Australia Day 5- Blue Mountain Blogging

Today’s entry finds me in Katoomba, amidst the Blue Mountains, about 2 hours inland by train from Sydney. I was sorry to leave the city– I could easily spend two weeks just there, but in the interests of seeing all I can, it was time to move on. And there were aspects of my Sydney stay that I was ready to leave behind, like my hotel, which had a certain “charming ambience” exemplified by the solicitations for gay sex that were etched into every stall door in the communal bathroom. At least I had my own bedroom; I’m staying in a dormitory-style hostel now. It’s easier to meet people this way, though, and harder to be lonely.

My last day in Sydney took me to Taronga Zoo, which was much like any other zoo, except for the view it provided– since it was on the hills of the harbor opposite the Opera House, the entire zoo looked out over a full view of central Sydney’s skyline (the giraffes had an especially good view, and not just because of their long necks).

There was one particular section where kangaroos, wallabies, and emus wandered loose in a large enclosure that visitors could walk through, which meant a kangaroo with a joey in its pouch might come up and sniff your leg, or if you left your belongings lying on a rock in order to take a picture, they might get attacked by emus (this actually happened to a Japanese tourist, when an emu tried to eat his umbrella).

After strolling through the zoo and dodging the hordes of hyperactive, screaming schoolchildren who were also there (some things are constants in human society, and one of them is the behavior of kids in large groups), I made my way back to central Sydney, then out of Sydney into the mountains.

After spending the morning hiking through tourist-laden but beautiful forest paths and along spectacular cliffsides, I’m now back in the hostel, resting my feet, which reached their limit, oh, I’d say sometime in the afternoon of Day 1.

Australia Day 3- On Winging It, Wickedly

I said in my first Australia that there might not be an entry for every day. I did not, however, say there wouldn’t be days with multiple entries…

One nice thing about travelling, particularly by yourself, is the ability to change or make plans instantly, on whatever whim strikes you. Like how, tonight, after dining at what was recommended to me as the best Thai restaurant in Sydney (a neat little hole in the wall with way better food than you’d think), I was strolling through the area, seeing what there was to see, when my path happened to take me by the Capitol Theatre, where the Australian production of “Wicked” was in its first week of playing. A half hour later, the play is starting, and I’m seated in the center of the eighth row from the stage. Fun times.

By the way, the production was awesome, and I was particularly drawn to the story. The best villains are always the heroes of their own story, so purely as a storytelling exercise, I loved the way a stereotypical evil villain was re-written into a fully fleshed out, “good” (in multiple senses of the word) character. I should really go read the novel that the musical was based on. But did I mention how awesome the production was?

(On a side note, I learned that Australian actors, when singing in musicals, do not have a noticeable accent. Either they suppress it, or they just don’t sing with one. I was kind of disappointed.)

Australia Day 3- Manly Blog Entry

Manly is a section of Sydney north of the harbor, stretching from well inland to where the harbor empties into the Pacific Ocean, and let me state for the record that it’s a great name for a place. I wanted to take pictures of me flexing my arms in front of every sign I saw. Let’s take the Manly Ferry to the Manly Wharf, and stop by the Manly Visitor Center! Maybe we’ll visit the Manly Art Gallery! Grrr! It gives me a testosterone rush just thinking about it.

In this case, the name was given because the British officer who first met the natives here was impressed by how manly they were. More places should have adjectives for names: “Let’s go visit Awesome today!” “Nah, I’d rather drive over to Totally Kickass.”

Anyway, I was there to hike the Manly Scenic Walkway, a nine-kilometer (45 furlong) walk from the beach on the Pacific, following the harbor shoreline through various subdivisions a national park. It’s really a good way to get an idea of how absolutely massive Sydney harbor is. Most people who’ve never been here only see the pictures of central Sydney, with the bridge and the opera house, and think that’s all there is. I know I did. As it turns out, that’s just one little nook of the harbor, which is actually fairly far inland from the actual harbor opening. Most of the harbor has almost a Mediterranean vibe to it, with red-roofed houses intermixed with greenery along the hills of the shoreline. There are enough million-dollar homes surrounding the harbor to make Malibu blush, and it’s obvious why– virtually every view has me snapping pictures, and the water is remarkably clear.

