Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Day 223 - 227: Sydney

The bus to Sydney central took about an hour from Scott's, but it's regular and stops at a lot of major landmarks. We got off at St. Mary's Cathedral which is at the end of a large park that contains the Anzac War Memorial.

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There is a plaza before the cathedral which has a fountain containing some impressive statues dedicated to Greek mythology, including Diane and Theseus. And what better way to highlight them than a rainbow?

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A short walk into the centre, and we were at the Queen Victoria building feeling hungry. Sydney has a dazzling range of restaurants and eateries and we found a fantastic Malaysian place in the basement. Having not been particularly impressed with Malaysian food (other than roti...mmmm), we decided to take a gamble and it paid off. Laksa House is affordable, delicious and has huge portions.

We walked off our newly acquired food babies over the bridge to Darling Harbour. Aside from more restaurants and a maritime museum, the harbour hosts regular free events such as jazz music festivals, and every Saturday evening has fireworks in the evening for no particular reason.

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We grabbed some gelato and did some people-watching. The area itself is lovely, with water features and buskers all over the place. One toddler was fascinated with a trio playing near a park.

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After a good walk around the area to get our bearings, we were ready to head home.

The next day we met up with Paul and Fi at the dock, as we were catching a ferry over to Manly. Aside from being a nice destination for a day, the journey allows you to take umpteen photos of the two main architectural icons in Sydney: The Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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Manly itself is small enough to walk around in a morning, and take in the beach and coastal area. We had a brief stop at Manly Art Gallery which mainly contained swimming costumes and art which really wasn't my kind of thing. We'd all brought lunch with us so sat at a park bench to admire the views. I made friends with a border collie puppy that I would quite happily have taken home if I'd been allowed.

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We picked up a couple of second-hand reads at a bookshop, grabbed some ice creams, and then took the ferry back. Manly is a nice break from the usual city chaos, but there's far more to do in Sydney itself.

When we returned, we went to the Customs House which had an exhibition of brilliantly stylised photographs by Alexia Sinclair called Homage. You can see them here and here. The building itself is impressive itself:

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A trip to the botanical gardens and Mrs. Macquarie's Chair were next on the cards, and whilst the sun wasn't in the right place to get decent colour shots across the bay, the black and white ones didn't work badly.

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The botanical gardens are filled with parrots, and one lady had them swarming around her since she was feeding them bags of crackers.

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More tourist landmarks were planned for the next day. We had a look around the poignant and tastefully constructed Anzac memorial, originally paying homage to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought at Gallipoli, but now covering all those that gave their life for their countries during military conflicts.

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Sydney offers a free walking tour which lasts roughly 3 hours, and takes you around a number of the main highlights of the city as well as giving you some history. Our guide was Justine, who was bubbly and had a surprisingly loud voice - necessary, as there were quite a few people on the tour, even if it was starting to rain. We were taken to the Queen Victoria Building, and introduced to Islay the Talking Dog; a bronze statue who sits outside and encourages people to throw money into a wishing well to help blind and deaf children.

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Inside the building itself there is a kitsch Royal Clock which, on the hour, trots out various scenes from royal history (including a beheading of Charles II!). Other highlights on the tour included a copy of "Il Porcellino" (the piglet) outside Sydney Hospital. The idea is to donate a coin and then rub the pig's snout for luck; the rubbing over the years has worn away the snout to a gleaming sheen. Australians obviously have a sense of humour, as there is also a similarly coloured part of the pig which they appear to enjoy rubbing...

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Martin Place (the scene for many films, including The Matrix) and Cadmans Cottage (third oldest building in Sydney) were also on the agenda, and we ended the tour in The Rocks - a developing area in the city, which was previously home to prostitutes and down-and-outs but in recent times is being rejuvenated. Crime and poverty still occurs in the area, but the government is actively trying to clean the district up. It certainly has more character than many other areas in Sydney.

