A Travellerspoint blog

Australia Day 20

Sydney - Last morning

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It is raining heavily when we rise, a joyful reminder of what to expect when we get home: who would want to leave this place if the sun was shining? This provides us with our first opportunity to use the umbrella as we make our way down hill to the Museum of Contemporary Art. This sits opposite the Cruise Ship Terminal. One disappointment is how those huge vessels are allowed to dominate the harbour precinct. No sooner does one leave than another arrives, disgorging the population of a small town.

The museum contains a large number of exhibits, painting, sculpture and video. There are many either of Aboriginal art or by others, highlighting the Aboriginal experience: a wall of delicate baby shoes symbolises the 'stolen generation'. Australia is exorcising its guilt for past sins. One picture, a pastche of an historical tableaux, portrays Cook and his sailors as pirates. There is an engaging video installation which shows on five screens a mother talking about prayer, only her hands are shown holding Rosary beads, while the faces of her eight grown-up children are shown, switching from screen to screen, reacting with laughter, empathy, sadness, discomfort. We spend a good couple of hours in the museum, before exiting through the gift shop.

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This is our last day in Australia and the last of the blog. The holiday has been a wonderful experience. We've seen amazing sights and met some great people - not all recorded here.

So what have we learned that we didn't know before?

Australians are uniformly friendly: "no worries" typifies their approach to life's challenges. But I'm sure we knew that.

This is their Lucky Country and they're proud of it. They must be world leaders in conservation: the scale of their national parks and the efforts they take to preserve their indigenuous flora and fauna are indicative of their serious intent. And even in Sydney, great care is being taken to preserve their European and Aboriginal heritage - witness the fact that our hostel sits on stilts over archeological workings, exposing the early Rocks' settlement. Every day parties of school children are introduced to this history.

Aussies love words that end in '-ies' e.g. schoolies (encountered earlier), boardies (long swimming shorts), pokies (slot machines, advertised everywhere), Woolies (reincarnated as their Tesco's), Pommies (who else?), and barbies. The list is endless.

It will soon be impossible to get lung cancer or become an alcoholic in Australia. Whenever one attempts to buy cigarettes (not us, of course), one is confronted with a stark warning and a helpline. Soon all cigarettes here will be sold in plain wrappers. TV adverts are explicitly discouraging. What about the drinkers? Beer is extraordinarily expensive. You'd need a private income to get drunk. I once had two bottles of beer and spent the evening wracked with remorse. I could have bought a small Picasso for the money.

Every Australian pub has at least one television showing test cricket. All Australian cafes will sell sandwiches with a slice of 'tasty cheese': ham and cheese, beef and cheese, tuna and cheese, and so on. It's like the Monty Python spam sketch, except with cheese.

We feel we've seen Australia but all we've done is skim the edge of Queensland and spend a few days in Sydney, a few hours in the Blue Mountains. As you can see this doesn't stop me from generalising about the people or the country. What do they say about travel? It broadens the mind. We must come back sometime and have a look at other parts, and do a bit more broadening.

Posted by mikemonica 18:56 Comments (4)

Australia Day 19

Sydney

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This is our last full day in the city. It's dull and cloudy, warm, with a little breeze. We take the ferry via Luna Park to Darling Harbour. This was redeveloped to coincide with the Bi-Centennial and has been described as "Sydney's gift to itself". It is very tourist-oriented with an Acquarium, Maritime Museum, Convention Centre and a wide assortment of restaurants and cafes. There is even a Koala Sanctuary here, though how can this work in such a concrete jungle? We see the warship and a submarine in the harbour, incongruously sitting alongside a replica of the Endeavour, Captain Cook's ship.

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We are on our way to Barracks Museum, situated at the north end of Hyde Park. This tells the story of the convict experience. We make our way through Market Street and, just before St James's Station we pause, together with countless parents and children, to admire the animated Christmas displays in the windows of David Jones store. In Hyde Park there is an impressive 30's style fountain, erected to commemorate the alliance with the French during the Great War. A French sculptor is credited with its creation. Opposite is St Mary's Cathedral opened in 1882, completed in 1928. This enormous Gothic creation would not look out of place in any Western European city. In the park the Australian Scots are marking St Andrew's Day (a couple of days late).

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Built into the walls of the Barracks Museum is a monument to the over 4,000 Irish orphan teenage girls, victims of the Famine, who were transported to Australia in 1849. Their names are engraved on glass (every second one a Mary), beside a split wall with part of a table on either side - one with an empty bowl, the other set for a meal. These girls were to become servants and wives to the English/Australian community. Their children probably paid for the cathedral.

