January 29, 2007 == Welcome (flash) page

The People of Sydney

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See ya, Sydney

Goodbye Sydney. Parting is such sweet sorrow. We've really enjoyed our relaxed life with you; now we are off on a great African adventure.

We accumulated a lot of stuff here and for the last week we have been getting rid of it. Together we made up a two-page flyer with photographs and posted it in half a dozen places. We also advertised for free on Craig's List We got offers based on both of them. The closest customer was in our own building: a German moving in upstairs, while we moved out downstairs, he saw our flyer posted in the lobby. He took our television and we now will be without one for two days! Which means that we'll miss both men's and women's single finals of the Australian Tennis Open. Oh so sad!

Gerry's bike proved easy to sell — we had many inquires after it was gone — while Jan's stylish one sat a long time in our living room, waiting for a last minute buyer or disposal. We leave on the 29th and this morning, the 28th, we did get a call and practically gave it away. We did give away a heavy bag of books to the Wayside Chapel charity shop, the same place we bought 2/3 of them; unfortunately we also didn't get to read 2/3 of them. And we also gave them our two folding chairs last night; this morning we had our first call about them.

Our closets and refrigerator seemed to have so much food that we would never get through it all. But we have, mostly, junking only a small amount of left over vegetables. We have left our unfinished boxes of cereal other dry goods for our landlady. We're taking a considerable amount of cookies and candies as snack food on and after our airplane.

Biking Bonkers

We had great fun going around Sydney with our bikes, alternating between easy coasts downhill and much puffing uphill. There was little in between. Because of the bikes we spent less time on public transport than in any other major city we've stayed in.

We at last made it to the beach at Bondi, riding there and back, all of 12-13 kilometers. While the masses lay in the sun or frolicked in the water we hid in the shade, enjoying the fresh air. Only Gerry was brave enough to go into the water; he found it plenty cold, probably about 20C (68F).

As part of our "closing down and selling out" we rode over to Bondi Junction to return Gerry's library books. From there we discovered a great long-distance down-hill ride. Who would guess that one could ride about five kilometers downhill — nary an uphill pedal — almost all the way to Central Station and Paddy's Market? Despite its name, Paddy's market is populated mostly by Chinese stallholders and is a tourist shopping mecca. We wished we had known of its existence sooner, but were happy to find it in time for a souvenir-buying spree.

One of our minor outings was to the Victoria Barracks, built around 1840 to move the troops out of the center of town. It now serves as planning headquarters of the Australian Army; tours are conducted by long-retired and very colorful officers. The big connection with biking is that when we came out Gerry had a flat. Fortunately there was a nearby bike shop; Gerry bought a tube and the tools to repair it and we were soon biking our way to take our first look at the Randwick Racetrack. We liked it so much we came back a few days later to see the races. Gerry bet his limit, $1, and lost.

Our two biggest bike outings were in the Royal National Park and from Manly (Beach) to the City. In and around RNP we estimate that we did about 20 km, which is pretty good, given that after our first outing of a few kilometers our rear-ends hurt from the bicycle seat. The ride had three distinct parts: first five kilometers downhill on paved road, then eleven kilometers along the unpaved Lady Carringtons Drive, and finally a grueling climb back to the plateau where we started.

For our second big outing, we took the ferry to Manly and rode back what we estimate was 10 kilometers. This time ups alternated with downs: no climb was as high as that out of the RNP, but there were three of them and each was perhaps half of the RNP climb. Enough to get us plenty aerobic. Coming back we got an introduction to the close northern suburb and got the feeling that life there is pretty good. We rode our bikes back on the west side of the Harbor Bridge, nicely complementing our walk over on the east side three weeks earlier.

The last part of our Manly to Elizabeth Bay ride was coming up the long slope on Williams street that leads to the Coca Cola sign and Kings Cross. When we had first done this back in early December, Jan said she'd never make it up riding. How happy she was to be proved wrong. Muscles and lung capacity had grown and she made it! She's been converted from a reluctant purchaser of bikes to someone who didn't want to say goodbye to them. Some of her enthusiasm derives from finally having owned a bike with well-adjusted and well-functioning gears. Although only ten of the supposed fifteen gears worked, they worked very smoothly, very reliably, and never let her down. We even thought about keeping the bikes until our return, but in the end decided that was just too complicated.

