The BEST of Australia:
Eric, Graham, Leanne, Michael, Brian, Lynne, the woman at the Maui Campervan return who didn’t charge us extra, Graham’s Mum Elizabeth, Miss Pastie DeKline, Guy, Mark, Robert, and the generous citizens of Sydney. (Oh, did we mention Eric and Graham???)
Art Gallery: The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Beaches: Bondi; Coolum, Back Beach, Southwest Rocks.
Beer: Draught Schooners of VB or Carlton
Bookstore: The Bookshop Darlinghurst
Bars: Manacle, The Columbian Hotel
Department Stores: David Jones, Sydney; Gowings, Sydney
Disco: Midnight Shift (Video Bar)
Dive Instructors: Leanne; Chris
Market: Central Market, Adelaide
National Park: Kangaroo Island
Pool: Cook + Phillip Wave Pool, Sydney
Restaurants: Adelaide: Lime + Lemon; Melbourne: Red Orange, Gluttony: It’s a Sin; Sydney: Yipiyiyo; Trinity Beach/Cairns: Trattoria L’Unico
Suburbs: Waterloo, Surry Hills, Mossman
Wine: All of them!
Wine Tour: Yarra Valley with Victoria Winery Tours in Melbourne
Books we read in Australia: Wicked, The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire; The Turn of the Screw and Other Stories, by Henry James; The New Yorker and the World It Made, by Ben Yagoda.
I find it difficult to believe that we are no longer in Sydney and Australia. It feels like we are just out for the day and will be back at Francis Street this evening or meeting Eric or Graham for dinner or drinks. Or finishing off our Sydney must see list before we go. But we have left and are jetting off to Singapore for phase three of our trip.
Bye Bye Oz: Hello Singapore!
Singapore Airlines gets the “best airline so far” award hands down. I mention to John that it doesn’t feel like we are in an airplane at all. Incredible service, beautiful staff and wonderful diversions to keep you busy. The eight hour fly just “flew” by. We arrive to low, threatening thunder clouds in Singapore and 36 degree temperatures. Yes, we are in the tropics again. Singapore is well manicured, lush and very cosmopolitan. We are preparing ourselves for the weather forecast of rain and thunderstorms for the four days that we are here. Our cab (clean!) drops us at the Peninsula- Excelsior Hotel and our room is a retro 70’s tribute to a by-gone era of splendour and luxury. We are only here for four days after all and it is air conditioned. We head out to do some exploring and shopping. We buy two Polarized lens filters for our camera we had been eyeing in Sydney. With the exchange rate, they are less than 1/4 of what they were in AU. We find a Szechwan restaurant inhabited by the locals and have a wonderful, spicy meal and a pitcher of Tiger draft for less than $40 CDN. We are going to love SE Asia!!
One final note on Sydney: We cannot thank Eric and Graham enough for unselfishly looking after us so well in Sydney. They never expected anything in return and their generosity and friendship will always be one of the incredible things that we will remember about our time in Sydney.
The Blue Mountains, Australia
Up early – we are heading to see the Blue Mountains, a 90 minute drive west of Sydney. Eric has lent us his car for the day, and he arrives at our place to drop it off just after 9, and of course there is a hamper for our morning coffee break sitting on the back seat. Again, his generosity leaves us speechless.
We head off, not needing maps to negotiate our way out of town – we feel like true Sydneysiders at this minor triumph. Traffic is easy this morning. We wonder whether the air will be blue today or not – the weather forecast for the Blue Mountains is a high of only 13, and the air is turned blue when the sun heats the eucalyptus trees and their oil evaporates.
The Lonely Planet guidebook tells us of a scenic back road, and we turn off onto it, catching glimpses of beauty. We stop at a lookout, and craning over the trees, see a beautiful vista of the valley and the mountains. We spend some lovely minutes here, alone with the view. We realize that we will indeed see the famed blue air today.
We continue our drive, and shortly after arrive at Echo Point, the main lookout, with spectacular views of the 3 Sisters and the canyon.
We continue the beauty-laced drive, eventually ending up in Katoomba, the main city of the Blue Mountains. We stop for lunch, and are just nicely seated in the restaurant when it starts to pour. It continues to pour through lunch, and we run back to the car through the rain. We vote to head back to Sydney.
We make our way to Eric’s place for a pre-dinner cocktail, then we all head out to a wonderful hole-in-the-wall Eric knows, serving Japanese food, and crammed to the rafters with Japanese students studying at the nearby university. Then home to an early bed – we have to be up early on Saturday.
Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney, Australia
As fate and weather go hand in hand, Monday morning breaks clear, sunny and warm after a weekend of heavy constant rains. The numbers are in from the attendance at the Mardi Gras Parade and they are disappointing. Rough estimates put the crowd at about 300,000. This is down from years past and entirely due to the weather. The locals stayed away so it was up to us crazy foreigners to do all the cheering and whooping.
We are scheduled to do the BridgeClimb adventure today which takes us to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge about 134 meters above sea level. We have seen the climbers scaling the bridge several times during our trips to the harbour and today is our day to conquer the bridge. Grant Wedge has decided to join us and we meet about 11:30 at Circular Quay to make our way up to the bridge for our pre-reserved 11:50 check in. We are in the “12:05” climb and have been told we will be at the Bridge for 3.5 hours in total.
We arrive to a very organized production line. We are quickly divided into our “team” and watch a quick video on the process. We are then ushered into our debriefing room, sign our waivers and do our breathalyser test (Yup!). We then move to the dressing rooms and are given grey polyester one piece suits to wear on the bridge. Not very flattering but then everyone looks the same, thank God! For liability issues, we cannot bring anything up on the Bridge with us—no cameras, wallets, watches, loose change etc. They want nothing to fall in to the traffic lanes of the bridge. Our sunglasses are fine but are attached, as are our baseball caps and pretty well everything else, to our suits by clipping them on our backs.
