Saturday, January 13, 2007

In the Land of Oz (Part 4 - Bondi, here we come!)

Finally, on Wednesday, we took a trip out to the famous Bondi Beach - by bus! - to see the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. It was well worth the trip! Bondi is very impressive all on its own ...

... and the series of 110+ sculptures laid out all along the coast just added to the experience.

Some of the sculptures were downright whimsical,

while others were equally appealling, but took a bit more thought,

and a few were just … odd.

Luckily we bought the exhibition guide which provided some explanation of what we were looking at. Even so, it was still a bit tricky at times.

After stopping for a late lunch at this beachside cafe ...

... we hopped a bus back to the apartment so we'd have enough time to pack before our flight the following day.  I ended up with a bit of a sun/windburn, but I can say we really enjoyed our day at the beach.

The following morning, we checked out of our hotel and checked in to our flight up to Cairns, Queensland. But that’s a tale for another day …

In the Land of Oz (Part 3 - Am I blue? Maybe, maybe not!)

On Monday, we decided to get some real Aussie culture, so we headed off to a really interesting – and free! – exhibition at the State Library on convicts who escaped (sometimes successfully, more often not) from the penal colonies. The stories were like something out of a "boys own" adventure - ranging from crossing the Pacific in an open rowboat to cannibalism and adoption into aboriginal tribes. Fascinating tales, each and every one, and they really gave you a sense of the character of the place at that time. Which was, in a word, NASTY!

Tuesday we took a very educational and entertaining day-trip to the Blue Mountains – this huge mountain range about an hour and a half west of Sydney. [The Blue Mountains are, by the way, neither blue nor mountains, as it turns out. Who knew?]

Our small tour - about 20 people or so – was led by a really great guide, who also happened to be a proper Aussie bloke. Among the highlights were the sheer cliff-faces of Table-something-or-other Mountain,

a bush hike with a rather sad-looking waterfall at the end of it (caused by very low water levels due to a severe drought),

a rather-too-exiting ride on an incline railway (which seemed almost perpendicular to me!)

followed by a really interesting and informative walk through a temperate rainforest.

Oddly, it reminded me a lot of the west coast of Canada (except for the giant fern trees and the lyre bird we spied among the undergrowth). The walk finished up with a cable-car ride back to the summit of the mountain.

We also got to view a 400+ year-old aboriginal rock carving of a kangaroo - I was amazed to find it was just off a little side street in a residential area. No barriers or anything!

Then we visited a National Park where we got to view the real thing – wild kangaroos! – up close and personal. Because they’re protected as long as they’re in the park, the kangaroos didn't have any fear of humans and just ignored us as long as we didn't get too close. One of the kangaroos had this enormous joey in her pouch, but all we could see were these huge feet hanging out almost to the ground. I could understand the long-suffering look on her face. (Sometimes it's just impossible to get the kids to leave home!)

On the way back down the mountain we got another taste of true Aussie culture. It was Melbourne Cup day (the premiere horse race Down Unda – its something like Ascot Day in Britain: hats, alcohol and horses), and our guide turned on the radio so we could hear the race. To our delight, the race ended with a nose-to-nose finish with two relative unknowns taking the prizes. The Olympic Stadium (our next stop) was a bit of a bust after all that excitement, but we did enjoy the ferry ride back to Sydney down the Paramatta River.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

In the Land of Oz (Part 2 - Sydney ... sharks, jellyfish and a sneaky platypus or two)

[Now that I've FINALLY got the pictures working, I'm going to break up the travelogue a bit to make things easier to post. Please bear with me as I try and sort things out ....]

The next day – Sunday, I think – we ended up at the Sydney Aquarium. Expensive, but well worth a visit. Among other things, they had about a gazillion different kinds of tropical fish (small, pretty, and very quick)...

a crocodile (big, lazy, lots of teeth)...

a variety of sharks (big, lazy, lots of teeth),

and some electric-blue jellyfish (big, lazy, no teeth at all).

And that's not all. There was also live coral (not so big, very lazy, teeth TBD), a few impressive eels (big, NOT lazy, too scared to look at the teeth), some Fairy Penguins (little, cute, VERY not lazy, and no teeth but some pretty sharp-looking beaks), and, finally, a couple very adorable platypuses -- or do I mean platypi? (not as big as I thought they'd be, surprisingly lively, and EXTREMELY hard to photograph - as you can tell!).

