A Travellerspoint blog

Thursday 8th July - Bondi & Tales and Ales

all seasons in one day 16 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Bondi has long been the public face of the Australian surf culture that is so famous around the world and has cemented it's spot as place to see and be seen as well as surf and be knocked off. It is easily reached from Circular Quay on a bus which takes just over half an hour and passes through some nice neighbourhoods on its winding way down to the south coast. Bondi beach, we find, is not exactly a hive of activity on a midwinter's day but I imagine it would create good surf and people-watching opportunities in the summer. It is shallow and sweeping, cocooned in surf shops and cafés and at the moment it is also covered in rain.

We take shelter on Hall Street in a place called Gertrude and Alice Café Bookstore. Full of students and artistes drinking hot drinks and debating hot topics, it smells like Italian food and is stuffed to the dark wooden rafters with books. The walls are stuffed with volumes covering fiction, languages, philosophy, music, sexual identity, sci-fi and business and I could spend days with my head buried in the piles and piles of old editions, rare books and classic photography annals. The threadbare green sofa and wooden stools provide places to sit as you flick through the pages of our chosen subject, and the staff have no objections to you being there for hours. There are bargains to be had too - I see a huge book on ancient Persia for $10 and dig out one on Japanese Kanji for $15 - such things cost upwards of $50 elsewhere.

As Bondi Beach is little other than wet and deserted today we head for the next attraction over - the illustrious Bondi Junction shopping mall. Shopping is a permanent fixture in the lives of most Sydneysiders - celebrating? Let's go shopping. Had a bad day? Shopping will cure that. Lush malls in historic buildings, Victorian arcades, micro malls nestled in 60's concrete blocks, we have seen all of those but Bondi Junction is a more modern affair, quite minimalist and avant-garde. The decor, shops and food court cater more for young, rich and cool set of Sydney, many of whom reside nearby and don't have any need to frequent a job. Maybe this kind of place is your bag, maybe it isn't. But it is quite enlightening in many ways.

Outside there are more shops, mostly selling discount clothing and books and the clientele is a little more rugged: women 'of a certain age' gossiping in front of shoes shops and Chinese carrying baskets of wares back and forth. Things are also cheaper out here - in central Sydney a ladies haircut and blow-dry will cost you upwards of $100, believe it or not, whereas the alleyways of Bondi offer up a few clean, decent salons who will do this for $40. With the livelier chatter and social groups dotted everywhere this place feels a little less soulless than the Junction. Our bus back from Bondi also takes us through Paddington, another upmarket locale with more expensive shops and kept women in high heeled shoes but it also houses the interesting Australian Centre for Photography, which regularly runs free exhibitions by local artists, and the interestingly renovated Paddington Reservoir Gardens. If your after wandering among those with bottomless wallets and sipping posh coffee alfresco on leafy, quiet roads, this is the place to do it. And for those of you into more out-of-the way pursuits, a five-minute walk up the road lands you in King's Cross, centre of chocolate cafés, studio clothing and coin-operated "pleasure rooms".

Evening brings around a very special event called Tales and Ales, held at the Hotel Coronation opposite Citibank. This night is designed to showcase the ales of James Squire's Malt Shovel Brewery in Camperdown. James Squire was a convict sent on the hulk "Charlotte" to the penal colony of New South Wales and became Australia's first brewer after stealing the first batch of ingredients - he was let off with just 150 lashes (there may have been a barrel or two of ale involved there) and given permission to set up his business by the Governor. When he died he left behind a bustling and successful estate, some very good ale recipes and 11 children. We have gathered in his honour to partake in "Tales and Ales", $35 per ticket, one night per year. Upstairs at the Hotel Coronation houses a thirty-strong mish-mash of young professionals, independent creatives and ale-loving anoraks in the Mezz Restaurant, a cream and red bar room with leather seats, trendy lighting and a ye olde worlde wooden bar that could have come right out of an ancient rural pub.

