The Travel Diaries: Sydney, Australia, Part 1

When we left off in my travel diaries series, I was wine tasting and staying in a tin shack resort in the sticks of Hunter Valley Australia.  And the next leg of the journey begins. . .

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Saturday   12/23/2006   10:34 pm

It’s trippy to think of where I woke up this morning and where I am now, and all that has happened in between.  My sister Mel and I got up and had a swim before breakfast.  It was overcast, but already humid, so the pool was pleasant.  Although I’ve been eating everything in sight,  I’ve been trying to get in a bit of physical exercise.  The swim fulfilled multiple purposes.

Breakfast was at the Hunter Resort restaurant. We had an exceptionally cute and chatty waiter, who’s only shortcoming was that he couldn’t have been much taller than five feet.  (Did you catch the pun?)  I had ricotta pancakes, which were exceptional, especially since I’m not much of a pancake person.  We packed up, checked out, and went on our wine tasting tour of Hunter Valley.

We hit up Binbagen Estate Winery, Tower Estate Winery, The Peterson House, and then the Hunter Olive for olive oil tastings and the Cheese Factory for cheese tastings.  The Hunter Valley Wines are really good.  The wine makers try a lot of things that California wine makers just don’t.  Mel and I bought a bottle of a sparkling semillion and pinot noir blend from the Peterson House, and ended up going back to Nightengale Winery from the day before to pick up a bottle of their sparkling shiraz.  We also got some assorted chocolates, including chocolate koalas and penguins (!) from the Hunter Valley Chocolate Shop.

We were wine tasting from around 11:00 am to about 1:30 pm, and had several tastes from each place, so I have to admit that by only 1:30 in the afternoon I was quite tipsy.  I think I found a sport I’m actually good at: wine tasting!  Then we began our long drive out of Hunter Valley, which required going through Watoomba and Cessnock before getting on the main road to Sydney.  It was a drive through the backwoods boonies of Australia.  I’m talking tumble-down houses, rusty cars, sheep and cows. . . only kangaroo crossing signs as well.

Getting to Sydney was like entering another world.  Tall, crowded buildings, with people everywhere, just what you’d expect of a big city.  I almost had culture shock from switching gears.  Our hotel, the Sydney Hilton, is a modern masterpiece, all glass and lights and linear shapes.  Very swank.  There is even a switch on the wall to raise and lower the blinds!  We are on the 39th floor, so the view is crazy.

For dinner we went to Palace Chinese, an awesome Chinese restaurant with funny old Chinese waiters.  Then we just walked up and down George Street for a while.  Sydney is so alive, especially on a Saturday night.  So many people of so many nationalities, and most of them under 30.  A lot of the girls were dressed to the nines, “Sex and the City” style, with some of the yummiest men ever.  And a lot of Asian people.  Australia seems to be a popular destination for them, seeing how it’s so close to Asia.  Sydney reminds me of Manhattan, but it’s cleaner and with less pollution, more like Europe.  I like it because despite the oldness present in the architecture, it feels very young.

I’m going to end my exciting Saturday night by watching some bad TV with Mel before bed!

Sunday   12/24/2006   10:46 pm

Waking up in this fabulous hotel this morning felt odd, but a good kind of odd.  Luxury takes some getting used to I suppose.  Today was rainy and overcast.  Australians love rain, apparently, since they are in the middle of a drought.

A reflective morning coffee in the window of our hotel room

We walked over to The Rocks, the original part of Sydney by the harbor that was founded by the British in the 1780s when Sydney was a place of convicts and exiles.  Many of the buildings are lovely and historic, and it was a neat place to walk around.  We went primarily because of a street market my mom had heard of.  There were nice things but were way, way too pricey.  We ran into a nice girl from Dallas who talked our ears off and mentioned a better flea market to go to, so we will probably check that out.  The entire Rocks area, in general, was too expensive and touristy, which only got worse as we met Dad for lunch and walked to the Sydney Opera House.

Cafe in ”the Rocks” neighborhood of Sydney
Me wearing a cheezy Outback hat in a tourist shop. Apparently the swinging corks are to keep the flies away

The Opera House is massive.  It’s a freakin’ beast.  And while the domes appear very silly and aesthetic, it actually is a very functional building up close because it is all concrete.  We took a tour, and got to see 3 of the 5 theaters.  The concert hall took my breath away, it was so large and pristine and impressive.  It is home to the largest pipe organ in the world, a monstrosity taking up about 3/4 of the giant back wall.

Beast of an Opera House
Sydney Opera House: from the inside looking out

Our guide was lovely; she even sang for us to show us the acoustics.  I’d never really seen anyone sing opera before.  Now I understand why it is so beloved.  Leone seemed to be a prim and proper but loveable middle-aged woman, but when she sang she became suddenly passionate and vivacious.  We are seeing a concert at the Opera House later in the week, but regrettably it is not opera.  Even more regrettably, The Marriage of Figaro opens their new season.  We will have gone home 3 days before.

After the tour, we took the city rail train back to the hotel.  Sydney seems to have pretty good public transportation.  We rested and relaxed for a few hours, then set off to Darling Harbour for dinner.

Dramatic Sydney Harbor Bridge

Dinner was at a place called Nick’s, a seafood place that was pretty expensive.  I had potato gnocchi with scallops, scampi, tomatoes and peas in a garlic butter sauce. Once again, this is not a combination of food I would have thought of before this trip.  I think I’ve figured out Australian fare: A little bit of everything on the menu, with a little bit of everything included in each dish.  I had Toohey’s New (Australian beer) to drink.  I see why the busboy commended me on my good choice and why it is “much-loved to those of New South Wales”.  It is a damn good beer!

Mel and myself with our Toohey’s New! For the longest time this was our profile picture on couchsurfing.org. I figured that it made us look friendly and inviting. And into drinkin’

Dessert was at the gellateria down the street from our hotel.  There are a lot of gellaterias in Australia, and it’s a good thing.  I love my gelato!  Considering it was Christmas Eve, the streets of Sydney were jumping.  It seems like Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve are a much bigger deal here.
Good Luck and Happy Travels,

Mo

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