Playing tourist in Sydney
20.10.2009 - 21.10.2009 72 °F
Before this week Jeannine said her image of Australia was much like the way Bill Bryson described it in his book In a Sunburned Country….”I had thought of it as a kind of alternative southern California, a place of constant sunshine and the cheerful vapidity of a beach lifestyle, but with a slight British bent—a sort of Baywatch with cricket…” Well, she was surprised to find that the beaches in Sydney are really small areas surrounded by neighborhoods of all flavors that expand out to mountains and deserts.
My impression of Sydney was more cautious. Would there even be a reason to visit Sydney if there were not a gorgeous harbor or magnificent opera house? After all, England thought the place was sufficiently punitive that it creative a penal colony there. No doubt current residents would argue that those are only two of the many charming attractions here, after all significant pages in guidebooks are devoted to it. The Opera House has piqued my interest for years, much like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. I’ve been looking forward to visiting it for a very long time, so imagine my surprise when we got to it and went inside to find that the price of the tour had gone up from A$20 in 2005 to A$35 in 2009! No show, no music, no theater just fork over 70 of those pretty Aussie dollars to take an accompanied tour around the building. My disappointment was palpable. What is the alternative? We bought a ticket to a show. At least that way we’d get to see the inside of the building and get something more than a tour guide tell us the history of the building that we’ve already read in guidebooks.
After strolling through Circular Quay and having a picnic lunch at the Royal Botanic Gardens we took a one hour harbor tour by boat. The views gave us much more value for our dollar and we got some really nice shots. Afterward we walked up to The Rocks neighborhood to see George Street, Sydney’s oldest street. The neighborhood has a quaint feel to it with the old homes now turned into upscale shops filled with pricy souvenirs and folk art and of course…cafés and pubs. They’ve kept the character of the place using hand painted signs to announce specials at local favorites like “Fortune of War”…Sydney’s oldest pub, and other eateries. Turning back towards the quay is Cadmans Cottage, Sydney’s oldest surviving home (built 1816.) We didn’t have time for the Museum of Contemporary Art, but perhaps we’ll have time tomorrow when we head back for the show at the opera house.
We finished off our day heading to Kings Cross, a neighborhood with a history of questionable character but nonetheless full of interesting little spots. As we exited the subway we did see the odd adult shop here and there, but the neighborhood has cleaned itself up quite a bit. There are backpacker hostels mixed in between boutique hotels and expensive looking furniture shops. We made our way down to the El Alamein Fountain in Fitzroy Gardens. Although it is Sydney’s most popular public park, it was the “guerilla knitting” that caught our attention. We’d heard from Suzanne (Jeannine’s friend in Singapore) that a group of knitters got together and found they had many scraps they’d started and never finished. At some point (probably after a couple of pints) someone said something like, “Let’s tag the neighborhood with our knitting!” and so they did. We stumbled upon it at Fitzroy Gardens. Trees sign posts, and light polls were all adorned with massive knitting projects. It was so popular the city let it stay.
We finished our little tour of the area by finding The McElhone Stairs which link Woolloomooloo Bay with Kings Cross and walked down them. At the bottom we were drawn to a neon lit sign saying “Harry’s Café de Wheels”, a pie cart that’s been a Sydney late-night institution for over 50 years. The place was hopping with locals and we ordered a vegetarian pie topped with pea mush. There were no tables, just logs facing the water so we did what all the locals were doing, faced the water, plopped down on a log and enjoyed watching the seagulls at the Navy yard next door. The pie, by the way, was hot, filling, and yummy! For less than A$5 it was the most inexpensive meal we’ve had in Sydney.