[The Sirius - one of Sydney's First Fleet ferries]   [Fireworks - opening of Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras]   [Family Picture at Mrs MacQuarie's Chair]   [Dressed for the opera]    [Yananyi Dreaming]

Sydney Trip

February 2006

Pictures from our February 2006 Sydney Trip

City Life

As readers of our continuing travels in Oz can tell, we are more attracted to cooler, greener and less-crowded areas. Well, we decided we really did need to explore at least one of Australia's cities a bit before our return to USA - after all, much as we love Adelaide, it is more of a large country town - which is probably why we love it so much (and why the more urban-minded Aussies we've met also call it a country town - but in a more denigrating way - such as the lady who splits her time between Sydney and Coober Pedy (Coober Pedy!!!) and cannot abide Adelaide!).

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.

En Route

We had a late morning flight, so we could have a leisurely start to the day. The taxi showed up, all the luggage fit, and we were soon checked in and ensconced in the Adelaide Qantas Club waiting for our flight. The flight, on a relatively new 737-800 went quickly (only 1 hour 26 minutes - must have had a reasonably strong tail wind), and then we were in the Sydney airport with our luggage, in search of the SydneyPass counter. The Sydney Pass is an excellent travel tool if you are spending a few days in Sydney - you can buy a single ticket for the family, good on all busses, trains and ferries in Sydney, as well as some specific tourist-transport features such as the Sydney and Bondi Explorer busses, the Harbour Cruises - plus it provides a 10-20% discount at many of the major tourist attractions in Sydney. We found the right counter, got our receipt, and headed down to the train station beneath the domestic terminal, where we traded our receipt for a ticket. Then, as we were about to head through the turnstiles for the train platform, all the lights on the turnstiles went off, other lights flashed, and a PA started blaring - after a couple minutes, one of the attendants waved us through - we aren't sure what happened, but it was soon behind us. We hopped on the train (since we were only staying a few days, we only had a single suitcase plus our carryons, so we could "hop" relatively easily!) The girls were excited to realize that we were underground and traveling through a tunnel (they love tunnels for some reason). Soon we popped up in the air, and began making our way into Sydney from the south. It was a hot and humid day (around 30 C, approx mid-80s F, and perhaps 80% humidity), so we were perspiring a bit in the non-air-conditioned cars. However, we soon arrived at Circular Quay, the heart of Sydney (or at least Sydney transport, where the trains, busses and ferry docks all meet). We checked the boards, and after one false start, found the right wharf (Number 5) for a ferry to McMahon's Point, where we would be spending the next four nights. The girls were excited to note that we had traveled by car, plane, train and now ferry - covering most of the standard modes of transportation - all in one day!

McMahon's Point

We hopped on the ferry Sirius (after seeing another traditional green and yellow ferry named Golden Grove, and a third called the Alexander, Clara made the connection with the First Fleet - most of the traditional Sydney ferries are named after the 11 ships of the First Fleet, which brought the first settlers to Oz in 1788. There are also newer ferries - or at least more aerodynamic - named after famous Australians - at first, we thought it was only sports stars - Evonne Goolagong, etc. - but then we saw one named for Mary MacKillop, Australia's first saint.) The ferry backed out of the dock, spun around, and headed off past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge to Luna Park, another Sydney icon - an old (and often closed) amusement park, known as Lunatic Park to the locals. The short ride was refreshing, with a nice sea breeze to complement the breeze the ferry produced itself, quickly cooling us off a bit. After a short stop at Luna Park to onload/offload passengers, it was a matter of only a couple additional minutes of ferry travel to McMahon's Point, our stop. We hopped off, and walked perhaps 50 metres up the road to our apartment-hotel overlooking the harbour bridge and the opera house. We quickly checked in, and rode up to the 11th floor. We walked in, admired the view - and realized there was no air conditioning in the apartment - and with the next day projected to be equally humid and even hotter (into the mid-upper 90s!) Ah, well, we were where we were, so we dumped our luggage, opened up all the windows to take advantage of the sea breeze (which fortunately for us blew pretty much continuously over the next 5 days), freshened up a bit, and headed back down to the ferry.

Sydney Aquarium

The ferries run quite frequently during the day, with usually a wait of no more than a half hour, depending on where you want to go. Fortunately, we just wanted to continue on around the loop to the Aquarium, so a ferry going the right way stopped quite soon, and we boarded and headed to Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour is the home of the Australian National Maritime Museum, King's Wharf where many cruise ships dock, numerous fine restaurants - and the Sydney Aquarium, our immediate target. The ferry docked, we hopped off, and made our way to the main lobby, which was well packed with people. We decided to have an ice cream and drink first to cool us off and rehydrate us, then got in line for tickets. We eventually headed inside, and stopped immediately at the first exhibit - which was a large tank with fish and a couple of very active platypuses - we stood and watched them swimming around, rooting in the sand, and exploring every nook and cranny of their tank, before we eventually moved deeper into the aquarium.

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.