There are six beers being showcased and each one has been matched with a foodstuff to complement it. Our main guide through this evening of alcohol and hors d'oeuvres is an American named Chuck, the bespectacled brew master of the Malt Shovel Brewery, and his assistant Tim, a dark-haired, keen-eyed Australian. Chuck must be beyond fifty; an averagly-sized man for his age with steel-rimmed glasses and a soft voice. He kicks off at half six, welcoming us all with a schooner* of Golden Ale and free raffle tickets. He has been doing this a few years, he says, and he loves it because "it allows me to force beer down everyone's necks every fifteen minutes" (this gets a big laugh). He is a rather charming man with a very dry sense of humour and gets us started by talking about the Golden Ale.

Asking us to swirl the beer and "stick your noses right on in there", he tells us that hops for this one come from the US and it is 30% malted wheat. It is quite refreshing but also rich and has a slight aroma of tropical fruit, of all things, and is matched deliciously with Sydney rock oysters in a coconut and cream sauce. The beer is a sort of hybrid - not quite lager, not quite ale, and is very enjoyable. Despite the "wine-snob" connotations of the matching process, we all begin to see what he is on about regarding the complementary aspects of the beer and the oysters.
"See, this is an organoleptic evaluation we are undertaking here folks, as opposed to a piss-up."

Our next beer is called the Sundown Lager and is very light and summery, and we enjoy it with vintage cheddar and blue cheese tartlets while hearing more from Tim about James Squire himself. He had owned a tavern of ill repute in London and was deported to Australia after being convicted of highway robbery, his boat docking in Sydney Cove in 1788. After setting up his brewery business he did a lot to help out members of the community in getting on their feet, donating money and land to aid families in need of work and becoming something of a local hero. He would never have brewed the Sundown, as there was no refrigeration in those times, but Tim attests that it is named after a phenomenon of his time - the men who were forced to stop work in the hot Australian afternoon sun, and would pass the time until the sun went down and they could continue with pints of beer.

The hoppy Pilsener that arrives at our table next is as pale as the Golden but with much more clout. It is definitely not a mild beer and is made quite exactly - Chuck describes how "foam nucleation neutralises the bitterness", so they use twice as many hops, but we are all too busy enjoying the spicy chicken satay sticks that go with it. "Always goes down well with a bit of Asian spice," Tim observes as several of our table go back for seconds of beer and chicken satay. "And compared with 15 percent wine, beer is only four or five percent alcohol, so it really is the drink of moderation," Chuck adds. I ask him what tempted him from the land of the free, home of the brave to be a brew master on the banks of he Parramatta River. He shrugs. "I just like good beer, I guess," he says wistfully, taking a sip. They do things properly here - copper kettles, small batches, so the flavour is just right."

The fourth ale is called the Amber Ale, much darker in colour than the others but with an uncanny sweet finish, and a taste not unlike oat biscuits. This is the original beer that Squire would have brewed with his stolen ingredients, and very nice it is too. It uses English hops and is paired with sweet and sour tempura pork which is crispy and delicate. Chuck has come round to our table and stops for a chat, asking how we are enjoying the evening and the beer. He is surprised to find Brits in the room and pleased that these ales meet with our approval - "England will always be the home of real ale for me," he says. He has been to England several and describes the beers native our little island as "heady". "But I should heave expected that," he concedes, almost to himself, "the closest relative to the hop plant is actually the marijuana plant."

Next is an IPA, and for those of you not in the know, that stands for India Pale Ale. This was the first beer exported to India in the early 1800's and in order to stop it going off during the journey it was brewed with higher alcohol and extra hops and allowed to ferment all the way to India, or at least, that was as good an excuse as any. It is paired with little lamb curry tartlets and by now everyone is chattering and laughing as they eat and drink. As Chuck picks up the microphone he grins. "This is why I love beer, it acts as a sort of social lubricant..."
"We swallow it!" calls a voice from the back.
It is made from very distinctive Kentish hops and Chuck gives us a nod as he mentions this - it is an earthy beer, quite robust and crisp.