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The museum has been wonderfully restored and uses all sorts of media to communicate the lives of those incarcerated there, prisoners and subsequently Irish orphans. Pictures, models, artifacts are all used to animate their lives there. There is an oppoprtunity for people to search a database for their their 'convict ancestors'. I key in my surname - only one convict shares it. I try my mother's maiden name- three pages are returned. She would have been horrified. Monica tries and her brother John's namesake appears.

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We eat in a fancy courtyard restaurant, in the same squre where one hundred and fifty years ago men and women were flogged and imprisoned.
The Botanical Gardens are our next stop. Established in 1816, this enormous park in the centre of Sydney is the country's oldest scientific institution, a living museum of plants and trees. It is also a place to go to get away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney.

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We pass a couple of glamourous young women on gigantic platform soles and glitzy dresses. They are in a hurry, looking for their wedding. The Botanical Gardens is the wedding location of choice for many Sydneyites. There are at least four going on simultaneously, that we can see. The girls' confusion is understandable. The Gardens are huge, with paths leading through tropical forests, displays of ferns and bushes, park land and so on. If the invitation said merely in the Botanical Gardens, then it could take some time to find the exact venue. Monica, spoiled for choice, confines herself to photographing wedding dogs - does she miss Max? On a hill we find a sculpture commemorating the Aboriginals' original occupation of this land.

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We exit via the Opera House, catching the end of the street entertainment: jazz bands, magicians and acrobats. In the evening we eat in the Australian pub "the oldest continuously liscensed pub in Sydney - even though it was once on George Street, knocked down and rebuit in 1901 in its present location on Cumberland street next to the Harbour Bridge YHA. It is famed for its pizzas which feature as ingredients, emu, crocodile,and kangaroo. In the interests of conservation, we settle for the Barramundi, surely the most popular fish in Australia. We'll miss this when we're back in the UK - but not the price of beer.

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Posted by mikemonica 18:40 Comments (0)

Australia Day 18

Manly Beach

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It's Saturday and the heat-wave continues. We're going to do what all the sensible locals are doing and head for the beach. Manly Beach can be reached easily by ferry from Circular Quay. Our Travel Passes, courtesy of our Canadian friends, cover the journey. This trip through the bay is recommended as one of the 'must-dos' of a visit to Sydney. We travel in one of the iconic, old, double-fronted, green and yellow ferries. The skipper is impatient with any motor boats or yachts that cut too closely across his bows and expresses this by sounding an enormous horn designed to get the attention of the miscreants. Once again we photograph the Bridge and Opera House, this time from a seaborne perspective. You can't have too much of a good thing. The Harbour Bay is an enormous playground filled with all sorts of craft: sailing boats and dinghies, motor cruisers, kayaks, even people paddling surfboards. This is in an area criss-crossed by ferries and cruise ships.

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We reach the Manly Wharf and walk through The Corso to get to the beach. This pedestrianised thoroughfare, like everywhere today, is populated with covered stalls, selling Christmas crafts and trinkets - here, supporting good causes like Amnesty International, Green Peace, and Fair Trade. En route, there are small pavement fountains for the toddlers to play in. These spurt water unexpectedly and can catch the unwary by suprise. I speak as one.

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We eat in a Hemingway-themed restaurant opposite the beach (he visited Sydney once). We've spent a lot of time lately eating Thai, Japanese and Italian. This is an uncompromising Australian eating place serving good 'Aussie tucker'. We choose a local version of Tapas. The recommendation is two dishes each. We elect for one each: the spicy chicken nuggets and thick hand-cut chips in onion gravy. This is wrong on so many levels but delicious - just the kind of heavy meal you need before a swim. Hemingway would have approved; another fat bearded guy in a big hat who liked his food. A tall thin blond passes by. "I'll bet she doesn't eat hand-cut chips", says Monica, "But then she probably doesn't go bushwalking in the Blue Mountains either", recalling the exploits of the last couple of days.

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Manly is a surfers' beach.The main part of the beach is reserved for them. At either end there are small stretches marked by flags and policed by "Surf Guards" which are set aside for swimmers. Anyone straying out of these into the domain of the surfers is whistled at by the guards and ushered back into the safe area. There appear to be life guards everywhere, dressed in their yellow and red outfits.

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At the North end of the beach there is a Surf Boat competition. This has been going on since eight this morning, I'm told. There are different heats for men and women, under 23's, and under 19's. Five or six boats race at a time, steered into the surf, then rowed to a bouy and back again. It's a colourful spectacle. Each team wears matching swimsuits and caps.

