A Travellerspoint blog

Wednesday 9th June - The Aquarium and Some Free Food

sunny 13 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Another relaxed morning, up at ten, more buckets of tea and toast to drag ourselves back to reality. My favourite thing about visiting my father is that the mugs for tea are more like vats of tea, at least a litre in one mug, fantastic! I sip mine from a massive West Ham United mug, listen to the Red Hot Chili Pepper's "Californication" (my favourite album of theirs by far, and one of the first cd's I bought with my own pocket money as a youngster) and soak in the view. A few clouds about today, but nothing major.

Today, after arriving gracefully at Circular Quay, we take a walk up George St and along King St to Darling Harbour. It is a very nice place to be, the Aquarium and Wildlife Centres on the right, bars on the wharves on the left and the National Maritime Museum across the harbour via a bridge. There also looks to be a shopping centre over there as well but we dive straight into the Aquarium (if you'll pardon the pun) to enjoy the fish.

It is actually a great place to go, fun for kids but they have a lot of very exotic things to impress even the most jaded of day-out-weary parents - the leafy dragon seahorse and the gentle giant dugong were just two, not to mention huge stingrays, sharks and little fluorescent fish. Both Fred and I find fish very relaxing and we both sat happily in the blue flickering darkness watching them flit by, all manner of colours and shapes and sizes.

After a very pleasant day we make our way to the Citigroup Centre to meet Mairi and head to a bar, 'Establishment', on George St. They are hosting an event held yearly by restaurant chain Merivale to showcase new menus and chefs - we queue for about 45 minutes until 6pm hits and the doors are opened but end up with good seats inside, not to far from a central bar. The decor is all bamboo, aboriginal artworks and uplighting and is very stylish, packed with young professionals and old professionals, come to that. We immediately run to the bar and grab two glasses of champagne each (it's all free, you see!) and return to our seats to wait for the food.

The food, when it comes around via waitresses in glitzy short dresses, is in small portions and it looks to be in the form of some sort of butter bean and sausage cassoulet - it turns out to be delicious, and I manage to snaffle another one by batting my eyelashes at a waiter.

The champagne is easy drinking and the conversation and atmosphere is excellent - gradually we plough through sample-sized tasters of pasta and Parmesan, lamb stew, quesidillas, quiche, halloumi cheese on crackers, cake and mascepone and cream tartlets. A very enjoyable evening - we stumble onto the ferry about nine o'clock having overindulged significantly and not caring one whit.

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Posted by fredginger 23:20 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Thursday 10th June - Fred Goes Wild?!

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

Thursday 10th June - Fred Gone Wild?!

A late morning again after our night of food and boozing, Fred feels a little delicate so we spend the morning on the sofa watching the ice hockey - the Stanley Cup final between the Chicago Black Hawks and the Philadelphia Flyers. Copious amounts of tea and toast have to be consumed before Fred feels human enough to head down to the ferry and across to Darling Harbour again for lunch.

Darling Harbour is a hive of activity. It looks as though they are erecting huge screens and advertising for the world cup - numerous builders with their arses hanging out wolf-whistle at ladies walking by - I have seen many builders in my time. Surprisingly, none of them swoon onto their knees and cry "Yes! My future lies with him!" Past them is a floating 5-a-side pitch and a large Hyundai football on a spike. I haven't seen many giant footballs on spikes in my time. We pass all this by and head to the Wildlife centre.

Another weird and wonderful assortment of fauna await us. We enter to the bugs - cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers - all of Fred's favourite things. I spot an elderly Malaysian man rolling his eyes at a 6 foot bloke huddling behind his tiny girlfriend at the sight of spiders behind glass. The snakes intrigue him a little more and he comes out from hiding - we see the world's deadliest snake (ooh) - an island taipan. Looks like a brown snake to me but I do like the way snakes move, very graceful and slow, in a way that says "yes, I am beautiful, but don't **** with me."

