Australia trip, week 4

Sydney is an amazing town. The vast majority of the population of Australia live in just a few big cities around the coast, and Sydney is the largest. We arrived on March 28th with just a few days to spend there, and it was worth it. Here's what happened.

C and I had schlepped our ukuleles across this continent to entertain ourselves and others, and to attend the two ukulele groups that had schedules that coincided with our itinerary. This worked well in Adelaide where the group meets every week, but the Sydney gathering was apparently canceled without anybody telling us. As the guy who ran the pub exclaimed, “There's a ukulele group meeting tonight? Why doesn't anybody ever tell me these things!” I guess that's because there wasn't actually a gathering after all. After food and a couple of beers, C and I went upstairs to the room where they would nominally play, and we played our songs anyway. It wasn't quite as much fun as it might have been with more people, and it certainly wasn't like I had imagined it, but we had a good time still.

March 29th was a glorious day in Australia. The bay and estuary that forms the topography of Sydney is similar to the Puget Sound, perhaps not as wide, but well serviced by passenger ferries, and we took one to the grounds of the Taronga Zoo, and it was marvelous. Much walking but with fantastic views, because the zoo is situated on the side of a hill overlooking downtown Sydney. The ferry dropped us off at the public dock at water level, and we took an aerial cable car up the steep hill to the zoo entrance. Highlights included the elephant “show”, where the 7 elephants in the enclosure show off skills designed to keep them entertained. There was also an exhibit of the kind of penguin that actually nested in Sydney harbor once upon a time. We didn't see the platypus that was supposedly on exhibit, but we did see a spider show, with the Sydney Funnelweb spider and the Huntsman spider, some of the most deadly to human spiders on the planet safely inside large jars for better showing the public. That's as close as we got to seeing actual poisonous spiders, although our friends the orb spiders were all over the place, obviously not on exhibit but just inhabiting the grounds.

From the ferry on the way to the zoo.

The view from the zoo.

Not on exhibit. It's how they keep the zoo uncrowded.

Ibis and Elephants, and again the skyline.

Liz and her doom.

They really knew where to site their zoo!

All of the penguins that there are.

Tuckered, but still having fun.

From the ferry on the way back to town.

Artsy shot of downtown

The Harbor Bridge

A replica of the HM Bark Endeavor, the ship that Cook used Australia was discovered.

Liz and Ibis. We have pigeons. They have Ibis. It's not fair.

March 30th, another glorious day in Australia. We took a commuter train out of Sydney to Katoomba, a small town situated on top of a tremendous cliff system formed long ago by an upheaval of the ground. It had once been a coal mining community, and a tram car, the steepest in the world, took us to an elevated trail that meandered through the rain forest formed by the cliff face, as well as the actual mine and the old mining encampment. Having walked down this trail, we took another aerial cable car, this one larger than at the zoo, up the hill and back to civilization.

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters is a rock formation formed by the weathering of a knife edge cliff that extended out into the valley with three towers of rock still remaining. One of the aboriginal stories we read explained that three men desired three sisters from a neighboring tribe, but conflict between the groups prevented the men from getting the women. The Clever Man transformed the women into these rock faces so that they would be safe during the ensuing battle. However the Clever Man wasn't so clever after all, as he was killed in the battle, and the three sisters were never able to undo their transformation. Here is a panoramic view of the sisters and the valley below.

Going down

Coming back up

We had lunch that day in the local Returned Service League club. As I explained before, most every town in Australia has a monument to the war dead, and the RSL is where the living can hang out. I imagine it as a combination of an Elks lodge and a Veterans of Foreign Wars club. The rules for entering the club were that you had to live more than 5 Km from the club (and we certainly did!), and that you had to remove your hat during your stay. We signed an entry log and ordered lunch. Stuart and Liz thought that it was funny that the restaurant was of a Chinese type, thinking that it was weird that the Asians were almost the enemy during the last war. I figured that it wasn't so much the Chinese as the Japanese that were the “enemy” during WWII. After all, the Japanese were marching through New Guinea and were poised to invade Australia, having actually bombed Darwin in the north. The Chinese were actually our allies during that war, so a Chinese restaurant in the RSL club wasn't so strange after all. The club had some mementos from WWI, most from WWII, and some from their involvement in the Vietnam conflict.

A funny thing about that last item. Apparently there was a great deal of social conflict in Australia about their involvement in that war, similar to what America was going through at the time. During our stay in Queensland I saw an old geezer interviewing the current Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, asking if Australia's current involvement in the conflict in Libya was similar to the involvement in Vietnam, and was she worried about the social unrest that might result. Ms. Gillard responded that she was too young to remember that unrest, and maybe said old geezer might be in a better position to say. I don't think that she answered a question straightly the whole time I watched the interview!

