A Travellerspoint blog

Wednesday 16th June - On The Rocks

sunny 20 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Having been in Sydney nearly two weeks, it is high time we did the Rocks properly. This is a small area just below the Harbour Bridge and is the most historical bit of Sydney as well as a very up-and-coming place to be seen. Lots of craft, jewellery, opal and 'Australian wares' shops enclosed in colonial Victorian architecture line the streets and although the district is small, there is lots to explore. We find an old wooden mall and descend into it - this turns out to be the Metcalfe Arcade, with an Aussie gift shop, a pancake house, a bead shop and a candle emporium. The whole place feels like it's in a time warp, everything is made of wood and stone, with slim, shaded pavements and traditional colours.

Next we find an Aboriginal art gallery, not a particularly rare sight in Sydney these days but it probably was until fairly recently. Unfortunately Australia is about 50 years behind where Britain is in racism - only this morning was a news story involving a coach in the Australian Football League named Andrew Johns, having called Timana Tahu, an Aboriginal member of his own team, such names that he forced Tahu's decision to simply walk out of camp. We're not talking casual prodding either - names of the 'black see-you-next-tuesday' variety. Yet the morning papers tell us that New South Wales is only 50-50 as to whether this was wrong or not, a staggering figure in this modern world. Reportedly this is the fifth or sixth occurrence of these types of comments, aimed at various people in the AFL, and somehow the man still has his job and is actually being defended by some of the media who insist he is "not a stupid man". I disagree - anyone who honestly believes skin colour dictates character clearly isn't a genius. However, there is a long history of this sort of behaviour - Australia only recognised that they hadn't colonised terra nulla ("empty land") in 1992.

But fortunately attitudes are changing, slowly, and Sydney looks to be seeing an influx of Aboriginal art. It is lovely to look at, almost impressionist in it's construction with hundreds of tiny dots of paint on didgeridoos, pottery, glass, canvas and wood. We spend a good half hour in the small shop admiring the craft. Next door is another craft shop featuring finely hand-stitched lace, wire sculptures, enamel jewellery, basketry, pewter and leather. I toy with the idea of buying a hevy canvas wall hanging for the flat, before Fred tactfully reminds me: "Like that'd fit in the suitcase."

It's time for lunch. Having looked through about 14 menus at various restaurants and watering-holes we settle on a little place with a raised walk called The Vintage Cafe, on Nurses' Walk. The menu is not extensive but they have good teas and coffees and a few nice light lunches - Fred opts for meatballs while I have a barramundi fillet (national fish of Australia, and all that.) It takes 20 minutes to cook, coated in sea salt (skin on) and roasted but when it arrives it is very good eating indeed, perfect portion size, not too moist and not dry. Perfecto - we give the chef our compliments as we leave. I think I am definitely becoming a foodie - now if only I were any sort of cook...

More cheques changed up, we head for the city again, tripod shopping. A lazy afternoon is spent on George and Pitt Streets and Harbourside shopping mall, I buy a tee shirt and Fred buys some ice cream. Harbourside is stacked full of sweet shops selling candy floss, toffee and caramel apples, liquorice Allsorts and even a "British Sweetshop" with Black Jacks, lemon sherbets, Munchies and, of all things, Pot Noodle. It makes for an easy afternoon in the warm sun and we leave at dusk for home, and another barbecue courtesy of my esteemed father (and Fred on vegetables) and some rugby league.

Posted by fredginger 01:27 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Tuesday 15th June - Manly And Vivid Sydney

17 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Our morning begins by changing up traveller's cheques - wandering into Money Exchange by Circular Quay, we request $370 dollars' worth of cheques. "You'll get back $240." Two-hundred-and-forty?! I think not. We find a bank around the corner who worriedly inform us that there will be a $7 fee - that's more like it. Moneyed up, we head up George St for some shopping.

