Excitement ran high, driving to Sydney on a rainy day, downhill all the way from the Blue Mountains at over 1000m to sea level. This was always going to be a great day. An early omen of greatness was seeing The Ghan chugging alongside us, parallel to the road. This huge train normally runs from Adelaide to Darwin through the red centre but clearly it also goes to Sydney. The two engines at the front and the iconic crest of the cameleer and the name further pumped the adrenalin. https://www.greatsouthernrail.com.au/trains/the-ghan
We installed ourselves on a campsite in Miranda, south of the city but near the T4 train line. An unglamorous campsite, it hosts mostly permanent campers, giving it a more “lived-in feel”, functional.
It was already the middle of the afternoon when we decided to set off into town with charged Opal (transport charge) cards in hand. A 40 mins train ride to the CBD later and we got off at Martin Place, the financial centre. We walked down Macquarie Street where many of the bombastic civic buildings are. It remained overcast unfortunately but that was only a minor nuisance as I was intoxicated with Sydney fever. High on life! We walked down Macquarie St to the Domain and through the Royal Botanic Gardens, round Government House and then suddenly, in front of us was the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
Taking hunners of photos, I spotted the Queen Elizabeth, the Cunard vessel, docked at the International Passenger Terminal. This was reminiscent of the Queen Mary 2 on which we sailed from Southampton to New York as a late honeymoon in 2015, just before I emigrated. It was also meant as a carrot for me after releasing my adventure husband to go to Macquarie Island just after the wedding in 2014. That never happened as my readers know due to yon health issues.
Anyhow,… I needed a pee so we went inside the Opera House. Even the “Ladies” are nicely designed, with wavey doors, reminiscent of the movement of the sails of the Opera House itself. As you can imagine, there was a competition for the design of the Opera House before it was built. Most of the designs submitted seem so pedestrian whereas the chosen design exudes optimism, movement and vibrancy, which is so symbolic of Australia itself.
Here is a link to the other, the losing designs:
For a laugh we went to the Box office to see if there were any last minute tickets for that night and were told that there were two tickets in the front and the second row of the stalls, one behind the other, for the show Through a Glass Onion narrated and sung by John Waters and with Stewart D’Arrietta on piano and vocals. Overspilling with happiness, we were! So we hopped to the quay, bought fish and chips and spent the remaining time catching the ferry to Manly Island and back. This took us out to the edge of the harbour bay as Manly lies at the north head of the bay where the sea was decidedly choppier that inside the bay itself.
On returning to the harbour we headed to the Opera House, had ourselves a cup of tea and then headed into the playhouse. The show was a John Lennon Bio with John Waters impersonating Lennon, giving insight into Lennon’s mind, life and career through a skein of narration and skilfully interwoven Beatles and solo songs. This was done very successfully, especially as Waters’ voice is similar to Lennon’s and, together with D’Arrietta’s, they sounded like Lennon-McCartney.
When we came out of the Opera House we looked for the QE, which was illuminated like a Christmas tree. I checked with the port authority website when it was due to leave as it looked like it was ready to go. I found out that it had come from Burnie in Tasmania (we were there a couple of weeks ago!) and was going to sail next to Milford Sound in New Zealand. I just told Roddy that it was due to leave now when we saw it move. Slowly it reversed away from the pier sideways towards the Harbour Bridge and when it was side on to the open bay, it used its bow thrusters to push its front around, so that its bow was facing the open bay. It was a knuckle biter as it looked as if it was going to crash into the top of the harbour bridge. It reminded me of that time on the QM2 when we sailed into NY harbour and the captain had to time it so that the ship passed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at low tide as the ship was too tall otherwise. When we came in in the grey light of dawn, we heard all the trucks and cars on the bridge toot their horns. At first we thought that there was a traffic problem until we realised that they were welcoming the QM2 into NY harbour!
After thrusting its way round 90 degrees, the QE gingerly navigated its way past the Opera House and into the open bay through its deepest channels, no doubt. Everyone on the quay was watching and taking photographs just like us and the passengers on the QE took their last photos of Sydney. Suddenly some passengers on board cheered over to us and we cheered over to them, everyone beaming with sheer happiness and exhilaration at the joy of the moment. You can’t imagine how happy we were to have experienced this fullest of days that gave us so many new impressions and experiences that we could not have foreseen when we woke up in the morning. We took the late train back to Miranda and didn’t even mind the many cockroaches we saw at the train station and on the walk to the campsite –never had that experience before, maybe it’s a Sydney thing. But where there are golden moments, there must be some cockroaches.
The next day we took the train to Milson’s Point and walked back over the Harbour Bridge watching, with respect, the bridge climbers. We were not in the mood for a bridge climb ourselves and celebrated instead with an elaborate cake in a French café in The Rocks instead chatting with an earnest Swedish couple. The Rocks is the oldest part of Sydney on the southern end of the Harbour Bridge. It used to be populated by sailors and prostitutes, rife with disease. After having almost been demolished in the 70s, it is now a popular trendy boho area as is often the case.
Sydney harbour is bristling with activity. Ferries go from Circular quay to many of the small islands and inlets. Additionally you can see the huge ocean liners of which there seems to be a new one every day and, of course, the many water taxis and private sailing and motor boats. The NSW Opal card can be used on all forms of transport which encouraged us to use the ferries for the sightseeing value and the thrill of being on the water. Balmain was one of our destinations, a very short ferry ride inland to this rather posh suburb which feels as far away from the city as can be. No doubt out of the financial reach of most people.
