Monday, December 15, 2008

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

I went to Sydney when Erik had a conference this past July the week before World Youth Day and the Pope's arrival. It was a bit more crowded than I believe it would have regularly been, but I still had a great time. We stayed at the Meriton Apartments Kent Street which were well located and reasonably priced. The building is a tall tower so we had a great view of Darling Harbour from our windows. The apartment was one open room, but included full kitchen facilities and laundry. The laundry machine was a bit loud, but washed and dried clothes. From the room I was able to walk to all the major downtown attractions though public transport was also available if I had preferred.

As part of the conference we had a sunset cruise on a sailing catamaran (which didn't actually sail) from Darling Harbour which was quite beautiful and allowed for great pictures of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

I visited the Australia National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour. The museum has a free basic admission, but I recommend getting the "Big Ticket" which allows access to some of the museums boats which are located outside including a reproduction of Captain Cook's Endeavor, a submarine, and the Barque James Craig which was rebuilt by local volunteers using historically accurate methods like hot rivets. I thoroughly enjoyed the museum, but I have a boat thing.

I also visited the Sydney Aquarium which I would definitely recommend if you are not planning to get out snorkeling on the Reef, but which could probably be skipped if you have Reef plans unless you are particularly interested in aquariums. My opinions may have been colored by the fact that I happened to go during school holidays when it was swamped with screaming children. I did feel that it was a good aquarium, children aside, but once you have been out on the Reef nothing can compare.

The Australian Museum was interesting in that it is a combination of a very old style Victorian museum and a more modern museum with interactive displays. It probably is not impressive on the grand scale of museums of the world, but I found it very interesting. There is a modern interactive exhibit which covers aboriginal culture both historic and modern. I actually really enjoyed the Victorian skeleton room which is literally just a room full of different animal skeletons from around the world. There was also a very good but old exhibit of stuffed Australian birds that I found interesting since Australian birds are so colorful and unique.

One afternoon I enjoyed just walking around downtown. I went from our hotel over to Hyde Park through to St. James and then on to the Royal Botanical Gardens. I only saw a fraction of the gardens, but they were lovely. I continued on to the Opera House through the park. Then I walked around Sydney Cove and briefly through the Rocks before heading back to the hotel up George Street. The Rocks are down near the harbour and are the oldest portion of Sydney. I wish I had spent more time as this is the area which the most historical significance in downtown Sydney. George Street is one of the best known shopping districts including the brand new Apple Store which was quite a treat.

Erik and I did the Syndey Opera House Back Stage Tour early one morning which was quite a treat. We we able to stand on both the main stages as well as see dressing rooms, orchestra pits, passageways, the green room, staging areas, and more with a small group of only 9 other guests. It is a bit of an expensive tour and does require being at the Opera House at 6:45 am, but is quite a treat that I would recommend for anyone who is very interested in the performing arts or architecture.

We also did a day sail on the Barque James Craig which I thought was amazing because it was my first sail on a barque. I would only recommend this for dedicated historic sailing vessel enthusiasts like me, but I had a blast. The barque only sails every fortnight by a volunteer crew, but you can tour the barque most other days by going to the National Maritime Museum. We simply sailed out the harbour into the Pacific, turned around, and came back, but it was a special day for me. The James Craig has been painstakingly restored using all historically accurate methods from a badly deteriorated hull that was found in a harbour in Tasmania. The Sydney Heritage Fleet is a very dedicated group of boat loving volunteers.

I did not get out to the famous Bondi Beach or see some of the other Sydney area attractions that are outside the CBD (Central Business District). We took a ferry to Manly which I would recommend and may cover in another post. The harbor ferries are a great way to see more of the area from the water. I did not climb the Harbour Bridge though that is another popular activity for tourist. I thought it too expensive, but you can find out more information from Harbour Bridge Climb

Sydney is a beautiful, clean city, and I was glad to finally visit it. If you like touring cities, I highly recommend it. If you are interested in visiting the more natural places of Australia, I would recommend that you use it as a jumping off place to see the beautiful Blue Mountains or some of the other natural areas surrounding the big city that I find far more interesting.

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