Fireman Dave Climbs 1400 Steps

Trip Start Mar 08, 2011
Trip End Jun 11, 2011

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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Throughout this entire trip there was only one day tour that we booked well in advance, and that was the Sydney Bridge Climb. We made the booking for 10:15am, enough time wake up at a reasonable time, grab breakfast, and then get to the bridge.  All was going to plan until the last part.  We gave ourselves plenty of time to get from breakfast to the bridge, but no one ever looked up exactly where the office was to start the climb.  Amy had the brilliant idea of taking a taxi, as a local would know where to go, but we are three men on a budget, so we will walk and figure it out ourselves.  We were supposed to arrive at 10 in order to sign in and be ready, but instead we arrived right at 10:13.  If you ask me, it was the perfect time as we walked right in the door as they called our group.   

 Like most activities we do, the first thing is to sign your life away, but the next activity was new, we got a breathalyzer test.  Apparently you shouldn't climb a bridge while intoxicated.  Since none of us are raging alcoholics (at least not yet), we all passed the mid-morning sobriety test.  We proceed to the next room where they tell us we cannot have anything on us that is not strapped on.  So pockets had to be emptied (bye bye camera), watches had to be taken off, even clips in the hair had to go.  We could wear sunglasses and/or hats, but they were attached to our jumpsuit.  Speaking of our jumpsuit, that was the next procedure.  They have a wall that contains the progression of jumpsuit designs over the last twenty years.  They change it as often as a professional sports team does, for reasons I don’t really understand since they are not for sale, so you cannot collect the whole series.  One of the other members of our tour wanted a picture with everyone in their jumpsuits.  Since there were too many people, I decided to duck down in front, to which the gent said I must be a fireman (since I was in the fireman’s pose).  I readily agreed.  After passing through a metal detector to make sure we do not have any loose items (or guns), we proceed to the final room, the obstacle course.  There are a few bridges and stairs to simulate the real life situation, so one by one we each go through the obstacle course as if we are training for NASA. 

This is the point where we meet our tour guide Mel.  She has been working at the bridge climb for almost 11 years (next week is her 11th anniversary where they throw her a tea party, I wonder what they do for her 12th) and was the tour guide Oprah had when she did the climb earlier in the year.  Of course this makes Amy very happy as she can get all the gossip about Oprah (which is coming later) and Amy feels comforted that "if Oprah can do it, so can I."  We all introduce ourselves to Mel, and of course, to keep the fireman theme going, I told her I was “Fireman Dave.”  So this was my new name for the rest of the day.  Mel has quite a few good jokes of her own, I especially liked the one that our map is on our suit in case we get lost (a picture of the bridge) and the one where she said if we hit water, we have gone too far.  We then lineup and hook ourselves into the bridge.  Since we were hooked in, we would have to stay in this order for the entire climb.  I went last, behind Amy, as she prefers to watch everyone go before her, but doesn’t want anyone she doesn’t know following her since the big luge accident (see the Great Wall of China post if you don’t remember what happened), and mostly because it is good to have the fireman in the back in case something goes wrong. 

The climb starts underneath the bridge (still close to 30 feet above street level), walking along narrow planks that were tight for some of us (me).  We had to duck and climb over steel posts, which is always nice when you are on a bridge.  We continued on this path for the next 15 minutes as Mel gave us the history of the bridge.  The steel came from England, but the workers were Australian along with the stone on the pillars.  There are over 2 million rivets in the bridge.  It is the biggest single arch bridge in the world.  When it was built it was the highest structure in Sydney (now it is the 34th largest, or something like that).  It is exactly twice as high as the Sydney Opera House.  Blah, Blah, Blah (I jest, it was actually pretty interesting information).  By this point we made it to the stairs that we practiced on earlier.  There were four sets of staircases (only one person can be on a staircase at a time) and as you come out of the first staircase, you are now at the level where cars are zipping passed your head on both the right and left across the bridge.  We made it to the top and were now at the bottom of the arch.  The hardest part was finally over, unless you are scared of heights, then it will only get worse (but why would you be on this tour anyway).  This is where we were told that Oprah took the elevator up to this point and skipped climbing all of the stairs (for security reasons only, of course). 

