Way Down Under

I didn’t get a lot done in Sydney. It’s really not a two-day visit place, so when you go, I suggest that you try to manege a couple of weeks there. And if you’re planning to get there by ship, pick a big one (although I never thought I’d say that).

Because we’re a relatively small ship

and could fit under the famously so-called “hanger” bridge, we paid a penalty for our lack of stature by having to dock way out in the boonies, far from town, whereas the big guys tie up right in the middle of it all. That increased considerably the hassle factor of getting around town. 

The first morning I went on a walking tour of the “Rocks” district, which is the site of the original settlements. This is the view from the highest natural point in Sydney, which is not particularly high, but is nonetheless pleasingly panoramic.

The green dome on the right is the weather observatory. The yellow ball near the center has a cool history. Although the original ball itself was very recently replaced, a yellow ball in that spot has told the time since 1858. At 1:00 every day the yellow ball, known as the Time Ball, is dropped so that all ships, or indeed anyone when can see the ball, can synchronize their time-telling devices.

Australia is a young country and Sydney is a young town, dating back only to 1788. Its development is commemorated by this mural.

Sydney takes its history seriously, and the entire Rocks district is the object of historical preservation.

One of the coolest things we saw was how an entire youth hostel had been built from the second floor up, leaving the whole ground floor open as a sort of living museum of early archaeology.

Some of the original old houses have been preserved, 

while others can be viewed from inside the foundations.

I don’t want you to think that I’m obsessed with toilets, but after some of the ones I saw in China, this one looks pretty nice.

I was also interested in a different sort of excavation, that of opals. As we traveled through Australia I was really hoping to find an opal to bring home, not a certain thing, since they are shockingly expensive, even here.

Although I fell in love with these beauties, which cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, I did eventually find a modest one to wear, thus ending my quest.

Eating in Sydney was funny. This guy didn’t hesitate so settle on my table looking for crumbs at one meal,

and at another a tardy busboy had to clear up after the depredations of these gulls.

And weirdly, I had a bowl of laksa here that was even better than what I had in Singapore. There’s a lot of Asian influence in the Sydney food scene.

I ended up walking all over downtown Sydney, and a couple of interesting things I noted in passing: the fluidity of time,

the beauty of street art and appreciation of birds,

and the sensibleness of the rental bikes coming equipped with helmets.

Of course their was a darker side. On the morning when there happened to be a month’s worth of rainfall deluging the city in a few-hour period, causing flooding in the streets and a general disappearance of taxis, I had an appointment at the American Consulate. Let me tell you, if you are planning a visit there, arrive at least half an hour early. The security there was even more intimidating than when I went to the embassy in Beijing.

You have to take a dedicated elevator to a floor that’s somewhere between a reception area and a holding cell. You are divested of your belt, watch, phone, and camera – I was even required to remove the battery from my camera before abandoning it. You are told to wait, and in what seat to wait. Then you are escorted to another floor, in a dedicated elevator, by a guard. On the return, you descend from that high floor so fast that your ears pop. One paragraph to describe, 30 minutes to execute it all. You can be sure that you are safe in that little part of Sydney.

However, some of us who had procured tickets months ago did have the privilege of attending a concert here, in the concert hall of the fabulous Opera House. Alas, we were a little too early for the opera season, but we did get to hear Daniel Barenboim conduct the Berlin Staatskapelle. One of the world’s best conductors, one of the world’s best orchestras, one of the world’s most beautiful music venues. Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Beethoven’s Eroïca – two familiar classics that, while not edgy or challenging, received their due with this virtuoso performance. We were thrilled to be there.

And now it’s time to head north, beginning the long voyage homeward. First stop, New Caledonia, la Nouvelle-Calédonie. I’m looking forward to being back in France.

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One Comment on “Way Down Under”

  1. Sheldon Says:

    Sydney has great Asian food (love the visit by the lorikeet), there is so much to see, including the city parks and walks at Bondi beach. Congrats on the opal and wish you faire seas.


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