Organized chaos – as hackneyed a saying as it is - the phrase is an apt description of Sydney. One of the many interesting things we have seen while down under is the way walk/don’t walk signals operate. Rather than the little flashing green man inviting pedestrians to walk in the direction of traffic all four corners flash green at once stopping all vehicular movement and the walkers take over the whole intersection free to cross diagonally as well as directly across the roadway. Sort of a free for all not unlike the seeming anarchy that ensues on a rugby field – just when it looks like everything is all muddled in a tangle of limbs out pops the ball and down the field goes the team.
This pretty much sums up our two day trip to this dynamic and cosmopolitan city. We dove into the throbbing masses of humanity on the street, ferries, busses and trains, popping out in one interesting place after another – one of those rare occasions where we never really got lost.
Our first morning we grabbed a cup of coffee on George Street across from Central Station then marched down the street for about an hour to the Sydney Opera House. We took a morning tour of this iconic building that juts into the skyline of the harbor like a piled up collection of orange wedges. These orange wedges though, are covered in more than a million triple glazed off white tiles which capture the sun’s rays producing subtle touches of color depending on the conditions in the sky. Inside, the lack of support columns lends a sense of soaring to the ceilings while the use of native wood throughout the structure intensifies the acoustics. The Opera House is not one massive performance space but rather a series of theaters, studios and concert halls. Sara and I snagged some tickets for a cabaret show in the 200 seat studio theater for the next evening. As luck would have it we ended up at a front row table.
Walking along the harbor way we followed the sound of didgeridoo music and found some performers playing right in front of the ferry for the zoo. The ride across the harbor gave us an excellent view of the city and opera house. The best view of Sydney though, belongs to the giraffes and not just because of their long necks. The zoo winds up a cliff across from downtown with twists and turns opening up to vistas of the city incongruously augmented by varieties of exotic fauna like elephants, bearcats, snow leopards and the aforementioned giraffes. We arrived right around lunchtime and all the animals were actively about – even the Komodo dragon was pacing around his enclosure lifting his heavily clawed feet like a sumo wrestler as he anticipated his midday repast.
The koalas though were a little less energetic. It seems their strict eucalyptus leaf diet provides only enough energy to facilitate them being awake for around four hours a day – much like American teenagers these guys prefer to doze through the remaining twenty or so hours .
Hopping off the ferry back in the city at Quay Circle we discover the train lines and inquire as to which train we should take back to our hotel which just happens to be across from the large and sprawling Paddy’s market, (a great landmark for us when asking directions.) Our answer is “All of them – you’re right near Central Station just get out there mate.” Lucky again!
Our hotel, Aaron’s budget and family lodgings, is located on the cusp of Chinatown which presents us with a myriad of Asian restaurants, so we opt for one of the half dozen Vietnamese places near our room. With our bellies full and walking back to our room I see a brightly lit up street around a corner a little over block away. Turns out this is the gateway to Chinatown proper and there is a Friday evening market festival going on complete with dragon dancers and wool socks, three pair for ten bucks!
The next morning we head one stop down the train line and surface near town hall. We stroll through Hyde Park where ibises meander about examining the ground and a twenty-five foot statue of Captain Cook waves in the direction of the harbor. We decide to visit the city of Sydney Museum to get some historical background. This is the closest we come to being lost our whole time in the city – we wander a bit and just as soon as Sara says that maybe we are headed in the wrong direction we turn a corner and are right at the front door like that rugby ball squirting out the back of a scrum. We fill our skulls with Sydney facts. One thing I did not know was that Sydney was R and R destination for Vietnam era American soldiers, this detail documented in a photo exhibition of the Kings Cross neighborhood – Sydney’s answer to the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco during the 60s and 70s.
Afterwards we walk back uptown to our hotel and Sara stops in a few shops on our way. We explore the booths of Paddy’s Market across from our hotel and have a late lunch in the food court of this buzzing facility. We choose from Indian, Chinese, Thai, Greek – the selection like the population of this city seems endless. Back to the room for a quick nap and freshening up and then it’s on the train again, which we are now almost experts at riding, for our show at the Opera House.
The show was a smoky affair (thankfully created by special effects and not cigarettes) even though the title of the piece was “He had too many cigarettes to drink”. The performance was a retrospective of the French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg – someone neither I nor Sara had ever heard of. All the songs were in French but this didn’t make the evening any less enjoyable – the band was amazing and the vocalist Fiona Thorn was just the right combination of torch singer and comedienne. Plus – we were in the front row, at a show in the Sydney opera house – I mean gimme a break, how cool is that?
We noticed that on the way down the turnstiles did not eat our tickets for the train as they had on earlier trips – turns out they were still good for the ride back – another pleasant surprise from a city that we definitely would love to come back to. And now? Right now we are on a bus, motoring our way three hours to Canberra where we are going to be working in a school for a week before heading back up to the northern hemisphere and home.
Let’s hope our luck holds out!