The tour was great: interesting and with plenty of sights included. Justine runs it on a donation basis, which is a good idea; she works hard - 7 days a week - and her small group of helpers run both a day and night tour. We didn't get the chance to do the night tour which takes place around The Rocks and provides some of the background to the crimes and unsavoury events that took place there, but I would definitely be interested in signing up if we returned to Sydney. After a great Turkish plate at a local restaurant, the four of us did the English thing afterwards and had tea and cake in a coffee shop. We were seduced by the cakes in the window, but sadly they looked amazing and tasted average.

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A quite stupendous outdoor photo exhibition rounded off the afternoon, with pictures of thunderstorms, wildernesses and almost alien landscapes taken from around the globe.

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There was just time in the evening for the four of us to share cocktails and beers in the ├╝ber-cool dockside bar "The Loft". The highly-awaited piano man didn't materialise though, but we made do with the ambient music and tried not to stick out too much in our sodden backpacker clothing whilst surrounded by people in dinner suits. Scott and Hannah had handed in their projects and were very much in the mood for a celebratory meal, so they took us first to a great Mexican place (Beach Burrito Company) where I munched my way through a taco bowl, and then to a great dessert place (Mickey's) where I stuffed a huge chocolate raspberry fudge ice cream sundae thing down my neck. The names of both restaurants evade me, but I can safely say that we were about ready to burst once the night was over...

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After awaking from a food coma the next day, we set off to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see an exhibition that had been bringing people in from all over the country: The Clock by Christian Marclay. The premise is simple in concept but staggering in execution. It is a 24 hour film which runs in real time and which is made up entirely from excerpts from cinematic history. Each excerpt has the current time somewhere in it, whether it is a clock in the background, someone looking at their watch, someone speaking on the telephone saying that they will meet the other person at a specific time, and so on. Since the film runs at real time, if it is 12:54pm when you're watching the film in the museum's screening room, you may get one, two, three or more clips showing 12:54pm on the screen. And since the excerpts are generally short and cover the entire gamut of film history from classics to modern cinema, you are guaranteed to see a film that you recognise. The whole idea is so utterly engaging that you could literally spend hours watching time pass.

Here's a short example:



The evening saw the start of the Vivid festival. This is a light and sound extravaganza which Sydney hosts each year, and sees the entire harbourside area turned into a showcase for exhibits ranging from mesmerising to slightly odd and everything in between. The main buildings all have projections beamed on to them and the level of detail and thought that has gone into them is truly a sight to behold. The highlight for me was Customs House, which was turned into a fully animated 12 minute show about the city. The photographs don't really do it justice, so behold the entire animation in full glory:



What is remarkable is how they used the various windows and pillars to model the skyscrapers, subway windows, and so on. As we went around the harbour, we got to see over 60 different exhibits, some of which were dazzling.

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The festival organisers also beam projections onto the sails of the Opera House - this year, they changed them into actual "sails" which rippled. They also added footage of a girl clinging to the sails as if she was going to fall off; that effect didn't work quite so well.

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And let's not forget the neon angler fish being driven around:

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It was a chilly night; after a well-deserved glass of merlot (for the boys) and mulled wine (for the girls) at the Opera bar, Paul and Fi did what they do best and blazed a trail into the evening with some other friends whilst we called it a night.

Scott's parents kindly drove us to Clovelly the next day, and we took a walk along the coast. First stop was Bronte where we ate at a lovely Mediterranean restaurant and took in the views.

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When you think of Sydney beaches, the one that most likely comes to mind is Bondi. Since that was the next beach along, we took a walk to check it out. The area is super-wealthy, as can be expected, and the beach is nice but not a patch on Whitehaven.

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A bus into town later and it was soon evening, so we had more time to explore the Vivid exhibits we didn't manage to see the night before. You have to watch out for burglars in the area, they can appear where you least expect them.

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The Rocks had a evening street market on as part of the festival, so we grabbed a freshly cooked hot dog and burger before heading home. It was a great way to end our stay in Sydney; Scott was taking us to the airport the next day to pick up a rental car as we were visiting Australia's capital, Canberra.

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