Meeting People

Our contact with other humans went up this month. Besides sharing a lawn called "The Domain" with 100,000 people we actually talked to a few. We have friends in the US who have cousins here. They set up a meeting between us and Di and George and we were nicely treated to some great coffee, hot chocolate, and deep chocolate cake to accompany our interesting conversation. We finally got to see Iain again; we'd met him in Crete and gone on two hikes there with him. He came to Sydney to help his daughter and her family move to Canberra. Its a small world; we went for a snack in nearby Rushcutters Bay Park and he bumped into friends of his. We're even getting to know people in a professional sense; we had our teeth cleaned and got confirmation that Gerry does not have TB, as was suggested was a possibility. And we enjoyed meeting the people to whom we sold our things: an Israeli, a Pole, a German, and even two Aussies.

Sydney seen from Oz Tower
View of Sydney from Oz Tower with Jan and Gerry

Music Outdoors

One of the things we have really enjoyed in our southern summer has been attending musical events outdoors. They have all been held in the Domain, a very large park that abuts the Botanical Gardens, which in turn abut Bennelong Point where the Sydney Opera House is located. It is a fifteen minute walk from our apartment that as with everything in Sydney, involves climbing down to sea level and then back up again onto a ridge. It still gets us out of breath in spite of all the aerobic exercise on our bikes. The first one, was a carol service held in the week before Christmas. The second, called Jazz in the Domain was an evening of Brazilian music headlined by a gentleman called Oscar Castro Lopez (we think!). It was a very pleasant evening that attracted a giant crowd, no small portion of which were of Brazilian ancestry. We took a picnic and got there about an hour before show time and only just managed to find a place to park our camping chairs.

We repeated the exercise for Opera in the Domain, held two nights before our departure, with a presentation of Puccini's Turandot. Sadly, we didn't listen to the weather report closely enough and weren't warmly enough dressed and so ran home to get warm in the intermission. We are constantly told that this summer in Sydney is unusually cool. We are delighted therefore to be here now. Acquaintances tell us that last summer at this time, the mercury regularly climbed into the 40's!

Music in the Opera House

When we arrived in Sydney, back in November 2006, we hurried over to the Opera House to buy tickets to the opera in this signature architectural wonder. Imagine our disappointment to learn that the opera season was over! We checked out the other things on offer and bought tickets to a cabaret and a ballet morning, mumbling to the clerk that we had really wanted to go to the opera. How pleased we were when she explained that the 2007 season would start in January, giving us a month in which to fulfill our opera-going ambitions.

In the end, we bought two sets of tickets, the first for Mozart's Marriage of Figaro; the second for the British musical Sweeney Todd. Marriage of Figaro could not but delight and we felt fortunate to have chosen side box seats that although they suffered from a slightly obscured view (the back right corner of the stage) brought us very close to the action. The music was terrific, the singers very accomplished, and yes, we understand now that the Opera House stage is very small compared with, say, the Met in New York, and needs to be enlarged.

Sweeney Todd was less successful. We chose seats that were more central but further back and that reduced our enjoyment a bit. Secondly, the music corresponds rather with the subject matter and is dark, even lugubrious, which also didn't please either of us too much. It was also amplified, which distorts the sound and made it hard sometimes to understand the very funny black-humoured lyrics.

Haute Cuisine

When trying to decide what to do to celebrate our anniversary back in December, we decided to splurge and eat a nice meal at the Sydney Tower, a revolving restaurant in the heart of the city with superb views of the city, the harbour, and even of famed Botany Bay. Sadly, however, being so close to New Year's we couldn't get the booking we wanted and so decided to postpone it into January. We finally made it last week and ended up having a very good meal and a fantastic vantage point from which to admire this city we have grown to love. We started our meal at 7:30 when it was still light and stayed as day turned to night and the city became a lake of lights. Food was typical buffet fare enhanced by excellent seafood (prawns, oysters, mussels) and an interestng carvery that served, would you believe, camel and kangaroo. The camel was tough as old boots, the kangaroo tolerable. Best of all, from Jan's point of view, was the wonderful leg of lamb. She has really enjoyed eating good lamb in Australia, where the quality of all kinds of meat is very high.