Sydney Explorer

Thursday dawned a bit cloudy, with temperatures predicted to hit 35 C (approx 95 F). We ate a quick breakfast, and headed down to the dock, where we caught the ferry to Circular Quay. From there, we walked under the railway station to the bus stand, and were soon climbing onto the bright red Sydney Explorer bus, which is essentially a tourist bus which makes a two hour loop around the main city, with 26 stops along the way - you can get off wherever you like, and hop on the next bus to come along (there are several busses, and a bus hits each stop every 20 minutes). There is commentary about the sights along the route and about the interesting things to be found at each stop. We thought this would be an excellent way to get an overview of Sydney, as well as a good way to get to a couple areas of special interest. And perhaps our favourite thing about the bus, given the weather, was that it was air conditioned! We headed off from Circular Quay back through the city, and then out to the Bennelong Point and the Opera House, before swinging back along the Botanic Gardens, past some important historical buildings (State Library, Parliament House, etc.) around and through the Domain (a large park set aside in 1788 at Sydney's founding by Governor Phillip), past the art museum and through the Botanic Gardens once again to end up at Mrs Macquarie's Point. This point of land separates Farm Cove from Woolloomooloo Bay (known as "The Loo"), and features Mrs Macquarie's Chair at the very end. This was supposedly a favourite spot of Mrs (or Lady) Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of Governor Macquarie, and the governor had a chair carved out of the rock at the end of the point for her to sit in and enjoy the views. Today, those views feature the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We got off the bus here, and explored a bit - there seemed to be half a dozen busloads of Japanese tourists doing the same thing - this was to become a familiar occurrence over the next few days - whereas in other parts of Oz and New Zealand we see some Asian tourists, they seemed to be balanced by greater numbers of European, American and Aussie tourists - but Sydney is different, at least along the major tourist routes we followed.

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.

The Powerhouse Museum

The Powerhouse Museum is a combination museum and hands on science centre, based in the building which originally generated all the power for Sydney's trams via a large number of boilers. They have exhibits ranging from the first steam engine to run in New South Wales to a selection of Aussie singer Kylie Minogue's concert outfits! The museum is well-staffed with knowledgeable volunteers who enjoy sharing their knowledge and anecdotes about the various exhibits.

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.

The Maritime Museum

Friday dawned substantially cooler than the previous two days, although still a bit sticky, and generally cloudy (we never did get any rain during our stay, although it frequently threatened, and occasionally a few drops fell.) Clara woke up first, in time for a couple dawn photos (see here and here.) We had breakfast in the apartment, then caught the ferry over to Darling Harbour once again, this time disembarking at the Maritime Museum, an excursion that had been a particular request from Clara (and Lucy somewhat). Since we arrived shortly after opening, not many people were about. We signed up for "The Big Ticket", which allows you to tour the HMAS vampire (an ex-naval destroyer), the HMAS Onslow (ex-navy diesel sub) and the HMS Endeavor (replica of Captain Cook's ship) along with the museum itself.

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.

Bondi Explorer

The problem with trying to cram even a limited number of activities into just 4 days in Sydney is that we couldn't do any of them complete justice. However, after our fairly thorough look around at the Maritime Museum, we took a very short ferry ride to the next stop - Circular Quay, where we could catch the Bondi Explorer. Analogous to the red Sydney Explorer bus, this bright blue bus also tours around a number of Sydney's famous places - featuring, as the name suggests, the greater Bondi Beach area. As we approached the stop at Watson's Bay, the driver extolled the beautiful scenery and photographic opportunities - and while we weren't intending a stop here, we got off anyway, to walk along the cliffs and then back out to the road at the next bus stop. This area is known as The Gap, and provides views of dramatic cliffs and the Heads. We walked along, enjoying the views, and wondering what several large concrete structures were - they looked as if they might have been parts for gun emplacements back in WWII, but we never found out for sure. As we came up to the next bus stop, the usual hoard of Asian tourists was swarming around their own collection of busses. We were soon back on the Explorer, and headed down to Bondi Beach - which, while a nice beach, is fairly small, completely surrounded by concrete/stone sea walls, and built-up residential area - hard to believe this is such an attraction, considering all the beautiful, undisturbed and far larger beaches we have seen in our travels across Australia. We had originally planned to hop off at Bondi and explore, but decided to keep going on the bus, past Bronte and Coogee beaches, Centennial Park, the Sydney Cricket Ground (although Tim was tempted to stop here for a brief pilgrimage!) and back through Sydney to Circular Quay, where we once again transferred to a ferry for the trip back to the apartment.

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.

The Opera House

Saturday brought Opera Day! After breakfast, the girls put on their dresses and jewelry and we headed across the harbour to Circular Quay once again. From the ferry terminal we walked along the "Writer's Walk", where there are bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalk commemorating famous writers (and not just Australians, but some such as Mark Twain who had interesting things to say about Australia.) Another interesting feature of the walkway was the embedded brass markers for where the shoreline of the harbour had been at various times over the previous couple hundred years. We made our way past all these diversions, and soon arrived at the Opera House, where we signed up for a guided tour, and then browsed in the gift shop while we waited. Shortly our guide Wayne rocked up. He was a quite personable and knowledgeable bloke, who had clearly been around the Opera House for a while, and enjoyed the atmosphere and productions going on. He gave us some of the history of the complex, starting back in 1956.

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.)

Homeward Bound

Sunday morning we had breakfast in the room, and packed up. We had a bit of a crisis when Clara couldn't find her favourite pencil case (containing her favourite pens and pencils), but a thorough search failed to turn it up. We checked out, and caught the ferry to Circular Quay for the last time. Once there, Tim sat with the luggage in the square, while Sandy and the girls visited a Starbucks and a souvenir store. Then it was onto the train to the airport (see here and here), where we checked in, and then, on the off chance, checked with the lost and found office - and they had Clara's pencil case! So she was quite happy as we made our way to the Qantas Club. An uneventful flight back to Adelaide followed onboard our old friend Yananyi Dreaming - still landing at the old terminal due to ongoing issues with the new terminal's fuel system, and home via taxi. Another brief but enjoyable trip to explore a distinctive part of Oz was over.

The End

Pictures from our February 2006 Sydney Trip

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