Pictures from our February 2006 Sydney Trip
Sydney is still the urban heart of Oz, even if Melbourne is trying to succeed it, and is perhaps surpassing it in population already. As the self-proclaimed "Most Beautiful City in the World", Sydney attracts huge numbers of tourists (largely Asian, it seemed to us), and has more than its fair share of Aussie icons in the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Bondi and Manly Beaches, etc. Given that, we headed off on Wednesday morning for Sydney, to check out the urban side of Oz.
From the platypus exhibit, we worked our way into the Murray-Darling River exhibit, which features the fish, turtles, lizards, etc. to be found in our (relative) backyard in the Murray River. From here, we moved northward, into the Northern Rivers exhibit - where the crocodiles were a bit ho-hum, but the huge barramundi (as Crocodile Dundee says in the movie, "Barramundi are bloody big fish!) really caught the girls' attention. Tim was interested to see the file snakes - these are the ones we learned about on our Yellow Waters cruise, which the Aboriginal women catch with their feet - no thanks, we say! Then the exhibits continue into the southern ocean area, where the girls were delighted by the little blue penguins, and got to hold a sea cucumber in the touch pool. This area also had some tanks representative of Sydney Harbour, with lots of jellyfish. Other tanks had crayfish and sea dragons. We bypassed the seal pool, since we figured we'd been up close and personal with seals many times during our stay in Oz (and New Zealand) and continued to the ocean tank (where we got to walk through and under the water via tubes resembling Kelly Tarleton's in Auckland), where we once again enjoyed the sensation of huge rays gliding over our heads - along with huge sharks. This time around, there was water under our feet as well as over in places, and a few large sharks resting under the glass made the girls a wee bit nervous - "What if the glass breaks?!" Then we came to the Great Barrier Reef display, which was just fantastic. Not as packed with colour and fish as the real reef, but a nice reminder of the beauty we had experienced a few months earlier up north. The girls truly are part of the Nemo generation, preferring to call the various reef fish by the names of the characters from the "Finding Nemo" movie, rather than their species names! "Oh, look, there's Dory! And Gill! And there's Bruce!"
Eventually, we had seen nearly everything, and headed back outside to look for a restaurant. We strolled along King's Wharf, where there were huge outdoor cafes, apparently geared for a cruise ship disembarking - nothing really appealed, so we wandered "inland" a street from the Harbour, and soon found a Mongolian Grill, where we settled in and had a delicious dinner. Then it was back down to the ferry dock, where the girls amused themselves by counting all the jellyfish they could see in the water while we waited for our ferry. It soon came, and we headed back across the harbour to McMahon's point, and up to our apartment. Since we didn't have any provisions for breakfast, Tim and Clara headed up the hill to Blues Point Road to a small market, where they got a few things to get us started the next day. The girls took showers, and Tim took a few nighttime photos of the bridge and opera house, and then our first (partial) day in Sydney was successfully concluded.
After a bit of a look around and a few pictures, plus a climb on Mrs Macquarie's Chair (or chairs, as there seemed to be several carved in the rock) for the girls, we walked back to the bus stop, and soon another bright red Sydney Explorer bus stopped to pick us up. The bus headed back through the Botanical Gardens and the Domain, past St. Mary's Cathedral and the Australian Museum, and on into East Sydney. We circled past King's Cross, and out to Pott's Point, where the Navy dockyards are, before swinging back through Woolloomooloo, with the recorded commentary and our bus driver interjecting bits of history and points of interest. Then things got a little more exciting for the girls, as we headed into the Sydney Harbour tunnel, crossed under the harbour, and then swung around and crossed back from North Sydney into Sydney across the Harbour Bridge. We passed once more through Circular Quay and then south to Surry Hills near the central train station, before heading through Chinatown and then to the Powerhouse Museum, where we disembarked once more.