Our Fearless Guide: Big PeteWe meet our diverse team, young and old alike, and watch as the two or three teams ahead of us go through their paces before disappearing out the door and up the Bridge. Our team leader, who will also be our guide for the climb, is Big Pete. Pete is true Aussie and a big guy (hence the name) and is jovial and full of knowledge. Next up is our safety harness that attaches us to the walking line and the bridge for the entire trip. This is an ingenious piece of simple design that allows us to squeeze through some cramped areas and around some tight corners while still being safe and attached. Our final gear up is our headsets and radios so that we can follow Big Pete’s scintillating commentary throughout the process. There is a simulator on site and they make us climb the ladders with our gear before we get on the bridge. Note: The simulator doesn’t even come close to the ladder climb we will do! We receive our final debrief and off we go! Everyone was told to strip down to our underwear under our suits today for the climb because of the sun and we are glad for it. As some of you may be aware, polyester doesn’t breathe that well and walking ten feet, we break sweat.
Up, Up, UP
The first part of the climb is getting to the pylon that will take us to the eastern arch. This is a very open walk and is a good warm up for what is to come. We are under the bridge right now on suspended catwalks and this is where, we discover, the waterfall effect fireworks on the bridge are let off. We continue across and over and get to our first ladder up. We must scale four 10-foot ladders. This is done alone as the climb rules state that only one person can be on a ladder at any time. Each ladder takes you up, up, up until you reach the top of the pylon, and there you are, at the bottom of the top arch of the bridge.
We are already quite high at this point and it is a beautiful afternoon with a lovely sea breeze blowing in from the North East to keep our “polyester” cool and comfortable. And we start up the arch. It is a very easy climb, the metal stairs spaced quite comfortably. We are heading north up, up, up the eastern arch and the views of the harbour and environs are spectacular.
We make it to the top
Big Pete has stopped us several times to take photos, which they try and sell to you at the end of the climb, and we stop at the top on the middle span and survey the world. We have now crossed over and are heading back down the Western Arch with views over the western harbours out to the Olympic site and the Anzac Bridge. It is interesting to see Sydney’s’ extensive harbour from up here. We get to the bottom of the Arch and have to deal with those ladders again – this time going down. Far below us is the commuter train that goes from Circular Quay to the north shore and I can hear and feel it rumble beneath me as I head down the ladder. This is the only difficult part of the climb for me. One more photo opportunity from Big Pete and it is just the final walk home and the de-gear.
It has been a more strenuous walk than we had imagined and we are thirsty and hungry for a late lunch. We end up at one of the local pub/ale house/hotels around the corner and give ourselves a congratulatory “cheers” for our hard work.
Head to the North Beaches while you're in Sydney for Mardi Gras!
North Head and Manly in Sydney, Australia
Graham has offered to take us up to the Northern Beaches today – an area that is very difficult to get to by public transit. We go under the harbour and head east, covering some of the area we have already walked to – Creemorne and Mossman. We drive past the Zoo, with its commanding position on the Harbour, past Obelisk Beach and across the Spit to Manly. We drive through to the North Head, which from this side we can see is much higher than the South Head, where we went last week.
Manly is, of course, home of one of Australia’s most famous beaches. There are actually 2 beaches, one on the harbour side and, just a short distance away, the more famous beach on the Tasman. We pick up takeaway fish and chips for lunch, and sit on the beach wall watching the swimmers, the lifeguards and the tourists.
From Manly we continue on north, ending up in Palm Beach and Barrenjoey Head. I admit to having a good nap on the drive. Palm Beach was once a summer resort for the very affluent. It is now a far northern suburb for the very affluent.
Driving home we stop and meet Graham’s mother, who lives north of the city. At 79, she is still very lively, and a charming hostess. She offers us a cold drink 3 times, we decline 3 times, and she brings us our drinks. We note to Graham afterwards that she won’t take no for an answer, and he says she’s hard of hearing.
We get home in time for much-needed naps before the social whirl starts again. Lynne drops by on her way home from a job interview for a glass of champers. Then out at 7:30 to meet Graham, Jens, Jeroen, Simon and Christina at the Colombian for a quick drink before dinner. Jens and Jeroen are visiting from Amsterdam for Mardi Gras, Simon and Jens went to uni together back in the UK before Simon, originally from Wales, moved to Australia 4 years ago. Christina is a good friend of Graham’s who has flown in from Melbourne just to come out for dinner with Jens and Jeroen, who have visited Australia before and chummed around with Graham and Christina on their previous visit.
We move to the restaurant, and start with champagne – the real thing tonight, Veuve Cliquot – as Jens and Jeroen hand envelopes to Christina and Graham (Simon had already been given his). Inside are invitations to their wedding, next June in Amsterdam. Everyone cheers and cheers some more, and over a discussion of the wedding plans, dinner commences.
We are dining at RQ (unfortunately now closed), another Thai restaurant, but of a very different quality than most. The menu is fixed, the quality superb, and the multitude of dishes with little tastings becomes very complicated, as we try to figure out what we’ve tasted and what we haven’t. Then the food stops coming, they clear, and we think it’s over; but they reset the table and start bringing out the mains. Absolutely delicious.
The gang head out for after-dinner drinks, but we are both beyond exhaustion and it is already close to midnight, so we head home to drop, marveling at Graham’s stamina.