I managed to replace my pocket knife in Katoomba, having had it confiscated before the flight to Sydney. When you think to yourself, how can somebody forget that they have a knife on their person? remember me. I hadn't bothered to take things out of the pockets of my jeans the previous night and wore them the next day. Of course if I had seen that I had a knife in my pocket I could have realized what I was trying to attempt, and taken the offending items out of my pockets and put them in checked baggage. I never thought of the knife in my pocket until it set off the metal detectors at the airport. Now I'll forever remember that my current knife was bought in Katoomba.

Wildlife of Austraila, some of it just visiting.

Hey, there was more shopping and antiquing to be done in Katoomba, so I did spend some time being bored shitless. I can do my own looking around, but after I've seen it, I've seen it, and dammit, it's time to move on. I was actually instructed to keep Liz out of one shop, but I was threatened with bodily harm, so I let her pass. I grabbed a cup of tea (take out, not to-go), and sat and watched the street life. Then we ducked into a little coffee shop for afternoon tea and cake. This lasted until the people that I was traveling with heard that there were free books to be had from the bookstore down the street that was going out of business and giving them away. There was a mad rush out the door and down the street. Nobody was injured, or at least not seriously, but the time spent getting free books precluded us from doing anything else in town before the train left. As most of the train ride back was in the dark, there was precious little scenery to view, and the time passed slowly. C had me steal some tabloid newspaper from an unoccupied seat, and we discussed what makes a paper a tabloid. “Killer Daddy Sentenced”, and many inches of column space devoted to astrological predictions seem to be a pretty good indicator...

On March 31st, Stuart had a job interview (something about running the country properly or some such), and Liz had made an appointment to get her nails done, thus ending her fledgeling ukulele career. Her loss. C and I went to the Aquarium and Wildlife World that was near our hotel. More so during the aquarium trip, we were surrounded by multiple groups visiting from the local schools. Here's my idea for a sure fire business plan: Offer to sell ear-plugs inside the aquarium. Fifty bucks a piece seems to be a fair price. We were nearly deafened by the cacophony. The exhibits were pretty cool though. A freshwater display showed the yabbies that we had consumed during a previous week. There was a bit saltwater crocodile, but he hardly moved while we watched him. I could have done without the Lego sculptures that seemed to be set up as a major draw to the exhibits though. That, and the aquarium had large displays dedicated to sharks, squids, and flying fish as they might exist in 400, 200, and 100 million years respectively. Sharkopaths truly look like horrible creatures to encounter, but I'm not going to have to worry about them, and neither will my non-existent descendants. I'm also glad I won't be around to see the four ton squids hunting on the land. It was a waste of space and display.

Our glass bottom boat ride.

The view of the boat from below.

Thing one that can kill you.

Thing two that can kill you.

Not the Jones' back yard, but twice the koalas.

April 1st was our last full day in Australia, and we did a bunch of touristy museum things. We had lunch in the Sydney Botanical gardens, not far from Mrs. Macquarie's chair. Later we went to the police and crime museum to learn about Pajama girl, and early crime fighting techniques in Australia. The gift shop did have a fake Ned Kelly head armor hat, but I declined to get one. They also had a stuffed Pomeranian dog whose hairs were crucial evidence in the abduction and killing of a young boy, a story that captured the attention of the nation in the early days of television. As the curator was explaining to the high school students on tour that day, no one could imagine the kidnapping and killing of a child to get a ransom, and that's why kids now are instructed about “Stranger Danger.” I wanted to get a “Stranger Danger” whistle, but I didn't see how I could get one without getting one blown at me.

Matthew Flanders, explorer of Australia.

Trim, Matthew's cat.

The women spent way too much time in yet another antique shop, and Stuart and I found our way to a pub. After the ladies joined us, they went back to the same shop and spent even more time. I was going crazy from boredom, so I went on ahead and bought ferry tickets to Manly Beach. Bondi (Bond-eye) Beach is more famous, but transit doesn't really get you there. Stuart bought us ice cream to tide us over for the long journey. We sat on a bench and watched the surfers for a long time. I'm just not used to the sunset hitting the ocean from behind me, a consequence of being on the East coast of a country by the sea.

