Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From Sidney To Sydney!

Time for another vacation; this one is headed Down Under, a place that we have never been. The flight down is a bit of an ordeal; a 15-hour grind spend in the equivalent of a vertical shoebox. Also, I am not one to carp about airline food, but I have to admit that the standard has plummeted to the lowest common denominator. We were given an unremarkable pasta dish, a dismal bun for a snack, and an adequate breakfast (eggs or waffles?). I can remember some really excellent meals on international flights of the past; at least I have that to fall back on when confronted with the gruel that is slopped out these days.

One major discovery was made on this trip; it is way better to sleep horizontally, rather than vertically. In any event, we arrived tired and on the edge of starving, thinking that the worst was over, only to realize that the flight itself was merely the softening up process for the knockout blow to come. Immediately upon landing, we were 'quaranteed' while the cabin crew sprayed insecticide throughout the cabin. We were cheerily informed that the spray was the 'safest on the market', but I figure that anything not good for bugs can't be good for humans, either. One flight attendant passing through the cabin remarked; 'All you have to do is not breath for the next 15 minutes!'.

So, having inhaled the equivalent of a Mustard Gas Attack on the Western Front in World War I we were then released to the next round of punishment; Immigration. I must have looked dreadful, since the officer examined my Declaration and Passport, and without asking a single question simply stated 'It's a long flight from Canada, isn't it! Welcome to Australia!'. With a grim smile I then ran the gauntlet of the Customs Officers, who were lounging just behind the immigration booth, looking for likely targets (ever watched vultures circling a wounded animal in the desert?). I was a lucky guy; unlike the gentleman who, when asked by the Immigration Officer if he had a criminal record replied 'I didn't realize that was still a prerequisite to come to Australia!'

Anyway, once we had tip-toed past the Customs Officers, looking as innocent as possible, we got to play Hunt For Your Luggage; always a crowd pleaser to the weary traveller. Fortunately, after little more than 30 minutes playing this game, we then faced our final challenge; Agriculture. It seems that the Aussies like anything living that carries cash, but nothing that doesn't. A charming lady grilled us about meats, vegetables, snacks, foods, and just about anything that moved at some point in its existence on this planet. She zeroed in on our snacks, and pounced on our almonds, which promptly ended up in the landfill. With that we were finally flung into the terminal to find our way to our hotel.

It is a challenge to walk from early spring into a hot and humid 27-degree day with an intense sun pummeling your lily-white skin. I already have a Farmers Tan on my neck and arms, and managed to burn the tops of my ankles. No matter; we are here!

So, flinging our luggage into the room and a quick shower later, we headed up to the nearest pub to sample some Aussie Beer. One thing that I have noted is that while some nations (notably China) simply can't seem to turn out a decent wine, and also have some dubious Spirits, every country can brew some good beer, and that proved to be the case again. Over a few pints we discovered that this being Sunday, the annual St. Paddy's Day Parade was being held, and we watched the start from the pub.

That evening we were strolling in the Cockel Bay and Darling Harbour area when we came across the Greek Festival in full swing. It seemed to be a little odd to see the odd drunken local in full Irish regalia fumbling about the Greek mob, but it all worked. The next day we took a bus tour of downtown Sydney and the surrounding area to get a good overview of the place. Sydney is a sprawling metropolis of some 4 million people and it has a very international vibe to the city. There are all kinds of ethnic restaurants, and many interesting parks and museums to visit. That evening we dined at the Yaght Club, right on the harbour.

The following day we spent the morning at the big Naval Museum in Darling Harbour, and then strolled over to the Anzac Memorial Building in Hyde Park. From there we examined the Botanical Gardens and then walked along Sydney Harbour to finish up at the iconic Opera House, and Sydney Bridge. You could just make out the tiny dots of people climbing the top of the Bridge, which would have to offer a remarkable view of the downtown area. That evening we dined in the Chinatown area; which is right next to the hotel.

My early impressions of the city is of the many urban parks, with some beautiful natural beaches, such as Bondi Beach, only a short distance away. The vegetation is lush and quite tropical, and the locals seem quite relaxed and friendly; not at all like New Yorkers! The only downside appears to be the Internet; it is quite expensive (about $20 a day), and very slow. I guess we are spoiled in Canada, but it is hard to get used to working online at a snail-pace (i.e. about 5 minutes to bring up a single page!)

So we are off to a good start down here, and we will keep you posted on our travels soon.

Aussie Oddities

As expected, there is a wide variety of new and unusual wildlife and plants. Somehow, the birds seem oddly attracted to us!


Blogger Bobbie said...

I'm glad to hear you survived the trip, including the cabin spraying - I wonder exactly what they are trying to keep out of Australia? Keep those good photos coming. ~ Bobbie

8:33 AM  

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