Friday, May 31, 2013

Sydney and Manly Beach

31 May 2013
Thursday was a gorgeous sunny day, even though this is the end of autumn Down Under.  We walked over to the train station in Redfern, stopping at the gorgeous French patisserie along the way.  (Doesn't everyone have a croissant or pain au chocolat for brekkie?)  


And passed a few ibis along the way - IBIS!!!!!!  Weren't they the sacred birds of ancient Egypt or something like that?  (Okay, Wikipedia says they were revered by the ancient Egyptians - so we'll say they were sacred birds.)  How amazing is it to see ibis wandering around a neighborhood park, eating crumbs and looking for food in the trash can!  (And who knew ibis were scavengers?  Obviously, the ibis is not a sacred bird in Australia.  Or they've forgotten they were revered in Egypt.  Or they've started to mimic pigeons.)  

The train ticket is a bargain - gets you on the trains and buses and ferries!  Plus they are double-decker train cars!  So we sat upstairs and had a wonderful view, until the train turned into a subway as it entered the city proper.  And then we had wonderful views of the subway tunnel. 

We emerged - oh, sorry, the proper term here in Australia is that we alighted from the carriage - at Circular Quay.  This is the non-circular shaped (as in rectangular) boat basin and ferry terminal at the end of Sydney Harbour.  With, of course, views of the harbour and Harbour Bridge and the truly iconic Opera House.  Unbelievably gorgeous, the whole thing!  

This is a beautiful city, although the building that make up the main part of the city are the usual steel and glass blocks, interrupted with the occasional cylinder or something a bit more interesting.  Nothing else seems as interesting as the Opera House, which actually is more interesting in person than in photos.  At first it looks like a sea shell, somehow opened or unfolded.  But then one sees the texture on the shells, and suddenly it looks like a series of wings, with each individual feather etched into the structure.   The architect, Jørn Utzon, was a relatively unknown until he designed this amazing building - and there were all kinds of controversies during the building of the Opera House, mostly due to changes in government and the new gov't's unwillingness to pay for such innovation, and so he resigned.  The building was finished (took almost 10 years) and Utzon was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of Architects Australia at the opening - but he declined to attend.  Wow!  (You can read more about it here:

The Harbour Bridge crosses the harbour and links Sydney with North Sydney.  Modern as it appears, it was actually designed and built in the 1920s-30s.  Which makes it an Art Deco design.  (More info here:

And you can actually walk on the bridge.  Not on the nice flat part where the cars drive.  No.  When you walk the Harbour Bridge, you actually walk the BRIDGE.  As in up the arch.  And over the bridge.  Insane.  People PAY to walk the bridge.  Richard asked how much it would take to get me to walk the top of the bridge.  I think $10,000 might do it.  Nothing less.

We keep encountering festivals and events, and Sydney is no different.  Sydney is in the midst of their new winter festival, Vivid Sydney.  There are banners and posters all over the Quay area, advertising the events.  Basically, Vivid Sydney is, like many mid-winter festivals, a festival of lights (well, lights, sound, and ideas).  Running from 6 PM to midnight, there are art installations using light as the medium - just one example is this tree, a rubber tree, covered in apples - REAL apples - which have been cored and LED lights added to the core - the apples are then lit up from within.  We've seen various installations, and will definitely spend several evenings watching the city painted in light!

Richard had a medical appointment, so I hopped on the ferry to Manly Beach - mostly because it was a beautiful day, and the ferry to Manly is the longest ride. 

There were beautiful views of the city as we left the quay, and of course the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.  Sailboats, tour boats, ferries - the harbour was full of boats.  We didn't see anything exciting like dolphins or whales, but I suspect it isn't quite whale season yet.

Most people go out to Manly Beach for surfing, and their were certainly a few surfboards on the ferry.  But there were quite a number of day trippers, like me, as well as bicycles and strollers and prams.

We alighted at Manly, and most people headed either to shop or toward the surfing beach, which is on the opposite side of the peninsula from where the wharf.  I headed across the harbour beach, walking toward the wildlife refuge on the spit.  But I was waylaid by the sulphur crested cockatoos who were eating pine nuts under the trees in the park.  

The cockatoos were just fascinating to watch, and they didn't seem to mind people walking into their flock and taking photos.  (They did fly away when a small child ran in, trying to catch one.)  But a few cockatoos would walk right up to me, expecting some food.  I kept tossing the pine nuts toward them, and a few would pick one up and try to peel the nut out of the husk.  The two cockatoos here put on quite a show, arguing and bickering until one would flare out the crest, and that seemed to settle whatever their argument was, until they'd start up again a few minutes later.  (I think the one on the right kept trying to steal the pine nuts.)

