I'm getting a little behind here. As you may or (more likely) may not recall, week before last I found myself suddenly with a week off work as I switched bee operations. Plans kind of fell right into my lap then -- two of my friends were going to be in Sydney and another was going to be driving up to Brisbane from Melbourne immediately after that. Plan "Suddenly Sydney!" was immedaitely formulated.
Flew down to Syds on Wednesday (9/23, or 23/9 as I believe they say here) evening. Flight was only an hour and a half or so. Arrived around 11 and was shocked and alarmed to find the light rail ticket into town from the airport was around $15. Incidentally, looking at the prices in the airport restaurants and seeing hamburgers for $11-$15, I was surprised by how reasonable the prices were -- that's about how much they go for anywhere outside of the airport anyway! Usually prices always have a huge markup in airports in the states, for example a hamburger might cost as much as $9! O:
Walked a few blocks between looming skyscrapers from the station to the hostel ("Central Perk"). There I had to call a phone number to roust the manager-on-duty, and shortly "Robert" emerged bleary-eyed from a room behind the front desk, where he'd evidently been asleep. Over the next few days I'd find him on duty about 80% of the time, at all hours. I think he ran that place himself with someone else standing relief for only a few hours a day.
Met with my friend Gisi, who was in town (and staying at the same hostel) for some kind of short course on microscope use (she's a PhD student in Brisbane from Germany, studying algae. I have her in my phone as "Gisi, Queen of the Algae!"), but she had to get to bed for class in the morning.
I was checked into an eight bed dorm and found I had the whole room to myself. In stark contrast, there were already no spaces available at all on Saturday night and I'd have to find a new hostel for that night.
Eric, whose room I had taken in Brisbane, was my other friend in town. After leaving Brisbane he'd gone to Melbourne, then New Zealand, now he was back in Sydney for a few days before returning home to Taiwan (only to fly to Cambodia a few days later! He's worse than ME! ;D ). I rang him up and he was in a bar not far from where I was, in Darling Harbour.
Basically, downtown Sydney is a broad north pointing peninsula. The iconic Opera House is on the northeast corner, just west of it in the center is a cove and the Circle Quay ferry terminal (I have no idea what's circular about it), and on the northwest corner is a bridge to the north, crossing the bay and connecting to more highrises which have sprung up on the other side. The body of the Sydney peninsula is made up of a curious mix of skyscrapers and old victorian looking buildings. On the east side is the botanical garden (every Australian city seems to have at least one botanical garden, Brissie has two), and on the west side is Darling Harbour. More on these places in turn.
Darling Harbour wasn't too much to look at late on a Wednesday night, lots of empty bars and dark restaurants with chairs on the tables. Eric was in a bar that happened to still be open though, sitting with a German friend he'd met in the hostel in Melbourne. We had a few drinks before they chased us out.
Thursday morning Eric and I met up at 0900 and we immediately proceeded to the Sydney Maritime Museum, which, if you know me at all, you should not be surprised was the first place in Sydney I wanted to visit. Admission was $25, and Eric's happened not to have $25 worth of interest in boats. The museum had really interesting galleries of exhibits though that you could see for $7 so I talked Eric into doing that, while I breezed through them all too fast and moved on to the boats. They had what looked to be a modern destroyer but I didn't have time for that, and a pretty modern submarine (only decommmissioned in 1997 I think?), which I couldn't resist going through, but my real interest was the HMB Endeavour -- a, I guess I'd call it a ship-rigged bark, though I'm sure you're all shaking your heads saying "what Kris, how can a vessel be both a ship and a bark?!"
I know, I know, a "full-rigged ship" has three masts with square sails on all three, while a bark (or barque) has three masts with squares on only the first two, but here's the thing -- at the time "bark" was also a hull shape description, so the Endeavour had ship rigging and a bark hull. Plus Captain Cook was only a lieutentant at the time so the thing he was commanding obviously couldn't have been a ship... but enough about arcane nautical jargon technicalities hey?
There were several retiree-types stationed in various parts of the vessel to give spiels pertaining to their area, and they knew their spiels very well, but I found they often got a bit flustered if one asked them questions that interrupted the normal flow of their spiel and/or asked them unusual questions. The clewlines and buntlines seemed to be oddly arranged for example but the docent confessed not having the faintest idea about the rigging. He did direct me to two actual crewmembers who looked like they were trying to lounge out of sight of tourists, as sailors do. As it turns out one of them had been over the California on the Endeavour a few years ago, and had been in port with the Hawaiian Chieftain and knew my acquaintance Bruce Heyman and his project the construction of the Spanish caravel San Salvador.