Next we come to some Aussie animals. There are about 6 species of turtle, not as big as the ones yesterday but turtle-like nonetheless, and then, rapture! Kangaroos! They are really quite cute in real life, not on Telly, like. We natter to the keeper and find out that they are all males, partly to stop fights over females but also because female kangaroos apparently not only can have a Joey in her pouch but also a foetus growing AND a fertilized egg "on pause" until there is space for it! Talk about multi-tasking, and single mothers think THEY have it bad.

After the kangaroos we see cute cuddly koalas (which are not bears), wombats (even more cuddly than koalas but still not bears) and things called wallaroos, not kangaroos, not wallabies and not bears. The koalas are especially funny, they sit draped over branches like drunks over park benches, fast asleep with limbs dangling everywhere. The wombats dig fervently and the wallaroos sort of... Sit. And don't do much.

Soon we find a heavy mesh door and go through it, to find another heavy mesh door and a high balcony. Looking down into an enclosure with a large pool and concrete "beach", we are assailed by parrots and assume this can be the only thing in here.
"Hi folks, I'm the reptile keeper, and I'm gonna to talk to you about Rex."
Rex? We peer over the edge - standing at the bottom of the enclosure is a burly Australian with a Britney mike, long hair, piercings and a big bamboo stick - next to him is a huge, HUGE, crocodile. You can't help but gape at Rex, he is truly massive and no words would do the sit justice. If anyone has seen a crocodile up close you will know what I mean and this one was so bloody big he looked like a dinosaur.

"This here is Rex. He is an estuary crocodile, the largest in captivity, he is over four and a half metres long and weighs about five hundred kilos, we think." Were they not prudent enough to weigh the bloody crocodile?! The man standing two metres from him leaning casually on his bamboo stick must have either no sense or no fear? He tells us they have been "training" Rex- he has to be in a certain position half in half out of the water before they will give him a chicken. By hand. And the reason they do this is so he can't use his tail - the keeper informs us that Rex can go from a standstill to a run of 15km/h in a split second and swim at speeds of 20km/h. He is an incredible beast.

Next are butterflies - they seem to take a liking to Fred, who gets one to land on his hand. I also manage to get a great shot of an old guy busily filming a big butterfly on his phone, unaware that one of the same species has just landed on the back of his hat. There are geckos as well - I make friends with a rock gecko by shining the camera light on it - it paws at the glass when we leave, but I am comforted by the fact that it has two friends in it's enclosure.
"You know they eat their own offspring?" Fred says, ruining the magic for me.

Back into the evening sunlight of Darling Harbour for one last pootle before we catch the ferry. On a whim, we decide to be proper tourists and sit outside and I am glad we do as someone has lit up the Opera House with lighted art! Blues, reds, yellows and greens, all forming sea life patterns across the white fans as we pass - it is too dark for a photograph as we only have one lens, which is sad. It is part of an ongoing festival called "ViVid Sydney", which I am told we will visit soon and do properly so perhaps we will have another chance. Fred and I content ourselves with watching this little bit from the ferry and I think it will be forever etched in my memory.

Tomorrow mien farther arrives early in the morning from Chicago - Fred and I are tasked with keeping him awake until bedtime. This will prove interesting as Chicago is 24 hours of flight and 8 hours of jet lag away from Sydney - we plan to take him to the National Maritime Museum so he can wax lyrical about all he has learned in his Australian History degree as we know he won't be the slightest bit interested in crocodiles, even really REALLY big ones...

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Posted by fredginger 23:05 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Tuesday 8th June - The Botanic Gardens

semi-overcast 13 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Well, we are supposed to be on holiday... So we had a leisurely morning, waking up five minutes before midday for showers, pumpkin bread toast and the amazing view right across the harbour. The flat looks over only a few rooftops then onto Mosman Bay and out to Sydney Harbour. The bridge is to the right and the opera house marginally so, the rest of the bank buildings, houses and botanic gardens lie under a jewel-blue sky and above the teal water. It all seems very clear compared with Hong Kong, not as high but much cleaner.

