Sydney - no worries

Trip Start Mar 30, 2003
Trip End Jan 30, 2004

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Thursday, November 13, 2003

After 9 days in Sydney, I think I can say I have pretty comprehensively 'done' the city. I have driven over the Harbour Bridge, been on a ferry under it, done the Bridge climb and looked at it from every angle, including floodlit at night. Similarly, I have taken a guided tour of the Opera House, been to a concert there and also looked at it from every angle. You get the picture - and certainly I've got lots.

Perhaps the most memorable experience while I have been here is the climb of the Harbour Bridge. Although you ascend to quite a height, the climb over the arch itself is not very scary - the walkway is wide, we are attached to the bridge by a cable at all times and, as you can see from the pics, there are high railings to hold on to. Getting on and off the 'base' of the arch is the tricky bit - a series of high ladders and narrow walkways, some of which are right next to railway tracks.

The operation is very slick with groups of 12 heading off every 10 minutes. The first hour was spent preparing us and this created a real sense of drama. We inevitably had to sign a bunch of disclaimers, were given a breathalyzer test and boiler suits to wear. There is a big concern that a climber could drop something on to the 6 lane highway below and cause a major traffic accident, so we had to empty our pockets and went through a metal detector. We were also given radio headsets to hear our wag of a tour guide and had to practise climbing up and down ladders in an approved method. Finally we were deemed ready for the hardest part - facing the outside world in our boiler suits on our way to start the climb.

The views were certainly great. There were boats of all description in the harbour - a cruise liner was passing under the bridge and freighters, naval vessels, ferries and many yachts were also around. Previously I had been up one of the granite towers on the south side of the Bridge, which includes a museum of how the bridge was built and provides an opportunity to wave at the climbers on the arch from an observation deck at the top.

The area below the south side of the Bridge is called the Rocks and was one of the first places of settlement when us Poms brought the first convicts over back in 1788. However, back then there were no giftshops selling didgeridoos or boomerangs. The area is a bit touristy, but retains a charm. I particularly like the Museum of Contemporary Art and the view of the Bridge from the old Observatory. Nelson Mandela has opened an art gallery there as well.

I have been staying right in the centre of town, near the corner of Hyde Park and Oxford Street. From here it is pretty quick to get anywhere. The ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park dates from the 30s and ironically has the look of Fascist architecture about it. The Hyde Park barracks was built by the early convicts around 1800 and used to house those not assigned to the 'free' citizens. There is an interesting exhibition about the convict history from which two interesting facts emerged - convicts generally had a higher standard of education than the average Brit at the time and the diet of convicts in Oz was generally better than the diet of the average Brit back home (although they had to survive the sea passage first). Perhaps that explains why Ozzies seem taller than us now.

Also worth a visit in town is the Queen Victoria Building, an ornate 4 storey shopping arcade occupying a whole city block. On the top floor is a bizarre collection of clocks, one of which gives a display of re-enactments of various periods of British history on the hour (Canute trying to turn back the tide, Battle of Hastings etc etc). Plus there was a full fake set of the Crown jewels and a wax model of Queen Victoria at her Coronation. It was all a bit over-the-top really. Perhaps they could work on tableaux showing what goes on in HRH Prince Charles' household - that should be revealing...

The Sydney Opera House certainly make the most of its harbour setting with plenty of foyer space and room at the bar outside to look towards the Bridge. The concert of Richard Strauss was by the Sydney Symphony. I also went to the aquarium which has glass tunnels to walk through to see the sharks swim past. It was a real hit with school groups, unfortunately, but it did provide an opportunity to learn more about what I had seen on the Barrier Reef.

On Sunday I decided to take advantage of the good weather (it's been a sunny 25 degrees here) to go to Bondi beach, only 20 minutes from the centre of town. Although Bondi is popular with the local surfers, it also attracts more backpackers and expats on working visas than Ozzy families - I heard a lot of Irish accents in particular. The beach was very crowded. By comparison, on Monday I took a ferry through the harbour to Manly, which has quite a few beaches. Bronzed surfer dudes with zero body fat ratios padded bearfoot through the shopping precinct. Billabong or Ripcurl boardshorts seemed to be de rigeur on the beach, so I definitely felt inappropriately dressed in Nike.

Yesterday I took a tour to Hunter Valley. This was somewhat disappointing in comparison to the Barossa Valley tour I took in Adelaide. After a visit to a macadamia nut farm (not quite what I was expecting) the tour company dropped us at a pub for a sample of 'Dr Jurd's Jungle Juice', described as 'a modest, but pert juice suitable for drinking before, during and after anything'. It was a local port.

The first tasting at a winery came in the early afternoon. After getting the red and white stuff out the way (and it was not good, so needed to be drunk quickly), the winery moved on to serve us tastings of its favouritse products - butterscotch schnapps (helpfully described as not proper schnapps because it was only half the strength), 'Dragon's Breath' (made with chillies, very strong and to be downed in one) and Golden Tango Cream (like Baileys) after which we were invited to purchase a Dragons Breath baseball cap or various types of wine originating in Hungary. Useful as it was to get rat-arsed quickly I dont think the wineries of France or Napa Valley have much to worry about here.

The tour was redeemed by a visit to two other wineries which were using grapes that I had not previously come across, such as Traminer, Traminer Riesling, Verdelho and Chambourcin.

So tomorrow, after almost 2 months here, I head for Auckland in New Zealand. I think I have become slightly Australian in my time here - I say 'no worries' a lot and have eaten vegemite on toast every day for the past week. I will post more pics of Sydney later.
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