After thoroughly inspecting the Endeavour and whistfully wishing I could have a chance to sail her, I reluctantly tried to hurry along for the sake of Eric ... on to the next boat, the barque James Craig.
Now, shamelessly drifting into jargon again, the James Craig is a barque and a clipper, where in this case "clipper" is the hull shape and "barque" is the rigging (the three masts, only the first two of which have squares). As for a difference in spelling, I vaguely feel like the fancier spelling is more associated with later era vessels (the barque JC was 1890-1920s-ish --I have no internet here on the farm so I can't fact check to sound like I know everything d: -- while the bark Endeavour was I don't know 1780s-ish?). The JC was a member of the very last generation of sailing ships in the 1920s and 30s. Eventually she was left as a derelict in a cove on Tasmania for several decades before being salvaged and restored.
Lots of enthusiastic maintenance volunteers traipsing about but unfortunately they didn't seem to know the rigging either. And I wasn't running around trying to be a smart ass but really wanted to know answers about rigging situations I didn't understand. For example what appeared to be the main tack was simply made off to a belaying pin but I saw a block further up the deck so I asked someone if the main tack was run through said block when sailing. "what? no that's a sheet" they said. "No sheets run aft, you know, 'tacks attack, sheets retreat' and all," says I, and then another member come up and says "I think that's just a preventer," (which didn't make ANY sense because you only have preventers on fore and aft sails, which this wasn't), and then a third volunteer showed up with an equally unlikely explanation and I extricated myself from the mess and asked no more rigging questions.
Was also informed that the James Craig sails daily with a volunteer crew, and I immediately started having wishful thoughts that I had a job in Sydney so I could sail about on this beautiful vessel.
Anyway, I'd kept Eric waiting long enough, so I hurried off to meet up with him.
Our next destination was the Sydney Operahouse. As it came into view from Circle Quay I found myself thinking about how, really, it is one of the most iconic pieces of architecture in the world --Probably on par, in my opinion, with the statue of liberty and the eiffel tower (interesting fact, I've never seen the latter)-- so I was very excited to behold it. After some beholding from afar and gratuitous picture taking, we proceeded to the fancy bistros at its base for lunch.
Here I had my first taste of what would become a disturbing trend in Sydney -- Awful service. Our drinks arrived more than forty minutes after we ordered them, long after we'd finished our food (and Eric only ordered a coke!!), and after we had asked passing servers five times.
I found myself wishing people tipped here, so that I could specifically NOT leave them a tip on this occasion. At other restaurants and bars during my stay in Sydney drinks were more on time but often the servers or bartenders looked like they'd rather be doing anything other than taking my order. It made me a big believer in the tipping system, since generally they at least pretend not to hate you if they think 15% of your bill has their name on it.
And just when you thought brain numbing nautical jargon time was over guess what I was excited to see pass behind the Operahouse in the bay? That's right! A barquentine! And here I thought I'd seen all the tall ships there were to see in Sydney!! "You like boats a lot don't you" observed Eric, noting my excitement. Much later after some googling I determined this to be the barquentine Southern Swan. A barquentine has three masts, only the first of which has square sails on it.
Next Eric and I took a ferry across the bay to the town of Manly. The ferry provided a great view of the Operahouse from the sea side, and Manly itself was supposed to be a nice beach town (while one side is on a cove in the bay, the other side of town a mere block or two away opens out to a beach along the open ocean). Unfortunately when we got there a cold blustery wind was blowing and the beach was more or less abandoned. This would be another theme of Sydney -- I'd go out in shorts to find it quite chilly, return to the hotel to put on pants and the weather would clear up and temp ramp up to what felt like 90f, weather could never be trusted except to consistently betray me.
On exiting the ferry in manly one is immediately greeted by what I'm certain is a statue of George Washington without pants. Guess that's relatively manly. Later this inspired a discussion on facebook about certain missing anatomy on the statue and how there's some indications said actual anatomy had been damaged in battle, which of course necessitated a quick wikipedia investigation. Just skimming the article I didn't see a reference to that, except it appeared he did, in fact, never have children? Also, you only ever see him with the white wig on, I bet you don't know what color his hair was!
Anyway, I also had lots of fun making bad manly puns about how everything in Manly was "Manly kebab!" and "Manly burgers!"