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After a digestive interval, I take to the surf with the host of other swimmers compressed into a small area. The surf is breath-taking. It doesn't look too strong from the shore but once you're in, you are swept along by the sheer force of the Pacific Ocean. It's great fun. Nearby, a group of children is being coached in competitive surf boarding. In the Alps children aspire to be skiers, in Canada, ice hockey players, in India, cricketers; here, they all want to be surfers. I'm amazed at how far out the small ones will go (watched closely by their coaches, also on boards). Maybe it's not too late for me to learn.

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We catch the ferry back to Circular Quay and immediately get on another one. This is headed to Neutral Bay fifteen minutes across the Harbour Bay. The idea is to walk from this landing to the wharf at Cremorne Point. Diane recommended this, though she went in the opposite direction. It's now after five o'clock and still very hot. The route is not marked and the first challange is to navigate a path through the suburb, until we find the shoreside path on the other side of the Kurraba peninsula. This involves a heated hill climb and navigating (by instinct) through a few streets of expensive mansions. In the heat Monica loses faith in my instinct and asks directions of a solitary local - everyone else is in watching "Neighbours". The main part of our subsequent journey takes us through a pleasant waterside park peopled with dog walkers and picknickers, with excellent views of Sydney in the distance.

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The ferries from Cremorne Point run every hour but we've timed our arrival beautifully and have only a five-minute wait, time spent looking across the harbour to the Opera House and Bridge. We're back in Circular Quay by 18:30. After our evening meal, we revisit a piece of street sculpture commemorating the early inhabitants of The Rocks. It comprises a triangular set of sandstone blocks, carved into which are respectiverly the shapes of a soldier, a convict, and a family of settlers. It's a work designed to viewed at night, the shadows creating the illusion of form.

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Posted by mikemonica 18:31 Comments (0)

Australia Day 17

The Blue Mountains - Leura

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"It's going to be another hot one", we're told by our host at breakfast."They say it's going to hit 33 today. You wouldn't believe we had snow in October". We wouldn't. We eat our breakfast and watch the white cockatoos eating theirs outside. It is our plan to walk to Leura which is the next town along from Katoomba: three kilometres from Echo Point to the Leura Cascades along the cliff path and then a mere twenty minutes uphill on the road into town. After yesterday's exertions, it should be a dawdle. There'll be no pressure to catch a funicular train or cable car. We can take this at our leisure. Once again, our trusty tourist map foreshortens distances and conceals the descents and climbs along the way. As we've discovered the term 'cliff path' is somewhat misleading: this is a proper Bushwalk, at no point do we walk along the top of a cliff. "I've never known it to be so humid this time of the year", are our host's last words as we leave for Echo Point. This time we'll be walking in the other direction, past the Three Sisters.

According to our guidebook, Leura is notable for its European Gardens and Art Deco architecture. Its tree-lined main street is 'a magnet for fine art galleries, cafes, shops and upmarket restaurants'. Think Kinsale, without the harbour; think Cowbridge, at 3300 feet, in sunshine. This is the Noosa of the Blue Mountains. Our destination.

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The Prince Henry Cliff Walk is dotted with platforms sited precariously on rocks from which to catch the views. These are memorably named: the Honeymoon Lookout, the Tallawarra, Minnamurra & Lady Carrington Lookouts; the Kiah Lookout and the Bridal Veil Lookouts. All offer dramatic views of the sandstone cliffs and distant mountains. Today, maybe because of the heat and humidity, the blue haze is more apparant than yesterday.We stop periodically at these to wonder at the views and to photograph them.

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We come to Fossil Rock where the fossilised remains of a huge sea creature are clearly formed in stone, three thousand-odd feet above sea level. There are other less clearly defined fossils nearby: something that looks like a crocodile's tail, the torso of another animal. You expect to see this sort of thing on beaches, not on sites such as this.

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We reach the Leura Cascades which provides Monica with a chance to cool off. The Cascades descend in a series of minor waterfalls before the stream falls off a cliff and crashes into the forest hundreds of feet below. The flow is rather benign today, but it's possible to image the force of water that has carved this channel when it's rainier.

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We eventually reach the Leura Mall, the main shopping street and, after a snack, Monica investigates the shops while I check the train times back to Katoomba. It's a five-minute journey in an air conditioned carriage. I notice that, Leura, like every town and village in Australia, has a man's hat shop. Wide brimmed hats are respected here. This must be the only place outside Texas where a man can stroll down the street looking like a cowboy and not invite a second glance. This is my kind of country. When you're thin on top, and the sun shines, you need a hat. We ate last night in a restaurant called 'The Hatters' Cafe'. It had a collection of huge arty photographs of minor Australian celebrities, men and women, wearing hats. The hat shop next door had pictures in the window of Charles sporting and Camilla carrying local hats during a visit to Katoomba. The royal seal of approval.