Onto our last beer of the evening, the Porter, and rich chocolate brownies. The Porter style was named for the labouring river porters of London, who had a trend of asking their local innkeepers to blend everything they had on tap. The innkeepers soon got annoyed with this and the brewers picked up on a trend and started brewing to this style and so the Porter was a born - this one is not too stout, has a coffee-like aftertaste and looks not unlike coke with a head. The evening ends with the raffle, prizes and a little trivia quiz to check we were all paying attention and after picking up some specially-priced mixed six-packs we head home, rather merrily.

  • Schooner - Australian measure, about two thirds of a pint.

Posted by fredginger 19:30 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Wednesday 7th July - Chinatown & State of Origin

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

We wake up to yet more rain but decided to brave it anyway - we have long put off visiting Chinatown and apparently there is also a lovely Oriental garden just behind Darling Harbour. At the moment Darling Harbour is still a maze of advertising and fences as the FiFA World Cup Fan Fest is still going on (including a floating 5-a-side pitch) but some of the signs and paths are still visible and after a confused five minutes we manage to find some signposts towards the Chinese Garden Of Friendship and arrive at the main entrance flanked by Fu dogs and framed in traditional pavilion-style.

It is $6 in and $11 if we want tea and Dim Sum in the teahouse within the Garden - it sounds nice so we pay up and set off into the serene winding paths and walkways. Built to symbolise the close friendship between China and Australia in 1999 it houses numerous pavilions, symbolic paths and lucky plants and is a joy to explore over the course of an hour or so, despite the pouring rain. My favourite gardens are always Oriental as they are just as calming come rain, shine or even the weak thunder that passes overhead. At the end is the teahouse and we refuel on steamed dumplings and tea white watching the koi flirt with the surface of the lake.

Chinatown is only a minute or so's walk from the garden and comprises two or three streets and a few micro malls full of cheap clothes, shoes, jewellery, souvenirs, Chinese goods and home decorations, manga and of course restaurants. Our appetites have been whetted by the Dim Sum so we chow down on Chinese, which is a disappointment after Hong Kong but passable. I also buy a small tea set, something I have been wanting to do for a long while. Fred aliases the time - if we don't hurry we will be late for our rugby date, so we motor back home for a quick stop to dump bags and shopping and get scarves and hats, then head for Circular Quay train station.

We are off to see the third game in the State of Origin series, held at Olympic Park. State of Origin is a three-game rugby league tournament played every year by Queensland and New South Wales. It is a very popular event every year, getting large attendances, full TV coverage and lots of fights (on the pitch) so we decide we have to give it a go - competitive sport makes up a large part of Australia's national mentality.

The train system in Sydney is so bad I find myself longing for the Underground. Nothing is signposted, the machines only give change up to $20 and don't like cards with pin numbers, there is no booth with a human in it to ask for tickets or directions and once you've actually managed to get inside, whether by luck or judgement, there are no signs telling you what trains is going where from which platform - you just have to guess. As it turns out, we guess wrong and end up sprinting down and up four sets of stairs, managing to catch the first train to Central Station, the biggest in Sydney and hopefully better organized.

Our hopes are dashed, however, when we reach Central. There are a lot of people going to the Origin game but none of them seem to be able to work out the train system - even many of the natives who have been before are confused. Finally we get out and spot signs for the direct trains to Olympic Park, thank the Lord, because it's bananas in here. Our match ticket includes this train fare from Central to the Olympic Park so the train is packed with fans, both Maroon (Queensland) and Blue (New South Wales). There is a lot of banter flying around-
"QUEENSLANDAAAAA!" Shouts a Blues fan at a gentleman in a Maroon shirt taking a photo of his companions.
"They're blue on the inside, just in case..."

The forty-minute train journey is bubbling with anticipation and testosterone. As we disembark and the leave the train we spot the huhge ANZ Stadium and have a remarkable sense of deja vu.
"Looks an awful lot like City."
In point of fact it looks almost identical to Manchester City's ground, all the way down to the strange spiral staircases on the outside and the blue lights. We buy a scarf to get in the spirit and take our seats in the gigantic stadium to watch the last ten minutes of the Residents game, and the first mass punch-up. It is about 7pm and the festivities have been going since half five.

