Day 17-Sydney, Australia (1/18/05)
Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, is home to almost 4 million people and is the oldest city in Australia. The site of the first British penal colony on the continent, this cosmopolitan, high-tech city has two of the most famous landmarks in the world, the Harbor Bridge, completed in 1932 and the Sydney Opera House, which opened in 1973. Sydney also played host to the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. Over 200 nationalities are represented in the population, with just 6 percent being indigenous Australians.
Circular Quay (pronounced “Key”), Darling Harbor and The Rocks are popular areas for shopping, Aboriginal Art Galleries, museums, 5 star hotels, restaurants, nightlife and theater. The famous Bondi Beach is the place to go for sun, sand, dining and festivals.
Upon leaving the Sapphire, Mom and I entered the cruise terminal to go through Customs and collect our luggage. Anticipating the usual struggle to find our bags in an endless sea of other passenger’s luggage, I was pleasantly surprised to find two Port Authority employees waiting just inside the terminal to find our luggage for us and help us load it on to hand carts. I could not have been more shocked at this courtesy, especially when the porters tried strenuously to refuse the tips we offered them for helping us. “Please, Madam” one of them said, “It really is not necessary!” I found out later from a Sydneysider (a local resident) that the minimum wage in Australia is $12.00 an hour and employees get time and a half for overtime. There simply is no need to give tips to supplement an employee’s income in Australia.
I chose the Park Hyatt as our hotel because I was informed that it is “the place” to stay in Sydney. Located at Circular Quay, near the Rocks area, the hotel sits at the foot of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and across from the International Pier where the Sapphire Princess was docked. A 5 star hotel, every room at the Hyatt has a balcony facing the water and the hotel is in easy walking distance to many of the major Sydney attractions.
The ride to the hotel took 5 minutes tops. As the taxi driver pulled up to the entrance, I noticed two sharply dressed bellman wearing black suits, waiting out front to welcome the new guests. “G’day, Welcome to the Hyatt” our bellman said as he loaded our bags onto a cart. We entered the hotel lobby to see décor that I would describe as understated ultra modern elegance with marble floors, chrome fixtures and a wall of windows overlooking the harbor. I looked around, searching for the front desk to check in and didn’t see one.
A pleasant looking young woman, also wearing a black suit, approached us and asked if we were checking in. I told her yes, and she ushered us to 2 upholstered chairs in front of an office style desk near the wall of windows. Pamela retrieved my reservation from her desktop computer and told us that she was going to be our Personal Concierge during our stay. Seeing that it was still pretty early in the day (about 10:30am) Pamela informed us that our room was not quite ready and asked if we wanted to get something to eat at the restaurant while we waited. Mom and I decided to take a stroll around the area and get an early lunch.
Leaving our coats and hand luggage in Pamela’s care, we walked through the rear Lobby door out into the warm summer sunshine. This side of the hotel had a boardwalk that faced the inner harbor area of Circular Quay. We could see the Sapphire docked at the pier and several benches near the water that were empty. Taking a seat on a bench near the dock, we looked over copies of the “The Australian” and the “Sydney Morning Herald” that I had picked up in the hotel lobby. I looked up at the Harbor Bridge at one point, and saw some “crazy people” doing the Harbor Bridge Climb to the summit of the structure.
Around 11:00am Mom and I walked over to the hotel restaurant, the Harbor Kitchen & Bar and had a delicious fresh seafood lunch. Our server was a nice young woman who was eager to help us decide on some local dishes that we wanted to try. We took in the view of the Sydney Opera House and the ships in the harbor as we ate, finishing off the meal with some wonderful Australian chardonnay.
Our hotel room was all that I had expected and a lot more. The door bell and mailbox at the entrance was our first clue that the room would be out of the ordinary; the leather headboards, plasma TV, bar alcove with wine glasses and walk in closet made it all the more impressive. We loved the large bathroom with its marble floors and porcelain sink set in dark cherry wood cabinets. The view from our balcony was what made it worth the extra money. All of Circular Quay, the Rocks buildings, the Opera House, the Sapphire docked at pier and the Sydney city skyline was laid out before us. It was exciting to know that this was the scene we would see everyday without having to leave our room.