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We kill some time before our train by visiting the new Katoomba Library. It has been opened only two weeks and is probably the most beautiful library in the world. It certainly has the best views.

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Posted by mikemonica 18:05 Comments (1)

Australia Day 16

The Blue Mountains - Katoomba

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We're off to the Blue Mountains today. The Blue Mountains National Park is the largest park in New South Wales. Consisting mainly of a sandstone plateau, the area is dissected by gorges up to 760 metres deep and has mountains up to 1100 metres high. The name Blue Mountains is derived from the blue tinge the range takes on when viewed from a distance. This is caused by a vapour which is released by the eucalyptus trees. The area is highly dramatic, like the Grand Canyon with trees. The most famous landmark is the spectacular rock formation called the Three Sisters. Aboriginal legend claims that the rock is in fact three sisters imprisoned by their father to protect them from a bunyip.

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Billy Connolly has a saying directed at those who complain about the weather. He says there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. It was with this adage in mind that we dress for our trip to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. The forecast, gleaned from the internet, is ambiguous. The various weather sites offer differing suggestions as to how the weather will behave over the next couple of days, though there is a vague concensus towards thunderstorms and cool periods. Since we are going to be in the mountains for a couple of days and wish to travel light, it is important to get the clothes right. We dress in our (relatively) warmest summer wear: jeans and warmish tops. The shorts and, in my case, sandals, are left behind, in storage with our cases. We take the umbrella.

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We catch the double-decker train from Central. It is a two hour journey up to Katoomba. The weather is cloudy and we feel vindicated regarding our choice of clothes. Our first stop is Lawson. four stops before Katooma. This is someting of a pilgrimage for Monica. Her brother John was principal of a primary school here from 1977 to 1979, after which he returned to Ireland, where he looks out at the rain and wonders why he ever left. Monica captures a few images of the school as it is now and we get on the next train. It is hot and the cloud cover has disappeared.

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We reach Katoomba in the middle of a heatwave. The temperature is 31 degrees according to a neon sign outside the Australian RSL Club. We arrive at our classy B&B about 14.00 hr. Our host welcomes us with a tourist map and recommends a circular walking route, above and below the cliffs: "It should take about three hours", he says. The journey starts at Echo Point, the viewing platform for the the Three Sisters, ten minutes walk down the street from our accommodation.

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Most tourists view these sights after stepping out of their air-conditioned coaches to which they return after taking a few snaps. Not us. After taking our photos of the rock formation, we set off on our three-hour trek. It starts with a descent down into the gorge via The Staircase: nine hundred uneven steps cut into the cliff face. It is very hot and we have begun to regret our clothes. I sweat and Monica perspires as we labour our way down the cliff. Our primary thought is that there is no way we are going to be able to climb back up again. We see one or two young people on our way, but few are keen to attempt the trek in this heat. We are comforted by the thought that we can catch the Scenic Railway train back up. We reach the foot of the staircase to be confronted by a sign which reads: "Last train 16:50. Walking time to Station one and a half hours. The time is 16:10. We have a choice of doing the walk in forty minutes or climbing those steps. We choose to do the former and head off along the path, the Fedral Pass, cut through the forest.

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We move along the path at double pace. Every so often we pass disheartening notices reminding us of the departure time. Never have trekkers in their sixties moved at such speed, in such heat, and with such purpose. We reach the foot of the track with minutes to spare. There is a notice advising us that due to repair work, the train is not running. I issue a silent scream. A workman nearby suggests we catch the cable car, the last one up runs at 17:00. It's a pleasant ten minute walk from here. We catch the cable car, clothes now stuck to our backs. The Gondola is filled with a party of cool young Koreans who obviously came down by the cable car and are now returning. They give us a wide berth.

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Once we reach the summit, we have (allegedly) a mere forty-five minute cliff-top stroll back to Echo Point. Don't be deceived. This is an undulating and demanding walk, meandering up and down the cliff face and taking us past beauty spots such as the Katoomba Cascades. See the photograph above: does that look like a cliff top to you? Eventually, we return to our B&B for a shower and ritual burning of our clothes. Our host was right. It has taken us three hours.

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Posted by mikemonica 03:12 Comments (0)

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