On the ferry to Manly Beach

Next stop: South America

We had dinner and chatted some more, and stopped by a chocolate place on the way back to the ferry. The boat returned us to the dock that we had boarded from, but it wasn't really close to where we were living at the time, so we boarded another ferry, and hit all the small stops along the Sydney harborfront on the way to where we wanted to go. One of those stops was at the amusement park on the waterfront, called, what else? but Luna Park. For a Friday night, it didn't look like there was a lot going on. We got off the boat at our dock stop, made one last pass through the shopping mall, and then back to our hotel. An early checkout beckoned.

Not really a ukulele joke, but Gaddafi must go!

I continued my tradition of getting injured in Australia, this time by simply loading baggage into the taxi. There was something sharp on one of the wheels on one of the bags, and I punctured my finger. Tipping is not really heard of in Australia, but I gave the driver a few extra bucks, as he said that he was going to have to wash the cab because I bled on it. That probably wasn't quite true, but what the heck.

Our flight out of Sydney was switched to a different airplane, the scheduled one needing some sort of maintenance. I didn't mind. After all, you can't very well fix the airplane in the air over the mid-Pacific in the dark, so I'd rather have a plane that was properly maintained before it took off. That, and they gave us each 30$ vouchers for use in the airport food courts. We said a tearful goodbye to the adult Jones', as they were leaving from the domestic terminal, and we found ourselves with some time on our hands. We found an observation deck, but it was obnoxiously loud, being open to the air, the runway, and the baggage trucks. We didn't stay there long. We spent one of the vouchers getting some very unsatisfying Italian “like” food, and then we split up, with C watching the luggage while I went duty free shopping. Stuart had told me that we made our duty free purchases which were handed to us upon arrival at our destination. This was not true. Our purchases were handed to us, and off we went. I had wanted to get a bottle of Bundaberg rum, made from the sugar cane we saw in Queensland, and I wanted to get a bottle of scotch for C's mom, who had been watching the cats in our absence. It was obvious that I wasn't from around there, as the clerk asked where I was flying to. Upon being informed that I was flying into America, I was told that customs would only allow 1 liter of spirits per adult into the country. Damn! So I put the scotch back, and bought the rum. It rode in my carry-on luggage on the way back. I could have gotten one of the small bottles and consumed it on the ride. It would have been quite a party. The kicker of all this was that I was never asked or searched at the other end for any quantity of alcohol, so I could have bought the scotch after all!

This was also when I found out that outgoing customs would only give refunds if you could produce the goods you had bought. C had packed all but the expensive opal, so I couldn't get a refund on the stone that I bought for myself. I was only out about 12$, but coupled with the impatience that I had suffered through for the last few weeks on her account, I then took my own 30$ voucher and sat at the oyster bar, getting three raw ones and two glasses of sparkling wine. And I enjoyed them too, despite my guilt for doing so.

Did I mention that it's a long way to Australia? Well, it's a long way back too. I went to the lav in the dark of the night, only to see that somebody had gotten sick in one of the sinks. Why can't people throw up in the toilet where it can properly and easily be disposed of? Instead, some poor schmuck had to go and wipe up the mess. The attendant was none too pleased, and declared that it was a job that would require gloves...

The plane landed at San Francisco, and while we waited for the rest of the plane to disembark (we were in the very back. Again!), I chatted up the attendant there about their opinions of Boeing vs. Airbus planes. The consensus of the two that I talked to was that, while they preferred the location of the Airbus crew rest quarters, being near the center of the aircraft and therefore being less subject to being tossed out of their bunk, they actually preferred Boeing airplanes. One of them said that the 747 was a creaky old bastard, but they had more confidence in it actually making it to its intended destination.

The Southwest Airline gates in San Francisco were quite crowded. It turns out that this was the day of the 737 that had decided to go convertible, and many planes in their fleet had been taken out of service for a quick inspection. We flew on Alaska, so we weren't affected, but our flight was still full. I actually had a great seat that allowed my legs to extend out, and I fell asleep with my head against the bulkhead. This is not recommended, as it twisted my head to the side, and threatened to stick that way. We arrived at Sea-Tac, and I had to dig my sweater out of my luggage. After a month in Paradise, it was fricking cold. Between the climate change and the possibility of a carrier on the flight, C and I have both come down with flu / cold like symptoms. We can't seem to get out of bed before noon, or sleep well once we get in. This has been a real problem, what with my returning to work and all. As tired as we were in week three, we're ready to ditch our current life and go back forever, venomous butterflies or no.

Thus endith the story.

Or does it? Continue to The Great Australian Adventure, a query...

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This document was last modified on April 8, 2011, and has been viewed countless times.