The game is due to kick off at 8pm and we sit through the pre-match advertising (there is a man with a large remote controlled blimp) and interviews before standing for the national anthem of Australia which is sung in English and the language of the Eora aborigine people. This prompts some subversive muttering from behind us which. We also have a moment's silence for the three Australian servicemen killed in Afghanistan last month - some idiot is still shouting "Queenslander!" throughout. He achieves nothing apart from the whole stadium realising that such twits do exist, and appears to be bundled halfway through by some other fans in order to shut him up.

The game begins and doesn't disappoint - there is lots of good rugby, some bad rugby and a few fights. The fans are lively, singing, stamping and occasionally yelling things like "OWNED!" when one player flattens another. The only moment that was very close to ruining the experience came from two men behind us - at the starts of a minor fight involving an aborigine Queensland player there is a shout of "He takes your taxes too, f****** coconut!" Racism in sport appears to be entirely directed at the aborigines and his comment even provokes some laughs but fortunately goes no further as he, too, is told to shut up by some of his fellow fans.

Every time a points are scored huge blasts of flame erupt from either end of the pitch - they really go all out for this tournament. The Blues lose 23-18 and the series is a Maroon wash but it is a great game, 61 thousand people in attendance, despite the series having been decided in the previous match, and even the train going back is quicker and easier.




Posted by fredginger 20:55 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Tuesday 6th July - Watson's Bay

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

I am woken suddenly again by squawking birds, and I am beginning to see why people shoot the buggers... Thoroughly disgruntled, I head for the kitchen and tea. Something stops me in my tracks as I glance left out of the window - the south shore has completely disappeared behind a curtain of lilac cloud and is all but invisible. Fred is then woken my my squawking ("there'd better be snow or something") and grudgingly comes to the window with the camera to witness it. The cloud makes it seem as though Sydney just ends, the opera house standing raked and proud on the edge of the world. The cloud dissipates to purplish mist as I watch and soon the skyscrapers loom once more through the morning gloom.

It is another bad-weather morning so we take our time getting up. Fred comments that he misses English tea - "I don't know if it's the tea or the milk, but its just not as good here" and we watch some rugby. After an hour or so we set off with a mind to head to Watson's Bay for lunch - there is a famous seafood restaurant called Doyles on the beach that we have been told about. A quick ferry switch gets us on a service calling at Garden Island and Watson's Bay. Green Island is the site of the a Royal Australian Naval base and the ferry passes straight across the north section, also open to the public, and rig past the huge warships in for refitting. I can see barrels being loaded, trays of shells winched up to hatches and men conducting drills on the decks. About twenty minutes past is Watson's Bay.

At first sight there isn't much there despite quite a few hoards of winter tourists wandering around. Right on the wharf is Doyles Cafe, and it is teeming.
"The cafe's packed," Fred observes.
"Well for God's sake unpack it, we're due for lunch."
We spot another Doyles, a more formal-looking one, at the edge of the shallow beach and we head for that instead. To our delight it is empty save for a few pensioners so we sit down and peruse the menu. It tells the history of the restaurant all the way from 1885 to the present day and has some interesting information on all the fish they serve - I had always (erroneously) thought of tuna as a medium-sized fish but it turns out that the Yellowfin tuna that Doyles use for fillets weighs up to 150kg! One hundred and fifty! That's nearly three times what I weigh... I opt for mussels and ocean trout, Fred goes for calamari and snapper and chips.

The portions are sizeable but not ridiculous and we plough through our starters quaffing coke and cranberry juice. The marketing of the "freshest seafood in Sydney" is confirmed in my eyes as I open a mussel and find a tiny sand crab inside it. I set the thing aside and take a photo for posterity but five minutes later, I have found another one. No crabs in Fred's salt and pepper calamari but it is very tasty. There is a nice break between courses and the place begins to fill up considerably with families and more pensioners and by the time the mains arrive it is full both inside and out.

