Arrival in Sydney
October 23, 1998
Wow! Vacation at last. Even after a 20 hour trip from the U.S., I
was feeling pretty good: I'd caught some Zz's on the plane (thank goodness for exit rows)
and was raring to go and take a look at Sydney!
Grabbing a cab from the airport, I was dropped off at Aaron's hotel, on
the edge of Sydney's Chinatown. I was spending the night there until the tour
started the next day, and was going to have to share a room with four other guys.
Now I'm not a big fan of roomshare (being a bachelor for a while I've
gotten used to living on my own and I like my privacy), but I figured I could stand it for
a couple weeks. So a little nervously, I took the elevator to my room.
There I met the first of my fellow Contiki tourists: Nigel. A decent chap, very English (although
frankly, you could spot me for an American in a dark room), he was kind enough to show me
what bus to take to get into downtown Sydney, especially the Circular Quay (pronounced
"Key") where two of Australia's monuments are, the Sydney Opera House and
the Sydney Bridge. Nigel was taking the same tour as myself, and I was definitely
relieved that he had proven to be pretty cool!
Before I left for the Quay, our other two roommates showed up: Brian and Mike. Mike was also in the same tour,
but Brian turned out to be in a slightly different schedule: he would not be visiting the
Outback, but would instead move on to Darwin in the north. I wondered who else would
join and who would go, and when!
Leaving the Hotel, I took the bus with Nigel to the Quay. While he
went off to take another bus, I stayed behind to explore the waterfront. Right there
on the Quay are several fascinating places: the Sydney
Opera House on one side, near the Botanical Gardens; the Bridge off to my left, with what appears to be tiny figures on it; nearby The Rocks, part of the
original settlements of Sydney when it was a penal colony of Great Britain. In the
early morning sun, I took a walk around the Quay, taking pictures. There's a replica of the "Bounty" there, floating in
Sydney Cove, too.
After a look around, I decided to take a harbor cruise. There were
boats leaving every half hour or so, and one offered a two-hour tour with a snack, so I
took that. As it would turn out, I was less prepared for this than I thought...
The cruise took us all around Sydney Bay, and the tour guide was pointing
out various sights along the bay. She pointed out the three nudist beaches in Sydney, and the curious
coincidence that they are all located near military bases (Uh, I was just, uh, scouting
the terrain, sir!). She also talked about the history of the bay during W.W.II and
other times, telling stories about how a German minisub snuck into the bay and attempted
to fire on the American ship "Chicago". This would turn out to be bad news
for Sydney, since when the Chicago fired back it hit one of the Australian bases!
There's apparently a plaque from the "Chicago"
that basically says "Oops! Sorry about that, mate...".
During the cruise, I was admiring how beautiful
the city was, even with all the construction going on in preparation for the 2000
Olympics. The day was beautiful, not too warm (in fact it was a bit nippy on the
boat with the breeze), absolutely clear and the water was a beautiful blue. What a
Houses and other Monuments
After the cruise, I walked over to the Opera
House to get some lunch and tickets to a tour of the place. I was startled to
realize how young the building is: it was only built in the late 60's/early 70's: I've
heard of the place all my life and I thought it was much older than that (the Sydney
Bridge was built in the 30's, for example). I could not get in right away (tickets
sell fast for that tour), so I went and wandered around the Botanical Gardens for a
while. I saw several birds I'd never seen before: Ibises
(not native to Australia, apparently), interesting ducks
with large red crests, a cute redhead with her baby in a stroller.. :-)
<Whoop, whoop, sexist alert, sexist alert..>
*Ahem*. Back to the story...
I was amazed at how many suits were wandering around in the park: I guess
it's a popular place to go on your lunch break. I even saw one guy doing some sort of karate or yoga or something
(I'm no martial arts expert), performing slow-motion moves like the Karate Kid. He
was next to the biggest damn tree I'd ever seen:
some sort of Banyan or something (I'm not a botanist, either).
The Opera house tour was quite fascinating: the place was built because
Sir Eugene Goossens (an English conductor) was appalled that Sydney had no opera house, so
he persuaded the state government to hold a contest to find the best design. The
winning design (by Jorn Utzon) was supposed to cost $7 million (it took $102) and be built
in a few years (it took 16). Utzon also left the country over conflicts with the
government and political pressures. He's never been back since, either!
Despite all that, the place was built, and it is quite a masterpiece, both inside and out.
Out tour guide was a tall, lanky character who was really fun to listen to as he
showed us around. Every time he finished going over things, he would repeat a quick
summary and go "blahblahblah", literally.
Well, it was amusing to me, anyway...
New Friends and Sunburn
Around 3:30, I started to realize something was wrong: my skin started
feeling a bit tight. As it turned out, that was because it was starting to peel off:
I managed to get myself REALLY sunburned on that harbor cruise! It would take me a
week to get a new pelt, and my forehead was so burned it *oozed* (yuck!) I guess
everyone was just too polite to notice. :-) I spent the rest of my time avoiding the
sun and looking at some of the shops.
That evening, I met our tour guide Nicci and several others who were on
the tours: everybody made introductions, and we all went out to a local pub to get a drink
(or actually, I watched *other* people get drinks while I had a coke or two. :-).
Gotta go to bed: it's going to be an early morning! And I've got to find my