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Soggy in Sydney

Sydney, Australia

Sydney was wet and windy when we arrived but neither the adverse weather conditions nor the fact that I had only managed half an hour sleep and consequently felt like my brain was functioning on an even more basic level than usual would stop me from exploring this city. We only had three days to take in as much of Australia as possible so when we stumbled across the Australia Museum just a few blocks from our hostel we wandered in happily.

We were given a brief but informative education in the struggles of the Aborigines, the spectacular array of deadly animals that Australia has to offer (they were kind enough to break them up into groups: "Things that will kill you in the sea", "Things that will kill you in your garden", "Things that will kill you for going anywhere near them" and so on), dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, and various other Australian inhabitants past or present. I wandered from exhibit to exhibit trying to keep myself awake and dreaming up elaborate deaths for the hundreds of schoolchildren who ran around the museum screaming like banshees.

We stopped in Chinatown for a familiar fried rice dish (I later wondered why we did that) and eventually found ourselves at Darling Harbour where we wanted to visit the aquarium. The entrance fee was excessive even for Sydney so we decided to go somewhere else. Maybe it was the tiredness but our next move seemed to be even more ridiculous than looking for a Chinese meal after 2 months in Asia. We went, instead, to the casino. To be fair our losses were minimal, we played a couple of $1 machines, not daring to make the bold saunter over to the card tables. We did quietly sneak up to them though, and spent a fascinating half hour or so watching players throw away hundreds of pounds at a time!

I'm not joking, there were tables in this casino, quite a few of them and all full up, where each game cost a hundred quid! Every now and then a player would be graced with an exciting but altogether inadequate reward for their persistence. It was crazy! And for some reason they were all asian. I assumed this was because asian businessmen went there to waste a bit of their ridiculous salary but the people in there were not businessmen. Many looked younger than me and almost as shabby. A few days after this I overheard a waitress explaining the logic of her gambling addiction. I drew my pad like a cowboy in a showdown and scribbled her exact words:

"We work all week, take money and go to casino. Double money. If we no win, take money home."

This was my first time at such a big and fancy casino but I'm pretty sure when you lose you don't get to take your money back home with you. Anyway, by the time we left the casino it was raining hard and we marched back to the hostel in our anoraks, stopping on the way to get some food.

We found a pub where they offer a steak and a beer for a reasonable price so decided to treat ourselves. I figured it would probably be a Wetherspoons standard - a kind of grisly sliver of something that could be mistaken for beef as long as you drink the beer and ideally a few others first. I was pleasantly surprised. In fact my steak was so beautifully fat, juicy and pink in the middle that I took a photo of it. When it dawned on me that for fifteen minutes I had done nothing but dozily grunt "nice one" a few times and stare at my empty plate, I realised I probably needed to catch up on some sleep.

As often happens in these shared dorm situations, this was an impossibility. Not because we were being kept up by random foreign voices, that was the next day, but because we met a friendly group of Dutch travelers (I refrained from a demonstration of my socially ignorant Dutch guy impression) who invited us to try kangaroo, which they were having for dinner. Obviously after my steak I was not particularly hungry but there is always room for kangaroo on your first night in Oz. I recommend it to anyone.

The second and third days were to be plagued by rain. We had planned to visit Manly and see some of Sydney's beach life but this was not to be. Instead we poked around various exhibitions and tourist sites. Noticing that the rain had stopped we quickly climbed Sydney Tower (actually we were taken up in a lift but that doesn't have the same ring to it) which gave us an amazing panoramic view of the city landscape. Like Hong Kong, Sydney's position on the sea front adds to its beauty, particularly when viewed from above. From the tower we could see the Harbour Bridge and our first glimpse of the iconic Opera House.

Our second glimpse came when we visited Sydney Zoo. The zoo is placed away from the main city and to see it you have to get a ferry out the harbour, which means we got to have a good look at the Opera House as it coasted past... It was a lot smaller than I had imagined but then maybe I am just a giant. Is it me or have Magnums also become quite small? When I was young they were monstrous great ice-creams and now they seem pretty tame. Anyway, I did find myself wondering why it had taken fourteen years to build but at the same time I was quietly moved by being in the company of such a distinguished landmark.

The zoo was the best zoo I have ever seen - it's location gives it a city backdrop so everywhere you turn you find a nice view of Sydney. You can even take photos of giraffes with the Opera House in the background. And I did. For about fifteen minutes until I got a half decent one and realised Josh was long gone. The highlight of the zoo (and here I must apologise to the impressive tigers, hippos, bears, alligators and koalas) was watching and, I confess, filming two tortoises having sex. The awkward, fatigued thrusts of the male and the distant, resigned expression of the female created a scene in the otherwise very restrained reptile house which had me shaking with laughter.

We went out for a burger with a fellow Brit and Brightonian, Cara, who has been living in Sydney for the last year and showed us Newtown, a trendy district in the south of the city that she now called home. Its inhabitants reminded me very much of Brighton and parts of London - skinny jeans, vintage clothes and hats were everywhere. The burger itself also deserves a mention, not only because it was huge and delicious (Sydney seem to be particularly good at burgers, steak, pies and kebabs) but because it comes with an ingenious little cardboard device which you fold into shape and use to hold your burger as you push it into your face. Back in our part of town which, I should mention, was the red light district, we had a wander around and not being in the mood for a fight or a lapdance decided we were better off going to bed.

On our last day we visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales which was really impressive and cast an eye over the market stalls of Chinatown which weren't. With an early flight the next day we decided our last night could be no better spent than watching the new Terminator movie in the Sydney iMax. This idea ultimately failed because, unforgivably, the Sydney residents are presumed to be more interested in the new Star Trek movie (haven't they given up on those yet?!). With sheets of rain cascading down we ate a huge pizza each and, deciding that the cinema was still a good idea, found our way to a nice little art cinema which was showing Gomorrah. It wasn't the iMax, but it was still a big film. Next stop Fiji.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on May 31, 2009 from Sydney, Australia
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Rain, Museum, Casino and Kangaroo

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Shoulda seen Star Trek - it was actually pretty enjoyable (worth it for the Eastern European character 'Chekov' alone)

permalink written by  Nickon on June 8, 2009

Just came across this blog from your writing blog. Great writeup about Sydney.

It's easy to fall in love with the place, especially if you arrive in the Summer and it isn't too hot. It happened to me when I came here on my working holiday visa and 5 years later I'm still here!

permalink written by  Paul on September 4, 2016

Just as an addendum to the above, it's a shame that the weather was poor during your trip. Really spoils the Sydney experience.

permalink written by  Paul on September 4, 2016

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