Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Big Adventure - Messing about in boats in Sydney





Our focus for the next day was to take to the water. It is a must on any visit to Sydney to take a ferry somewhere. You can either just do one of the circular trips round the harbour, hopping on and off wherever you fancy - or go to a specific destination. We chose the latter. So first stop was to have lunch at Doyle's in Watson's Bay (three friends had recommended this famous fish and chips restaurant). We bought tickets down at the ever-buzzing Ciruclar Quay, hopped on the ferry and 20 minutes later were stepping off onto a wooden jetty leading to a small, attractive sandy bay, backed by appealing looking properties and an even more appealing looking beachside restaurant. Having not booked, we jostled our way gently forward and managed to bag a table outside (thankfully many locals were finding it a little chill and had opted for inside).

So we were sitting feeling gently pleased with ourselves and perusing the menu with anticipation when G suddenly announced she was going to be sick. Not a moment to dally. I grabbed her in a slightly unseemly fashion, while trying to be discreet, and bundled her down to the sands where, as luck would have it, a waitress was emptying a wine bucket of its melted ice. I asked politely if I could borrow it (resisting the urge to snatch), and mercifully she handed it over swiftly and obligingly. Damage limitation exercise complete, I filled it with sand and hoped that some poor unsuspecting toddler wouldn't come along and try to make sandcastles with it....

Poor G sobbed in only a way that G can sob, lamenting how unfair it was that she had got ill at the start of our Big Adventure. I commiserated with her (I too had started the worst cold I've had for years the day we left England and had been feeling pretty wretched throughout Bangkok) and tried to reassure her that she'd be feeling fine again soon. All too often, it seems, by the time one gets to a much-needed holiday, one's defences finally relax and in sweep the germs, laughing awhile. 'Tis the nature of things.

Equilibrium partly restored, we enjoyed this very Australian scene, surrounded by loud jollity (it was the season of the office Christmas party) with the towers of central Sydney drawing one's eye in the distance, reminding you of where you were. How wonderful to have such a relaxed beach-side scene so close to one of the world's great cities. Yes, we liked Syndey.

From here back on the ferry to the hustle and bustle of Circular Key and thence on another ferry to Manley, about 40 minutes across the water. It is another popular destination for a fish and chips lunch and a glimpse of the larger ocean. Dog-like, G marked her territory by being sick again on the beach, bless her, tragedy written all over her pallid face. Not such a good day for her.

We lay on the sand and paddled in the sea, took photos, ate ice cream and relaxed before heading back across the water again in time to have a wash and brush-up and meet our friends for supper in Darling Harbour. It was an easy walk from the hotel, in the opposite direction to Circular Quay, and was absolutely heaving. Friday night is clearly party night. The volume of noise coming out of the wall of waterside restaurants was quite extraordinary. We finally settled on one which could squeeze us in, having not booked, and settled down to catch up on the nine years which have slipped by since we last saw eachother in England before both our lives went in very different directions.

Old friends will always be old friends however much water flows under the bridge. It is one of life's more reassuring aspects. But saying our goodbyes in the hotel foyer well after midnight, while Sydney still reverberated all around us, it was hard to believe we were actually on the other side of the world. This could have been the end of a night in London, so familiar and accessible did Sydney seem. Not like Bangkok with all its Asian chaos, mysticism and exotism (despite encroaching western consumerism). No, this was as chalk is to cheese. We were on the other side of the world, but we were home from home.




Doyle's at Watson's Bay


Sydney skyline from Watson's Bay








Harbour Bridge


Manley Beach



L enjoying the rooftop pool




Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Big Adventure - From Bangkok to Sydney

Hello Sydney!

Sydney is to Bangkok as chalk is to cheese. They really couldn't be more different. E, being such a visual child, described both cities in colours - she said Sydney for her was all bright blues and whites and yellows, while Bangkok was more browns and oranges and golds. She had it spot on.