It was fascinating to work our way through the museum and see what caught the girls fancy - some things were obvious attractions, such as the one fifth scale working model of the Strasburg Clock (they couldn't wait to see it go at 5 minutes before the hour), and the industrial robot programmed to "dance" to different songs in different styles (from Saturday Night Fever to the Four Seasons!) - but Lucy was over the moon about one of the exhibits in the Design Competition section, which showed a set of glasses with interchangeable pieces in different colours - to match your mood or wardrobe. Clara, on the other hand, got into an extremely lengthy and involved conversation with an artificial intelligence program named Sylvie that Lucy and Tim had given up on - Clara hated to have to leave, and Sylvie seemed to reciprocate!
Many of the displays at the museum had been household items donated by local families - one of the more interesting and unexpected items in this class was a quilt - and especially the name - Aunt Clara's Quilt! (See also here.) Here's the description accompanying it:
Aunt Clara's Quilt
NSW, about 1890-1915
This beautiful patchwork quilt is known as 'Aunt Clara's Quilt' for Mrs Clara Bate (nee Hughes). From the late 1880s, Clara and her husband Frank ran a guesthouse and farm called Frankfort at isolated Ginkin near Jenolan Caves in NSW.
According to family history, it is a 'friendship quilt', incorporating many pieces embroidered by visitors to the guesthouse. Densely ornamented with a range of evocative motifs that reflect Clara's life, the quilt was often on display at the guesthouse.
* Silk, beads, shells, sequins etc, cotton backing, handpieced and embroidered.
Gift of the Hughes family, 2004.
After spending much of the day at the museum (and in the air conditioning!) we headed back to the bus stop, where the Sydney Explorer bus picked us up, and we continued along the west side of Darling Harbour, back through Chinatown, along the east side of Darling Harbour, under the Harbour Bridge, and to our last stop at the Rocks. The Rocks is a famous part of Sydney, between the Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay, with lots of restaurants and entertainment. We wandered about a bit, and then settled on an Italian restaurant and pizzeria, where we had some quite good pizza, before making our way back along Sydney Cove to the ferry terminal at Circular Quay, and once again back across the water to our hotel. We were becoming quite fond of commuting by ferry, and could easily get used to it.
We first headed off to the HMAS Vampire, where we met our guide, who was also ex-Navy, and of appropriate vintage that he had served on one of the Vampire's sister ships, so he knew all the details of life on this particular ship. The girls got to sit in the captain's chair on the bridge, and we were all amazed at the compact galleys and sleeping quarters. From the Vampire, we headed to the Onslow, a diesel sub which was even more compact than the Vampire - claustrophobic doesn't begin to describe it! (See here, here and here.) After the Onslow, we went onboard the Endeavor, a replica of Captain Cook's sailing ship from the late 18th century. Once again, cramped quarters were the order of the day belowdecks - and the ceilings were only about 4 feet tall - even Lucy had to bend over to move about. The galley was basic - a wood-fired stove with large built-in stockpots to combine whatever combination of food was available into a rough stew. The meals were drawn off via a tap into square bowls, which is where the origin of the term "a square meal" came from. The eating area, however, was quite spacious in comparison to the later ships - however, it served as eating, sleeping and personal quarters, with hammocks that could be raised and lowered, tables similarly, and lockers serving to both hold personal gear and as seats. The ropes holding everything in place had numerous feathered "tassels", which served as napkins (or serviettes, as the Aussies say) to wipe your hands after a meal.
Once we'd finished our tour of the ships, we had lunch at the museum cafe (a pretty good fish and chips, what else!) Then it was into the museum proper, where the first exhibit was actually a historical perspective of the long term relationship between the US and Australia, which had been developed and presented to Australia by the US government to celebrate Australia's centennial. Of particular interest was a large exhibit on whaling and the art of scrimshaw. The girls soon moved deeper into the museum, and were quite taken with the various boats / ships / sailing vessels on display (including the sail boat belonging to the first woman to sail solo around the world, the fastest motor boat in the world - and their favourite, a boat made entirely out of beer cans (and tape!), using empty cans of Victoria Bitter (green) and XXXX (gold) to maintain the Aussie national colours of green and gold (and a few Melbourne Bitter - maroon - for accent) - what could be more Australian than that? From the boat gallery, we headed into the newest exhibit, on Vikings, which was extremely interesting, featuring replica rune stones, ships, weaponry, clothing, etc. The girls tried on Viking helmets, took an interactive quiz on the history of Vikings, used some handy periscopes to spy on people up on the next level and generally enjoyed themselves. However, it was all too soon time to go, as we had one more bit of exploring we wanted to accomplish for the day.
