29 Jan 2002 - Sydney Day 1
Getting through Sydney airport is fairly painless, with the exception that I make the mistake of answering in the affirmative when asked if we've been anywhere near a mad cows in the past 6 months. Other than a few people I could mention that fit that description, we had been to England last November, home to some of the maddest cows known to man. So we've diverted to the quarantine area so that a very nice man can take a look at the soles of our shoes.
Lynn writes...' News Tidbits':
A campaign is afoot by local Aborigines to remove the emu and kangaroo from the Australian coat of arms. “Visitors are sometimes puzzled by the fact we are the only people in the world to eat our coat of arms,” said Sydney Herald columnist Tony Stephens.
Numerous, and often humorous, letters to the editor of the paper quashed Stephens support for the emu and kangaroo---apparently loads of other country’s happily include edible animals on their coats of arms.
Another hot topic in the press involves Australia’s Minister of Tourism. Due to his busy schedule, he recently had his dog transported home--with personal driver--in a fancy government vehicle. Tongues are wagging about the use, and abuse, of government privileges.
In the meantime, the minister’s dog has run away from home.
After emptying the nearest ATM, we flag a taxi and head for downtown Sydney. Our first couple of nights in Sydney is to be spent in the Regent Hotel. Lynn is very excited by this - she's been researching the possibilities for Sydney accommodation for ages now and is quite sure we have a real bargain heading our way. And she's right - it's a 'beaut (as the Australians like to say).
By now it's still only 11 in the morning. We're promised a room with a view of the harbor, but if we want to sleep in same bed tonight, we'll have to wait for a couple of hours before the room's ready.
Even though we have been basically sitting, eating and generally vegetating for the 24 hours, we are surprisingly hungry, so we take off for a walk round The Rocks and lunch. The Rocks are actually the oldest part of Sydney, overlooking the harbour, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. This is where the first convicts / settlers were offloaded in 1788. This is about as ancient as it gets in this country. For those of you living on the west coast of the United States, this may sound rather old, but for most countries this barely warrants extra attention. None of the original buildings survived (they were made of mud after all), but up until the 1980's many historic building survived, even though the area had become rather decrepit and unappreciated.
Sydney, like all modern, progressive cities, has a population of architects and they of course saw this historic blight as opportunity to modernise (i.e. bulldoze). Fortunately, some folks came to their senses in time and instead the area has been cleaned up into a rather quaint, charming collection of restaurants, cafes, interesting buildings and spectacular views.
Refreshed and replenished, we return to the hotel, check in and finally get to shower off the travel grime. Much better!
We head out again for some serious strolling. First stop is of course the Sydney Opera House. This is just round Sydney Cove from our hotel, and easy 10 minute walk. The Opera House is probably the best known sight in Australia, at least for a foreigner and it certainly deserves a moment of your time (see the Sydney photo gallery). The Opera House is built on a piece of land that protrudes out into the harbour, so if you walk round the front of the building you get to see some great sights.
Nick On place names... For citizens of the great British empire, a visit to Sydney is an amusing exposure to place name schizophrenia. Half of the place names in this city don't get any more British (Hyde Park, Paddington, King's Cross, Royal Botanic Gardens) and the rest don't get any less British (Woolloomooloo, Ultimo, Parramatta).
This really sums up one of the cornerstones of Sydney society - the racial and cultural mix. This place is really a mixing pot - beyond the obvious British and native Aborigine inhabitants, you'll find folks here from all over the world. In a way, Sydney (and all of Australia) is a lot like the United States, in that it's a land of immigrants.
As we walk on up past the Royal Botanic Gardens, we pass copious coach-loads of very fancily clad folks. Turns out they arriving for a night at the opera, but there are loads of them. It's still only 2 or 3 in the afternoon and really hot, so we we're not at all envious of them.
We take in some of the sights of Sydney. Considering that virtually nothing here is more than a hundred years old, they've really done a great job of blending the old(-ish) with the new. There's a remarkable lack of sixties era concrete monstrosities here. We finish off the walk about with a visit to the local wine store. For those of you that have read our previous Australia diary, you'll know that Lynn and I are bit fanatical about the wines from this part of the world. Needless to say we have a great time browsing and come away with a nice bottle of bubbly.
Dinner tonight is at the bel mondo, a nearby restaurant that it currently the talk of the town. Fortunately for us, those talking have all good things to say!
30 Jan 2002 - Sydney Day 2
After a good 'ole greasy fry-up breakfast to get us firing on all cylinders, we catch a train to nearby St. James to continue our Sydney walk about. We take in the rather wonderful Archibald Fountain and then jaywalk over the street to St. Mary's cathedral. This is the Australian equivalent of Westminster Abbey in London, in more ways than one, in that it's almost as awe inspiring and the architecture is just the same (gargoyles and all). However, it really makes you stop and think when you realise that construction only started in 1880 and was just finished last year. It's one thing to embark on a construction like this when labor was plentiful and very cheap, quite something else when it's a lot more expensive and the local's don't exactly have a lot of free time on their hands, what with trying to establish a new nation and everything.
