sydney the magnificent

OMG are we newbies in the land of oz! the thing about dorothy clicking her ruby shoes may be a bit tiresome. but we’re really not in Kansasberra any more.

After five weeks in the lovely australian capital, this is pernille’s first working visit to sydney, the country’s commercial hub and largest city. we’ve both been to sydney before, pernille as a student at macquarie university for a year in the late 80s and i during a dive trip to the great barrier reef in 1990.

so hey, we know sydney, right? WRONG!! sydney’s grown up, while i’ve only grown a few inches (or kg) around the middle. sydney’s skyline has been transformed, while my hairline has receded down to somewhere around my shoulders.

we flew in friday night to have the weekend for exploration before pernille’s business schedule. we checked into our hotel, elevatored up to the 27th floor and began unpacking. at some point we went to the closet, glanced out the window, and BANG! there it was, the picture postcard shot above.

since then i’ve taken dozens of shots from the window at different times of the day. and these are just taken with an iphone camera. next time with the nikon!

the opera house is sydney’s iconic landmark, and among the most recognizable structures in the world. a sign out front notes that it is the youngest officially recognized world heritage site. and it is one of australia’s biggest tourist attractions. but there are NO TOURISTS! (except us) the entire continent is on COVID lockdown!

so when we wandered over for a close up peek, we had the place to ourselves. (except for the helicopter zooming above)…

…and a few ferry boats on their appointed rounds across the bay on a spectacular spring sunday in sydney, making for another picture postcard featuring the nearby harbor bridge.

make a 180 turnaround from the bridge and there you see the rapidly changing harbor skyline, including the hotel where we’re staying, which is actually a wimp among the steel and glass behemoths shooting up all around the shoreline.

it’s hard to believe in the midst of a global recession, but look closely at the photo. construction cranes shoot everywhere into the sky, looming like massive tentacles as the city dresses up for its next moment in the global spotlight three years from now. not only will 2023 mark the opera house’s 50th anniversary, but australia and new zealand will host the world cup of women’s soccer.

and here’s the best part. the opera house was designed by a dane. so denmark will play a big part in the celebrations, which are expected to attract a guest list including kings and queens and presidents and prime ministers. and guess who will be the danish ambassador? the perfect topper to that story would be if the danish women qualify for the world cup tournament.

there’s a lot more to that story, including that the original opera house design was initially rejected, partially because it was submitted to a competition as a hand drawn sketch on the back of an envelope. and also that the designer, juern utzon, never saw the final product in person. after a falling out with local officials, he walked away, never to return. but his genius endures.

those tales, and the intrigue, are for another time.

but the real story of sydney isn’t the opera house; it’s the friends, the beaches, the parks, the birds, the vibrant atmosphere of this most loveable metropolis of five million people. it’s no wonder that in our book of australia’s 20 best places to visit, sydney is #1 (with a bullet), right up there with the great barrier reef.

we started our saturday morning with a visit to coogee beach accompanied by our old delhi friends chris and janaki kremmer and their son oliver. chris, an old ABC radio correspondent, advised early that the correct broadcast pronunciation is could-jee. after a quick bite at a cozy cafe, we were off to the water, which was a bracing 16 degrees celsius.

not too cold for a dip, though. the waves were ideal, and sydney native chris is an expert body surfer, so after a quick refresher course, we had great fun riding the waves (till we started to shiver).

coogie beach

after a decent interval rejvenating in the brilliant australian sun, pernille and i took off an a five km coastal hike up to the world-famous bondi (bond-eye) beach, where we were regularly reminded of one of the least attractive attractions of sydney’s craggy coastal cliffs; the rocks below.

lest we forget, among the main attractions for pernille the birdwatcher was sydney’s incomparable botanic gardens, just a 10 minute walk past the opera house from our front door. during two days behind the binoculars, she spotted 12 new bird species, bringing to 43 the total new species she’s identified since we arrived in australia.

here’s the bird of paradise, which is not actually a bird at all but a plant. the bird is actually a noisy miner, is probably mining pollen.

the highlight was the kookaburra pictured below.

laughing kookaburras are found all over eastern australia and new zealand. they’re terrestrial kingfishers. every aussie kid probably knows the old song, “kookaburra sits in the old gum tree. merry merry king of the bush is he.”

then the lovely lorakeets put on a show for us, bathing merrily in the botanic garden fountain

and a stately black swan preened for us in front of her (rather bored) cygnets. teenagers, most likely.

perhaps the most fun of all was the beaky pelican, who kept a watchful eye but allowed us to get within about 10 feet for this intimate portrait.

sunday’s highlight, however, was a reunion with old delhi wallahs hamish and penny macdonald, who introduced us to their drop-dead gorgeous daughter laura (it seems all lauras are beautiful), and also to centennial park, another bird paradise in another fantastical sydney neighborhood.

before leaving the city we also took a ferryboat ride across the bay to the suburb of manly, where one might imagine an organization for young women being called the manly girls club. i could be mistaken on that.

we would be remiss if we didn’t mention our australia sporting adventure. we’d been tipped that there was a big aussie rules football match saturday night, so we asked at the hotel where we might find a sports bar where we might soak in some atmosphere while learning the basics of this uniquely australian sport. the hotel staff weren’t sure of the location of a sports bar, but they told us of a pub just across the way where they had big screen TVs tuned to the games.

We headed over, found the place a bit quiet but the pre-game blather was on TV, so we sat down and ordered a beer and a bite. we thought it was a bit odd that the scoreboard had the initials “NRL”, and as the game began we noticed that they had scrums, just as in rugby. but hey, what do a couple rookies like us know? if they say this is aussie rules footy, who are we to argue?

in any case, the game turned out to be a real corker. the competition was furious. in the end, one team called the ‘rabbitohs’ defeated the other team, called the ‘eels’, eliminating them from the competition. shame that, though eels are kinda slimy.

when we finished dinner, we went back to the hotel and turned on the TV. as we scrolled through the channels, lo and behold we discovered another station with a different game, which was in fact australian rules football. now we’re hooked on both. it’s easy to see why aussies are mad about their sports.

there’s so much more to tell of this eventful weekend. it’s only the first taste of what will surely be many visits to experience the magic here. but it’s time to go.

to be perfectly frank, however, we must admit, sydney, that you had us at the beaches.

ciao! until next time.

1 Comment

  1. Francis Heinlein says:

    Dear   Peter,   This  Heinlein   enjoyed this  blog   very much.   I am impressed with  Sydney.    You did a great  job  for it.      Off to my walk.      Love  and God Bless.      MOM


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