Bangkok was smoggy and sultry with its river swollen by muddy flood waters and its streets grubby from residual silt, the stifling air heavy with humidity; yet through this shone the shimmering gold of the temples and buddhas while the orange robes of monks warmed the streets and the setting sun burned amber through the hazy skies. Sydney, on the other hand, was cooler and brighter both physically and visually: the sky was bluer, the clouds whiter and the grass greener; the air was sharper and the shadows darker. Light bounced off the harbour waters and the iconic white sail rooves of the opera house, while the city reflected that brightness with an atmosphere bursting with verve and good vibes. The noise on the streets was not of traffic but of voices and laughter - and at volumes I have never heard anywhere else in the world, not even in locquacious Italy. It was quite extraordinary.

Arriving at Sydney aiport is a bit like arriving at Gatwick: hideous patterned carpets, too low ceilings and strip lighting. Bangkok, on the other hand, was the most magnificent modern airport, rather out of keeping with the rest of the city: the most enormous space, all glass, high ceilings and shiny marble floors, flooded with sunlight. Take a taxi into central Sydney, however, and you pass through the most immaculate set of city streets and parks I think I have ever seen. Not a scrap of litter, utterly pristine. It left you feeling calm and relaxed and should be a lesson to urban management all over the world. A total contrast to the relative chaos and confusion of Bangkok.

Sydney is primarily designed on a loose grid layout, divided into districts or 'villages' like New York. But as it lies on very hilly ground - something which came as a surprise to me - there was also a touch of San Francisco about the place. Our apartment-hotel, the Mantra 2 Bond Street, was located in the business district which lies conveniently adjacent to Circular Quay, the beating heart of this attractive, vibrant city.

Having flown throught the night and lost a few hours to time zones, I had to have a lie down before hitting the streets to explore. N gallantly took the girls up to the rooftop pool to splash about and admire the glimpses of water between the business towerblocks. He also contacted an old friend who emigrated there at the same time as we moved up to the High Peak, eight years ago, and we grabbed a quick coffee and a few tips in the hotel reception before heading out. I had donned a summer dress and cardigan and N was in shorts and a shirt. We had not gone 200 yards before deciding that the air was decidedly too cool for such optimistic attire and returned to put on long trousers and warmer layers. 14 degrees was a tad cooler than we had expected for an Aussie summer. Indeed, we later learned that Australia had had the coldest start to its summer since the 1960s!

We headed straight for Circular Quay and were greeted by the sound of a didgeridoo being played by a carefully placed aborigine. Cynicism aside, it was perfectly atmospheric and the girls took photos, of course. Numerous small ferries plied in and out of the rectangular harbour - the equivalent of London's underground, whisking commuters and tourists to all parts of Sydney's waterside suburbs. Lunch was calling by now, so having soaked in the vista of the boats, the suspension bridge and the magnificent opera house, we settled ourselves into a quayside eatery and some casual people-watching as a stream of humanity flowed past.

Tiredness was setting in with the troops. L fell asleep at the restaurant and after taking in the architectural wonders of the Opera House (not feeling strong enough for the inside tour), we sloped off to the adjacent botanical gardens for a snooze on a grassy slope in the sunshine, not a hint of guilt in our bones. 

Refreshed, we explored the gardens a little more, found the famous fruit bats, examined the flora and fauna (well, I did at least), noted the gentle flow of people passing through it on their way to or from the city, and then headed contentedly back from this quiet green haven towards the tall towers and our apartment. What a civilised place Sydney is.

In fact, about the only uncivilised thing about Sydney, for a Brit at least, is the cost. Blimey it's expensive. With £1 equating to AUS$1, there was hardly anything to be found on a menu for less than £20, and much of it considerably more, including the wine. Main courses were frequently coming in at $35 to $40, as was the vino - and that was at the cheap end of the list. For a family of five, the bill soon mounted up. Hence we spent rather too long tramping the streets that evening to find somewhere that the Accountant felt suited his pocket and the girls' appetites. Mercifully we landed on a pizzeria of admirably authentic Italian style in the trendy Rocks district near Ciruclar Quay and watched the girls, not to say ourselves, collapse into the crusts of their margheritas at about 10pm. The batteries had finally gone flat. Bed was calling.



(To be continued)


Circular Quay


Harbour Bridge and Opera House Terrace

Look at those amazing rooves

Timeless architecture

The city seen from the Botanical Gardens

The Opera House from the Botanical Gardens





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