At the top of George St. stands the Queen Victoria Building - first constructed in 1888 in honour of the monarch and restored in 1986 in honour of someone's wallet. It is a gorgeous colonnaded building spanning about a hundred metres lengthways and three floors upwards and packed with designer shops and trendy eateries. There are a few more interesting places however like an Antique Print & Mapmaker, hidden in a corner on the top floor and selling archaic and modern maps, globes and calligraphic implements. It is a very pleasant place to walk around and to shop in, if you've got money to burn and appreciate Aussie design (which is not bad, incidentally).

After leaving QVB, we hit another Victorian shopping outlet, the Strand Arcade. In contrast to the space and height of the QVB it is tiny, all dark wood and small boutiques and stocking all sorts of novelties, curios and knickknacks, from china figurines to rare antiques timepieces, from expensive pens to jewellery. As we peruse, my attention is caught magpie-style by all sort of shiny things and Fred has to drag me out with blinkers on. In end up sating my shopping desire by buying a nice navy-blue trench coat from a vintage store for just $25 - bargain! It is nicely lined and well fitted. After developing two more rolls of film we opt to get the ferry to Manly for lunch.

The ferry is packed with travellers, distinguishable fro tourists by their active interest in the places around. It is a beautiful journey, passing all the places we went through on our walk on Saturday and I get some pictures of the mast of the HMAS Sydney from the water. It takes about forty minutes and by the time the huge ferry arrives at Manly Quay we are very ready for some lunch. The Costa is ahead and we both decide we fancy a sea view with our lunch, finding a place called Manly Grill (as opposed to Girly Grill?) with a view of the beach and some learner surfers, which are always good for a laugh. We order our food - ribs and chicken for Fred, surf n' turf for me and discuss relevant topics.
"You must have heard of Andy Peters, the one on BBC with Ed The Duck!"
"Wasn't he the pedophile?"
"Who, Ed the Duck?!"

Our food arrives and it is gargantuan. I mean really. We tuck in hungrily and find to our delight that it is delicious - we think we've been very lucky with food this whole trip, only one bad meal and that was fast food. After cheesecake for dessert our whole bill comes to $95, we leave a tip for the very friendly staff and head out to the promenade to watch the surfers not surfing. Manly Beach is not particularly long but has a full and uninterrupted view of the Pacific, framed at the back by tall trees and greenery. It is a strange mixture of seedy seaside town (we spot about 5 sex shops dotted about) and unequivocally beautiful beach life, and the people are similarly distributed - plenty of surfers and old people. Our ferry is not for a while but we go back to the wharf and find a Bavarian bier cafe looking out onto the harbour and towards the sunset, Fred has a bier and I have mulled wine, in June, as we watch the winter sun go down.

Back at Circular Quay we meet my father and Mairi to do the ViVid Sydney festival. Described as a festival of "light, music and ideas", it basically means that from 6pm to midnight buildings are lit up, including ALL the sails of the Opera House, Macquarie St and the quay and there are various events going on. We take a wander up Macquarie Street to watch the "Macquarie Visions" - colours and people and various projected histories of what Sydney's 5th governor, Lachlan Macquarie, did for the city between 1810 and 1821. Turns out he was sort of a reverse Margaret Thatcher - donating lands and new chances to convicts after they had served their time, which made him unpopular among the elite but effective as a governor as only 5% of the convicts under him reoffended. He was also responsible for the Botanic Gardens, St. Mary's Catherdral, the Mint (he introduced coinage to Australia) and the commission of most of Sydney's most famous and oldest buildings to be built by bored convicts. They were a busy pair, and one that had a very important impact on Sydney.

Time for dinner and we choose a restaurant called Waterfront, right opposite the Opera House. It is lit in changing patterns all evening, from leopard prints to camouflage to pink and blue stripes. The food however is only average and the plates from our starter are swapped immediately for massive main courses, leaving no time for it to go down at all. It also turns out to be monstrously expensive and we decide it won't be recommended. Our taxi home is rather less scenic than the ferry but doesn't involve climbing the hill from the Mosman South ferry port, however it does require one of us to climb the 32 steps up to the house. I draw the short straw and am laughed at by the three lazy buggers on the travelator. Totally stuffed with food, Fred and I pass out in our clothes to ward off the cold.