It was getting on towards dinner time, so we decided to walk up the hill to Blues Point to check out one of the many small neighborhood restaurants Tim and Clara had noticed previously. We settled on Blu Ginger (yes, that's the correct spelling), an Indian restaurant. We enjoyed an excellent meal while sitting outside in the waning daylight, before heading back to the apartment for the night. While there, we noticed that many of the people eating at this and other restaurants were taking advantage of the "BYO" (Bring Your Own Wine or Beer or ...) culture, and that the local bottleshop a couple doors down was doing a booming business with customers picking a bottle of wine to go with their evening meal at one of the local restaurants. This is quite different than the culture in the US or even in Adelaide, where BYO seems less common.
In 1956, the NSW state government held a competition to select a design for an opera house to be built on Bennelong Point in Sydney. In 1959, the competition was won by the Danish architect Jorn Utzon, who took a less traditional approach, designing a structure which consisted of a pedestal or podium on which to build a structure which was both pleasing to look at from outside, and also which brought the wonderful outside views into the building for those inside. The fairly unconventional design resulted in some significant engineering challenges; the building ran many years behind schedule and far over budget - and due to disagreements with the new state government, Utzon quit the project after 9 years - while the outside was finished, the interior was still in the design stage. The project was so far over budget, that an Opera House Lottery was formed to raise funds for the completion - in the end, it raised over 100 million dollars! The lottery was so successful that the funds were raised in just three years, but it wasn't until early 1972 that the building was ready for its first performance. There are actually three main "buildings" on top of the pedestal - these are the famous and most visible "winged" structures. Within these structures are several venues, including the main Opera stage and a concert hall, as well as numerous smaller "chamber" facilities for plays and smaller musical groups. They have all proven very effective and popular, and the Opera House is an extremely successful venture. And in 1999, Utzon agreed to come back and work on updating the Opera House and developing a plan for its future.
One of the things Wayne mentioned which caught Tim's attention was that the opera we were to see, Donizetti's Elixir of Love, while still being sung in the original Italian, had been set in Outback Australia during the First World War. Nemorino, the lead male character had been cast as a sheep sheerer, and Dr Dulcamara as a traveling salesman selling Isolde's love potion - which turns out to be - Coca Cola! And best of all the supertitles were in "Australian" (as opposed to English) - during the course of the opera, you could divide the audience into three groups - those who truly loved the opera, understood the quality of the singing, and appreciated the technical merits; those who were Australian (or at least understood Australian slang), and the general tourists, who just felt they needed to see an opera in the Opera House so they could say "Been there, done that." You could tell which group (or groups) folks fell into by when they applauded, and when they laughed - we were very glad we hadn't done the opera when we first arrived in Oz, or we would have had the same blank looks a large number of folks had, wondering why some folks were laughing, when certain phrases appeared on the supertitle screen!
After the opera, we revisited the gift shops to pick up the items we'd identified earlier, then made our way back to the Circular Quay and onto the ferry home; on the walk from the ferry dock to the apartment the girls discovered a frangipani tree, and took advantage of it. See also here, here and here. We didn't really feel like going out for dinner on our last night, so we called up the Indian restaurant we'd eaten at the night before, and ordered a delivery. Since it was a nice night, and our last in Sydney, Tim went down to the ferry dock with his camera and tripod to take a few evening pictures of the bridge and opera house, and quite by accident was in the right place at the right time to catch some of the fireworks being set off on the foreshore near the Opera House to celebrate the opening Mardi Gras celebration of the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian festival. (See here and here.)
Pictures from our February 2006 Sydney Trip
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