Moving on, we hit the department stores and Lynn goes shopping - arrrggghh! Back to the hotel, a spot of lunch on The Rocks (so to speak) and then we jump on a ferry at Circular Quay for Double Bay. One of the many cool things about this city is that it's on a massive harbour, and so it has quite an extensive ferry network to transport you to various coves, bays, beaches and outlying communities. This is no tourist trapping - these are real working boats and a lot of Sydney-siders commute to work this way (I could think of a lot worse ways to get to work).
And now a word from the little woman ….
After reading Nick’s daily diary, some of you might come away with the impression that I have devoted most of my time in Sydney shopping. Time for a correction. On our ferry stopover in Double Bay, for example, while Nick sipped on a cold Toohey’s New in a sidewalk café, I was checking out the Sir Stamford Hotel (got a good deal too). And checking out the bakeries.
The following morning, while Nick was viewing Sydney from atop the AMP Tower, I spent most of my time perusing the gourmet food halls of Peter Jones department store. I’m not sure if sampling delicious, and beautifully presented, hand-sized morsels of roasted chicken and pumpkin pie or smoked salmon risotto cakes actually qualifies as shopping. It’s really more like grazing.
My “shopping” trips also included the essential visit to a specific bakery, just off George St., to pick up a daily supply of chocolate croissants for Nick. I rest my case. (Okay, I did pick up a pretty linen short skirt along the way).
Double Bay is two or three coves east of downtown Sydney, home to some rather posh looking houses and exclusive stores. I sit at a sidewalk cafe, reading my book and consuming an extended lunch. Lynn goes shopping - a very amicable arrangement I think.
We take the ferry back to Circular Quay via Rose Bay and Watson's Bay. The trip back, approaching the Opera House and Harbour Bridge is spectacular.
This dinner tonight is in China Town at the Golden Century Seafood Chinese restaurant. This is a restaurant where you can really relate to your food. One wall is covered with aquaria full of lobster, shrimp, crabs, fish of many types, and more. If you want some Barramundi for example (a local fish, very tasty), they'll throw a live one in a plastic bag and bring it to your table for inspection (still twitching) before hauling it off to the kitchen to do unspeakable things to it. Lynn orders a vegetarian dish and I order duck. What wimps!
Tonight we rendezvous with Eric, a friend and work college of Lynn who left Oregon a couple of months ago to move out to Australia. Jetlag not withstanding, copious quantities of wine was consumed and we talked into the early hours.
31 Jan 2002 - Sydney Day 3
Bit of a late start this morning (can't imagine why). We head off down town again. Lynn goes shopping, but I resist the temptation and instead head to the top of the AMP Tower (the tallest observation desk in the Southern Hemisphere no less) for some superb panoramic views of Sydney.
After that I take a wander over to the car rental at 100 Williams Street, belated realising that this address gave me little clue as to where the place actually was (see left). After spending an exciting 30 minutes watching the lady pecking away at her keyboard (the process was almost as interminable as checking in for a flight), I pick up the car, meet up Lynn back at the hotel and we drive over to Double Bay.
When we were here yesterday Lynn got us a another great deal at the Sir Stamford hotel, so we're staying here tonight. The room is a two floor deal with the bed upstairs in the loft. Very cute.
Nick On street numbering...
For the yanks abroad here in Australia, the street numbering conventions here are awfully confusing. In the states, each block on a street increments house numbers by 100, regardless of how many building there are on that block. Therefore, you know that say 2400 Main Street is 24 blocks from the start, or 2.4 miles. If the cross streets are numeric, then the nearest cross street will be 24th. Very simple.
However, over here (and in the UK), they have this strange habit of numbering building sequentially. So if you have an address like 100 Williams Street, you have no idea where on the street that building is. Worse, as buildings get knocked down and replaced, they find that there aren't enough numbers to go around, so you have buildings numbered 5, 7, 9, 11, 11A, 11B, 13, etc. Worse, shops and business seems to have a total aversion to actually putting their street number on the front of the building, so you often have to guesstimate which one is your destination from it's location relative to that last numbered building you saw ½ a mile away!
For the first time since we got here we have a relaxing afternoon consisting of nothing more than a bit of walking, eating, napping and swimming (not necessarily in that order).
Tonight Eric comes over again and we all take off for a local Italian restaurant for a bit to eat. Most agreeable. Tomorrow we plan to rise with the dawn and head north for the coast and the Hunter Valley.