The Bell staff had delivered our luggage before we arrived, so we decided to unpack before we did any exploring. It soon became obvious that we were going to have some real problems getting all of our “stuff” back home on the plane, so Mom came up with a somewhat drastic as well as costly solution. We called the Business Center and had a 20 kilo packing box sent to our room. After loading up the box with lots of non essentials, we had it shipped back to Alabama. It was literally like have a great weight taken off of our shoulders.
Around 3:00pm we decided to take a walk around The Rocks area. Our first stop was at the Tourist Information Center. The sheer volume of information that we found on things to do in Sydney and the surrounding areas was mind blowing. There was no way we could see everything there was to see in just three days. We picked up brochures on city tours, harbor tours, shopping areas and day trips to the Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley Wine County. We next headed up to George Street, one of the main shopping areas. We found a small convenience store and a Deli where we bought sandwiches and bottled water. The owner of the Deli was like all of the Aussies we had met so far, warm, gregarious and funny. We laughed out loud several times at the things he said while he made our sandwiches. He got a kick out of teasing me about asking him what was on the chicken and avocado sandwich (chicken and avocado, of course).
Our first day in Sydney ended on the balcony of our hotel room. At 6:00pm we watched the Sailaway of the Sapphire Princess for the last time. As the horn sounded signaling the ship pulling away from the dock, I felt another pang of loss; there she was, leaving without us. I could hear the sound of the Men at Work song “Land Down Under” blasting from the ship’s PA system on the top deck. Mom and I took more photos and I took shots with my video camera. “What a great time they are going to have” I thought as the Sapphire sailed out of view, but then again, so would we.
Day 18-Sydney, Australia (1/19/05)
The second day of our stay in Sydney began at the Harbor Kitchen for breakfast. I had spent most of the evening before pouring over all of the brochures that we had picked up and I chose a morning harbor tour called a Coffee Cruise as a place to start exploring Sydney. The harbor cruise berth was a short walk from the hotel and our Concierge had made reservations for us that morning.
The Coffee Cruise was a wonderful 2 hour scenic cruise of the gorgeous Sydney water front. We saw waterside views of the Toronga Zoo, Manly Beach, Bondi Beach, Fort Denison, the palatial waterfront homes and beautiful marinas of Middle Harbor, the Sydney Aquarium and Watson’s Bay. The trip back to the dock included a buffet of pastries, cookies, muffins and other sweets served with coffee and tea. I was amazed to see how many homes were built on the water. Apparently, even Sydneysiders with modest incomes can own a home with a view of the ocean. There was a lot about this city and the lifestyle of its inhabitants to admire. I couldn’t wait to see more.
Mom and I returned to the hotel around noon to take a break from sightseeing before heading out in the afternoon to visit the Sydney Opera House. The walk to the Sydney Opera House took us past shops, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the ferry and transportation hub of Circular Quay. We took photos of the high-rise city buildings and did a lot of “people watching”. The ferry hub and train station is a gathering place for all kinds of people, including Aboriginal Indians showing off their unique musical instruments and native clothing. We also found a wine shop with great prices that we would return to after visiting the Opera House.
The great Sydney Opera House is one of the great performing arts centers of the world. It is an awe inspiring sight from a distance, but close up it appears almost other worldly. The unusual roof is covered with over a million ceramic tiles, and the building features five live performance halls. What Mom and I were not prepared for was the dauntingly large number of steps that had to be climbed to reach the front entrance. Mom had been having knee trouble for a while, so we knew we could not enter the building from the front. After a bit of searching, we found another entrance into the building but we had to settle for a view of the grand foyer and a visit to the gift shops because tours of the Concert Hall and Opera Theater were booked until the next week. So, after finding some nice SOH souvenirs and having the Aussie version of a hot dog and coke at the café, we left the Opera House hoping one day to return and take in a performance in one of its grand venues.
Walking back toward the hotel we found a great souvenir store where we bought small gifts and T Shirts to take home. We also discovered a McDonalds on a street corner and decided to buy some burgers to take back to the hotel room for later. The wine shop at the ferry hub had great bargains on Australian wine, so we bought a couple of bottles and headed back to the hotel. We spent the rest of the late afternoon on the balcony enjoying the warm summer breeze, watching the ships sail in and out of the harbor and the throngs of people moving through the Quay. As darkness fell around 8:00pm we savored our wine and cheeseburgers (a fabulous combination when you’re hungry) and settled in for the night. We had one more day in Sydney. Tomorrow we would see and savor as much as we possibly could before heading back to the States and home.
End of Part VII