Bye bye Brisbane
Our 10 days in Brisbane flew by and before we knew it we were saying goodbye to our lovely hosts, Louise and Orlando (hope you are both feeling better!) and heading to the airport for our flight to Sydney. We seem less and less phased by these transfers to new locations. The first couple of times we had everything printed out. Bus times, prices and boarding passes, all ready to hand over as proof that we were legitimate, paid up passengers (or guests as Virgin Australia call it). Nowadays, we take a casual stroll to the bus stop and just roll up with our cases to the nearest check in. We have nothing on our phones or proof of booking but we have, so far, not had a problem.
The only problem seemed to be the other guests demanding seat changes. It is one of my favourite pastimes to people watch, particularly at airports, train and bus stations. We had been issued row 15 seats D & F. Jon noticed this and decided that that maybe E was empty or we could always ask to swap to sit together. For a 70 minute flight it wasn’t worth worrying about. (All part of the casual approach we seem to have fallen into.) According to the Australian guy next to us, this was something very much to worry and make a big fuss about. He had been given row 13 seats A & C and was demanding he be given A & B or B & C so that he could sit next to his wife. The very patient airline staff were trying their hardest to explain that there wasn’t a seat B or E because it was a small aircraft with sets of two seats on each side. The alphabetisation is kept to A & C and D & F to keep it in line with larger aircraft and so you know that A and F are window seats and C and D are isle seats. Mr Angry was having none of this reasonable explanation. Despite being reassured that he would be sitting beside his wife, he then demanded to know what had happened to seat B and thought it was all a seat selling fiddle by the airlines. Fun to watch but my sympathy was with the wife.
Thankfully we encountered no more missing seats via public transport transfer to Woolloomooloo. Surprisingly, saying it is easier than typing it – far too many ooooo’s. At the planning stage, we had decided to book three nights in a hotel (budget of course) near the centre of Sydney to see the sights before heading off to a more relaxing and coastal location. The Mariners Court hotel fitted the bill perfectly. It was right near both a wharf that the Australian Navy use and a very “des res” set of apartments and restaurants in converted warehouse jetties on the harbour. Our hotel was formerly a retirement home for mariners, then temporary accommodation for visiting fleets but now a comfortable 3.5 star hotel (0.5 made all the difference).
It was strange to be in a hotel after most of our house sharing, especially as we had a massive double bed and then three singles in an adjoining room. We half expected some backpackers to turn up in the night and move in. We went out for a wander and an eat to bite (family joke from the film The Terminal) and met some very well dressed, very merry stragglers from a day at Sydney racecourse at the Woolloomooloo Bay Hotel. Feeling slightly under-dressed (which is not difficult nowadays) and slightly too sober we headed back to see if we had any room buddies. No one else had moved in.
After an early hearty buffet breakfast, with a few strange characters picked up during my people watching, we headed off to the CBD. The most strange breakfast guest was a long haired, shoeless 50 something who was dripping as if he had just walked out of the shower and (thankfully) had put a T shirt, shorts and cap on. Once recovered, we walked into the Botanic Garden and admired some voluntary services practicing for a parade and then came across a large rock called Macquaire’s Chair. Evidently Mrs Macquaire was the wife of one of the early Governors of Sydney and she so loved sitting on a particular rock that looked out over the Harbour towards the sea that a seat was carved into it for her to sit on.
We wandered on, following the path. Then as we turned a corner and an opening in the trees we were suddenly struck by the iconic view of the Opera House and Bridge. Because of the short distance we had walked and the covering of trees I hadn’t expected to come across these views quite so soon. Honest first impressions were that the Opera House was not as white as we thought it would be but, between coach loads of Chinese tourists who seemed to hop off their coach for all of 2 minutes to get a few pictures, it was an amazing view. Something we only ever thought we would see on the television on New Year’s Eve.
We walked on through the gardens to get closer and arrived at a view of Circular Quay which was a hive of activity with the distinctive green and cream water ferries, whale watching boats, sailing boats, jet boat experiences, replica historic ships all vying for docking space.
The Opera House steps were very busy with people. Some were tourists and some were there to meet the cast of the American TV show The Walking Dead. We have never seen it but it involves quite a lot of zombies staggering around with ripped shirts and stage make up on. Not quite what we were expecting but it seemed popular.
We walked up onto the bridge via The Bridge Stairs to see the climbers starting their ascent to the top. It is around $250 dollars to make the climb and it takes about three and a half hours which includes all the safety talks, etc. We had a mini-debate about whether it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things we should do but, for me as a mild to medium vertigo sufferer, the gantry up to the top looked cope-able, it was the stairs leading to the gantry which I don’t think I could have managed easily. They were almost vertical and you have to look down to get your footing. It just seemed too much of a gamble to sign up for.
The walk over the footpath on the bridge itself was impressive but we were surprised by the number of security staff. Although the walkway is very secure, I suppose they still get people making heartfelt but dangerous protests or trying to get that perfect photo by dangling themselves and their equipment (photographic) off the bridge.
Just as we were nearly off the bridge, the heavens opened so we had a damp walk through some interesting historic areas such as:
- Tea Cosy Shop – a lovely little tea and scone shop bordering the market. The scones were delicious and it was proper leaf tea, in a proper teapot (complete with cosy) and a china cup and saucer. They even provided a bowl of knitting for each table so you could knit and natter (or stitch and bitch).
- The Big Dig – an archaeological dig in The Rocks area which has uncovered the foundations and artifacts. The earliest being from 1795.
- Susannah Museum – which is a row of houses and corner shop dating back from 1844.
- Nurses Walk – the location of an early hospital for early convicts and immigrants.
- Mission Stairs – where there was a Mission to house and feed the poor.
By this time we were all walked out, so headed back to Woolloomooloo and picked up a take away in Pie Face. Naughty but nice!
Day Two in Sydney
Early breakfast again, and early encounter with Mr dripping wet at the toaster. We decided to head over to Darling Harbour. This is a large circular basin that is still under development as an eating out, shopping, cinema and entertainment area. For some reason it hadn’t quite achieved the relaxing, socialising area I think it was hoping to achieve but maybe it is just not our type of place.
In the same area is the Maritime Museum so we went in to have a look around but held off paying the $30 each admissions. There seemed to be a lot of exhibits, galleries and ships to look over but it would have taken most of the day to see it all and I am not sure we would have appreciated it all.
So we decided to head back towards the CBD to see a couple of places we wanted to see. These were Queen Victoria Building and the Customs House, both of which date back to the 1800s. Queen Victoria Building was built as a covered marketplace and today it houses some of the best designer shops in Sydney. Outside the entrance there is a large statue of Queen Victoria and there is also a smaller statue of her dog Islay and a wishing well. The statue and well are disguising a ventilation shaft to the more recently built underground car park. Statue of dog I understand, plaque of history of dog I understand, pennies in the wishing well to go to the blind and deaf children of Australia I understand but what I don’t get is why they decided to put a sensor inside the dog so that it is supposedly talking to you. It is very weird and something you would expect to see in a theme park.
A short walk later brought us to the Customs House, which is as it says, the original House where all the goods coming in and out of Sydney were approved, disapproved (including copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover), tax paid etc. until 1990. The main entrance/reception has a glass floor and under the floor is a huge model of the city of Sydney. Today, the Customs House has some government offices and is a library and has a variety of reading rooms. Interestingly, as we move through Australia, more and more we read apologies in one shape or form to the native Aborigines. The memorable one from the Customs House said that the Aboriginal flag will always fly over the building, along with the Australian flag, to recognise the original “custodians” of this country. Don’t want to get on my soap box but there was me thinking that they were actually the original landowners via their native birthright! Rant over…..
After a sit in the park to calm down the heavens opened so we headed for the Opera House. Luckily it was zombie free and we sat sheltering from the rain under one of the roof spans. We had the whole place to ourselves and it was another one of those “pinch me” moments.
Overnight a huge cruise liner had berthed in the quay.
It was called the Diamond Princess and at about 5pm it headed off to the tune of Abba from the top deck. Despite this, it must be one of best harbours to sail from. They had the Bridge to their starboard and the Opera House to their Port. Aren’t I the nautical expert?
Fancy meeting you here!
Once the skies had cleared, our secret hideaway was found and we had run out of sympathy for the bridge walkers, we headed to the Opera Bar to meet friends from the UK. Our long term friends, Angie and Martyn, along with Angie’s sister, Linda, and her husband Mark are on a 3 week holiday in Australia. As our dates in Sydney coincided, we met for a drink and pizza. We compared and recounted travelling stories and it was a great evening.
More than once while we have been here, my thoughts have turned to my Dad. He sailed here in the 1940s and we even have a picture of the merchant ship “Sedulity” under the Bridge. It was coincidence that we ended up in an ex-mariners home, right by a wharf that he may or may not have berthed in. Even stranger to think that when he came the Opera House had not even been thought of as a concept and the Bridge was only about 15 years old. He, like me, did like a plaque to read. He would probably have spent at least 3 days in the Maritime Museum and have had some choice words for the talking dog statue!
Next post ferry to Manly
Our next post will see us leave central Sydney and head towards the coast to Manly. We can’t land sail to our destination so will have to sail by ferry but before I sign off there is one final thought provoking thing. Sydney may be unique in that it has the Opera House and the Bridge as it’s main points of notoriety but we struggled to think of another city that has only two focal points in the same location. Most cities have more, ie London, Paris, Rome, New York. Probably having one of our travel brain moments and we will be proved wrong but it is worth pondering.
Till next time………
10.10 – 13.10.2015