By the time I tired of the cockatoos, our ferry had left and a new one arrived - so this meant I had to go catch this new ferry (and had somehow spent 30 minutes just hanging out with the cockatoos!).   And while I didn't get to see much of Manly or Manly Beach or surfers, I did see a sign about the Little Penguins of Manly Harbour - the little blue penguins nest here, and this is the end of nest building season.  Eggs should start hatching pretty soon, and we can come back to Manly to try to see some little blue penguins at sunset.  Fortunately, the ferries run until midnight, and we'll try to do this one evening.

The trip back afforded amazing views of the Opera House - the changing angles and changing views made it look like some abstract fan folding and unfolding as we sailed around the point on which it's located.

And I know I add way too many photos to the blog, but I just can't NOT add these photos - because the angle changes what the building looks like.

Sometimes it looks like sails of boats, skimming along the harbour.

Then the view changes and the pieces of the building telescope back inward, looking like a different building.

We shift around, and the Opera House turns into a modern cathedral! 

A few minutes more, the building unfolds and opens up back into shells.  Or maybe an origami flower unfolding.

As we head in to the ferry dock, the building resumes its usual view, and somehow it looks like it's settling back into place, almost like a bird settling its plumage back into proper array as it curls up for the night.  

And as sunset is early, because this really is winter, the Opera House appears to be falling asleep, a series of interlocking shells or wings or bonnets or even hoop skirts.  

Amazing, how sailing around a single building makes it come alive!

Richard and I met up as planned, right on time, and had our afternoon tea and coffee, watching more ferries ply the waters and crazy people march up and down the arch of the bridge.  I tried to get photos of the silhouetted figures on the bridge, but my camera can only zoom so far and the photos turn all grainy with the setting light.  But trust me, it looked like Gandalf leading the heroes into Mordor. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Goodnight Adelaide, Hello Sydney!

30 May 2013

We had the most gorgeous sunset on our last night in Adelaide - absolutely stunning!  The entire western sky was on fire, and lasted forever, it seemed.  I watched a bit of it on the bus, travelling home from town - then ran out onto our balcony and clicked photo after photo after photo.  The color was incredible.  It really felt like a special treat arranged just for the last time we'll be leaving Adelaide.

Our train left at 10 AM on 28 May, so we arrived at the train station bright and early (just after 8) so we could check in the luggage and relax over a bite of brekkie.  

we were allowed onto the train, and off we went into the bright and sunny autumn day. 

It's so difficult for someone from the Northern Hemisphere to really internalize that the end of May is autumn.  That it is the end of summer, people settle in for the winter, things get cold, trees lose leaves.  Somehow it just doesn't quite compute.  We're so used to the seasons up north, and having the opposite seasons here is just confusing. 

So even though temperatures have dipped into the 50s and 60s, it was a surprise to see harvested crops and empty farm fields.  My brain just hasn't accepted that this is autumn.  Or, as someone told us, the beginning of winter - the accepted date for winter is 1 June.

It was a lovely train ride through farm country outside Adelaide, farms preparing for the short cold winter (and usually no snow).  Crops are harvested, hay is mown and stored, and fields lie bare and fallow for the winter.

But there's so much green!  I think that may be part of why my brain doesn't quite understand that this is really winter.  The winter certainly isn't severe nor harsh.  In fact, the winter is still very green, amazingly so.  There is so much grass still seen, so many green bushes, and very few trees seem to turn colors.  

And the sky, the endless Australian sky, the sky that goes on forever that you only see in flat wide-open spaces like Australia - the sky is much too blue and clear to say "autumn" and "winter."  The endless blue sky says summer to me.

But autumn it is, and winter is nearly here.  People wear sweaters and jackets and scarves, and we blend in well.  Our Caribbean thin blood seems to fit in with Australian temperatures, when hot is steamy and mild winters require bundling up in heavy clothing.  This is not the winter of frozen anything.  But the cold seems bitter after the heat of summer or the Northern Territory, and when we reached Alice Springs coming down from Darwin and heard that the temperature is in the teens (Celsius), we knew that winter is here.

One of the funniest differences I noticed is that the sheep in this part of Australia are almost golden rust colored!  They aren't the fuzzy white fluffy sheep of New Zealand, they're colored to match the soil surrounding them!  I finally figured out that this is a dry country, the soil becomes dust which blows across the fields, the sheep's wool gets covered in the dust, there isn't much rain so the wool stays dusty, and now the sheep are wearing soil-covered winter coats!  

And then the farms and trees give way to the desert, the endless and relentless desert that fills central Australia wherever there isn't a town or city or hill.  Well, more like the desert fills in when people aren't vigilant about keeping the desert out of their farms and towns or cities.  As soon as the people leave the town, the desert takes over again.

