Australia - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 356 (166)
Sunday 27th February (2005)
Almost without realising it, we’ve quietly reached another geographical milestone. On the grand scale of round-the-world travel, Sydney with its famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge is one of those must-see places that most Europeans would consider including on their travel itinerary if they could. I would have liked to sleep in a bit longer than we did this morning but with a major metropolis to explore, it was all hands to the to the ready and so we got up to take advantage of the complimentary breakfast that is included in the rather pricey AU$70 (€42,70) room rate here at the hostel. The kitchen cum dining room was quite busy but we managed to find a quiet niche for ourselves to tuck into some cornflakes and toast.
A brief stroll down to the train station might have been a bit quicker had we set off in the right direction to begin with. Luckily for us, though, a friendly local was on hand to re-point us in the correct direction. As with everywhere else here in Australia, the people here in Sydney are a very helpful and friendly bunch. Our first aim for the day was to locate the theatre where we planned to attend the one o’clock matinee performance of the Lion King. We toyed with the idea of getting ourselves a AU$15 (€9,15) travel card each, which would have been good for train, bus and ferry, but I decided we might be better off going with individual tickets instead. So, for AU$2,10 (€1,28) each, we bought our way onto the train to take us the few stops into the city centre. It took another couple of helpful locals there to once again point us in the correct direction before we found the theatre. The hostel staff did furnish us with a map of the city but with most of the roads on it not being labelled, the map is only marginally useful at best. We did find the theatre but we were a bit early and the box office was not due to open up for another hour or so yet.
With a little time to kill, we strolled around the immediate vicinity and eventually found our way to one of the harbour areas where we found many attractions such as a convention centre, a couple of museums, a park and even an IMAX theatre to name but a few. Along with the usual cluster of skyscrapers and other metropolis trappings, Sydney comes complete with its own little china-town and there are plenty of Chinese people and restaurants around. In one little corner of the harbour, there was a group of enthusiastic Chinese engaging in a spot of contemplative Thai Chi exercises. For whatever reason, we were both feeling fairly lethargic with little enthusiasm for long exploratory walks so we decided that the nearby, publicly accessible, Japanese garden would be a nice little diversion so we handed over our student discounted rate of AU$3 (€1,83) each to get in and wandered around aimlessly, enjoying the tranquillity for a half an hour or more - nice.
We had contemplated taking the raised monorail back to the theatre but we weren’t really that far away so we braved the busy streets of china-town instead, passing along the way the source of an odd sort of noise that we were trying to figure out. It turned out to be a musician playing a rather long didgeridoo into a microphone with electronic amplification. It actually sounded quite nice. As we passed through china-town, there was another street artist cutting out profile views of passers-by for AU$2 (€1,22) a pop. He was quite expertly cutting these little caricature figures out with nothing more than a pair of scissors and the odd glance up at his subject. We decided to give it a go and both came away with little cut-outs of each other. We’ll have to let others be the judge of just how well they look like us.
After a quick bite at one of the many fast-food outlets in the area, we made our way to the theatre to collect our tickets and take our seats. The performance really was quite spectacular and we both thoroughly enjoyed the whole production.
Having sat down for a couple of hours through the performance, we seemed to have found our second wind and decided that it was now high time we made our way of to the famous Sydney Opera House to finally check it out in person. A nearby traffic warden was on hand to point us towards the correct bus stop and for just AU$1,60 (€0,98) each, we were comfortably whisked off to the harbour. The bus driver informed us that he couldn’t get very close to the opera house building itself. Apparently, city buses are considered a bit of a potential bomb threat risk nowadays. Before wandering over to the opera house itself, we decided to take a quick trip around the harbour itself to get a nice selection of photos. The return trip to the several stops around the harbour and back cost us just over AU$9 (€5,50) and afforded us great views of the harbour itself, the majestic harbour bridge and, of course, the opera house. The Sydney harbour was a flurry of boating activity. In addition to the various denominations of public ferries, there were also sailboats, speedboats, paddleboats, thrill seeker jet boats and even several cruise ships. Docked at the maritime museum were also a navy frigate and a semi-submerged submarine.
Something that we had originally planned to look into whilst here in Sydney was climbing the harbour bridge. It’s apparently a very popular thing to do and the views must be awesome. We’ve since learned, however, that it is prohibitively expensive (for us at least) and they won’t let you take your own camera with you so we’ve decided to give it a miss. We often find that the inability to take a camera with us anywhere makes the destination much less appealing. The exertion needed to scale the colossus feat of engineering probably wouldn’t have been a very good idea for Sandy anyway. Still, despite the high cost of doing so, we saw group after group after group of overall-clad climbers walking along the girders to the apex of the bridge all throughout the day. Somebody is clearly raking in a fortune.
Having docked back where we started, we disembarked our harbour ferry and wandered over to the opera house to get a closer look. It’s actually a much more off-white colour that I imagined it to be. It’s more of a cream colour. The distinctive white outer layer is actually made up of hundreds and thousands of individual ceramic tiles about the size of a house-brick. The curves of the various, pointed, white roofed sections sloop all the way down to the ground in places and I was particularly satisfied with having been able to touched the Sydney Opera House roof itself. We took our time exploring all its outside nooks and crannies but there didn’t seem to be any obvious entrance that wasn’t locked so we never did get to go inside. Whether that’s because today is Sunday, I don’t know.
We are nearing the end of our time here in Australia and I’m a little disappointed at just how few souvenirs that we’ve thus far accumulated from here – especially since Australia is such a huge place and we’ve been here for so long. In every Australian state we’ve visited so far, I’ve been on the lookout for a decent didgeridoo to buy and send back home but every time we find a place that sells them (and these are many), they always turn out to be very touristy with prices to match. We’ve even popped into several such places right here in the city but the prices here also seem to be a bit on the stiff side. Just a few metres walk from the opera house is a row of what looks like very expensive shops. One of them is a large gallery of aboriginal paraphernalia and even though we both resigned ourselves to the fact that this would probably be the most expensive place so far, we went in nevertheless to have a look around. We were pleasantly surprised by what we found. They had a huge selection of didgeridoos from all over Australia with a very wide selection to choose from. The guy in charge was extremely friendly and helpful and took his time explaining the subtle differences between the different styles of instrument. Apparently, the price of a didgeridoo is affected by a number of factors: the musical quality (the depth of reverberation determine by the instrument’s volume); the size and shape of the bell end (if it has one); the outer decoration and how much work and effort went into it and so on. Quite surprisingly, we found several didgeridoos that were really nice and within our price range. It took us a while to decide on whether to go with one that had a bell end versus one that had intricate outer decoration. It was a difficult decision but in the end I went with a really nice bell-ended didgeridoo that was about five feet long. After adding in the cost of sending it back to England via DHL (which they handled for us), I ended up parting with just a shade under AU$300 (€183), which I thought was a very good deal. I was in the process of paying for it when Sandy tried to leave it standing up on its own but it fell to the floor with a loud crash. I was initially worried about it breaking or worse and I was a little alarmed at first when I saw a lot of debris shake loose from the inside. Since this only increased the volume of its hollow innards, however, it turned out that this slightly increased the quality of sound that the salesman was able to draw from it - bonus! I had a crack at playing it myself but it’s clearly an acquired talent and something that I’ll have to devote some time to when we return.
We crammed an awful lot into today, which turned out to be very successful. Not only did we get to see Sydney and its major attractions, but also we got to see the Lion King on stage and even managed to pick up a didgeridoo. We couldn’t help topping it all off with another visit to the Hard Rock Café – naturally with another 15% discount coupon in my back pocket.