Since we were now officially on the bridge, Mel the tour guide turned into Mel the photographer.  She breaks out her camera and takes pictures of each of the members of the group since we were not allowed bring cameras.  How nice of Mel, you are probably thinking, but it was mostly because they can now charge $25 for your first purchased picture and $10 for each following purchased picture.  We continue to climb further up the bridge, stopping to take different pictures, and the views just get more amazing as you go up as the visibility was at 100% (we could see a mountain 100 km in the distance which is the furthest object that can be seen from the bridge).  We finally make it to the top so we can take a group photo (the one photo we get for free with a bunch of people I will never see again).  We take a funny group photo also, of everyone vertically planking.  Planking is all the craze in Australia.  It is when you take a picture of yourself lying completely horizontal, face down, in funny locations.  It has gotten out of hand as a few people have died because they were ran over by a car, or fell off the top of a moving vehicle (kids these days, just no common sense).  We couldn’t do the horizontal planking on the bridge (I tried) as Mel would lose her job, so instead we all stood tall facing forward.  Quite the funny pic.  It was finally time to descend, which was sad, but it couldn’t have come at a better time as our 100% visibility changed quickly and the storm clouds came in.  We made it back just in time.  Overall the tour was fantastic and I highly recommend it although I just wished they charged half the price they do, as it is not for the budget traveler. 

By this point we had worked up an appetite from climbing over 1400 steps, so we head over to a restaurant that Mel recommended, Lowenbrau.  What could be better to wait out the cold rain than a stein of beer, a hot pretzel, and goulash soup.  This marks our third German beer hall of the trip, and Lowenbrau was the best.  Problem was the rain was still going, so we had to come up with a different plan that involved indoor activities.  So off we went to the nearby was the Museum of Modern Art, which is free.  Once inside, we realized why it was free.  The museum consists of 3 levels.  Level 1 is a rotating exhibit by a random artist (today’s big attraction was a raft that look like it came off the set of lost).  The second floor was a paid exhibit (which we skipped).  The third level was by far the best, containing abstract drawings of nude dictators with anti-Semitic symbols, a video of rats going in and out of two holes, an audio tape of a guy writing the numbers 1 through 10 with a No. 2 pencil on recyclable paper, and my favorite, a hairdryer attached to a cardboard box that had a picture of a face and when you turned on the hairdryer two ping pong balls (which were the eyes) floated in the air.  The theme of the day is no pictures allowed, so we do not have any proof of these exhibits.  I agree with the Lonely Planet’s description of the Museum as stating “leaving even the most open minded critics confused.” 

The rain was still coming down, so we walked across the street to a bar that claims it is the oldest pub in Sydney (pretty good advertising if you ask me).  The pub was pretty much a hole in the concrete with a few taps set up, but at least there was a roof and beer.  We stayed for a while until we finally realized that the rain wasn’t letting up anytime soon, so we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel to relax for a few hours.  Relaxing turned into a short nap, which turned into a late dinner.  Adam had been talking about trying Kangaroo, so we figured this would be a good time to do it.  He also wanted to see Darling Harbor (he was not in Sydney on our first day when we went to watch fireworks), so we decided to kill two birds with one stone, so we walked over to Darling Harbour.  It is amazing the difference a few days make.  Darling Harbor was packed over the weekend, and today we could count on our 8 hands the number of people at all of the restaurants. There were 4 restaurants serving kangaroo, so Adam had a few choices, but the final decision was at a tepanyaki restaurant called Kamikaze.  The food was somewhere between “eh” and “alright” (or a 1 fork rating if you prefer that scale).  It was a long day at this point, so we decided to close up shop at this time as tomorrow was a new day.
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