Our main courses are simple but delicious, and I find myself wondering what size of fish the ocean trout has come from. It has lovely pink flesh and a crispy sea-salt skin and is an absolute joy to eat. It is also nice to admire the view over the bay, watching ferries come and go and taking bets on whether the moored sailing boats caught in their wake will tip over. After lunch we have a quick meander around but decide not to go up to the points on either side (the weather is still overcast) and catch a ferry back as there is not much else about but houses. Despite the biting wind that has got up Fred sends me outside to take pictures of the Naval base and so, a slave to my art, I stand like a muppet in the rain and freezing wind taking pictures. This is actually easier than getting back into the ferry when it really starts to piss it down as the wind is so high i cant open the door. With great heaving I drag the door from it's rest, toppling forwards into the aisle with a purple face and damp hair, panting (much to the amusement of all the pensioners on the ferry sat in the front seats).

As soon as we disembark it begins to spit and soon it is bucketing down, raindrops the size of your fingertips, so it is back home again to try and decipher more Australian sport. We have a big night booked in for tomorrow.

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Posted by fredginger 20:30 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Monday 5th July - The Opera House

overcast 14 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

We are up early in this rainy morning for a tour of the other half of Sydney's iconography - the opera house. We make our way between the main steps to the box office where we are directed down further into the belly of Bennelong Point to the tour meeting point underneath the grey concrete gables of the magnificent sails. They don't form one building as the photographs and postcards suggest, but three - a small restaurant-cum-cabaret and two huge theatre halls. We are greeted by our tour guide who insists we have our photos taken before we start - we drop bags in the cloakroom (free, which is good as the tour is an hour long) and are informed of the various photography rules - the whole place is a working venue and many of the sets are copyrighted, so no pictures allowed in some places. We are supplied with radio headsets again and ushered up an escalator to the underneath of the first set of sails.

The inside is all marble and glass, very modern for the 1950's. We walk past the three smaller halls: the Playhouse, the Studio and Drama Theatre, and are shown a video detailing the conception of the opera house and how the design of a 38-year-old Dancame architect came to be one of the modern wonders of the world. Until 1902 Bennelong Point had been a fort and a site for cattle grazing, and after that it became a tram shed. But in 1955 it was chosen to be the site to build the winner of a worldwide design competition.

233 architects sent entries from over 30 countries but the final one chosen was the work of Jorn Utzon of Denmark. Despite that it broke several of the competition rules it was the only entry to make full use of the view over the harbour, the space on the headland and even the sunny climate of Australia. The design wowed the public and work started in late 1959 with a budget of $7 million and and e.t.a of 3 years. It was a magnificent flight of fancy by Utzon that didn't go entirely to plan - the construction ended up taking 16 years and costing $102million.

We enter the Studio, the smallest of the theatres. It is traditionally painted in black, with plush red seating in the gallery two rows deep and a wide, square floor space with round tables seating four persons each. The tables and circle seating go right up to the stage - it's a very intimate venue and sees performances as diverse as cabaret, Shakespeare and aerial circus. The floor space can be cleared and huge seated tiers pulled out from the back like drawers to create nine more rows, or the curtain at the back of the platform stage can be taken down and the middle floor itself used as the stage for theatre in the round. None of the three smaller performance spaces (the Studio, the Playhouse and the Drama Theatre) were part of the original design - the space used to be just storage.

Back outside and up some steps to the Concert Hall foyer, with it's panoramic views of the harbour and Kirribilli. Above there are concrete gables and below, purple carpet and wide stairs. You can see all the intricacies in the roof that took Utzon and his chief structural engineer four years to come up with. After rejecting over 16 schemes and very nearly giving up on the sails design Utzon found the answer - construct the pieces out of one spherical shape to be pre-fabbed and assembled on-site. It was an amazing feat of lateral thinking and saved the whole project, making the sails all part of the same curved surface.

They had to invent a lot of the technology involved in construction as they went along, and all of the techniques are still used in modern civil engineering. They even invented a new type of tile for the intricate designs on the roof, which took three years to manufacture. Utzon chose the pattern and the colours and commissioned the self-cleaning, entirely non-porous ceramic to make the tiles. The self-cleaning part is important, we are told - the cleaning bill for the windows alone is $30-40k per year.

