Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sydney

First of all, Emma and Laurent are great. He's in between jobs and she's continuing at Rockpool, a fish restaurant at "the Rocks", the landing site for the establishment of Sydney.

We got into town on Thursday, early evening and made our own way to the hotel. Seemed an easy thing to do – just take the shuttle to the hotel. Except the driver left us off at the wrong hotel. I know I said "Travelodge Wynyard" because I had no way of knowing the other Travelodge names. And we were the only passengers on the bus going to a Travelodge, so when he stopped at the Travelodge and I heard "Travelodge Wynyard", we got off. It was the Travelodge Wentworth. We had to catch a taxi to take us to the "Wynyard" and that cost us almost as much as the shuttle. When I called the shuttle service to complain, the guy said it was a number for three services and he couldn't know which one was so lousy, blah, blah, blah. So, if you are coming to Sydney, beware the shuttle service to in-town hotels. It turns out, the Travelodge Wynyard is near the Wynyard train station, which has service to the airport. Would have been easier and certainly cheaper!

Emma had left us a brochure at the hotel and a note to meet them the next day at the Chinese Gardens. This gave us a chance to discover the Darling Harbour area. It's like a big attraction park; it's got a giant aquarium, a wildlife zoo, an IMAX cinema, the science museum, the maritime museum, a casino, and lots of restaurants. But you can also just sit and relax. We walked down to King Street Wharf and had lunch, then walked some more, to the Rocks and the Sydney harbor area, around the opera and into the Botanical Gardens, where Emma and Laurent left us and we made our way to the NSW state library, which is also an archive center and where they have a photo exhibition on of recent photo-journalism – interesting. That was a lot of walking, so we ended the day there and made our way back to the hotel.

On Saturday morning, Emma and Laurent picked us up in Ashley's car. We dropped our stuff off at their apartment (where we are staying until the very last night, when we return to the hotel, and they are staying at Ashley's) and then headed off to the Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains are just a couple of hours from the city. The "blue" comes from the eucalyptus fumes the trees give off. They are a great get-away for the people of Sydney and, it being Mothers' Day weekend, there were quite a lot of families enjoying a get-away. At Echo Point, there's a view of a very large canyon – much like the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, except you didn't have all the magnificent fall colors. Still, it's a beautiful view. We stayed in a fairly decrepit motel from the '60s – expensive and no view. Had a great dinner at an Italian restaurant not too far away. And set off for Hunter Valley the next morning. (In spite of it being Sunday, our motel finished breakfast at 9:00 and set check-out for 10, so we didn't even get a late sleep-in.)

Actually, it took longer than we thought to get to Hunter Valley. I think it's because we stuck to the small winding roads in the mountains. It was certainly beautiful. And on the Hunter Valley side of the mountains we went through fruit orchards and horse farms. It reminded us very much of West Virginia or the Carolinas. As we came further down the mountain, we started seeing more vineyards – not the enormous vineyards of Coonawarra, but more European-sized plantings. What is really strange is that in the center of these vineyards, the center of each label or a group of labels, there is a whole commercial complex (tasting, of course, but also some accommodation, restaurant, and shop with cheese and other refined groceries to go with the wine) replacing the chateau we'd see in France. Emma had reserved a surprise for us – the Crown Plaza – in Hunter Valley and. Especially after the previous night's stay, we really appreciated it. At dinner, we had a local Macquariedale organic (and bio-dynamic) wine, which was very good (like a mellow Bordeaux with a hint of cherry), so on Monday, we set out to find the center which showcased the Macquariedale wines. It was at the Hunter Resort, but what we tasted there was not as good as what we had had at the restaurant, so we tasted some others and Emma and Laurent bought a couple of bottles for themselves and Ashley.

After lunch, we headed back to Sydney. No rush, so we were still on the small roads. We made it back to the city just before sunset – over the famous bridge and back to the apartment. Emma and Laurent showed us where they shopped, where to get the bus and so on. Their studio is on the first floor, but is more like the ground floor, because that is where the garden is and they have a terrace surrounded by palm trees. The real ground floor is the garage and, on the Cleveland St. side, empty commercial space. It's a nice studio with an open kitchen to the right of the door as you come in and the living area to the left. They have room for two sofas, a coffee table, and even a TV in one half and their bed and bedside tables in the other, with the bathroom on the right, behind the kitchen. Very efficiently laid out. And most of the furnishings are things they picked up and put together! It's quite comfortable (but the sofas are not ideal for the over-50s).

On Tuesday, we set out on our own to discover the city. By now, we've exhausted the museums (and ourselves) and we know George Street by heart – on foot and by bus. Emma and Laurent live a couple of blocks from Broadway. Broadway turns into George Street at Central Station and goes all the way up to the Rocks and the harbor. It's probably a little over 4 km from their place to the end. In that space, you go through Chinatown, the financial district, the main shopping and the luxury shopping districts, to end at the main tourist area, the harbor and the Opera. This is the main peninsula of Sydney, the CBD (central business district).

Not far away is Watson's Bay, a few peninsulas over, across from Manly, it is the entrance to the harbor. As such, until recently, it was a military base, so the tip of the peninsula was free of buildings and had been turned into a national park. It's beautiful, with beautiful views – cliffs on the Pacific side and Sydney in the distance on the harbor side. We took a bus to get there and went through some very expensive neighborhoods with some exquisite views. Each bay had its marina and hillside homes. Watson's Bay, being the end of the series, is probably the most exclusive. It's tiny. It's the end of the line for the bus, too. You get off – there's the national park on one side of you and a commons down to the wharf on the other. At the bottom of the hill, at the wharf, there are two restaurants – a fast food fish restaurant on the wharf and a regular fish restaurant with service on the beach. They both belong to the Doyle family. We chose the restaurant with service on the beach. So, you've got the beach at your feet and a spectacular view of Sydney in the distance. Around the marina, you can see some very nice homes, too. We caught the ferry back to Circular Quay, the main Sydney harbor stop between the Opera and the Rocks. The ferry ride back only took a few minutes! We had time to finish visiting the Aboriginal bark paintings at the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) and have a coffee break with Emma before walking all the way back to the apartment.

Last day – a fine lunch at Potts Point at the Yellow Bistro with Ashley and her partner, Stu. A big thanks to them for the car for the weekend in the mountains and for having Emma and Laurent so we could stay in the studio.

From Hong Kong, in transit.

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