Sydney Skyline, Harbor Bridge, Pleasure Boats, Cricket Grounds, Meat Pies
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We made it!
These three tiny words confirm that we've reached a goal that, depending on how you count, has taken a life time or just seven and a half years. We are on the other side of the world, whether you measure east-west or north-south. We are as far south of the equator as Los Angeles is north. And we are about as far west of London as we are east of it. In other words, we are in Australia. Sydney, to be precise.
We got here on a Sunday morning two weeks ago, after an overnight flight from Denpasar, Bali. Our first chore, still early morning, was to find a hotel as our apartment would not be available until Monday. We lucked into a very handily located place in Potts Point, just three blocks from our eventual digs. It was a bit old fashioned and down at heel but it made up for it in price and extras, including a refrigerator. It reminded Jan of her friend Dinah's old pad in London 30+ years ago.
After a bit of a rest we went to find our place and introduce ourselves to the young guy (25-ish) we are subletting from. His girlfriend with whom we negotiated the deal was already off to New York. He's in the Australian Navy and would be off on maneuvers the next morning. All went well, he getting money and we getting keys.
We found it to be a superb location, just a couple of minutes walk from the water at Rushcutter's Bay (get out your Encarta and find it on the map) and only a 30-35 minute (2 km) walk from downtown and the Sydney Opera House. From a nearby park you can just see the city skyline. (Although to be honest, there are many, many places that have a good view of it and the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.) On the street just outside our door there are a couple of sidewalk cafes and even a small theater.
Monday morning we walked the three blocks from hotel to apartment, fortunately mostly downhill, and installed ourselves. Bags unpacked we went shopping and filled the fridge with goodies and returned to make Jan's first cup of coffee in a long while (mmm!). The last part of our settling in (besides catching up on sleep after our red-eye flight) was doing the laundry accumulated over two weeks; conveniently we found a launderette just around the corner.
We even managed to buy a new TV! Our landlords, who do without one, are obviously more interested in a real social life; we are interested in the world-at-your-coffee-table that TV represents. We were looking for a good supermarket and accidentally found German Aldi, a favorite from our days in Berlin. Aldi, much to our pleasure, had a cheap 21" (51 cm) TV, which we bought.
On the taxi ride back to our unit (as they say in Strine) Jan got to practice her Russian on the driver, who was an immigrant from Russian-speaking Kiev.
Our usual modus-operandi is to experience a place from the center out. So once sort of settled-in we walked in the direction of the Opera House, keeping to the shore, which was a good part of the way. Great day it was; fine weather and good views. While there we bought tickets for two events, an evening of cabaret songs, and a selection of ballet pieces. The walk introduced us to the blooming jacarandas and their lovely purple-blue blossoms, now seen all over this lovely city.
We had heard about the Newtown festival and so on our first Sunday, just over a week ago, we made our way there, experiencing with missed train connections why cars with their "leave when you want" are so popular. We didn't have high hopes for the festival and thus weren't disappointed by this really small-town affair: lots of booths serving ethnic food and a five-person rock group that didn't grab us. We did profit from the used-book stand; we walked away with four of them. We also walked the six kilometers back to Elizabeth Bay and got to know another part of the city much better than we would have on the train, passing through another "Yuppie" area that every few blocks changed its ethnic character, e.g. from Arab to Indian.
A few days later we went out for the evening-cabaret; unfortunately it wasn't to our taste. Camille, the singer, had a good voice, and her backup band were fine musicians, but everything was over-amplified for the small, intimate space and in spite of her name she sang the sprinklng of Jacques Brel songs mostly in English and with an interpretation that was too far from the original to please us.
We're not great sports fans but Jan, of course, had heard of the Ashes, the international cricket match between England and Australia. When we heard that a warm-up (or friendly) would be played at the nearby SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) we walked over there to catch the afternoon part of the match. We were intrigued and it did keep our interest, but we were as confused about what was going on as we would have been if we had only been listening to a radio report. Even the large screen at one end of the grounds didn't help much; it was only used for replays. The next day we happened to speak to Jan's brother Dave on the phone (he's in south Wales, rather than New South Wales, the latter named after the first for their sometimes similar coast lines) and he was able to explain some of the mysteries to us — he'd followed the match via the internet.
When we were looking for a place in the Sydney area we had found several offered in Bondi Beach or nearby. All we knew about it was that it was a famous beach. So this Sunday we went out there, a bit earlier than we might have otherwise, because it was the last day of the outdoor "Sculpture on the Beach" exhibit. Our first view of the kilometer-long beach at the head of its small bay made us turn to each other and say, "Wow, what a beach!" This was all enhanced by sun, a few fluffy clouds, and warm sunshine refreshed by a sea breeze. Swimmers and surfers were in the water and the beach was peppered but not over-crowded with sunbathers.
