We left our serviced apartment on Castlereigh Street this morning and walked over to the Radisson Hotel where we would spend the next several days. Our good friends Chip and Jean where scheduled to arrived at the Sydney airport that morning, so we wanted to be on hand to greet them at the new hotel. We would argue that Australia is the first country thus far on this entire trip where the official language is “English”. Now maybe Singapore sites English as its primary language thanks to British influence, but Mandarin, Bahamas's Malay, and Tamil seem to permeate the social interaction. Here, it is English, albeit a large Asian population lives here.
When Chip and Jean arrived, Janet was the tour guide and provided them her special red “Frank and Janet Around the Planet” lanyard with ID card and Ticket to the Sidney Opera House Tour and tickets to the Australian Football League (AFL) Game ( Sidney Swans -vs- Gold Coast Suns). We wore our Lanyards too. After check in Janet lead the way through the parks and historic town streets on our way to the opera House. We passed the Parliament building , City Hall, the Historic Immigrant Barracks-now a must see museum, the St Mary Cathedral, and the Hyde City Park and Botanical Garden as we walked to the peninsula site of the Opera House. We are walking parallel to the wall to wall high rises of the the Central Business District. We say it again—this is a world class city. The weather was glorious, sunny and cool, more like a warm fall day in Michigan.
As we passed through the Circular Quay at the waterfront, the beauty of the large shimmering bay is breathtaking. There, to our left are the curved sweeping sails of the iconic Sydney Opera House. The structure is surrounded by expansive stairways that lead to the second level Auditoriums and restaurants. Our tour, however, starts on the first level which is like a monolithic base that would be at home next to the Egyptian pyramids. We meet our spunky guide who hands us ear pieces that allows her to broadcast to us in reverent whispers that are easily heard and add a spirited effect when she wants to be dramatic.
The Opera House has 6 auditoriums, and other useful interior spaces. The largest holds 3,000 patrons; others are slightly smaller and some are intimate at 300 people. These various sizes allow continuous presentations and production of all types and personality: Aboriginal dancing, Children's plays, modern theater, full orchestras, smaller bands and of course, Opera. The Opera House is always busy and inviting to the city’s population. Glass walls at 45 degrees to deflect blinding light open to the bay for receptions and weddings, especially in the “Purple Room”.
The construction methods and angles are just crazy cool. The sails, early on called shells, are formed concrete held up by metal girders and formed metal; the mechanical systems, Air Con, and electrical are placed and hidden between the concrete sails and the interior infrastructure of ceilings and walls. The interior is covered and decorated with Teak slats and other special woods on the walls and ceiling which abut the large opaque windows that rest below each sail.
Outside, as you walk up to these billowing sails, you are amazed that the “Mosaic Tiles” of white and tan, some flat, some glazed, cover every inch of the surfaces. Up close the Sails shimmer as would the sun light off the waves in the Bay. As well, the multi-toned tiles retard the reflection of the suns blinding rays—which would be bleach white at full sun. The opera house is a stunning place, but not seen completed by its Dutch architect, Jorn Utzon. Currently, his son is working with the Opera Authority to plan and execute updates that his father had envisioned, but did not complete due to in-fighting and dismissal.
This was a great excursion.
We walked rapidly from the the Opera peninsula toward Circular Quay where we purchased our tickets at A$7.90 each to ride the large ferry across the bay to another hot spot called Manly Beach. This boat ride takes us to the other side of the Opera House Peninsula, passed Fort Denison on Pinchgut Island, and on toward the Manly Beach dock; the ride is about ½ hour. The city of Manly Beach stretches from the dock across the narrow land to the actual beachhead. We walked through the main streets, with stores, restaurants and bars to the large expansive beach that faces the ocean, not a bay. See our photos from and on the ferry below.
For dinner we try out the Four Pines IPA Brewery for special brew and a variety of seafood or burgers. The fried chips were great, especially with Australian “Tomato Sauce” aka US ketchup; Aussie Ketchup here is like barbecue sauce. After a fine meal, and long day, we returned on the ferry, paid another fare, to Circular Quay. From here we walked down “Pitt Street”, a pedestrian-only avenue where the most glamorous shops in the world are open for business, ie. Gucci, Louis Vitton, etc., etc., and also some local favorites like Myers and Zara. Bars and restaurants flourish, street musicians and actors display their craft and the streets are crowded. It is worth repeating that Aussies drive on the left, so walking follows the same pattern—avoid pedestrian jams by walking the correct way on the sidewalks. This is a big time city. But, they too are just completing a trolley line similar to the M-1 of Detroit, MI; some blocked walkways to navigate.
