inside. If you really want a treat, head to the Meteor Room and watch a meteor shower every couple of minutes.

The T-Rex Café is part of the Premium, Platinum and Wine and Dine packages. The average amount for meals is around $15 to $29.99 USD per adult.

Chef Mickey’s

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This is a classic buffet located in the Magic Kingdom at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. It is definitely one of the more popular locations to eat. Having in-costume characters serving your table such as Donald, Minnie, and the man himself – Mickey Mouse – will make anyone have a permanent smile. They serve anything from traditional meals such as chicken nuggets and pizza to more diverse meals like Thai Curry and Seasoned Salmon. Setting a reservation for this location is recommended since it is always in high demand. The average prices are about $30 to $59.99 USD per adult, so it is easily one of the more expensive restaurants in Disney World.

You can find detailed maps for these locations using the application Disney World Dining. When using applications on free Wi-Fi or out in a crowded area, try to use a virtual private network to mask your private information. Especially when traveling it is important to take extra security measures to keep flight, payment, and other travel information private.

Whether you decide to dine with Mickey, eat under the sea, or go back in time with the dinosaurs, you’re dining experience at Disney World will be like nothing you have ever experienced. Try out one of these restaurants, or discover your own favorite. It’s hard to go wrong when you’re at “the happiest place on earth.”

Although the news may give you a drastically different idea of Russia, it’s actually a fairly safe, modern and very fascinating country to visit. As the largest country in the world, Russia is a place of breathtaking scenery, intriguing cities and a unique culture. Here’s my list of the top wonders of Russia you need to see and/or experience:

  1. Moscow – The bustling capital city of Russia is home to many important attractions. You’ll definitely want to visit Red Square, the Kremlin and St Basil Cathedral. If you have time, catch a show at the Bolshoi Theatre. If you’re looking for something more quirky, check out the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games where you can trade your rubles for kopeks and practice shooting and driving like a true comrade.

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Image courtesy of Victorgrigas under CC BY-SA 3.0

Note: Moscow has a lot to see, but it can be a little more challenging to navigate (especially if you don’t speak Russian—many metro signs are only in Cyrillic!). Make sure to grab a city map and metro map (often available for sale in touristic areas or from your hotel or hostel) or get a good app on your phone!

  1. St Petersburg – Although Moscow is certainly impressive, many people find St Petersburg to be the more interesting of the two cities. The Hermitage Museum is widely considered one of the best in the world—even if you can’t find something intriguing in the millions of artifacts, the architecture of the whole Hermitage Complex is stunning. Even more entrancing, for most of the month of May, St Petersburg never reaches full darkness but instead only falls into twilight—as written about in Dostoevsky’s White Nights.
  2. Kazan – Moscow and St Petersburg receive the bulk of travelers to Russia, but Kazan, the center of Tartar culture, is another fascinating city to visit. See the Kazan Kremlin and learn about its history in relation to Ivan the Terrible, who destroyed the Tartar fortress that originally stood on this site. Also of note in the city is the Soviet Lifestyle Museum, where you’ll likely feel like you’ve stepped back decades into the past, especially on Sunday afternoons when you’ll find musicians playing popular songs of the USSR.

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Image courtesy of Bestalex under CC BY-SA 3.0

  1. Sochi – This Black Sea resort area has long been popular with Russians, but it’s now famous worldwide for having hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games. It’s a great place for outdoor enthusiasts, with a wonderful stretch of beach and boardwalk along the sea and its nearby mountains where you can go skiing, hiking or mountain biking.
  2. Lake Baikal – Not only is Lake Baikal a monumentally scenic place, but it’s also important geographically: it’s the deepest and largest freshwater lake in the world. Actually, if you put all five Great Lakes together, Lake Baikal would still be larger! There’s some great camping and hiking in the area, or relax on one of the numerous beaches, either on the shores of the lake or on one of its islands, such as Olkhon.

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Image courtesy of W0zny under CC BY-SA 3.0

  1. Derbent – This city in the northern Caucasus is Russia’s oldest city, with a history going back roughly five millennia. It was once an important point along the trade route between the Middle East and western Russia. Today, you can see the towers and wall of the sixth-century Naryn-Kala Citadel up at the top of the hill or follow the ruins of the old city walls down the hill and towards the sea.
  2. KIZHI Museum – This is a gem of Russian architecture and culture that is often overlooked. The open-air museum takes up much of an island in the middle of Lake Onega and consists of roughly 90 historical wooden buildings and structures—chapels, windmills, houses and more. The whole island is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but particularly astounding is the 22-domed, 37 meter tall Church of the Transfiguration of Our Savior. It can be a bit difficult and pricey to get to the island, but it’s definitely worth the trip!

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Image courtesy of Matthias Kabel under CC BY-SA 3.0

  1. Magadan Oblast – While we’re talking about historical sites, we can’t forget the Russian gulags, where hundreds of thousands of people died from overwork, cold and assorted ailments. The Kolyma Gulags were a horrible place to end up—but now they’re worth a visit if you have time. Not only is it important to reflect on the past, but it’s also fascinating to see the bleak landscape and places such as Dneprovsky Mine, one of the best-preserved gulag sites. It is especially amazing to see how the area has bounced back from a place of suffering to a place popular for activities such as skiing, snowmobiling, rafting and sailing.
  2. Trans-Siberian Railway – This epic train journey stretches across the entirety of Russia. Although spending a week staring out the window of a train may not seem like the most interesting thing, the real treat of this trip is meeting fellow travelers. You’ll get a real cross-section of Russian culture on the train, including plenty of unique characters. It’s a great way to learn about what makes Russia special.

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Image courtesy of Jim Linwood under CC BY 2.0

  1. Russian Cuisine – You’ve probably heard of borscht, the popular beetroot-based soup, but there’s plenty more to Russian cuisine. You’ll find plenty of pelmeni (small, meat-filled dumplings), pirozhki (fried bread pockets filled with meat, rice, and carrots or other vegetables), blini (thin pancakes with a variety of fillings that can be either sweet or savory), golubtsy (stuffed cabbage) and the list goes on and on. One thing’s for sure: you’re not going to go hungry in Russia!

Despite the image of Russia that we often see, it’s really an interesting and picturesque country to visit. As the largest country in the world, it has a beautiful variety of culture, food, landscapes and people. Get out and explore the cities and the sights, meet new people, embrace the Russian culture and don’t forget to eat plenty of delicious Russian cuisine!