Sydney - Feb 5-10
Feb 10, 2010
|February 5, 2010
Today was a day spent almost solely in transit. We met Nicole from the dive boat early on and shared a taxi to the airport. We grabbed some breakfast and hung out while we waited for our flights.
The flight to Sydney was around 3 hours and with the time difference it was about 5pm when we landed. By the time we had our bags and got the shuttle bus into the city and to our hostel it was nearly 7pm.
On arrival at the hostel we found the worst room I have ever had to stay in – it was filthy dirty and was covered in clothes and dirty dishes and bags full of food. I always know staying in a dorm can be a risk but this was the epitome of disrespect by the other people staying here towards fellow guests and the hostel staff. One guy was taking up 4 of the 10 lockers which were supposed to be for 8 people. His friend, who was not even staying in the room, was also using another of the lockers. It was just disgusting but as it was so late and the hostel was fully booked we had no choice.
We had to escape and so for dinner we found a nice Thai restaurant and tucked into a really tasty green curry. There was so much food I almost had to force myself to finish!
Things didn’t get any better in the room though. The room was next to a communal area and despite the fact it was supposed to close at 11pm, there were people banging the door well past 3am, not to mention one of the guys in our room bursting in at 1am and turning the lights on. It was so inconsiderate but not unexpected given the state of the room.
February 6, 2010
We arrived yesterday to really bad weather and today was no different. We talked to the receptionist at the hostel about our room but he was very unhelpful but suggested we talk to the manager later. Not wanting to waste time sitting around, we headed out to the Art Gallery of NSW, braving the pouring rain to get there.
The gallery was really good and very spacious. We had come here specifically for the photography exhibit they have but it wasn’t a particularly large exhibit. Nevertheless, they had a very good collection of paintings and sculptures by all the well-known artists and, even better, it was free!
Back at the hostel we talked to the manager and she checked out our room, agreeing with us that it was disgusting and that sometimes she feels like she is dealing with children! They didn’t have another room to offer us for tonight but they could move us tomorrow. This was fine with us as the new room she showed us was clean, empty and away from the communal areas.
In the afternoon we headed to Hyde Park Barracks. Here it tells the story of the many prison ships used by England to transport prisoners around the world. It had a very detailed story about one such ship which was used to take criminals to work in Bermuda! Again, the museum was really well set out and told the story of many different convicts, their crimes, their punishments (on top of being “transported”) and their duties they had to carry out as prisoners. The barracks have been used for a number of different things over the years and it was interesting seeing how archeologists had dug and found lots of seemingly normal items buried beneath the floor boards. The lower level was even set up to show not only the current brick interior but also two other layers beneath that to show how the building evolved.
In the evening we stayed quite close to the hostel again for dinner as the rain was awful – we had Italian this time and some lovely pasta.
We had one more night in the room from hell before we move. Although it had been cleaned a little it was still bad and as a new couple had come to stay and they were disgusted too they threw some clothes into a locker to get them off the floor. The obnoxious German who owned the clothes was not happy. Aww, boo-hoo.
February 7, 2010
The rain was starting to ease a little finally but we still decided to stick to indoor activities just in case! We started off walking down to the Sydney Opera House and doing the tour there. I hadn’t done this before, settling for views of the outside alone so it was a good chance to see the inside of the monstrosity! Up close, the opera house doesn’t look anywhere near as impressive as it does from afar and this theme sort of continued inside, with the original architect wanting to leave the concrete uncovered for a more natural look. Now, given the architect was fired part way through construction, it went over $100m over the original $7m budget and took 16 years rather than the three expected, I almost suspect they ran out of money to paint it! The sad part of the story is though that the architect’s falling out with the government meant he never saw the completion of the opera house and never visited afterwards, either. He died last year so he never will now.
The tour was pretty interesting but I think it wasn’t worth the money it cost and I think Elizabeth got more out of it than I did.
After a lunch-on-the-go (cheese rolls), we headed to the Australian Museum. There was a bit of a queue here and many in it were parents with their young children. Thankfully, my worst fears were not completely realized as it wasn’t as bad as it could have been! The museum contained exhibits on dinosaurs, Australian critters and endangered species and gems and minerals which were all quite good although the dinosaur one in particular was obviously meant for younger audiences than us! The best part of the museum was the special exhibit they were hosting which showcased the finalists from the wildlife photographer of the year competition. There were some amazing pictures there but some controversy also as it was claimed the overall winner had used a trained animal in his picture rather than a wild one so had been disqualified for cheating! The picture was still quite cool but if you can get a wolf to jump over a gate on command then you’ll obviously get some good pictures of it! Still it was great to see all the different entries and the varying styles and locations and animals.
