Friday, October 4th, 2019 – Sydney
We woke up early the next morning, even though our bodies probably thought it was really bed time. While I made a tea for me and a coffee for Lucie, the television news gleefully reported that the temperature was expected to rise to 30 degrees. With the window open, it was already quite warm.
We had decided that a couple of days of “acclimatisation” would be advisable and had planned our arrival in Australia with that necessity in mind. In no kind of hurry, we went for a very pleasant breakfast at a nearby café and then we headed towards the tourist attractions. Most of the main ones were situated very close by and just to the north of us.
Sydney is located around a rugged bay with many islands and islets. Until 1932, the southern and northern edges of the bay were connected only by ferries. These were subsequently replaced by the famous bridge, which is apparently nicknamed the “hanger” because it has the shape of a trouser hanger. The upper arch rises to a height of 134 m above sea level. It does seem to be really high. There is a tourist corner with cafés by the bridge and a view of the Opera House from the adjacent dock. This basically represents all of Sydney’s key “must see” sights.
The Opera House surprised us. Because it is usually photographed from up close, it looks a lot bigger in those photographs than it actually is. That is not to say it is small, but it is somehow not as dominant in its real life setting as it appears in pictures. I had always thought it was white, but it is not. It is more the creamy colour of the canvas sails it is supposed to invoke.
There was a grand view of Sydney Bridge from the Opera House, just as there had been a grand view of the Opera House from the bridge. We basically nailed everything in less than forty-five minutes !
Sydney is a very pleasant and beautiful city. There are a lot of fairly old buildings, almost all of which seem in good repair and even the modernistic glass towers seem to have some style to them. Within the tourist zone, you can walk everywhere if the mood takes you and the heat allows. Australians pay great heed to the needs of the less fortunate so, if you need to ascend or descend somewhere steep, there is certainly going to be an elevator or escalator nearby. The streets are often bridged by pedestrian overpasses so that, in many places, the centre actually has two floors. During the whole day, we did not come across any tricky place where a pedestrian could not walk comfortably, which was also pleasing. Almost all of the people walk here and, in the centre, you rarely come across a cyclist.
At around ten in the morning we started trying to get the internet. At that point we had not seen a café with WiFi and our accommodation was without internet. Our Australian friend who lives in Prague had explained that, in Australia, data is more valuable than gold. We had been advised to buy a SIM card with prepaid data from the most advantageous operator, Telstra. However, the first 3 stores we tried did not have Telstra cards.
In the end we bought a card entitling us to 45 gigabytes of data for 28 days. The young lady in the shop helped us with the activation – a process which took almost two hours. There information required seemed almost excessive, but we needed it so we hardly had a choice. Why my shoe size was required I can only wonder. It was only when we had completed all the formalities, paid and remote activation was supposedly taking place, that we discovered we had been issued with a card from OPTUS, NOT from Telstra. OPTUS is one of the three largest operators, so we decided to just go with it.
A word of advice here. The OPTUS card worked OK in cities, but very patchily outside of them. In remote areas, it did not work at all. If you are travelling around Australia, insist upon Telstra.
Although everything was quite a short distance apart the sun was really hot. Not yet fully acclimatised, we already were longing for any small piece of shadow by the time we got to the Opera House. We finally found it in the adjacent botanical garden, which is actually a normal park, filled with what, to us Europeans, are exotic plants.
We walked across the botanical garden to another bay in King’s Cross, a well-known gay location. It is also a port with restaurants of every level and there were three giant army ships moored there. We had a pleasant light lunch overlooking the sea. We were hot and still a bit tired so we decided that if we wanted to survive until the evening, we needed to take a siesta back in our apartment.
The connection of our card, however, did not seem to happen. Around four in the afternoon, after about 150 attempts to connect, we decided that something was wrong. Ironically, yet perhaps luckily, despite the dearth of Telstra outlets, we could almost see an OPTUS store from our balcony. We went there and, I have to say, we did receive great service. The guy in the shop quickly discovered that our card was defective and, in only a few moments, issued us a new card, uploaded our credit and successfully activated it. I am almost ashamed to admit how reassuring it was to have WiFi back ! We spent quite a few hours altogether to get it, which seemed a bit strange in the middle of what, technologically at least, is a state-of-the-art city.
Before we went out again, we also managed to replan the first part of our route and we felt a bit calmer.
In the evening, much rested, we headed straight west from our apartment. About 500 metres from the door was the the water, which was the bay called Darling Harbour.
Unsurprisingly, the harbour was flanked by a huge number of swanky bars and restaurants. The entire neighbourhood where we were staying was one big business district and it looked as if every employee that had descended from the skyscrapers was drinking heavily at the end of the working week. All the bars were packed to bursting point and every happy hour was running at full throttle. According to our faithful “bible” (the Lonely Planet) the far side of the bay was “rougher” and therefore cheaper. So we walked slowly all of the way around the shore to have dinner on the rough side. What a great dinner it was. Every imaginable type of cuisine was on offer and in the end we chose more on the basis of the view of the harbour that we could get from our table than anything else. The skyline was an array of modern skyscrapers, but very beautiful in the warm, clear evening air.
The menu in the place we “chose” was one of those “Fusion” affairs where international specialities are blended and, in some cases, thrown together. What we had was a sort of blend between Italian, French and Oriental styles that was simply a clever riot of competing tastes.
From what we could gather we had arrived at the start of a long weekend. From about five in the afternoon until around eleven in the evening, it seemed to be one big party around the bay. We recrossed the water over the lovely Pyrmont pedestrian bridge and headed home. We never found out what the Licensing Hours are, but the party was definitely dying down and, before long, all was peace and quiet again.