From Bondi Beach we walked to Coogee beach, along the recommended ocean-hugging walk. There are about four bays along the six kilometers: Tamarama, Bronte, Wilson, and Gordons. Each one was different: one was good for surfers, another for children and quiet swimming; another for getting out and snorkeling among tropical fish. Yet another had an underwater scuba trail marked for studying the local ecology. We intend to try all of them as the summer comes on and the water gets even warmer.
The sculpture exhibit that enlivened the first two kilometers of our walk seemed to have brought half of Sydney out. The path was crammed with people making it hard to contemplate the works. Some we liked and some we didn't. One of the most amusing was a melted ice cream van. Yes, the van, and not the ice cream, was melted. Occupying part of the path and "flowing" over into the gutter and beyond was a pink and white ice cream van painted with the prices, etc. Instead of it being two meters high the "sun" had melted it down to a few inches thick. Very cute!
After five months traveling from Bangkok through Thailand and Malaysia down to Bali we are happy to be sitting in one spot for a while and to have our own cooking facilities again. How wonderful it is to be back in a country with a decent climate!! After months of tropical and equatorial heat we are delighted to have wonderful spring weather. It's like the best kind of English summer weather, if you have any idea what that's like.
We're also happy to be back in the English-speaking world again, with access to understandable (mostly!) radio and TV and friendly folks who go out of their way to be helpful and are as polite as Americans with their "No worries" answer to just about every "Thank you" you throw at them! The Aussies really are super friendly. You sort of look at them and they come over and help. Jan was outside the information office at the train station and the attendant there came out, offered her help, and took her back into the office to ply her with info and brochures. Gerry's sunglasses slipped out of his pocket in an auditorium at the Art Gallery and somebody kindly put it up on the stage to await his retrieval of it.
"It's summer time and the living is easy" to quote a well-known song. We're enjoying being back to "real food." There's no denying that we had some great food in Thailand and interesting food in Indonesia. And that we really loved the food courts of Singapore where we could get so many tasty Chinese and Indian dishes. But it is a pleasure now to prepare for ourselves the foods we haven't had for a long time. Pickles. Real lettuce and tomato salads. Pork chops with spaghetti. Breakfast cereals with fruit and more fruit. And of course good Australian wine. Yes, those hotel breakfasts were good, and especially convenient, but what we have now is a nice change. (If this sounds like we sometimes get a bit homesick for our own place it should; we do.) If only we had the balcony we had in Athens!
Thanks to our new TV, we happily usually spend two hours each morning watching, in succession, the news in German (Deutsche Welle), Spanish (TV Espana), French (France 2 and sometimes TV5 Monde), and Russian (NTV). Gerry skips the latter; it's Jan's favorite as she continues her Russian studies. Gerry usually reads his German novel 30-60 minutes before the Deustche Welle comes on and then switches to that. If either of us had had this dedication while in college wouldn't we have been outstanding students! On top of that we get the PBS news from the USA and - hog heaven - the Simpsons and ER and more.
We found a very good phone card since we got here and so have managed to call family and friends and get in touch in a way that is novel for us, being used to written internet communications. Astonishingly, with this phone card the rate/minute to the UK or USA is 1/10 of what calls within Australia cost.
We've also, or almost also, made contact with old friends. Two of them from Hong Kong days live here. As they are far away outside Sydney we'll have to wait to see them. While traveling we met several Australians and also expect to see them. What? A social network just waiting for us!
There have been several things that remind us that time is flying. Jan was just reminded by a friend that next year is the 40th anniversary of her going to Bradford. Too bad a reunion in Bradford is not in the cards. She thinks that surely she can do something for 2011; we're sure to be settled by then.
The Clock Ticks. What Next?
We must leave Australia after only 90 days because of visa rules, so are faced with the question of where we should go and how quickly should we come back. If this wasn't a consideration we'd just tour Australia immediately after giving up our apartment on February 1. Until recently our most likely solution was a round-trip to New Zealand, with a long visit to the southern island, but we have just found an interesting round-the world ticket that would take us to South Africa... with stops in Europe, the USA, and Hawaii. Will it happen? We'll let you know.
If we do go to New Zealand and come back here then we'll drive around the country. With another big "if" - if we get driver's licenses. Both of our U.S. licenses have expired, Gerry's just on October 30, Jan's last February. (Because of security considerations we are now required to renew them in person.) Our next chore is to determine how to get Ozzie permits. If we succeed we'll be buying a car. We've discovered that part will be pretty easy. Almost around the corner is the "Backpacker's Car Mart". It's a place where "backpackers" leaving Oz can sell or leave on consignment their cars. At the time of our visit there were seven cars to choose from. Five were VW or Mitsubishi camping vans.
In the meantime, we are looking around for a couple of cheap used bicycles to help us explore further afield in the Sydney area. No luck so far, but we'll keep trying. Maybe Gerry will get his wish and we'll peddle along the coast and then turn inland to Canberra.