There were even two underwater tunnels where you could watch the seals (in one pool)...

and sharks and other dangerous-looking critters (in another pool) swim right over top of the crowd.

[All of the seals, BTW, were ones who had been injured or who had formerly worked in shows and wouldn't have been able to survive in the wild. They lived in a fairly large saltwater pool that mimicked their natural environment, at least according to the posters …] Apparently, the sharks really enjoyed the way the water current flowed over the tunnels – it was like a Jacuzzi, I suppose – so you’d often see them plastered on top of them just hanging out - like this ...


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

In the Land of Oz (Part 1 - Sydney ... It begins!)

Hi folks. No, I haven’t run away to join the aborigines or been killed by a giant man-eating koala bear (thanks for your kind concern). For some reason, the computer has decided the world-wide-web is simply too much for one small piece of electronic equipment to cope with and has a sobbing tantrum in the corner every time we ask (ever so nicely) whether it might possibly consider hooking up to the Internet – even just for a little while. So, as a result, I’ve had to wait for a slight lull at work … an occurrence on par with speaking with a real live person when you call a Customer Support line … to catch up with you.

So, with my sincere apologies for the delay and no further ado, here’s the rundown on the first week of Ink’s Aussie Adventure …SYDNEY. [And, yes, I finally got the photos to work ... YEAH!]

The flight to Australia was pretty much what you’d expect – long, boring, and EXTREMELY cramped. All I can say is thank goodness I had the sense to invest in a 6 GB MP3 player (a Sansa, if you’re interested) and a pair of Senheiser earbuds before I left.

After doing a rather decent impersonation of a sardine for 24+ hours, it was heavenly to finally get into Sydney, stretch, walk and pick up the bags … in my case literally – I think I’m the only person in the world who still doesn’t own one of those wheely-suitcases with the handles! The weather was relatively cool almost the whole time we were there – around 17-20 degrees Celsius (no, I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit) – and cloudy with the occasional shower. Not unpleasant really, but also not precisely suited to the light summer gear I’d brought with me. I practically lived in jeans and my leather jacket the whole time we were in Sydney.

Our hotel – actually a very nice serviced apartment – was right downtown, so we* could walk to most things we wanted to see or catch a bus or taxi with relative ease. [*Eds. Note – “We” refers to Ink and her travelling companions, a.k.a. “Mum” and Mum’s friend “R.” Ink informs us that Himself was unable to get four weeks off this time round, but is a sure bet for the next trip Down Unda.]

After dropping off our bags, the first thing we did was seek out the closest (decent-looking) coffee shop and collapse there in a jet-lag stupor until the caffeine kicked in. Then we strolled down to The Rocks - one of the main ferry terminals, with a great view of Sydney's Harbour Bridge ...

... and the Opera House -

and had a ride on the monorail that serves the downtown core. The first thing I bought was an umbrella (collapsible, in a charming floral pattern), since I naturally forgot to pack one.

We spent most of the following day at the National Maritime Museum. The one in Greenwich is better, I think, but Sydney’s version did sport some really interesting exhibitions on underwater life, aboriginal canoe building, the Australian navy, and the ways Aussies have used the sea for both recreation and commerce. They had a truly stunning/shocking presentation on the disastrous 1998 Sydney to Hobart race in which at least 7 or 8 people died and literally dozens of boats were sunk when a huge, unexpected storm caught many of them at sea.

After the museum, we hopped a ferry ride (literally – it was just pulling out as we got there) to the main terminal (i.e. The Rocks, where we'd walked the day before), and took a short stroll around the outside of the Opera House (didn't have time to do the inside tour just then). We couldn’t help but laugh at this big group of teenagers or early-twenty-somethings all dressed up as pirates, who were dashing about the Opera House "plaza" ambushing unsuspecting Asian tourists who were getting their photos taken. First they'd shout "Photo! Photo!" and then surround the astonished victim in suitably piratical poses. TOO funny - and once the tourists got over the surprise, they really seemed to get a kick out of it as well.

That evening, Big Brother “S” flew in from Melbourne (where he lives, works and occasionally plays) to spend the weekend with us, and we ended up going to Chinatown for supper. There were coloured lights and Asian pop everywhere, and hoards of people strolling about just enjoying the show. Most of the restaurants (and there were literally dozens, one after the other) had fetching young things accosting passers-by with a smile, a menu and a pressing invitation to step inside. We chose one (or rather it chose us) and enjoyed both the meal and the atmosphere.