George Goyder was an Australian who  mapped a line demarcating rainfall amounts across Australia, almost from coast to coast.  He created a line indicating that south of this line there was adequate rainfall for farming - north of the line, there was not enough rainfall to sustain farming.  And, in fact, for each kilometer north of Goyder's line, there is one inch less of rainfall per year.  For some reason, people still tried to farm north of Goyder's line, but their farms uniformly failed.   

The flat scrubby desert is, however, home to wonderful animals, and totally worth travelling through.  We saw emus!  EMUS!  

I know, as kids we thought ostriches were in Australia.  Sorry, ostriches are in the southern part of Africa.  Australia has emus.  They look like just slightly smaller ostriches to those of us who don't know any better, so they are totally exciting to see running toward the train, suddenly realizing that uh oh I'd better not get close, this thing is scary - then turning suddenly and racing off in the other direction!  They were so funny, with a panicky look on their emu faces, running away on those long legs with the fuzzy tail feathers gracefully wafting in the breeze behind their somewhat ungainly bodies.

The same endless flat scrubby desert is home to kangaroos and wallabies - but they sleep in the little shade they find, and don't come out until late afternoon.  Then they go bouncing and springing and bounding away from the train - or they stop suddenly and just look at the train going by, as if they're trying to determine if this strange silver speeding animal is a danger, or if they can ignore it and continue eating. 

Kangaroos and wallabies really are pretty interesting animals - they seem shy, but they get used to other animals fairly easily.  So roos will hang out in public parks, and occasionally steal food from people.  And the big news this week was that one politico was jogging through a park in the capital, Canberra, but not really watching where he was going - and he collided with a large wallaby, who gave him (the politician) 
a couple of good punches or kicks, flattening him onto the ground.  I think there were a couple of long deep scratches from the claws, too.


So it seems very appropriate that groups of kangaroos and wallabies are called mobs.  Because while they're willing to watch humans, and share space with us, well, they don't take being pushed around any better than any kid from the 'hood would, either.  They're kind of the juvenile delinquents of the animal world.

We stopped in the town of Broken Hill for an hour - it's a silver and lead mining town, and closes early in the middle of the week.  Nothing exciting to report from Broken Hill.

Next morning we went through the Blue Mountains - this is the highest elevation on the Indian-Pacific train route, and some of the highest terrain in the country.  But actually, they aren't mountains in the usual sense - most mountains have been created by various geologic events that lift up the rocks, usually due to plate tectonics.  Or there are volcanic mountains formed by (obviously) volcanoes building up pressure, magma, lava, ash, whatever.  But Australia's Blue Mountains are really a giant plateau or tableland that has been eroded down into individual and connected hills and mountains, some 3,000 feet (1000 meters) high.  And due to the elevation and climatic differences, the valleys are often full of fog or mist, giving the hills their signature blue-ish color.

The railroad connected this remote area of Australia with the rest of the continent in the late 1800s, and towns began to form along the route.  The railroad still travels through the tunnels cut through granite, something like 13 tunnels, to traverse the Blue Mountains.  

And it definitely looked like autumn up there, with the fog and trees changing colors. 

We didn't have the opportunity to get outside, since the train didn't stop anywhere along this part of the route.  But there are tours available, and we might be able to do something from Sydney.

A few hours later, after a 24-hour trip of 1,693 kilometers, we finally pulled into the big city, and said good-bye to our friendly train crew (some of whom recognized us, or we recognized them from all our criss-crossing the continent by train).  We found our way to our artist studio, with the help of John the Romanian taxi driver, who was one of the most delightful taxi drivers either of us had ever met.  He was funny, jolly, chatty without being overbearing, laughed at himself as well as our jokes, and was just wonderful.  (And I had written down the address wrong, so we got a bit lost, then I looked things up on the computer and got the right address, and he turned off the meter because he promised to get us to our destination and he didn't want us to pay for his getting lost - even though it was my fault.  That's the kind of wonderful taxi driver he was!)

We're staying in the town/neighborhood of Alexandria, which is near the Redfern train station, just one train stop south of the Central Train Station in Sydney.  It's a residential neighborhood with some restaurants, bars, shops, etc. on the ends of the streets, houses in the middle.  The art studio is a converted mechanic's shop and warehouse, and now houses two studios (a painter and a sculptor) as well as providing living space for them.  The painter is currently travelling, so we're staying in his room - for a very reasonable price.  It's very comfortable, with easy access to the city and all the neighboring towns, and it's a whole lot more interesting than the usual somewhat sterile hotel.  We're very happy with this place.

And there's a very cute and friendly cat who lives down the road.  Plus a very shy and slow-to-warm up but beautiful cat who lives in the studio, and he's becoming a little friendlier with us.

So - Sydney lies ahead, ready to be explored.