For dinner we headed to PJ O’Brien’s, an Irish bar which does roast dinners on a Sunday for $10. Unfortunately by the time we got there they had run out of roast dinners but we did get a very nice pie for me and bangers and mash for Elizabeth, all washed down with a beer. Given the state of the hostel here, we have decided not to try and cook in the kitchen so evening meals on our budget are quite a stretch but we’re not doing too bad so far!
February 8, 2010
Today was Superbowl “Sunday” although it was Monday morning here. We met Donna at just before 9am at the James Squire Brewhouse and got ready for the game. Donna was really nervous and excited as it was the first time the New Orleans Saints had been in a Superbowl. We both had t-shirts on with Saints emblems on them – Donna had bought them for us way back in October and had given them to us when we saw her in Phuket! The game didn’t start too well for the Saints as the Colts took an early 10-0 lead but Donna said she wasn’t worried. And rightly so – the second half the Saints came fighting back and claimed a historic 31-17 win, which prompted Donna to dance around the bar singing “When The Saints Go Marchin’ In”! It was so funny and the pictures of her being so happy and running around are brilliant!
After a couple of celebratory beers and chatting to some local Colts fans, Elizabeth and I headed off to the aquarium which was a little further along the wharf. The aquarium was quite pricey but I had remembered it as being one of the better ones I’d been to so we thought it was worth it. The aquarium was not too busy as it was midweek and the kids were back in school now. The shark tank here was really impressive and they have some really large examples swimming around as well as a large saltwater crocodile near the entrance. They also had a duck-billed platypus but we didn’t see it despite going back to the tank twice to try and find it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these and maybe I’m destined not to!
We met Donna as we came out of the aquarium and headed for some dinner, finding a place along the wharf that did steaks for just $10! All three of us, and almost everyone else in the bar, ordered steak and they were a good size and pretty good, too. I think I ate half of Donna’s steak as well as my own!
After that we all headed to the Sydney Tower to get some twilight views over the city. It was preceded by a stupid ride called Oztrek which gave you a sort of tour around Australia while your seat vibrated. Quite honestly, after a few beers and a large steak, I just wanted to throw up. The tower itself was also disappointing, not because if the view but because all the lights inside made it impossible to see a lot of the things as the reflections on the glass got in the way of everything! Taking pictures was near on impossible, which was a shame.
It had been a long day and we were both tired so we left Donna to get a bus back to where she was staying and we headed back to the hostel and some sleep!
February 9, 2010
Today was a lovely, bright, sunny day and so we headed to the Taronga Zoo. After a brief stop at the supermarket to buy lunch provisions, we headed to Circular Quay to catch the ferry across the harbour.
We caught the bus to the top entrance and worked our way down through the zoo, catching some great views of the harbour bridge and opera house as we went. At the very entrance I recognized my first thing from Sydney since the previous visit – the koala exhibit! Here there were 5 koalas just hanging around in the trees, happily dozing away. We did see a couple of them move, just a small stretch, but mostly they just slept! The lizard house here was really cool with a large Komodo Dragon giving me some evil looks and some funky looking lizards, too. There was also a section which had Australian animals including the night section which had wombats and another duck-billed platypus. We saw the wombat lazing around outside but once again didn’t see the platypus. The zoo has two areas with a platypus in it and neither could be seen. In the night house we saw some interesting animals including one critter (a potoroo, I think) which kept bounding around and around the glass cage like it was on drugs! We also saw a Tasmanian devil, which despite the nocturnal conditions was spark out asleep on his back with his legs in the air!
We did get to witness some trouble in the gorilla enclosure though. From quite a way away you could hear the noise of what sounded like a woman screaming. Lots of people were heading towards the enclosure and we saw the large male and a couple of smaller gorillas run out of the indoor area, one of the smaller ones covering his ears just like a human would at a loud noise. At the inside area, it turned out one of the females was attacking one of the young and it was only when the dominant male went back into the area that the animals became quieter and better behaved. There was still a few paws thrown around but the commotion was resolved by the big male, who was twice as big as any other in the group, showing his authority.