Blue Mountain Wildlife Park Excursion. The next morning, we where up early and picked up our bus at 7:00 a.m. We where traveling 100 KM to the Blue Mountain National Park; famous for its splendid views and landscapes. The drive was smooth enough as we passed through the suburbs and jumped on the main expressway out of town.
The signature site is the rock formation of the Three Sisters; spires of rock at Echo Point that sit in a row next to each other. We, however, believe the vast canyon behind the Sisters is the real star. We did see a certain singular rock tower, shaped like a “V”, thin at the bottom, wide at top, which had for many years been connected by a rope and slat bridge to the cliffs. This Pillar had apparently been the star of the show until safety concerns closed it off; but again the canyon vista and cliffs from the windy overlooks are just great. This area has been subject forest fires that have enveloped many of the homes in the past At the Scenic World pavilion you have options to visit the canyon floor. We chose to take the 84 person“Cableway” gondola and descend 545 meters to the Jamison Valley. Once to the bottom we walked the 2.4 km elevated boardwalk through the ancient, temperate rainforest. After completing the trek, we locked down in the Scenic Railway and rode the track at 52 degrees to the top of the escarpment. Historically, this track was used to lift coal from the valley mines. It now boasts that it is the steepest running passenger train in the WORLD!? Thankfully it's been modernized.
We took a quick side trip to the cascade waterfalls. The area was pretty, but the season was dry so water thin. We left and stopped for a café lunch at the cute Blue Mountain town of Katoomba. Here, we had Aussie style seafood lasagna that came in large, noodle stacked squares with tossed side salad. Nice change from common burgers.
After lunch and an opportunity to walk around this quaint mountain town and buy special coffee, we left on the van for a simply wonderful site. The “Featherland Park” is a remarkable boutique Zoo of Aussie animals, with hands on opportunities. We handle Kowala--soft, furry and cute with large black claws; we handle and feed kangaroos—the young ones at least, we see the weirdest large birds called Cassowary, known to be mean in the wild; we see a family of Dingo wild dogs—very handsome, not like mangy cayote; we see penguins getting hand fed along with the Keepers presentation; we see some ugly lizard too. It was a great experience.
On the way home, we detour through the Australian National Olympic Park, with its multiple stadiums, practice facilities, and housing. The entire area is being developed into a residential low rise neighborhoods that borders the Park the parallel to the river. Nice and new and reasonably priced compared to the Sidney offerings. Lucky for us, at the river there is a ferry stop for our quicker ride back to Circular Quay at the center of Sidney’s waterfront. Lucky for us, this boat trip saved us from grueling rush hour traffic through Sidney. Once landed, we simply walked to the “Rocks” area to another fine Brewery of craft beers and ribs and burgers. The “Rocks” surround the Circular Quay and short waterside streets and are best described as two story granite walls that were cut by early settlers to make space for the ferry docks, housing, trading houses, warehouses and eventually overhead train tracks. The area had an early reputation for unsavory activities, especially with the neighborhood gangs and all the sailors landing there, but now it is a fun place with pubs, stores and eateries.
The walk home from Circular Quay was familiar. We would travel different streets to take in the atmosphere and culture of this lively metropolitan city. Of course, we took another look over our shoulders to see the lighted sails of the Opera House—never get tired of that view.
The next day, after some brief sightseeing, we capped off our final day by going to an Australian Football League Game. We joined 36,000 other blokes and gals at the Sidney Cricket Stadium to watch the Sidney Swans -vs- Cold Coast Suns. The field is a large oval extending to the bleachers, giving the 36 players plenty of space to kick and pass the large oblong ball directly to their teammates. Running is limited to 15 meters, so it is not like Rugby. The game is more like jump ball chaos, skillful played, with long kicks through the double uprights. The scoring is usually competitive and high. Here, the Suns folded and the Swans won 109 to 42, which was alright for the the boisterously friendly local fans. We think half time Marching Bands may be a big hit here, it just seems like that kind of crowd. The pitch is certainly big enough.
The end to Sydney came at our 5:00 am transfer pick-up to the airport. The Radisson nicely gave us box breakfasts and we had made up coffee in the room for our thermos. This was a great stay.