The Sydney Tower offered us a grand view of the city and helped to put everything in perspective. Together with a study of the town map it allowed us to get a decent idea where everything was, plus some amazing views.
Apart from the obvious sights we like to also walk some less beaten tracks, so Roddy chose Lakemba as a destination for our lunch one day. Lakemba is south-west of the centre and has one of the highest Arabic and Bangladeshi Muslim populations in Australia. The main street had an oriental feel with numerous grocery stores, as well as fruit, vegetable and clothes shops. Alongside those were Lebanese and Bangladeshi eateries and cafes selling exotic sweets made with milk powder. Roddy bought half the shop! We had lunch in a small place that had only two options: spicy mutton soup or Biryani with either chicken or goat. Very authentic! It’s one of the things I love about Australia, the way people from all over the world live side by side. No doubt there is racism here in Australia, as there is anywhere, and it is something that is being addressed to a degree, albeit not enough. The prevailing culture needs to change, but things aren’t really any better in Germany or the UK.
The reason why Roddy and his first wife chose to emigrate to Australia was because they had had a series of nannies to look after their daughter Alex when they lived and worked in London. Two of these nannies came from Australia. Alex was sad when they left, so she was promised that the family would visit them in Australia. In 1987 they flew over, visited the two nannies and fell in love with the country. On returning to London, they applied for their visas and emigrated in 1989. Kerry was one of the nannies and Roddy had not seen her since 1987 but we met up with her and her partner Terry in Sydney for lunch. We spent a few very nice hours at the boat club, reminiscing and getting to know each other.
Roddy fancied a quiet time in the van afterwards but I felt my time in Sydney slip away and wanted to squeeze out the last drop, so I took myself off into the city despite the ever worsening rain. Honestly! Is this even Australia?
I stumbled out of Town Hall train station and straight into the amazing Queen Victoria Building, the QVB (Aussies love their acronyms) which I had admired from the outside.
It was built in the late 19thcentury as a splendid market place. It’s huge, covering a whole block. With hundreds of independent shops as well as some upmarket chains and designer shops, it was the perfect place to explore on a rainy day. My eyes were drawn to the wares but also to the stained glass window to mosaic floors and to the amazing, if slightly dusty, Great Australian Clock. While I gazed at it I was aware of stirring piano play some way along. I realised that it was someone’s version of Bohemian Rhapsody and looked up. A young man wearing a hat sat at a grand piano playing his fingers off. I stopped and listened. A sign by the piano invited shoppers to play. This suggested that this young man was not a professional but he should have been. I listened until the end and spoke with him when he got up. He was a construction worker and came from São Paulo in Brasil. He told me he often takes his keyboard into the CBD or the beach and plays in his hi-vis builders clobber, hat on the ground. He gave me his card and I added him on Facebook because I am intrigued to find out what path he will follow. Still enthralled by the music I went back onto the streets but the weather was still malfunctioning so I went home.
Can the weather we have had be representative of late summer weather on the east coast? Dreams of swimming at Bondi beach were fading as the skies were grey and drizzly. The background to my photos is grey too against the white sails of the Opera House! We discussed our ongoing journey after watching the weather forecast. There was talk of cyclone Oma activity north of Sydney – which is the direction we are travelling in. The warming of the oceans leads to an unloading of energy towards the end of summer, resulting in tremendous storms. Inland was bracing itself for a heatwave while we were looking at rainy skies. The thought of hitting a cyclone in a motorhome prompted me to think of alternative routes but Roddy, who has experienced cyclones in Port Hedland, said that we should just go to Bunnings (B&Q; Bauland equivalent), buy some strong rope and star pickets (cyclone worthy “tent” pegs) to tie the motorhome down. Alright then, rattle and shake. I guess the Gecko would rip out the star pickets if I suddenly changed my mind and drove off.
We did enjoy a day at Bondi after all, when the weather improved on the last day. After a great morning at the Rock markets, we took the train to Bondi junction and the bus to the beach. Thinking that this might be one overrated beach, I was blown away by it. It was pumping! Yes there were quite a lot of people compared with some beaches we have seen but it was nowhere near as busy as the beaches on the Great Ocean Road and the surf was amazing. Four rows of waves would break at once, the lifeguards had their work cut out making sure everyone was safe. They stood four deep in the water to make sure no one drifted too far towards the rocks. The water of the Pacific Ocean is so much warmer than the Southern or the Indian Oceans, balmy almost, and the sand is golden, nicely medium grained.
The promenade was equally interesting. A beauty pageant with a difference was taking place. The Curls and Curves pageant featured women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities and encouraged them to voice their opinions on diverse issues such as body image and domestic violence. Roddy loved it every bit as much, if not more than me, as he has a thing for a bit of blubber, or so he says. Wise man!
I had not expected to love Sydney as much as I did, even though I was hoping I would. Does this make sense? Roddy had said that it was like London with a beach, hectic and loud, crammed and arrogant. I guess living and working in this city would be a nightmare as the traffic is so bad and there really are too many people but I loved the buzz. Sydney has a population of just over 5 Mio; Melbourne is just under that figure, but Melbourne feels a lot calmer. I loved the vibe in Melbourne. It was cool, relaxed, interesting and cultured. It has beautiful buildings, and groovy corners and lanes. Sydney, though, has the X-Factor. Not as easy to live in but you just cannot beat the sight of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. That harbour itself is just so thrillingly beautiful. Water everywhere makes for such a vibrant, energetic atmosphere and you feel you are close to nature even though you are in the middle of one of the largest cities. Sydney, I will be back!
Some last photos: