Two Yanks Downunder

A blog about the experiences of two Americans on their first visit to the fabulous continent of Australia

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sydney: Sites and Incites

So, we leave our hotel room after being there less than an hour and hit the streets of the neighborhood walking. It is good to be on our feet after sitting for hours and hours and everything is quite different from what we are used to seeing back home. Two and three story buildings constructed right up against one another line both sides of all the local streets with businesses on the ground level and dwellings up above.

Wendy remarks after a while that it reminds her most strongly of New Orleans with all the green vegetative surroundings, the breezes from the nearby ocean and river and the numerous balconies on many of the upper levels of the buildings. The neighborhood is littered with restaurants, delis, hair salons, clothing stores, bakeries, you name it. Many of the restaurants have only four or five tables inside, much smaller than anything we might see in MN, even down in the Twin Cities. It is late morning local time and with Sydney being 15 hours ahead of MN, we are in our afternoon of the day before, so we are up and going, but how long will it last?

I do not solely mean our energy levels here, but one false move from the curb into the street could be fatal since they drive on the left side of the road. Fortunately, the city must be used to having lots of visitors from nations that drive differently and has printed "Look Right" in bold white letters on the streets by most major pedestrian crossings. Looking right is absolutely essential UNLESS the road is a one way street going the other way. We learn to recognize those pretty quickly too, or I would not be typing this blog right now.

One thing that we cannot find in Darlinghurst is a place open for lunch on Saturday! We walk about for quite some time and notice that most places do not even have hours of business posted! Maybe it is impolite to post your schedule here in OZ, or maybe folks do not want to be committed to spending their time at work when something fun might come up? All sorts of thoughts race through my head and my hunger increases leading to negative thoughts that are not condusive to a good start to our time here. Wendy decides to keep me moving and we head north to where there is an immense botanical garden that covers a good part of the city to the east of the downtown and is on the way to one of the Sydney's most famous tourist destinations, the Opera House.

It really starts raining hard at this point and I am really glad that I tossed my overcoat into my luggage at the last minute prior to leaving home for the airport. I do not think that my funky blue floppy hat would have kept me dry enough to persevere in sightseeing in such weather, but with an overcoat and decent shoes I am good to go. Wendy would be fearless with or without rain gear, but she is in fact equip for the conditions.

The botanical gardens are nearby and are filled with exotic trees, some incredibly large in the trunk and with branches that extend and in some cases arc and curl in amazing ways.

The pyramid in the botanical garden bears an intriguing subtitle!

There are unusual wild birds promenading about the grounds and perched on the park benches, Wendy says they are a form of Ibis. Plants that would astonish Don N. abound and defy description. Fortunately none of them were carnivorous, or we did not wander close enough to accidentally discover that this might be true.

We pass by a major museum, the Contemporary Arts Gallery of New South Wales, and Wendy says that we will come back to see this, for now we are off to the Opera House. I watched a documentary on the design and building of this structure on the Qantas flight and now we were going to see the real thing. From afar, the white roof appears to be a collection of white sails, but when we got closer, what seems to be one building is actually three, and those gigantic sail like roof structures are etched in a feather design so that they could be the wings of birds. The buildings sit perched on Sydney Harbor and attrach countless visitors from numerous countries.

The roof structures of the Opera House were constructed after the foundation was laid and only then did the architects and engineers begin the interiors. The roof was of such a novel design that many in constructions and design were totally awed by the acheivements of the architect. However, his attempts to be equally innovative with the interiors ran up against opposition when the political winds changed and a new government came to power. They refused to provide funds for models to test his ideas and he walked away from the project.

The interior is beautiful with lots of sumptuous wood.

The roof is actually made of tile as you can see despite the reflection through the window.

The team that took over needed seven more years and tens upon tens of millions of dollars to finish the project with their own designs for the interior. The original architect later said that he was sure that at the point he left only 18 months of work remained. So the new government that claimed it was saving public money on the project turned out to have been a little off in their calculations.

Since tourists abound in this area, there were actually restaurants and cafes open, so we got to eat a pretty expensive couple of salads and much needed hot tea in the open air where it was rather chilly. Our years in MN made it much easier on us to bear the cool and wet conditions than many of our fellow tourists who were shivering as they ate. It is good to be full, even down under!

We did not know whether it would be better to take a tour of the Opera House or actually see a performance and try it out so to speak. One of the operas was sold out when we got to the box office, but the evening performance still had seats available, and what seats they were. We could either pay $250 each for first class chairs, or drop down to only $95 each and have seats with partial view of the stage or full view of the stage and NO view of the surtitles (English translations at the top of the stage that let you know what the HELL is being sung in a foreign language- in this case Italian). Never mind, that made up our mind to take the tour of the place for only $20 each, and that was money well spent.

The rain had stopped when we got back outside so we took the long way through the botanical gardens and eventually made it to the Contemporary Arts Museum of NSW.

(Weird film installation of the Bienale Inthe bubbles are images of a black man swimming down to look at the viewers who look up at him.)

We had about an hour plus there to see a couple of exhibits and since the price was free, that was a really good deal. By the time we headed back to our room, it was clear that restaurants were coming to life and that some of them would even open for customers. We stopped at a Thai food place and got a spicy meal that left us full and had leftovers that we could take for the next day.

The Thai restaurant had a very interesting decor and lots of waitrons despite the relatively small number of tables.

We ordered a dish I had never had before a minced fish served on a beetle leaf. It was incredibly delicious and tasted unlike
anything I have ever eaten before. I will have to see if it is available in other locations. (ws)

Our plan was to eat out only once a day and make the other meals from groceries and left overs. When we got back to the hotel after dinner, we were really tired, having walked several miles left us able to sleep pretty decently. It would have been better than decent if not for the fact that it was Saturday night and the partying crowds were busy until about 5:00 a.m. We slept through most of it, but when they are drunkenly shouting at one another ten feet from your bedroom window even jet lag cannot insure sound sleep.


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