Down the hill to the ferry and onboard, we muse that the lull of the waves and the 12-minute journey past some of the most famous architecture in the world is a much nicer way to get to work than a commuters' South Eastern railway train (late) or a Magic Bus (smelling of vomit). The sun is shining brightly and it is about 13 degrees, mild by our standards but seemingly Arctic according to our Australian cousins who are fully wrapped up in scarves and hats and sunglasses, a strange combination to spot as you get off a ferry.

There are other hints, too, that things are done rather differently down under.
"What was that?"
"That appears to be a gentleman in a linen suit riding a skateboard."
Although familiar in language and architecture you just don't get Aboriginal men in loincloths playing digiridoos and bongo drums at Charing Cross of a lunchtime. There are shops selling cupcakes everywhere and in all sizes - from "babycakes" about an inch across to gigantic, six-inches diameter monsters - "Man-size cupcakes," Fred says, in his manliest voice.
"There is such a thing as a cute, pink, decorated-with-hearts-and-butterflies cake for men?"

We reach Sydney's Botanic Gardens and enter in the lower gardens at the Government House gate. It is very peaceful and pretty and we both feel refreshed for a bit of a wander around, photographing people and scenery. We find the Government House and try to take a picture but there is an extended American family standing right in the middle, gossiping about baseball, of all things. I have an epiphany as we tap our feet and sigh loudly while checking our watches; a lot of photography involves standing around waiting for people to get out of your way.

We manage to circle the entire gardens, taking in the sights. There is a Chinese family surrounded by half-metre big cockatoos, numerous ponds and plants galore, not to mention the bats, ibis' and moorhens that roam around, tame enough to eat out of your hand. It is a lovely place and we wander happily for hours, until I discover that I have lost an entire roll of film, including some shots I was quite excited about - I get very mardy but fortunately only as we are leaving so Fred puts up with me until we get back to the ferry.

That night we enjoy our next excursion into Mairi's cooking - chicken and vegetable patties with salad and sweet chilli sauce - mmm! Heavenly. It soon gets me over the loss of my film and we begin to plane for tomorrow - we will find the Aquarium and get some pictures of the fishes.

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Posted by fredginger 23:05 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Monday 7th June - On the road again

all seasons in one day 11 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

After a great week spent in the chaos and fast living of Hong kong we get on another plane heading to Sydney. We are flying redeye so it is another night spent sleeping sat upright with hundreds of other people in a small uncomfortable space. I managed to get a good 6 hours but Ginger struggled to even make it to one and consequently was grumpy as all he'll until breakfast was served.

The plane touched down in Sydney just slightly before 8am, we both stumble through security and after a brief stop off waiting for our baggage and then getting searched by a sniffer dog we are out of the terminal and united with Mairi. I realise very quickly that I am not dressed for an Australian winter - a bright and breezy 12 degrees doesn't feel to good when wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Not to worry, soon we are in a taxi from the airport to Mosman Bay.

Not a bad drive it has to be said, we go across Sydney Harbour bridge and then look over to our right and see the opera house sat proudly on the edge of the water. Mairi is able to give us a really good commentary of exactly where we are and what we should be looking out for. The topic of spiders also came up, she tells us about the huntsman spiders, the big hairy things that apparently live above the house - not dangerous, I am told, but that won't stop me running like stink if I see one.

When we arrive at our final destination, Ginger is not impressed with the amount of stairs up to the front door and much to her delight we are informed that there is a travelator that we can put all our stuff in and get lifted up to the front door. This turns out to be a very rusty and rickety-looking thing and starts with a... Well, a start. We are wiggled violently up the travelator to the front door of 1/27 Musgrave Street.

Inside the flat we are greeted with yet another amazing view, looking out over the main harbour. We are taken aback by just how different the landscape and buildings are compared to Hong Kong, everything is much smaller as a general rule and clearer, too. After a quick turnaround and some more breakfast we were off out again to go and get our bearings as we went into Sydney itself with Mairi as she went into work.

After a short trip across the harbour, we begin our sightseeing tour of the Rocks. A small section of the city that is still laid out and looks the same as it would have down in the 19the century, the Rocks was almost deserted early on a Monday morning but for us and a few open shops selling opals and gifts. There are lots of information boards and things to read and lots to take in. Brains full after the numbing effect of a long flight, we find a pub that serves some food and looked friendly.