Posted by fredginger 17:22 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Monday 14th June - In The Navy...

sunny 16 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

We actually manage an early morning today, a bank holiday, and emerge into a nation in mourning. We also emerge very reluctantly as it is freezing cold in the flat - the temperature here in the daytime ranges from about 13-17 degrees but at night it drops to freezing. Even this wouldn't be a problem, God knows if you've ever lived in Manchester you're used to cold in winter, but Manchester has a trump card - heating. Australians, it appears, are in denial that winter happens and almost none of the houses even have heating. Our flat has an air conditioning unit with a 'vaguely warm' function which is on all night but that on it's own coupled with no insulation makes hot showers, gallons of tea and thick duvets very necessary.

We head over the water for breakfast and dive into the first place we see on Circular Quay - 'City Extra', it is called, and adorned with newspaper decor and sun. We sit outside in the sun and plough through bacon, hash browns, sausages and eggs each (the bacon here is as good as Canadian bacon!) and orange juice. Sitting on the edge of a wharf watching ferries come and go, in the sun, with a man playing a didgeridoo not far off makes for an enjoyable if novel breakfast experience. Filled up on fuel for not very much money we set off again for Darling Harbour.

Outside the National Maritime Museum of Australia, sat regally in the harbour, are three large ships which turn out to be the HMAS Vampire, a destroyer and training ship, the HMAS Onslow, an Oberon-class submarine and the HMB Endeavour, the three-time voyager of Captain James Cook. Making a beeline across the bridge for the museum, the Vampire is closest so we duly climb aboard with token shouts of 'hello sailor' at passing ferries. This boat was most recently used for training but enjoyed active service in the Australian navy from 1959 until 1986, with various refits along the way. We are lucky to have caught her, a guide tells us, as she will be going back to the navy in a week or so. Inside the metal hull we see rows and rows of cramped bunks and low-ceilinged mess halls but miraculously, Fred managed not to whack his noggin on anything. Through towards the bow of the ship, the mass of piping and levers under turret 'a' comes into view. It looks hugely complicated - we both try to lift one of the shells and can't. Turns out this isn't mere woman/mere geek weakness - it's bolted down.

Next, up to the top to see the big guns. Nearby is one of the navymen who sailed on this vessel in the Pacific, who has a very interesting story to tell:
It got so stinking hot that if we weren't on exercise, all the crewmen would sleep on deck. Anywhere you could find space was fair game to us then. Problem was, one lad, I forget his name, he didn't last very long... Anyway, one lad fell asleep under one of those, see those? He points to turret 'b', on which are sat twin 4.5 inch guns. Well, he didn't hear the call to General Quarters and he was still asleep when they fire the first barrage. The concussion he got nearly killed him, so everyone had a bit more respect for the smackers after that.
A variant on the Royal Vany's Daring Class destroyer, the Vampire had to be adapted for Australian conditions, and this included the addition of more vents to solve the problem of the heat below decks.

We have a good mosey around the rest of the ship, including the spacious and comparatively luxurious Officer's cabins and mess (it paid to be an Officer, apparently). You can still see remnants of the past ages not to be gotten rid of - the underside of one of the bunks is covered in stickers and dates - Honolulu, SIngapore, Korea, New Zealand. There are about thirty of them. Back amidships we disembark and prepare to squeeze down the cramped hatch of the Onslow.

Easier said than done. Even for me, fairly flexible and physically fit, trying to fit backwards down an 80cm hole with a ladder is not very easy. Fred gets firmly stuck and has to be disengaged by a grinning volunteer. Descending down about two metres we come to the only deck of the boat, face-to-face with six massive torpedo tubes and another six massive torpedos. We are told that she was designed to carry fourteen, six in the tubes and six lashed to the hull and under grates in the floor - the space to walk would have been about 60cm wide. Another interesting story greets us as we arrive on deck.

