On the Harbour

Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
Trip End May 10, 2005

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Sunday, April 3, 2005

Another Virgin Blue flight (this time for $29 plus taxes) and we arrived at Sydney. Travelling here is like travelling in Canada. Long distances, lots to see! Not enough time, so we have to fly.

Sydney (pronounced "Seedney" by locals) has a population of three million and is Australia's Toronto (i.e., largest and most cosmopolitan city). We are here to visit more friends and will fly from here to New Zealand.

Accommodation is a challenge as it is tres expensive (though there is more food choice and it doesn't seem quite as pricey). We ended up at a YHA (Youth Hostel Association) youth hostel right at the central train station. When travelling in Europe in 1981 and in New Zealand/Australia, I stayed in a lot of youth hostels, most of them YHA affiliated. (After looking at a "Backpacker" hostel here, now I remember why we chose the YHA ones - the backpacker one was disgusting). Even the hostel cost us $78! (and that was with a $37 per person membership!).

Even youth hostels seem to have gone up-scale. (Maybe the clientele, i.e., young people, are just more discerning/particular about where they stay?) In my former backpacking days, hostels were generally very basic clean, safe places with bunkbeds (dorm-style - you provide your own sleeping sheet and sleeping bag) where you could cook your own food and meet other young people. This hostel (Railway Square YHA) has rooms for couples with double beds, a small pool and restaurant and provides bedding and towels. There's computers available and a games room. If you so choose, you can sleep in one of the old railway cars that have been converted into dormitories.

Two of the people we are here to visit are Chris and Joan Anne Burke, friends of my sister and brother-in-law's (Diane and Neil). They met Chris and Joan Anne in Europe in 1979. I stayed with them when I was last in Sydney and my parents have also met them.

Both Chris and Joan Anne are "semi-retired": Chris works part-time in HR; Joan Anne has retired from nursing and is employed in a library shelving books. They have two sons, Peter (25), an engineer, and David (24), who is a corporal in the army. David had just gotten a call they day we visited, requesting that he be ready to be deployed at any time. Needless to say, his parents are very nervous about it all. Although our visit with them was much too short, we shared many laughs and left feeling that the few hours we had together were very valuable ones.

We also spent some time with Joanne and Janusz and their daughter, Ameka. Joanne is originally from just outside Rosetown, SK. We met at university and have remained in touch. It has been quite a few years since Martin and I have seen them and they have moved many times: from Toronto to Washington, DC and now to Sydney. Ameka is a well-travelled kid!

Janusz works for a computer software company and Joanne recently started a PhD program in Economics at the University of New South Wales. Ameka goes to a private school. From what I understand, the public school system here is not very highly regarded and most people opt to send their children to private school. Perhaps it's a hangover from British tradition? There are lots of those. Although many Australians might disagree, their "Bristishness" is still readily apparent to outsiders.

We spent Saturday evening with them and a Brazilian friend; Joanne and Janusz prepared a Brazilian meal. The food and the company were wonderful - the evening came to an end much too quickly.

And I found a long-lost friend of mine - Wayne Rollan, whom Heather, Shelly and I travelled with in Europe in 1981 and who visited us in 1988. He is an optometrist. Last I heard, he was living Hobart and, in calling directory assistance, I found him right here in Sydney. Unfortunately, he wasn't home (either that or he was avoiding me), but I know it was the right phone number because of his phone message! I left him a detailed message re: addresses and asked him to stay in touch, now that he'd been found again!

I have mentioned that the food in Australia is much more cosmopolitan than it used to be, however, some habits die hard. It seems that sandwiches are always put in a sandwich cooker and heated. You have to be quick to tell them not to heat your sandwich. There's nothing like compressed mess of cheese, tomato and soggy lettuce! Yuck! I remember ordering a lettuce and tomato sandwich on a bus trip from Perth to Adelaide on my previous visit downunder. They took it out of the freezer and heated it in the microwave! You can imagine what the lettuce was like . . . .

It's also interesting noting the differences in houses. Most houses here are constructed of brick and basements are almost non-existent. (No one gave could give me a reason why they don't have basements - just that they never have.) Typical farm houses have a wide verandah that help to shade the south and west sides of the house. And no one seems to have upper cabinets in their kitchens! Squatting down to get all you dishes, etc. seems to make no sense to me. It also greatly reduces storage space.

Another difference I noted is that the sink and toilet are often in separate rooms, or there's a toilet and sink that are separate from the shower (and often another sink). It makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

Like Canada, Australia seems to be quite clean and you don't seem much litter. I was told, however, that it's easy to see the "rubbish" when the bush fires go through as people tend to dump all sorts of things in the bush (like old appliances and vehicles), though the same is probably true at home. They do have a "Say No to Plastic Bags" campaign that I think would be good for Canadians to adopt. Plastic is a real problem in developing nations in particular.

While in Sydney, Martin and I took a day trip to the Blue Mountains (another World Heritage Site), about 2 hours west by train. This mountain range extends from Cairns into Victoria and is about 100 km wide. They mountains appear blue from a distance because of the blue mist from the eucalyptus trees. Although not tall compared to the Canadian Rockies (most of the Blue Mountains are just over 1,000 m in height), they are still worth seeing. Many people refer to them as "Australia's Grand Canyon" and are similar in appearance in some places. We spent the day hiking along a number of trails there.

After a week of suffering from the sunburn I got in Cairns from sheer stupidity, I can now wear a bra again! I really did a number on my upper back (first and second degree burns) - and I saw some people who were worse than I was!

I also found out that there's another posionous spider that's even deadlier than the redback! It's the funnel web spider - and Australians need to be on the lookout for it hiding in damp, dark places!
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