After food it looks like the rain is coming, so we decided to take our leave from the city and try and work out our journey home, it went fairly successfully and we are back home now, sat down in front of the telly making our best effort to understand Aussie rules. It's a crazy game but it started to make sense by the end of it, I think so anyway. Ginger had given up and was merrily chuckling away to a book she had picked up in the flat.

Tonight is a nice relaxing evening, recovering from a night of very broken sleep and catching up with tea drinking, as Chinese tea just doesn't match up to a good old fashioned cup of tea, builders tea with two sugars, lovely stuff. Tomorrow we will begin our excursions into Sydney.

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Posted by fredginger 23:05 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Day 7 - One Last Wander

sunny 29 °C

Check-out time is twelve noon and we wake up at half ten, so the morning is spent frantically packing and emptying drawers, safes etc. We leave our luggage with concierge and venture out to blow the last of our Hong Kong dollars in Central, Admiralty and Causeway Bay.

As we leave the metro the first thing we see is the HSBC building and hundreds of Filipino women sat on mats and material below it. They are talking in what I assume to be Tagalog, and it sounds like a mass of bubbles emulating from the walkway. Sunday is their one day off and they all gather in the parks and walkways everywhere foam Central to Chater Gardens to Victoria and chat, do each others hair, sing and listen to their iPods. Some are even cooking on little portable stoves and fringing up ingredients which they apply on their faces and use for massage.

As we venture further we hit the shopping and meander happily through the Sunday crowds. It seems to be social day in this city - there are groups everywhere eating, talking and shopping. We see old men playing mahjong and young hip-hoppers dancing, gossiping women trying on shoes and their husbands eying up electronics and speaking in hushed voices. This people-watching exercise takes us from the classy Pacific Place to the noise and bustle of Wan Chai's Gong Fat Mansions and out through World Trade Centre - time for a sit down and reminisce in Victoria Park.

Hong Kong is a city of paradox and superlatives. Home to some of the smallest and skinniest people I have ever seen outside of the Third World, and everyone greets each other with the words "lay sik-jo faan may" ("have you eaten yet?"). People who stare openly at my light blue eyes and Fred's huge feet troll through market streets barely two metres wide that give way to plush shopping malls and shopping malls that give way to serene and beautiful temple complexes. Barely half an hour's ferry ride away are rural villages and coastal fishing settlements, in stark contrast to the micromalls and tower blocks that claim every inch of available space.

You see surgical masks and haute couture jelly shoes, herbal medicine, lucky cats in every shop window and small shrines along streets and by entrance doorways. Also, a lot of dogs artistically groomed by trimming parts of their fur (we saw a chow chow that had it's torso shaved, leaving a big fluffy head like a lion and four thigh-high fur boots, a poodle with a saddle shape on it's back and few dogs with shaved upper legs, making them look like they were wearing flares).

Absolutely no concepts of health and safety, apart from 'cough manners' pertaining to the surgical masks. Bamboo scaffolding is everywhere and men simply take off their shoes and climb barefoot up lampposts along busy roads in order to change the lightbulbs. This is made more dangerous by the taxi drivers, ferry captains and tram operators with absolutely no sense of self-preservation. The whole if Hong Kong outside is cramped, noisy and utterly mad, but inside are spacious and calm places with air conditioning and signs asking people to keep their voices down.

We are both truly sorry not to have spent longer here. I will always wholly regret not having the sense to go to Happy Valley racecourse on a Wednesday, nor did we take the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Central at 8pm to watch that wonderful light show. But we are both convinced we will be back, and there is still so much left to do! But now we are at Hong Kong International Airport awaiting the departure of QF128 to Sydney - new adventure awaits. Here are some last photos from the first leg of our trip - more are on the mobile me gallery at http://gallery.me.com/dave.sims in the 'Australia' section. We will be adding more as soon as there is reliable Internet!

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Posted by fredginger 05:15 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (3)

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