Although Onlsow has never seen active duty she was used extensively in international war games, played out over in the Pacific ocean. She was one of the first RAN submarines to be fitted with anti-ship missiles and put these to good use! She sunk seven ships in the Exercise Kangaroo 3 in 1980 and in 1998, when she managed to sink a US Nimitz-class supercarrier, the USS Carl Vinson. Onslow being a diesel-powered boat, about forty years older than the Carl Vinson and with much more primitive equipment, this was quite an achievement. Having been ordered radio silence, the supercarrier Captain was very surprised to get the message "USS Carl Vinson, you have been sunk, please return to dock", and then the crackle of a radio and just one Australian voice - "Gotcha."

The Onslow is a fascinating beast - originally housing 67 men fully crewed it is inconceivable that a space Fred has much difficulty moving around in could have possibly housed them all. The bunks fold away so as not to impede movement any further and the galley for the enlisted men is smaller than the one in our studio flat! It is all quite impossible, but we are assured that it did work and it must have done as the boat is one of six used by the Royal Australian Navy for years. Below the deck, when we come across the "snakeholes" down into the belly of the boat, we can see the huge diesel engines and 220 massive batteries that were used to move her. Everything is tiny - the showers, the urinals, the bunks and even the Captain's cabin, although it is the only (non-bathroom) room on board with a door. We clamber inelegantly back into the sunshine with more than a healthy respect for submariners.

The replica Endeavour comes next and we are relieved to find that below the deck there is space enough for Fred to stand up. We learn that the 56 Navy men, 12 Marines and 5 officers on board Cook's vessel were in there for 3 years, sharing the space in cycles with a massive hearth under the foredeck and animals on the aft. The space in which we are stood was used both for eating and sleeping - hammocks were hung the navy regulation 14 inches apart (they must have recruited some skinny Navy men) and were all numbered so as to avoid waking the wrong men for the watch. The marines, posted onboard for the protection of the officers and supplies, occupied a tiny space at the back on the right. We see the lead line and the vicious-looking ninetails. But there is more, behind a half-screen at the back.

This 'extra' bit was made by taking the original ship design (originally deep and for pouring coal into) and sticking another deck in it. Consequently we have to crawl past the officer's cabins - the space is only 4 feet tall. The officers enjoyed a little more privacy, with very quaintly English, tiny curtained windows, one in each cabin. If I were an officer, I would have made the crew sleep here as it's almost impossible to bloody move. However, I reason that in Cook's day there were less bratty children bashing one's camera around. Cook, we hear, was a much-admired Captain. He paid his men well, awarding bounty for bravery or kindness, and insisted on hygiene so despite being at sea for three years he didn't lose any of his men to disease and only had to contend with two cases of scurvy.

Right at the back is the domain of Cook, and of famed naturalist Joseph Banks. Spacious and with standing room, replicas of Banks' watercolours adorn his cabin and copies of Cook's journals sit at the writing desk. It makes for a very good half-hour, although not one for wrinklies as they will probably have expired by the time they have climbed up and down ladders and crawled around in the bowels of the ship. Back up we go, thoroughly saturated with history, and after a quick drink we go into the museum proper in order to further saturate ourselves.

The Maritime Museum, while not particularly well-organised is also not kid-friendly - fantastic! It is nice and quiet and featuring exhibits on hyper-fast hydrofoils, dugout canoes and navigation it absorbed both myself and Fred for over 3 hours. My most favourite section was entitled 'Passengers' and featured insights into the lives of many travellers to Australia over hundreds of years. There is a letter from one of the early free settlers to her sister at home, detailing the boredom, illness and her delight at the 'gentleman's distractions' aboard her boat including leapfrog and word games. There are accounts of the Dunbar disaster, the worst peacetime maritime disaster Australia has ever suffered, and then the stories of migrant children, sent over on boats alone by their families in the fifties. There are accounts of the trials suffered by young Japanese and Lebanese women who fell in love with Australian sailors, whole families of Hong Kong Chinese who emigrated in fear of Chinese rule over their state.

