Sunday, 23 December 2012

I do love the Sydney buses. They're cheap, pretty good on time-keeping and the drivers who've ferried me around have surely been schooled to be ever-so-nice to idiotic tourists.

I fancied a swim yesterday, so I took the bus east from Circular Quay to Nielsen Park via interesting spots like Kings Cross & Rose Bay. All jolly and busy. As usual I wasn't too sure where I was heading, so I asked the driver to tell me when to get off, as it were. As the trip was taking quite a long time, I thought (half an hour - surely we're there by now?) I jumped the gun, deciding the next stop must be mine and rang the bell at the last minute, forcing the driver to slam on the brakes.

Not a sign of irritation from his side. Could have something to do with the fact it's customary to thank the driver when you get off in Oz. Works a charm, clearly.   

Back to Nielsen Park. It's worth a trip or two: netted swimming area; kiosk; very picnic-friendly and one of the best vantage points for the start of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race on Boxing Day.

Update: I saw the start - pretty spectacular. My boat won of course.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The southern skies at night - what can I say? I've been getting neck-ache gazing up at the celestial show at every opportunity, but most of the time I'm not really sure what I'm looking at, exactly. A little instruction in the star-gazing department was definitely required. So last night I headed to the Sydney Observatory for a master-class on the Milky Way. And the universe never looked so lovely.

Seriously, if you can't make it into the Oz interior where the skies are likely to be clearer, the observatory is a good starting point. And even though the skies were cloudy last night, the moon peeked through the clouds and we had a grandstand view through one of the observatory's huge telescopes, in the 19th century copper-covered north dome.

Thanks to instruction from young Edward, who knows a bit about physics, astronomy and things that my little brain can barely compute, I learned a lot last night. Such as: when we look at space we're looking at what's already happened one heck of a long time ago. And if I ever get up early enough to watch the sunrise, I'll remember that what I'm looking at happened eight minutes' before.

And another fascinating tip-bit: Captain Cook originally planned to go to Tahiti to track the transit of Venus, but got diverted to Oz. And if he hadn't? Who knows how different Australia might be now.
In the planetarium, we had a talk on how to spot sparkling things in the sky, like Sirius, the brighest star, and the Southern Cross which of course I don't normally see at night in Blighty. And then onto the 3D cinema for an amazing romp through space exploration; the future of planetary life and how size does matter. A tricky business it seems. The moon and the sun look the same size to us here on the ground, but are they really?

Don't take my word for all this - grab a place on a night tour.


Monday, 17 December 2012

An art dealer has been explaining the essence of Aboriginal art to me. Roughly-speaking, it's to do with a certain amount of dreams that have been handed down and how they're expressed and interpreted through art.

I then got a guided tour of her gallery, which is stuffed to the gunwales with rather fine paintings; even if they all seem to be covered in dots. My eyes were going a bit funny with it all. "Yes there are a lot of dots which I think can be traced back to when the indigenous people used to draw in the sand. They'd take a bit of food, chew it into a ball, then 'dot' with it", she tried to explain. "If you stare at the paintings for too long, they can be almost hallucinogenic can't they?"  Too right.

Fired up, but without enough readies to buy one of her paintings, I searched out an Aborginial centre and bought a lovely writing pad with a stunning cover design (acrylic on linen) by Angelina Ngale from Ahalpere, Utopia Region in Northern Territory.  I had to have some of her work as, let's face it, there aren't too many utopias here on earth.

Sydney's got quite a lot of these beasties scurrying around I hear, and this morning I saw my first (and hopefully last) cockroach - in the loo. I was very brave. Actually that's a porkie: I asked the housekeeper of my hotel to kindly deal with it. It was her first one too, so we've both had a rite of passage, bugs-wise.  

Friday, 14 December 2012

I've just spent a few days in the glorious Blue Mountains. Absolutely, no question about it, the highlight of my trip so far.  I could even get carried away and call it my Aussie spiritual experience.  Forget Uluru, bring on the Three Sisters!

These rock formations at Echo Point have a sheer beauty that just blows you away. Steady on there, I hear you say, but they're truly awesome. Legend has it they're named after 3 Aboriginal sibs who were turned into rocks, and then saved by the Lyre bird whose echoes reverberate across the valley.  Suspending disbelief, I tried to lose myself in the mystique of it all, but sadly a nearby ankle biter*,  practising his echoing skills, kinda killed the moment.   But I went back at sunset and became a believer. 