The Manly Scenic Walkway winds along the edge of high-class neighborhoods, past marinas full of sailboats, then into Sydney Harbour National Park, a section of fairly unspoiled wilderness sitting smack dab in the middle of the bustling city, winding its way past empty, pristine beaches and culminating a climb up to the top, which gives you as close to a full view of the harbor as you’ll get. (There is no 360-degree view that lets you take in the entire harbor. It’s too big.) A lot of wildlife here, too… a Kookaburra sitting on the railing lets me get within a few feet, and several goannas sun themselves on the path. At the top, a black-and-white bird noisily insists that I share my granola bar with him, so I do.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a day. My only complaint is that the Welsh tourism board is apparently in charge of signage. (Not really; that’s an in-joke that only my Dad will get.) Suffice it to say, getting lost was a common occurrence, but hey, that’s what makes exploring interesting.

Australia Day 1- Travails of Jet Lag

This is the first in several entries on Australia. There won’t be one for everyday, just whenever a good blog entry pops into my head. I’m also going to back-date them to the day they happened.

Australia. Oz. Down Under. It’s a place everybody claims they want to go, but very few people actually do- which is a shame. I mean, aside from the cost of a plane ticket and a 24-hour plane ride, why the heck not? Even the plane ride isn’t that bad these days, what with a library of movies, music, and TV shows at your own personal beck and call through the entertainment system. Just be sure to get an aisle seat (which I did), and get up frequently… which I did, but mainly because my digestive system was busy “filing complaints,” shall we say.

I had also procured some sleep medication, because if there’s one thing I’m not good at, it’s sleeping on planes. It’s like every possible discomfort is magnified threefold, whether it’s my back digging into the armrest, or the little kid shrieking ten rows up. (Side note: a surprising number of people think it’s worth it to fly to Australia with little kids.) (Side-side note: Ear plugs are awesome.) (Side-side-side note: now back to your regularly scheduled programming.)

The sleeping pill I took is supposed to give you eight hours of sleep. It gave me 3. So 15 hours later, I landed in Sydney (25 hours after taking off from RDU), I had gotten maybe 4.5 hours of sleep. And it was 6:40 am– a full day loomed ahead.

Said day started with an hourlong wait in the customs line. They take customs VERY seriously in Australia, to the point that I had to declare the granola bars in my backpack, and they asked if I was carrying any uneaten food from the airplane (because if there’s one thing worth saving for later, it’s airline food). Still, it’s understandable: non-native animals, plants, and diseases have a long history of wreaking havoc with the ecosystem (just Google “Australia rabbits” for an example).

So once I got through customs and got my bag (which made it- a minor miracle in and of itself), I found myself in Sydney. I took the train into the city center– the Sydney subway has double-decker train cars– and found myself at the hotel with more than four hours before check-in time, still somewhat dazed from the flight. What to do? I left my bag at the hotel and decided to start walking.

The day was sunny, cloudless, thirty degrees Celsius (or in Fahrenheit, “really nice”). I headed north, toward the harbor, along the paths of Hyde Park, with incredibly old trees lining the path. These were clearly trees that had been around since Sydney was a small penal colony on a pristine, wild harbor.
The path continued, past ornate fountains and palm trees that looked like they’d been shipped straight from Miami, until I saw a pair of white sails in the distance. They disappeared as I cut West, between a pair of apartment buildings, following no particular guide except my own feet, and suddenly I found myself at the water’s edge, facing Sydney Harbour Bridge in all its gray metallic glory. I made my way down the harbor’s edge, past restaurants and shops and the few people out and about on a Sunday morning, and found the sails again– except now they’ve resolved into the shape of the Sydney Opera House, glistening white in the morning Sun.

So there I am, standing on the edge of one of the greatest harbors on Earth, Sun overhead in a blue, cloudless sky, sea breeze in my face, in full of view of two of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. I can practically feel my batteries recharging as I stand there. Jet lag? What jet lag?