Man In A Suitcase

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'd always wanted to visit Australia and, when no one would send me, went ahead and sent myself. My last visit was in 1994, roughly a year before I was bitten by the web bug. And ever since that last visit I wanted to return. Which I did, finally, in October, 2001, accompanied by the most recent in my long line of digital cameras. On this trip I revisited a couple of old favorites and explored some new territory. One thing is for sure: Australia is a big place with a lot to see:

Sydney, New South Wales

I began my adventures in Sydney, giving myself a chance to explore at leisure and recover from jetlag. (Seems to me that this thing was a lot easier when I was younger.) My first destination was The Rocks, the site of the city's (and country's) original settlement. The Rocks is a good place for tourists to get their bearings, as well as to part with a few hardly earned dollars. It's also a good place to get a first view of Sydney's famous Harbour Bridge, about which more in a moment. Next to The Rocks is Circular Quay, leaping off point for Sydney Harbour ferries and all manner of other watercraft. The ship at right is a replica of the Bounty, not from the classic Charles Laughton film or the Marlon Brando version I remember from my childhood, but from a rather less celebrated Mel Gibson version. Apparently you can take dinner cruises on this Bounty. Do you think beatings cost extra?

You may be surprised to learn that Circular Quay isn't; circular, that is. In fact, it's a semicircle. But Semicircular Quay just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? Which isn't nearly as shocking as Rio de Janeiro not having a rio. But I digress. I wanted to mention that The Rocks is (are?) at one end of the quay and the famous Sydney Opera House is at the other. Which makes a lot more sense with a semi- than with a whole circle. Circles don't have ends, after all. At least they didn't when I was in school; who knows what's happened since.

Among many other destinations, ferries leave Circular Quay every half hour for Taronga Zoo, perhaps the most happily situated zoo in the world. It's a fifteen minute ride across the harbour, followed by a cable car to the top of the hill. All so I could get my picture taken with a koala. Well, maybe not all; I did stop for a look at echidnas, duck-billed platypuses (or is that platypi?), kangaroos, emus and the rest of the antipodean managerie. But there's just something about the koala. Maybe it's kinship; my friend Heather thinks she sees some resemblance between the two of us. As for the koala, he seems remarkably unimpressed with that idea.

Next to the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge (see, I told you I'd get back to it!) is the most instantly recognizable landmark of this city. (Sit on the left side of the plane on the way in and you're likely to get a fine view of both.) This trip, I had a special reason to note the bridge: my travel agent had signed me up to climb the thing. At right you can see a group of worthies approaching the summit; my turn would come the following day at dusk. Surprisingly, my acrophobia remained in check and I thoroughly enjoyed spectacular views of the harbour and the city. Highly recommended for those who don't mind a little exertion. And I do mean little; the welcome center's testimonials include a hundred year old woman, Australia's first heart transplant recipient and those world-class athletes, the Olsen Twins. If they can do it, surely I can!

Most everybody knows about the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. But the Queen Victoria Building is the sort of landmark you pretty much have to visit Sydney to discover. Described by Pierre Cardin as the most beautiful shopping mall in the world, the QVB is four floors of shops and cafes in an elegant setting we don't often see in our less ornate age. The building began life around the turn of the century as a produce market and was almost destroyed in the 1950s to make way for some no doubt eminently forgettable structure. Fortunately, this was a rare case where wiser heads managed to prevail.

Not that I have anything against urban renewal. Darling Harbour is the kind of project that could give planners a good name. A corner of the harbour that had fallen into disuse with the advent of containerized shipping, it was redeveloped in the late 80s as a shopping and entertainment center. The dusk view at left was taken from a nice little restaurant with the unlikely name of Thai Foon, the night scene from the north side pedestrian bridge. You can see the tracks for the Sydney Monorail in the right hand picture, another example of mass transit that must have seemed like a better idea on paper than in practice. Like the Detroit People Mover, the monorail runs in one direction on a loop around downtown. Not the most practical service I've seen, although I did find myself riding it on occasion.

Speaking of mass transit, a new addition to Sydney's network is a light rail line that was built to link the central rail station to some of the Olympic sites. Nowadays it's a great way to get to the fish market, one of the city's more interesting examples of real, as opposed to tourist, life. Sydney has the second largest fish market in the world; only Tokyo boasts a bigger one. I couldn't bring myself to get up in time for the arrival of the catch. So I settled for a fairly wonderful seafood lunch and a visit with a rather self-satisfied looking pelican.

Every summer, all the cities in the Bay Area have their little arts & wine festivals, with food and wine and lots of craft stalls. It's one of the things I like about the place. But I have to say that Sydney's weekend markets are way better. I particularly enjoyed the Paddington Bazaar, held every Saturday on the grounds of a church a half hour's walk east of the central business district. It's a neat collection of professional and just plain goofy, sometimes in the same stall. More touristy but just as much fun was the weekend market back at The Rocks, with more touristy and mass produced junk but the same sense of fun and the feeling that the perfect souvenir might be right around the corner.

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