If you're into bush-walking - as I am now of course, practically an expert - this is the place for you. A friend warned me before I headed into the bush to make sure I had water, flares and a map incase, given my lack of directional skills, I got lost.  No worries..I just followed the people in front of me.

There are loads of walks to choose from, with pretty cascades/waterfalls along the way. And if you buy a hop on/hop off explorer (for that is what I've become) ticket, the bus drivers will point you in the right direction. Even, occasionally, jumping off the bus to plonk you (ok me) on the right path. They were a real laugh those drivers. One plays a ukelele in a local band and was busy telling me about the concerts happening across the mountains. So if you're looking for an alternative Blue Mountains' experience...


Saturday, 8 December 2012

I've been along to the Opera House, don't you know, to see Swan Lake.  This involved getting up super-early and queuing outside the box office for blooming ages - for just a standing ticket.  At one point it crossed my mind that perhaps making us queue this way was a ploy to separate those who'd be able to cut the mustard, standing-wise, and those who were likely to pass out during the actual performance -and therefore not worth wasting a ticket on. Anyway, I passed muster and later that day headed off for the ballet wearing my most sensible support shoes.      

Sadly, our happy band of standees had dwindled to 8 by the interval. One bloke decided he'd had enough and said to his girlfriend, who was standing next to me: 'Sorry love, but I'm falling asleep here...isn't really my thing. Why don't you girls (suddenly I was his get-out-of-jail card) stay, and I'll get a beer.'  I half expected him to add that he couldn't stand watching guys prancing around in tights anymore - but he didn't, even if he was thinking it. The girlfriend, fair dinkum, wasn't into being dumped, and followed him to the bar.

The second half of the performance was sublime, with just one little wobble from the prima ballerina.  (How she didn't go dizzy with all that spinning around I'll never know).  And we were allowed to sit in one of the no-show seats for the last bit, to rest our tired old pins. Ace! The music wasn't half-bad either.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A friend (a sydney-sider, so he knows what's what in these parts) suggested I try Balmoral beach for a bit of a change. I gave his idea some consideration, and this morning headed off to new horizons.    

The only trying bit was having to take both a ferry and a bus to get there. But it was so worth it, as they say. No crowds (although the bay can get a bit busy on Sundays, apparently); the fish and chips were fab; the cute bathers' hut produced a mean flat white (like a latte) - and joy of joys, I swam around in the netted bit of the bay free from worries about dodgy marine life clinging onto me. 

Sheer bliss. Or it was, until a bunch of schoolboys spilled onto the beach. Where did they come from all of a sudden? And shouldn't they be in lessons, for heaven's sake? 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

If you hang around the quayside long enough, something interesting always happens. I was just doing my version of jogging (it's like jogging central round these parts, particularly on the bit between the opera house and the botanic gardens), when I spied a throng at the entrance to the cinema.

It turns out, the masses were attending the world premiere (loose term) of a new film about popcorn. The guys at the front were recruiting 'extras' to hang around on the red carpet, looking suitably impressed. I can do that, I thought, even if I'm a tad under-dressed. It didn't seem to matter, even though some ladies had clearly been tipped off, and had made a supreme effort in the dress department: very Melbourne Cup. 

Well, this new blockbuster was called Choccorn on account of the fact it was, you guessed it, about chocolate-covered popcorn. The promotional video lasted no more than a few seconds, with a speech or two before and aft. So not exactly Oscar material. We did get some free samples though. They tasted rather good, incase you're wondering.      

Monday, 3 December 2012

Today's the official start of summer here in Sydney. Actually, I've just made that bit up, but with the temperature a lovely 28o, and mercifully with low humidity, it could be. So I'm off to Manly to throw my pale self into the greeny-blue briny. Just need to check there are no sharks, or jellyfish, around to spoil the party.

I spotted a friendly lifeguard, suitably creamed-up against the likely UV onslaught, and asked him if there are any nasties lurking in the water. "Nah, no sharks and the wind's in the wrong direction (i.e offshore/from the west) for the jellies to come over. The temp's perfect. Get in the water..snorkel, surf..enjoy yourself."  I nodded agreement, and then apologised for the daft question (the shark bit). ''No worries."

I was told later that someone thought they'd spotted a shark here last week, and screamed a bit. Not surprisingly, a mass exodus from the water followed. A false alarm as it turned out: a dolphin.

If it wasn't for endless ads on Aussie TV telling everyone who's still watching to slip/slap/slop (something to do with protecting yourself in the sun), I'd probably be in the water still, as I don't get that many chances to swim in the sea at home in December, funnily enough.