Sydney is like a wide open smile. It's a big city with beaches and sailboats, an easy place to like and get to know, where businessmen with briefcases relax on the ferry home, and the harbors wind their way around and are edged with houses down to the waterfront.
Leaving Singapore last Thursday we had our first contraband experience with Singapore Airlines. Apparently my cork screw (I always have one handy in case you run into a good bottle of wine that needs opening) and eye glass repair kit met the test of your basic terrorist weapons - I can't tell you the number of airport scanners both of these dangerous instruments have passed thru. But here's how Singapore Air handled them. From the security checkpoint where we were branded, we were escorted by a uniformed officer to the departure gate, with him clutching our contraband. At the gate we were interviewed by an airline staff member who apparently decided we were not terrorists and so had us fill out receipts in duplicate for each item, with a promise that the items would be returned to us upon landing in Sydney. Can you imagine the TSA doing this?
The iconic Opera House
Just as wonderful as we had hoped
Things definitely got better in Sydney when we discovered we could use our new Global Entry cards to bypass the long immigration lines by using their new kiosks for frequent travelers - thank you USA and Australia!. Oh, BTW, we forgot to pick up our contraband! A quick trip in from the airport and then we were greeted with the breathtaking view of Sydney Harbor, the bridge and Opera House from our room on the 21st floor of the Shangri La Hotel, all bathed in the early evening sunset. I could have sat there all evening just watching the harbor. But our stomachs were growling so we found a local pub, the Australia Hotel, rowdy with Aussies getting an early start on the weekend, and were greeted with our first "G'day" when we ordered the local lager. Guess we're officially in Australia!
Friday morning dawned hot so we decided that a fairly lazy day seeing Sydney from the top of a double decker hop on hop off bus was the order of the day. Little did we know that it would turn out to be the hottest day on record ever in Sydney, topping
You didn't think you could get away without a surfer pix...
out at 115 degrees. Global warming Aussie style. We saw all the neighborhoods and byways of the city, with a stop to take a tour of the Sydney Opera House, a nice, cool indoor activity. The Opera House is such an iconic monument I feel almost superfluous writing about it. Apparently it is the most well known man made structure in the world, with 2 out of 3 people in the world able to recognize it. It has stood the test of time brilliantly, from design in the 1950's to opening in 1973, and stands as a sentinel in the harbor, welcoming everyone. One of the interesting parts was seeing the interior structures, which come out of the 1970's brutalist school of architecture, with massive grey concrete slabs arching under the soaring roof lines, and yet it all seems to work well together. The story behind the engineering was fascinating - it almost didn't get built until the original architect was able to figure out how to create the roof forms when all the engineers had declared a it a lost cause. Too hot to do much else, we collapsed for the late afternoon and then wandered over to the
Eat your heart out, Lauren
Beach volleyball Aussie style
Oyster Bar, a Sydney institution at Circular Quay, and enjoyed dinner outdoors on the waterfront, with delicious cold seafood and the first of what we hope will be many glasses of wonderful Australian wine.
We love to find local hikes and walks so Saturday morning found us on the hop on hop off bus to the famous Bondi Beach, with weather cooperating at 40 degrees cooler. We did a 6 km, 3 hour ocean front walk from Bondi to Coogee beaches, winding up and down the rock faces by the ocean, and finding small local beaches, surfers waiting for the right waves, beach volleyball games, and a lawn bowling club with probably the best view in the world. The coastline reminded us of other areas we've enjoyed - the Cinque Terre in Italy, Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. In Coogee we braved the local bus - it only took two very nice Aussies to straighten us out on how to do it - back to Bondi and explored this slightly tacky classic Australian beach town. The beach is gorgeous with a half mile of crystalline, shimmering sand along a crescent - it's where the beach volleyball games were
Yup, they're hot
The hard working lifesavers
played at the Sydney Olympics. And I do have to report on the famous lifeguards - yes, they are incredibly hot looking but they work hard with the vicious undertows and rip tides in the ocean. They are everywhere on the beach, watching the swimmers, and there is usually a Zodiac in the surf with a couple of lifeguards so they can easily rescue floundering swimmers. Steve reminds me that I am married to the world's hottest 67 year old but that doesn't stop me from looking.... Dinner Friday night was at one of the best Italian restaurants we have been to anywhere, Pendolino, in the ornate Strand Arcade on George St. Mouthwatering food and a warm, yummy Australian Sangiovese from Strada del Bacco (but not as good as your Villa Ragazzi, Michaela).
Sunday was our big challenge day - the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb! It sounds scarier than it was as they have the entire 3 hour experience down to a science, with Star Trek overalls, everything you might need, including a handkerchief, clipped to your suit, hooked up by headset to your group leader, and even a test climb to make sure you can do
Sydney Harbor Bridge
Yup, we survived the climb!
it. Then off you go, up and down ladders in the guts of the bridge structure and then all of a sudden you're out on the edge of the bridge, climbing the arch, all safely strapped in. It is a truly amazing view out over the city from the top, and actually not a very difficult climb up. We are so glad we did it - one of the real highlights. But this was a day of multiple highlights with a wonderful opera recital in the Joan Sutherland Hall at the Sydney Opera House. Four wonderful members of the Sydney Opera, including one young tenor with a pure, clear voice making his debut on the stage of the Hall, engaged us with their singing for an hour and a half with well known and lovely arias from a wide variety of operas. What a special experience. The concierge at the hotel was batting two for two with tonight's restaurant (the concierge was also responsible for Pendolino) Selah, an open kitchen, casual atmosphere place - best vegetarian dinner I've had in a long time, with another wonderful Aussie Sauvignon Blanc.
The Rocks area is the original landing place
Trying the local lager
Delicious Manly Beach brewery
of the Brits, and on Monday we enjoyed a well presented and entertaining walking tour, pointing out original paving stones and buildings and helping us learn a lot about the founding of modern day Sydney. Guess all those convicts ended up doing all right. In the afternoon we lazed on the deck of the ferry out to Manly, a seaside town north of Sydney, and enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine on the beach promenade and dinner at a seaside cafe. The ferry ride back, in the early evening light, was marvelous.
And so we come to the end of our first Aussie experience. As I sit here writing, I've been glancing out our hotel room window as the sun has been setting west of the bridge, and the light glinting off the Opera House white tile roof changing by the minute. The ferries slip from the wharfs of Circular Quay, the behemoth cruise ship gets its power up about to sail, and the lights of the city begin to come on. This is a wonderful cosmopolitan city, not particularly foreign in feeling, friendly, open and easy to get to know.
Off to our next
adventure tomorrow - sailing in the Whitsunday Islands.
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