On top of that, we witnessed every parent’s nightmare. In the reptile house, two turtles were mating and the two kids watching found it hilarious with cries of “they’re doing it!”. Despite the mother trying to claim it was just a “sleepover”, one of the kids told her quite clearly that he knew what they were doing having seen loads of animals doing it before! The mother was lost for words!
It turned into a pretty hot day and we’d made the mistake of starting late, not actually reaching the zoo until gone midday. By just after three we were getting tired and started heading towards the exit, eventually catching the 4pm ferry back into the city and walking back to the hostel for some rest before dinner.
Elizabeth had wanted Mexican for dinner but we weren’t able to find a restaurant walking around our area of the city so we settled for Indian instead. The place was quite busy when we got in there with a large group in one corner but we got settled quick and ordered just as easily. The food was really great and again it was a bit more than our budget allowed but it certainly was worth the money. We’ve also found that just drinking regular iced water in restaurants saves you a packet – water is free, even soft drinks can be $4 each!
February 10, 2010
We had one full day left in Sydney before we headed out to the Blue Mountains for a couple of nights. We had done most of what we wanted to do so far so decided to have a quieter day today. Before heading out, we found a Mexican restaurant in the city and chose this for our lunch. First however, we headed over to Darling Harbour and the Chinese Gardens. Here hidden in the midst of the city is a pretty Chinese style garden. The only difference from the ones in China was the noise – it was hard to block out the sounds of traffic and construction going on around you even with the garden looking as great as it did. It was nonetheless peaceful and a good way to waste an hour or so doing something a bit different and a little less pricey than the zoo, aquarium and tower!
For lunch Elizabeth finally got her Mexican food and we both got spicy chicken burritos. The food was cheap, yummy and filling. Perfect for an afternoon sleeping!
Back at the hostel we just lazed around. We have an early-ish start tomorrow having to check out by 10am before we head to Katoomba and we need to sort our bags out. We bought stuff for dinner for tonight earlier as we are doing the night tour of the observatory later – the day has been lovely and sunny and, most importantly, cloud-free so we have high expectations for some good star-gazing.
After a home-made dinner of bread and cheese, now our staple diet for Australia, we walked to the Observatory which is located not far from the Harbour Bridge. It was a good 30-40 minute walk there but thankfully the weather was not quite so hot and humid as it had been earlier in the day. Unfortunately, to accompany this, the clouds had returned! Our night tour at the observatory started with a short 3D video about our solar system including some cool images of some of the satellites and probes we have sent to other planets. The two guides were the epitome of nerdiness but the woman was far worse, trying to cover her obvious affliction with bad humour. Thankfully, we were split into two groups and we went with the man instead. We headed to the old telescope where the guide showed us how the roof and telescope operated. As it was still fairly cloudy, the telescope was focused on a clocktower in the distance, the amazing detail quite clear in the close-up image. By this time the cloud had started to clear and some stars were visible. By the time we had moved to the newer, electronic telescope a number of larger constellations were visible as the roof rotated around us. As a result, we were actually able to look at some stars rather than more ground objects! The first was the Orion Nebula, a group of 4 bright and thousands of not so bright stars within the Orion constellation. It was awesome to see these so close up – they were barely visible with the naked eye and just looked like a hazy blur until you used the telescope. Next we were shown a large cluster made up of hundreds of thousands of stars. It wasn’t at all visible with the naked eye but through the lens it was stunning and the amount of detail even from such a relatively small telescope in the middle of a large city was brilliant.
To end the evening, we headed outside so the guide could show us some of the constellations and stars and tell us about them. This was really funny as when we walked outside all the Japanese people stared upwards and gasped. It was as if they had never seen the night sky before. It was actually a little pathetic, too, if I’m honest. The guide showed us Orion, which is upside down in the Southern Hemisphere, the Southern Cross, the False Cross and Sirius as well as the outline of the entire Milky Way – not wholly visible here due to the light pollution from the city. He had been using a laser pointer to show us the stars and every time he used that the Japanese gasped with amazement, too. For such a supposed advanced nation to gasp over not only a laser pen but the night sky also is a bit strange.
From there we headed back to the hostel and finished packing up our stuff ready to head out tomorrow morning nice and early for a couple of days outside of the city.