Back in Sydney that evening we met up with Gisi but as I recall I don't think we did much that evening, everyone was tired I think? Bar across from the hostel had a typical rump steak + beer for $11 special. Rump steak may be the cheapest steak cut, but I still find it shocking that its often one of the cheapest things on a dinner menu. I've had so much steak here I'm almost tired of it! Almost! Anyway, bartender had a typically bad attitude, and when I asked if they had any stouts she indicated the Kilkenny, which I knew not to be a stout, but foolishly thinking maybe they had branched out and made a stout I followed her suggestion and it turned out to indeed be pretty much the opposite of a stout. I've encountered such mishaps before and it always amazes me that bartenders can possibly not know the difference between a stout and a lager. Especially in an "Irish pub" (of which this was).
Friday - Eric and I trotted down to the Botanical Garden and toured the "Government House" we found there. Said House was a "neogothic revival" turned "neogothic revival academic" (or so the tour guide informed us) manor that was and is the official residence and office of the governor of New South Wales. Quite fancy and neat.
Botanical garden was also quite beautiful. At first I we were in the dull bits around the Government House and I was thinking it compared unfavorably to dear Brisbane's, but later we got into the heart of it where there were narrow avenues bounded by all sorts of flowers and canopied by blossoming cherry trees and I had to admit it was pretty fine. There was also a "fernery," and I am rather frond of ferns.
Then we met up with Gisi, who had had a half day and was released around noon. She showed us pictures of the University of Sydney campus and it did indeed look, as she described it, like hogwarts. The three of us then took a bus to Sydney's other famous beach, Bondi, and it was relatively decent, and there was a very nice path to walk along the sea shore upon which one can go for miles, I'm told.
That night we went out to paint the town red... and I dunno maybe we were doin it wrong but we all three decided it wasn't that great and brisbane was better. We had similar comments for a lot of things in fact. We all three had somehow become shameless brisbasians. Oh wait it's because Brisbane is pretty much the Best Place Ever.
Saturday - Eric had to pack up and fly home to Taiwan, but he still managed to meet up with Gisi and I for a short time. Gisi and I had breakfast at a nice little cafe I wish I could name because it was worth mentioning if any of you ever find yourself in Sydney. Since Gisi hadn't been to the Botanical Garden yet we decided to go there, since I hadn't gotten my fill of it either. Then we met up with a German friend of Gisi's, and said friend's mother, at a bar in Darling Harbour where a huge throng was gathered to watch the Australian Football League match between the Sydney Swans and the Melbourne Hawthornes. Don't ask me what's with the less-than-intimidating names. So this AFL thing, you wager it's "American football," or what us "yanks" would call "soccer?" ... well whichever you said, you'd be wrong! It's... something in between?? Something totally bizarre that's played on a ROUND field, with what looks to be teams of 22 people on a side, running around holding the ball like in football, but then passing it one another in a manner that uses technique and craft utterly unlike American football! They actually appeared to use strategy and on the spot quick thinking, more like soccer. Also they don't wear all that armour plating that makes American football players look like horseshoe crabs on steroids.
Sydney won. Jubilation ensued.
Saturday morning after I'd packed all my stuff up I asked Robert at the front desk one last time if any places had come open in the hostel... and one had! Once again doing absolutely nothing proactive about my problem had saved the day with much less effort than actually looking for another place! Hooray!
That evening I went to bed early (circa 11) while Gisi and a veritable party continued in the hostel lounge. I got up at 4:30 for my 07:00 flight and found everyone still in the hostel lounge much as I had left them (though I guess they'd all gone to a bar and returned in the interim).
I had paid $12 the day before to book an airport shuttle, which I was informed would pick me up at 05:05 in front of the neighbouring irish pub. So I got out there at 04:50 and waited, as revellers filtered out of the pub to go home, and I waited, and I waited some more. 05:05 came and went, 05:15, and 05:25. No answer on the phone number for the shuttle company, except a voice message saying their office hours started at 7. Finally at 05:40 there was nothing left to do but flag down a cab and pay $40 to get to the airport. So much for saving money by not taking the train.
I was really pretty pissed though. I suppose I ought to give the shuttle company a bad review on yelp or something.
Anyway, after fuming over it a bit at the airport I got on my flight for Melbourne, and that shall be the subject of yet another rambly tangent filled tl;dr entry! :D
And I got tired of adding pictures to the entry but here's one last one of an awesome fountain in Sydney:
See also: the whole set