16 January 2008

Travel: Australia, Part 1

So, there I was back at Changi. I had an overnight flight to Melbourne, where I caught a Qantas CityFlyer to Sydney. Australia allows non-passengers past security, and it was nice to see the friendly face of Jeff Kays at my gate when I stepped off the plane.

My arrival coincided with what was apparently the first nice day of summer weather in Sydney. It was hot, but not the tropical hot I am used to. Just plain, nice summer hot. We headed straight to Sydney Harbour for a look around before we would have to go back to the airport to pick up Kaysie's brother in law. Our first stop was The Rocks, an old area adjacent to Circular Quay on the harbour. One of the first areas settled in Sydney, its buildings were constructed around the existing rock structure, with little planning done beforehand. It was only later that roads were added. This gives the area its random, cozy feel. It houses all kinds of restaurants, pubs, and retail, as well as a street market on the weekends. I browsed among the stalls, which included everything from a seller of cool old travel posters and to a spray paint artist creating an amazing space-themed painting as a crowd looked on.

Next to The Rocks is Circular Quay, named because it encircles Sydney Cove. Restaurants and bars line its walkway, and, the Sydney Opera House sits majestically at its end. At the other end of the quay, directly across the mouth of Sydney Cove, is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the massive structure that connects the city centre with North Sydney.

There is something about a city where a large body of water plays an important part of everyday life. Hong Kong and Sydney share this trait, as I suppose does New York City to a certain extent. Here, ferries depart from five different terminals on Circular Quay, taking passengers across the Harbour to a number of destinations. All kinds of other crafts take off from here too - harbour tours, jetboats, even cruise ships. And you will see the big container ships steaming by, as well, on their way up the harbour to drop off their cargo.

We took a view of the Opera House from the bridge side and then headed across for a closer look, on our way to the Royal Botanic Gardens. The opera house is beautiful, perched on its promontory at the head of the quay. It is as impressive close up as it is from afar. It also gives a good view of the homes of the Governor General and the Prime Minister across the Harbour in Kirribilli.

Down the steps of the Opera House are the Botanic Gardens, with their lush grass and greenery running up to the pathway that borders the harbour. The sign at the entrance to the garden seemed to sum up the Aussie's way of enjoying life in a laid back manner - "Please walk on the grass."

The Botanic Gardens offer a nice contrast, a lush green space between the brilliant waters of the harbour and the gleaming buildings of the city centre. The border pathway meanders along the harbourfront, and we followed its curved path down to the famous rock known as Mrs. Macquarrie's Chair, a seat carved into a rock named after the wife of an early 19th Century governor of Australia who loved to sit on the rock and look out at the harbour. We didn't have time to tarry, however, as we were in search of sustenance.

The Botanic Gardens border an area called Woolloomooloo, where several Australian Navy ships are docked. In the shadow of these ships is Harry's Cafe de Wheels, a little streetside food stand serving wonderful meat pies. These consist of a pot pie-like crust filled with meat, then topped with mashed potatoes, mushy peas, and optional cheese sauce. I ordered the tasty Curry Tiger pie, which was heavenly. And it wasn't quite enough, as I went back for a cheesy dog. That, however, was too much.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels has a long and illustrious history, and it is now listed in Australia's National Trust Register. Instead of filling this page with stories of its past, I will leave that to the experts at the following: http://www.nsw.nationaltrust.org.au/harryscafe.html.

After our delicious break, we headed back to Circular Quay and succumbed to the biggest ripoff there, the Minus-5 bar. You pay $30 to put on a parka, gloves, and boots and sip a vodka drink out of a glass made of ice amidst a dozen or so ice sculptures in (you guessed it) minus-5 temperatures. I don't have any pictures of this, as cameras were prohibited. They, of course, would sell you a picture of yourself paying one dollar per minute to slowly freeze, but we passed. It was time to leave the cold behind and head to a place close to the hearts of Australians, the beach.

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