Friday, October 24, 2008
October 16 - 18 Sydney
Somewhere around 7000 miles into the flight, we cross the International Dateline, then passing over the islands of Fiji at about 530mph with headwinds of 35mph at, I think it was 35000 ft. The Northeastern tip of Australia is now visible on the airplane chart map. Much to Finn’s delight, the Early Morning movie selection is “Speed Racer” - so there’s all that and a sketchy airline breakfast before 7am. We’ve flown into a gorgeous sunrise and get to see the rolling green terrain of the Eastern edge of the Australian continent as we land by 9:45. We collect baggage and find our rental car again, blissfully, without incident. A cheerful lot attendant at Hertz asks if he can be of any assistance. His easy-peasy directions to Sydney are:
“Gaow lift, thin a royt, thin fallow thi soyns ti thi siddy, mite!” Thankfully, a generous traffic-flow and lots of signage remind drivers to also keep to the left....
Sydney is fairly short in stature with the exception of the immediate downtown, and feels very accessible, with a focus on All Things Water around the very active harbor. Our hotel is on a remodeled quay in a former factory building in the now-posh Wolloomolloo waterfront. (Apparently, we later learn, Russel Crowe occupies the end unit of the building when he’s in town.) We can look out over the docked boats to the cityscape punctuated by the Sydney Needle, and over the Botanical Gardens on the peninsula - the lush trees & outcroppings of which just block the famous sails of the Opera House on the other side.
At first glance, the environs seem an easy transition from Los Angeles - palm-laden, breezy, sunny, 70ish, tropical flair. But the reality is no comparison. All the roadside media, shops, radio and an evening stroll give us the Cliff Notes of Sydneysiders: open, direct, fun-loving with a sense of humor that would... say... make a sailor think twice in polite company. Habits include swimming & jogging, yes, and also unabashedly, cigarettes & beer a-plenty, savory pies and various other yummycarbygreasy meat & potato combinations and raucous street-spilling parties --- good on ya!
(Spotted engraved in the filth of a Sydney SUV: I wish my wife was this dirty!)
Mostly the kids and I try to get our bearings and rest up -- Maddie is still a sickie -- but Bailey hits the ground running to get some shots off. We go as a family for a city tour-de-taxi and grab some of the requisite tourista mug shots in the fading spring light....
The next day, we rally as crew for Bail’s interview of Todd Woodbridge - with Finn on Camera Assistant duty, and myself with the unique position of fully blinding the nine-time Wimbledon Doubles Champ and Gold & Silver medalling QuadOlympian with a bounce card that completes the job of reflecting Sydney sun from harbor to Opera House to Todd’s inner ear. He is incredibly accessible and gracious, and clearly a skilled interviewee - providing all the right sound bytes and just the right tenor of enthusiasm for Things Sydney inside of about 20 minutes. A family man himself, Todd also encourages us to visit Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. Upon hearing about the kids’ own sporty side, his words of advice are: Nothing happens by accident.
The continuation of the morning includes an insiders tour (and more interviewing) at the fantastic Sydney Opera House. It truly is an architectural marvel. Danish architect Jorn Utzon won an international contest with his design in 1956, and the Opera House began construction in 1957. The contest had not specified design or budget parameters, and the challenges of meeting design with building & fiscal solutions along with a governmental change of hands and the inevitable critics, drew the construction period out through 1966, when Utzon resigned. The building did move forward with construction and new venues to be completed and opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1973, then some additional work in the mid ‘80s. In 1999, 43 years after its inception, the Opera House regained Utzon as a shepherd to maintain & guide further design principles with his original vision. In 2003, Utzon received the Pritzker Prize, the highest accolade of international architecture, and the Sydney Opera House was listed as a World Heritage site in 2007.
So we figured we had to see a show in all the Opera House glory. While Bailey slaved away the next day, the kids & I attended a matinee of La Boheme - an updated interpretation of the performance - perfectly Aussie. We sat just back from the orchestra, and so were able to see both the singing and playing musicians fabulously, then had to crane our necks back to read the supertitles.
We were okay with the general idea of La Boheme, as I had done a little research so we could be more familiar with the story and music. Also, I wanted know, why “Bohemian”? ‘Turns out, in the mid-1800s, when the artsy types were living in, of course, the “less desirable” (read, “cheap”) parts of the city, the other large part of inhabitants with the same budget tended to be gypsies. Despite being from many various areas, Gypsies tended to be, not surprisingly, lumped into a single category of heritage - the Bohemian district of Czechoslovakia. Hence, all people living in the alternative part of town - Bohemian. I suppose it’s easier to abbreviate and has a slightly smoother ring than, say, Herznegovian.
Walking back through the Royal Botanical Gardens after the show, we saw at least a half dozen weddings under fantastic ancient trees and/or overlooking sparkling harbor vistas. The kids found the Swiss Family Robinson trees hard to resist. Apparently, however, so many of the trees are irresistable, that there are warnings to avoid over-climbing, and even fenced-off areas of arbor refuge for fine samples like the awesome “Bottle Tree”.
We also came across a clearing where an entire flock of cockatoos had settled in the lower tree branches and on the ground, happily being hand-fed by equally happy tourists. The kids were gifted some birdseed and words of encouragment and won the company of a few of the bolder birds. I’m certain it’s a habit that is about as highly encouraged as feeding ducks or seagulls - but, there it is - we get to play the dumb tourists. We did later see the sign asking us not to feed the birds, of course.
at 1:49 AM