We didn’t get up as early as many people did on ANZAC day. Those people went to the dawn service at the Australian War Memorial (a typical thing to do) and got to see the royals in attendance (a not-so-typical thing). But Pretty Boy and I did get up pretty early enough that Friday to catch a Greyhound bus to Sydney. It was a 3.5 hour ride from city center to city center.
The bus ride was nice in that we got to see more of the country side, including a lot of the elevation changes and we had wifi on the bus; but less nice in that the toilet in the back of the coach smelled like toilet cleaner and the driver made liberal and jerk-y use of engine breaking. It was a good experience to have though, because we can now factor it in when, in the future, we make decisions about whether to pay more in money for plane tickets or pay more in time and comfort for bus tickets when traveling around Australia.
We arrived in Sydney in the rain at midday without rain gear or much of a plan. My cousin from the States, O, was arriving with her friend, C (also from the States but studying in Brisbane), later that afternoon so we were planning on bumming around and exploring while we waited to meet up with them. The morning rush to get to the bus station on time, the long bus ride, the rainy weather, insufficient bus snackies, and the holiday closure of most shops and restaurants in Sydney made me and Pretty Boy rather crabby initially. We navigated the few blocks to get to nearby Chinatown and crabbed at each other until we found a good cup of Hong Kong style nai cha (milk tea) and some dim sum to eat. Only then were we able to hug out the crabbies.
Even though we hugged out the crabbies, the rain was really getting us down so we decided to walk over to the hotel to rest and just wait for O and C there. By the time they arrived, the rain and our crabbies had completely cleared up! The plan for Friday evening was pre-dinner drinks somewhere in Darling Harbor and then dinner on a harbor cruise. The bars around Darling Harbor were pretty crazy and packed with partying servicemen and good smelling food to taunt us. The cruise around Sydney harbor provided us with the iconic, nighttime views of the Sydney Opera House and surrounding Circular Quay, the Sydney Harbour and the Rocks neighborhood, and the North Shore neighborhoods opposite the Opera House. And food. And rocking Latin pop music.
Saturday, our moods and the weather were much more cooperative. On multiple recommendations, O, Pretty Boy, and I decided to take the train to Circular Quay to grab a ferry to Cockatoo Island and see the 19th Biennale of Sydney. Circular Quay is a hopping dock where many ferries stop. Cockatoo Island was formally a prison and shipbuilding yard that has been preserved and turned into kind of an island museum. It was really cool seeing all the old buildings and equipment for shipbuilding, but also terribly creepy since everything was quiet and still and huge and run down. Pretty Boy loved it and said it would make an amazing Call of Duty level or giant haunted park location.
The Biennale is a “contemporary visual arts festival” where modern artists set up exhibitions mostly on Cockatoo Island but also at other locations around Sydney. We just visited the Cockatoo Island installations. We walked around and saw most of the 30 some exhibitions on Cockatoo (except for the videos because we just didn’t have the patience for that). In typical modern art fashion, some of the exhibits were super cool and some were pretty strange and many were both. We walked; we saw; O photographed; we breaked for snackies. It was fun. I definitely would recommend seeing a biennale if you get the chance.
After the Biennale, we returned to Circular Quay and went to the Sydney Opera House. I never realized that the opera house was yellow-cream colored and not blue-gray colored as pictures had always lead me to believe. I also never realized that the roof of the opera house was tiled and not smooth and continuous, also as pictures had lead me to believe. It really is quite stunning, and as C aptly observed, it can look completely different depending on the angle its viewed from. I think that’s awesome. We ate a tasty and huge late lunch at the Opera House Cafe underneath the boardwalk, with live music and a view of the harbor.
Pretty Boy had his first Australian fish and chips at the Opera House Cafe. I shared his chips; they were delicious. I had Turkish bread and dips and some side veggies. The dips included holiday/winter-spiced pumpkin, Mediterranean-spiced eggplant, and raisin and beet chutney. Beets seem quiet popular here and I am happily enjoying beets in all their incarnations. Still making the adjustment in my mind that we are heading into winter so winter produce and spices, like pumpkin and nutmeg, are becoming prevalent.
The Royal Botanic Gardens (different from the Australian National Botanical Gardens) are right next to the Sydney Opera House, and we took a brief stroll around a small part of the gardens before encountering a huge spider and then saying goodbye to O and C, who were headed to the airport to fly back to Brisbane. The Royal Botanic Gardens are more like a public park with big grass lawns and some signage about the flora and fauna, while the National Botanical Gardens is much more of a botanical exhibit with different geographically sections and lots and lots of plants.
Pretty Boy and I still had a few hours before our bus back to Canberra so we walked around the Rocks neighborhood on the opposite side of Circular Quay from the opera house before heading back to the bus station. The Rocks is super cool and swank and appealed to all my high-end, cute-boutique culinary, fashion, and lodging tastes. We didn’t patronize any of the establishments there, but its definitely high on my list for when we go back.
After the first day in Sydney, Pretty Boy and I weren’t so sure about it: its struck us as a travel destination but didn’t pull at our hearts like the places we’ve really grown to love, but after the second day, I think we really got to experience some of the charm of Sydney and we both felt like it was a place we could love. It was at times like all of the places I/we already love: kind of like the Twin Cities and kind of like San Francisco and kind of like Europe and kind of like Hong Kong, in the best ways.