The drama clouding the project began soon after the roof construction was started and despite Utzon's incredible design and input into the project the new Australian government ceased paying him in the mid 60's amid increasing public pressure to deliver. They hired a group of Australian architects to finish the job and Utzon never returned to Sydney to see his masterpiece.

Thoroughly overawed, we make for the concert hall. It seats 2,700 at full capacity and there is also room for a few hundred singers in the choir stalls behind the stage. The acoustics are mind-blowing - there are two maintenance men next to one another sanding down the wooden stalls for the choir and when our guide stops talking I can hear one of them ask the other if they have any paper - they are 50 metres away. The secrets of this are the arched and stepped ceiling and the fact that the entire place is made of wood of various kinds - literally everything apart from the seat cushions and the acoustic cloud - a set of lit plastic doughnuts hanging above the stage that give musicians a 0.4 second turnaround of the noises they make, a very useful addition.

Looming majestically above the stage is the organ, the largest pipe organ in the world. Three storeys high and stretching eight metres back from the wall, the organ has 138 visible pipes and another -- hidden behind the wall. It took 10 years to build and another 2 years to tune. It sees five to ten recitals a year but the Concert Hall is an amazingly diverse venue, having seen everything from Australian Idol to the Foo Fighters, from Cirque de Soleil to Arnie winning Mr Universe and even, once, Sumo Wrestling. It also gets a lot of play from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, stand up comics and concert musicians. No speakers or amplification are used for any of the music.

Next, we cross over to the right hand set of sails to visit the Opera Theatre. Used by Opera Australia for eight months of the year and the Australian Ballet for the remaining four, it is a more traditional theatre inside - black walls and ceiling, tiered seating and boxes but a rather nice addition is standing room, where tickets go for about $30 a pop. They have usually about three productions on at once, taking the most volume of the Opera House which airs, on average, 7 separate performances per day throughout the five venues.

The most incredible thing is the total lack of roll-off stage space - there are only two metres or so in the wings so all of the sets have to be un-built and rebuilt for every single performance. Tosca performs thirty times? Sixty or so stage hands have to build and take apart the set thirty times, and if it's a Saturday (when there is a matinee and then an evening performance) they have an hour to do it. Just sixty minutes to take apart an entire set, flat-pack it, lower it down behind the stage on lifts to the lower level storage and winch up the parts to build another one. Another interesting feature of the lack of wing space comes with ballet - if the choreographer has written in a huge leap off the stage the company must employ "catchers" who literally catch dancers as they fly into the tiny wings. I always thought that was an urban myth, something Madame used to threaten us with! Amazing.

Aside from the incredible stage there is a 70-person orchestra pit, a 15m deep stage with an upward rake to bring the performers 'closer' and both the ballet company and the opera average 90% occupancy each performance. As we are leaving there are a few dancers on their way in and I stop for a chat. What are they performing? They are scoping for Swan Lake. The male principal shakes his head with a grin. "I think it'll be more like Swan Pond," he says, referring, I think, to the size of the stage versus the size of the cast of such a ballet. They take their leave as we head to the central foyer for one last video.

It has a happier message. Despite his initial alienation, Jorn Utzon accepted a commission to plan the ongoing developments of the opera house interior in 1999. He still never travelled to Sydney, working from home and sending his architect son to handle the implementation but he was involved from then until he passed away nine years later at the age of 90. The place is currently undergoing a $152m renovation of the backstage mechanisms - the space at the back of the Opera Theatre stage contains machinery to lever down the sets, in pieces, to storage areas but it is archaic and in dire need of renovation. The sheer logistics of doing what those stagehands and set builders do in sixty minutes with sixty-year-old machinery... Whoever orchestrates that deserves a medal or several.

