I signed off my last post with a surety that, because of a less-than-half full plane, we would get plenty of rest on our overnight journey. Of course, I forgot to mention that we had at that moment flown into Opposite Territory or as you may know it: the southern hemisphere. In this upside down world everything is topsy-turvy. Men are women, dogs are really cats and the finned and gilled creatures of our oceans swarm high among the clouds where only birds should intend to sail. Also, it means that anything you predict will not come to fruition. If you hadn’t worked it out already, we didn’t get any sleep on the plane.
Not that it was that much of a problem. We had a plethora of books, films, and music to keep us entertained for the nine hour flight. Anyway, it meant that there was no chance of us missing the sunrise which was quite possibly one of the most beautiful, natural occurrences I have ever witnessed. At first we thought we could spy a mountain in the distance, which up close may have been vast and bold but to our eyes was a mere spec. However this turned out to be a collection of clouds close to the horizon where the suns eager rays burst through, illuminating the clouds in bright orange and giving its bumpy rims a silver highlight.
We landed in Sydney’s airport around 7am local time having left Bangkok at 7pm south-east Asia time. We may have lost three hours but feelings of jet-lag were either yet to arrive or were not arriving at all and we felt fairly awake as we dawdled through immigration, throwing away sachets of sugar at the last minute, scared that we might be denied access to the country for bringing in foreign and harmful granules. By declaring various things like, tea-bags and medication we thought it best to be safe than sorry having heard how strict customs can be. However anyone actually wishing to smuggle in contraband need only declare everything before immigration as the officer who checked our documents could clearly not be bothered searching through two back-packs. After a 10 second interrogation of what was inside our packs, he waved us through, content that we were not smugglers of illegal or hazardous goods.
I spoke in my last post of how ready we were to finally leave Asia, and all its illogical customs for which there often seemed no explanation. So of course we were delighted to land in the country of our ancestral cousins- where they speak like us and the only barrier worth worrying about is the Great Barrier Reef- to find two Asian guys handing out leaflets in an attempt to sell us something. Walking from Central train station to the YHA we encountered the Asian flagship of convenience stores: the 7/11, and we seriously wondered if we hadn’t simply taken off back in Bangkok, circled the airport and landed back where we started.
But you need only look about you, at the high rise offices interspersed with European style architectural buildings hundreds of years old, for confirmation that the days of hearing “Thai massaaaaaage?” on every corner were firmly behind you.
This was Jo’s second time visiting Sydney, but I had an instant sense of amazement simply walking across the road to the ATM machine. Growing up, Australia was always one of those places in the world that seemed an entire world away. As I grew a little older, I realised it was in fact only half a world away, but I almost resigned myself to the admission that I would never see it in person. It was strange then, that things looked very familiar, yet glimmered with a different accent and it was the combination of the known and unknown that intrigued me. I instantly wanted to set about exploring the city, agonisingly watching the morning herds of city-folk walking past the window. All I could do was sip my tea and wait to check in to our room.
First thing was first though: I had a special package to collect. It was being sent from home; it was brand new; it was a few inches long but could take you a long way and I had been missing its usefulness since our journey from Koh Phangan to Chiang Mai. Guessed what it is yet? Yes, it was my new credit card, and we had a lot of making up to do. Luckily the route to the post office took in a spectacular stretch of downtown Sydney and I gawped endlessly with my head craned skywards at the countless buildings of fine architectural brilliance, admiring their incredulous attention to detail. This is a past time I have often afforded myself in Liverpool, taking the historic route through Castle Street and Dale Street until my neck can no longer take it and in this way, I felt instantly at home.
With the package secure, we continued to wander the busy city streets and found ourselves at Darling Harbour where we admired the city skyline in the late evening sun to the subtle sounds of the lapping water. We let the sun go out and watched the skyline light up; each building twinkling in its turn, nudging its neighbour in an uncoordinated Mexican-wave. We finished the night with $6 pizza, which having spent an afternoon snorting at the price of various city eateries, gave us much satisfaction. Also, it was a very tasty and very homemade pizza which only makes us feel even better for bagging a bonza bargain (sorry, last time I use that word).
Our second day in Sydney was significant for its flood of rain. It rained all morning and showed no sign of stopping into the afternoon but we were determined to make something of the day. A free bus ran close to our hostel which performed a circular route in both directions around the city centre, so we hopped on and hopped off near to the Australia Museum. The museum didn’t turn out to be the same museum I thought we were visiting. Michael had told us about a museum in Sydney that was full of technology, gadgets and games but this was a museum devoted to natural and Australian history.
Londoners and proud Brits, you can rest assured, it wasn’t quite on the same level as Bighty’s Natural History Museum but it wasn’t far off. It did however, have a member of staff dressed up in a convincing, 10 ft. dinosaur costume complete with voice changing microphone which imitated the presumed groans and grunts of whichever species they were trying to imitate. It served to scare- in an amusing and fun way- the younger children but also the older and more oriental visitor as a petrified little Japanese pensioner clung to my arm in sheer terror at the sight of it coming close. Now, I’ve not concocted her reaction as a cheap, comic ploy to entertain readers, but I am certain that as she moved closer to me she breathed a horrified whisper: “Godzilla!?”
To our relief, the man in the dino-costume did not escape the confines of the museum and partake in a city-wide, destructive rampage and we stepped out to find that Sydney was still going about its Thursday business. It had also stopped raining, so we took another opportunity to immerse ourselves in the city before we lost the light.
The following day took us to the Powerhouse Museum which was the one we had intended to go to the day before. It wasn’t quite as engaging as we’d hoped, at least not all of it and we did pay a little extra to visit the Chronicles of Narnia exhibition which housed numerous props and items from wardrobe that befitted the big screen adaptations of C.S Lewis’ books. We got to launch a (modified) catapult that had been used in one of the film’s battle sequences and we also geeked-out on a slightly ripped-off version of Space Invaders and Donkey Kong.
Refreshed with a brew, we braved the harsh winds blasting in from the sea to view the famous Sydney icons of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House which we admired from the green and pristine Botantical Gardens. I remarked to Jo that these images, these icons, are so familiar from their appearances in film, television, adverts, magazines, newspapers and the internet, sprouting up in childhood and revisiting you through adolescence and into your twenties that by the time you see them up close, they don’t quite appear as they should. It’s as if the pictures and sketches of the Opera House you made during a school project of Australia are the real icons, and that this is just the building.
We moved on to the Rocks which gives tourists a close up of Sydney’s colonial past in its aging buildings. It’s hard to remember at times, given the historic architecture, that Sydney is just a babe in the arms of its adoring mother compared to the Granddaddy’s of Europe: London, Paris, Rome and the like. They stand shoulder to shoulder now, which means Sydney deserves credit for how quickly the city has risen in global, business and economic terms. Sydney truly is a world-class place to be and we felt we had only pinched a thumb-and-forefinger-ful of what the city had to offer. Far from being sad that we did not get the chance to see it all, it makes me happy to know that I’ll certainly be coming back here in the future. Who knows, in a few more years, it might only be three-quarters of the world away.