Exiting into dusk, the world cup spot at the end of the harbour is starting to fill. On our way back to the ferry we spot a bloke wearing an Oktoberfest tee shirt, he becomes Fred's hero of the day, and rightly so! We send our sympathies to his family as he was probably killed at some point during the evening... After picking up the prints and digital copies of the photos from my F3 (which have been uploaded to the gallery and fill the space under this post) we head home for another beautiful dinner spread and sleep.





Posted by fredginger 16:09 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Weekend BOGOF

Two days in one, you lucky folk.

sunny 15 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

No witty title for this one, I only have a modest capacity for wit Mon-Fri, 8am-6pm. Times may be flexible depending on blood alcohol content, quality may vary. Our day begins with a massive fry-up, sausages, eggy bread and bacon done 'the Australian way', i.e. on the barbecue. After the customary buckets of tea we set off for a long walk to Balmoral Beach. On our way we pass the little Sirrius Cove beach, Taronga Zoo, Bradley's Head (featuring an important mast that I will talk more about later), Chowder Bay (featuring some bottles of water I won't talk about later), George's Head (guns! the guns! or was it the balls?) and the down a big (BIG) hill to Balmoral Beach.

Arriving up the dirt path through the trees to Bradley's Head one comes upon the mast of the warship HMAS Sydney. Erected in 1934 to honour the ship's first battle in 1914, it sticks right up on the edge of the point, flag flying, lit by floodlights and looking quite striking. There is a lot of Sydney's naval history around these parts we're close to the Heads, the gateways from Sydney to the Pacific Ocean. When we reach George's Head about 45 minutes later too, we see the sunken gun positions of Sydney's first line of North Shore defence, all the way from 1874 to 1950. The concrete ammo storage bunkers are still there, as are the grooves that the cannons and then the big guns sat in. Such a place can't fail to sober you a little, even on such a beautiful day. More so as WWI Armed Forces hospital based on Australian soil is also nearby - a tiny thing, the original buildings still standing can't be more than two beds' width across. This is where the survivors of Gallopoli battles were brought for treatment. I realise that this is the first time I've ever seen the Pacific Ocean.

We continue our walk, which soon mutates into a hike as we reach a big billy bastard of a hill. This is our last surmount before Balmoral comes into view and it greets us with three narrow but lovely sandy beaches. There are families around on the play areas and the boardwalk, even paddling - there is one nutcase out there swimming. We buy ice creams and examine the boardwalk at our leisure - this is a fully netted beach, so that sharks can't get in. Further down is Balmoral Beach #2, a little rockier and with no netting, and then after a small island we come upon Balmoral Beach #3, which is a lot like the other two. This is obviously a trendy area, there is a Porsche 911 parked on the road with a number plate of 'DET0UR'. We catch a bus back as Mairi is not keen on tackling the billy bastard hill again.

That evening we feast on a butterfly leg of lamb, barbecued, of course. As we watch Die Hard 4.0, I begin to feel a bit dodgy and by the time we go to bed I am shaking, sweating and feeling quite sick. I neck three paracetamols and put on the 12th Man, determined to sweat the bugger out so it won't ruin my weekend, and by midnight I think I've broken the back of it. By 2am I think I've broken it's arms and legs as well. Finally I drop off to sleep in the wee hours.

Sunday morning arrives and leaves without me - everyone else journeys into Mosman for brunch as I linger on the sofa, watching endless episodes of Thunderbirds, good stuff! Thunderbirds I mean, not my virus or whatever it is. By the time they all return I have had a few cups of tea and a lie down and feel much refreshed. Fred tells me they watched the England game and it was terrible. "Rob Green has the touch of a baby elephant," he says ruefully. We continue with Thunderbirds for the afternoon, Fred reads a book (on the iPad, of course) and Mairi and my father get on with domestic administration. Dinner is roast chicken, not on the barbecue but beautifully cooked by Mairi and well worth the wait. Now it is after nine, and I shall soon be retiring to bed with Richie Benaud - "Hopefully we can wake up and laugh at the Aussies tomorrow," says my father. "Or the Germans. Either way, it'll be a laugh."