Cliched? Maybe. Tourist trap? A little. But it is a fundamental part of Sydney's identity and you just have to see it. It is too interesting, controversial and beautiful to miss. Elated, we go for a pub lunch at the Parragon Hotel just behind Circular Quay and spend another afternoon shopping, this time for a pair of shoes for Fred. A boon of the Australian nation is that they have more provision for people with massive feet, and a lax definition of "dress shoes". A day very well spent, despite the rain which most Australians welcome - they have been in the grip of a water shortage here for ten years and a drought for eight - the reservoirs are the highest they have been in a decade at a frugal 53%. Everywhere uses short flushing toilets, it is forbidden to wash your car with a hosepipe or to even water plants as such. Looking at the maps detailing the locations and levels of the reservoirs is isn't harder to work out why they are low - they have built them all inland. Where it never rains. They get by purely by having such a small population, only around 20 million people in the entire country. Even so, everyone does their bit - not leaving the taps on while brushing their teeth and such makes a big difference. Tomorrow more rain is forecast - I say they can have some of Manchester's share.





Posted by fredginger 23:08 Archived in Australia Comments (7)

Sunday 4th July - A Walk Around North Sydney

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

Sunday 4th June - A Walk Around North Sydney

I am woken this morning early, by birdsong. Now, I have always dismissed those travellers and poets who rave about the beauty of the birdsong in the English countryside as it all just sounded like twittering to me. But now I can see why they prefer it to that of other nations - oh what I would give at 6am for gentle, melodic tweeting. The birds in Australia seem to have evolved their calls to scare off crocodiles as I am woken violently by one right outside the window that sounds like a siren, then like it is being strangled and another that chatters like a monkey. Loudly. In the tree there are also Kookaburras, and yes, they do laugh - they laugh like lunatics. People actually pay to have them shot out of trees they make such a racket.

Fortunately there is immediate good news inside the house as another barbecue fry up greets me this morning and I can't emphasise enough the yumminess of Australian bacon. We then take a bus from Mosman Bay up to North Sydney for an 8km walk back that starts with the North Sydney Oval - before the New Sydney Cricket Ground it was the centre of the city's cricket hub. The place feels like it is stuck in a time warp - still just a grassy knoll one the north side and the stands are straight out of the Federation architecture of the 1920's, as is the tower. It is painted green and coral and is actually very pretty.

We continue on, watching the Australian world go by. The is an abundance of golf courses and skate parks, in one case right next each other, and people out dog-walking. It is a beautiful day and we are shielded by the hills from any significant wind so it is warm too. As we walk there is a groups of friends on a balcony having Sunday barbecue, boat trailers parked up for the winter and quiet streets, seeming almost uninhabited at times. There are houses with pools looking right over the water of the harbour and 360 degree views - expensive, but then a lot of things in Sydney are. If you want smart office clothes it'll cost you a fortune but thongs and beachwear are dime-a-dozen, even in the winter. Sydney is one of the world's most expensive cities at the moment purply on the back of the exchange rate and even if that is good it's still the most expensive place to live in Australia - definitely the London of this vast country.

We nod hello to joggers, runners, walkers, in-line skaters and people running after kids on scooters as we pass too. Sydneysiders are obsessed with health and beauty and they walk or run everywhere as a lot of them don't have cars. They even go ass far as swearing by something called "re-birth cream", the active ingredient of which is emu placenta and that, coincidentally, is close to the top of the list of things I would not put on my face. I don't think healthcare over in Australia is expensive (there is no public health system) but I also don't think it is terribly advanced - I remember Tom, the bus driver, teaching himself to walk on a beach with some walking sticks made from fallen palm branches.

Either way they like their outdoors despite the dangers - when playing golf in the summer my father tells us all golfers must stamp their feet when walking to ward off snakes. It has been known for golfers to get bitten, he says - all the golf clubs carry anti-venom. The water of the harbour is as clear as if it weren't there and you can see down the rocks to where there are oysters and mussels. There are houses floating on jetties in the harbour, actable only by a gangplank or a boat. We reach Spit Junction with it's wide open grass and pitted rocks - some people are bouldering underneath one. The roundabout route has taken us only a few hours and we get a well-deserved beer before walking back to Musgrave Street.




Posted by fredginger 23:00 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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