Gerry spent half of his time taking photos of course. He made one circuit in daylight before even sitting down to eat and then another towards the end of the meal to get some night shots. All in all, we thought it was a great way to celebrate.

African Surprise

Until the end of the year we were intending to go to New Zealand and then come back to Australia to drive around. That all depended, as we have said many times, on getting drivers licenses. We'd been waiting and waiting for proof of address acceptable to the RTA (Road and Traffic Authority); when we finally got it we were licensed the next day. That made our attention turn to extending our visas and buying a used camper van or some other car.

Before we had gotten very far we had a very unexpected email. It truly was "deja vu" all over again. In March, 1999 when we were planning/debating whether to start our long trip in Mexico or China we had had the offer of an apartment in Paris for several months. We took it and that's how we got to know Veronica. And now Veronica emailed: would we like her flat for three months while she went off on another pilgrimage?

It was hard to turn down. We would be doing her a favor as she wanted her place left in safe hands. And we would get to see the French presidential elections up close. We were immediately tempted because of what we already knew about airfares. Shortly after arriving in Sydney, we saw an advertised around-the-world fare that was a) cheap enough for us and b) would allow stops in Asia, Europe, the USA, and South Africa. So we said yes, conditional on getting the ticket and reservations we wanted.

The flight we had in mind is provided by Lufthansa and is technically a round-trip, Sydney-Frankfurt. But because Frankfurt is just about half-way around the world and Lufthansa allows separate outbound and return paths, it becomes an around-the-world flight. It took us three trips to the travel agent, conveniently located next door to our favorite German supermarket, to nail things down and there were moments when we feared the gotchas would get us. But finally, the deed was done, we paid mountains of cash and in return got a few paltry pieces of paper! Actually, we had been hoping for electronic tickets which are unlosable and unstealable, but it was not to be. Also, our final itinerary could not include Asia, but could (and does) give us a stopover in Hawaii.

As set now we spend February, March, and half of April in South Africa, mid-April to mid-June in Paris and then some dead time for us to visit Jan's family in England, followed by a flight to the US. Our current dates allow us three months to get overland to Vancouver for a November flight to Hawaii and a December close-the-loop flight back to Sydney, but these last few legs are much more flexible in our minds. We can change dates as long as seats are available and think we might do that depending on what comes up. We might, for example, come back to Australia earlier to catch some spring weather for travelling up north.

We're still in a bit of a state of shock, because we have been talking about South Africa for as long as we've been travelling and toyed with the idea of going there while we were in Moscow, but the Athens apartment came up and we opted for that instead. Since we have never ventured south of the Sahara, we are happy to make it to black Africa but also a little nervous. Still, we rationalize, we survived Guatemala and Colombia so why not South Africa. We shall soon see.

One of the things we have been trying to do to prepare ourselves for the trip is to buy a cellphone, having been warnd that when driving around South Africa it is an important tool for emergencies. That's why we rode to Paddy's Market (see above in biking); there we found two phones that could please us but being indecisive we didn't buy either. Then we went back and different clerks gave us different prices. Today because we got most of our packing done in time Gerry went over and came back with a Sony Ericsson W300i. That "W" means its a Walkman, in other words, it plays MP3, etc. So Gerry now joins Jan, who has has had her Zen two years, in being able to listen to recorded books, etc while we travel.

Our very last work has been using up our phone card. Two calls to South Africa resulted in a reserved room for us, so we don't have to worry much about our arrival. The card had enough time for 17 minutes to S.A.; after we'd called and used up 7 minutes Jan had 61 minutes left to call England and catch with family. Our next posting will be from Africa!

January 29, 2007