Posted by fredginger 03:33 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Friday 11th June - The Global Kickabout Begins

(We couldn't care less)

sunny 17 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

I must apologise for the eccentric organisation of the last four entries, I asked Fred to do a few email posts and he sent them all in a dodgy order, about four times, and while I have deleted the duplicates I can't do anything about the order. Suffice to say he has the blog sensibilities of one of the Aboriginal didgeridoo players we see most mornings at Circular Quay, but probably less sense of direction.

A tired man arrives this morning with a suitcase that has not one, but TWO orange 'Heavy' tags on it. He reveals that it weighs 70lbs! For Heaven's sake, I only weigh 110... He must have circumvented a good few physical laws in order to get it all in there, and it looks as if physics is about to reassert itself and send suits and books flying across the room, slapstick-style. Fred and I politely decline his challenge to lift the thing and brew up instead, discussing the plan for today - he doesn't feel up to the museum, would we like to go food shopping instead? He promises we will take the scenic route rather than the normal one, this will apparently fill up an hour and a half instead of 20 minutes.

We set off merrily on our walk armed with cameras and jute shopping bags. Our route takes us around Mosman Bay to Neutral Bay and we pass a few interesting things along the way, including what my father calls a 'Rock Pool'. This is not like a British rock pool but a swimming pool, outdoor, unheated and free to use, maintained by the council. It was apparently started by an Australian Olympian to get his fellow Sydners swimming at Cremorne Point - now it is named the MacCalum pool, after him. It is clear and sparkling, filled with harbour water and with an awesome view over the water to the South Shore. I imagine in the summer that just dropping your shopping by the side of it, stripping off and diving in to cool off would be one of life's great pleasures. Sydney is actually a very green city, even with signs that urge citizens not to steal 'trees, plants or shrubs, thank you." In Manchester it would probably read "We'd ask you not to steal our trollies or urinate in the canal but we know you'd ignore it, so we'll not bother."

We eventually emerge into Neutral Bay and to the shops. We make a beeline for Woolworths, which is in fact not a Woolworths, but a Tesco's. My father tells us that they go shopping every day to get everything fresh - to prove his point he buys garlic prawns that were alive this morning, sausages that were part of a pig yesterday and four Scotch fillet steaks that were big enough to be still alive. We stop on our return at Costi's for fresh scallops that must have been alive in the recent pat as Mairi has to cut their 'legs' off - presumably to prevent their untimely escape from the barbecue.

After a gentle afternoon watching the cricket (Fred and I) and napping (my esteemed but jetlagged father) Mairi arrives home and we get dinner on - it seems odd to my British sensibilities to watch my father lovingly uncovering and firing up a barbecue in midwinter, in the dark, when it's about 10 degrees, but I am told that this is what Australian alpha males do, and who am I to argue with generations of Australian alpha males? The results are delicious - prawns, scallops and steaks with lashings of asparagus and corn on the cob. Sated, we convene on the sofa to watch the Danish Speedway GP I try to justify to Fred why people would want to ride motorbikes with no brakes and only one gear in circles.

The evening ends with an Aussie joke: A British man and an Australian man meet in a hotel corridor. The Brit is pacing up and down looking distressed, the Aussie asks him what the matter is.
"I am a doctor, and I have a patient in my room with a wooden leg," he tells the Aussie. "I have taken it apart and I can't remember how to put it back together again."
"You think that's bad," the Aussie replies. "I've got a gorgeous gal in my room with both legs apart, and I can't remember the room number."



Posted by fredginger 03:02 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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