Saturday, March 22, 2014

Australia Day 27: Hello to Sydney! Manly Beach, Opera House, Downtown

Beautiful Sydney
Sydney! Where as Melbourne feels like Seattle, Sydney has more of a combination San Francisco/New York vibe to it. It’s a bigger city, more densely populated and perhaps a little less immediately charming, but it’s also quirky, modern, hip and fashionable.

We started the day having some tragically mediocre coffee at, of all places, Starbucks. This was to take advantage of their wifi, which required purchase to use. Right before we left Melbourne my phone began randomly rebooting and refusing to remain on for more than a few minutes at a time. If you know me, you know that I am irrevocably tied to my technology. I need information constantly, and having my phone out of commission when there was tons of things I wanted to research was…an adjustment.

The first thing we needed to do was rejoin with our third party member, who instead of staying in our seedy hotel, decided to bunk with some old friends of his wife who lived in the area. Oscar and I walked the mile to their apartment and met the friend, Baron, a gracious host who, it turns out, is a bit of an expert on the city of Sydney and all there is to do in it. He provided us all with printouts of things to do each day we were there, restaurant recommendations and tips on navigating the city. Baron, if you read this, your help was absolutely invaluable and we were all singing your praises through the whole Sydney excursion. Thanks a bunch.

View from Baron's Apartment...yeah.
The other perk of meeting Baron was his *amazing* apartment, which is in one of the tallest residential buildings in the downtown Sydney area and has a spectacular view of Sydney bay, the opera house, the harbor and just about everything else worth looking at in the immediate downtown area. I took several skyline shots and promised to return later to take some night shots.

Sydney is known for its beaches, particularly Bondi Beach, but according to Baron, the locals take the ferry to an area amusingly called Manly beach, and that was where we were headed that day. To reach it, we took the Manly ferry (an equally amusing juxtaposition) which is a great way to see the waterfront features of Sydney harbor, including the Harbour Bridge and the ubiquitous Sydney Opera House, which I will talk more about later.

North Head
We also got a very nice drive by of four of the Sydney Heads, the rocky headlands that define the edge of the bay. They are striking sandstone features which also house a quarantine station, a defunct defensive facility, the Australian institute of Police Management, and Australia’s third oldest lighthouse, Hornby Lighthouse.

Manly itself is a nice little beach town. It was named by Captain Arthur Philip, first governor of New South Wales, because the indigenous people living there at the time of British settlement struck him with “their confidence and manly behavior…” Now every other store in the town is “Manly pasta” and “Manly chippery” and “Manly women’s beachwear,” ad nauseum.

I "Chu"se you, duck summer rolls!
It was about lunch time and Baron had recommended a restaurant called Misschu, a local chain of Vietnamese/Laotian/Thai tuckshops specializing in small plates. The founder is Misschu, Nahji Chu, is a filmmaker, animator (!), and now restaurant mogul. We had a variety of dishes, particularly good were the chilled rice paper rolls.

Shelly Beach, artfully presented
After lunch we walked along the Manly Corso to Manly beach. The beach is small, beautiful and crowded. Oscar decided to go for an immediate swim, but neither I nor Justin were prepared for that (and in my case didn’t particularly care to). After watching Oscar suffer gleefully for a few minutes in the frigid Pacific, we followed a walkway along the beach line to a rocky alcove called Shelly beach, which featured less surfers and more snorkelers. The water was crystal clear. It would have been a nice place to swim, I’m sure. We also spotted some of the native fauna, the eastern water dragon (Intellagama lesueurii lesueurii), which is a lizard (sub) species that lives along the NSW beaches. They look similar to iguanas with more interesting striation patterns.

After several manly hours at Manly beach, we returned via Manly ferry to Sydney proper, where we spent some time admiring the most recognizable man-made feature in Australia, The Sydney Opera House. Sydney Opera house is a UNESCO World Heritage site, only one of two in Australia, the second being the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne (which I also visited, see Melbourne Week 3).

Slightly overcooked HDR shot of Sydney Opera House
I dug up an article containing 40 interesting facts about the Sydney Opera House (right here.) I’ll transcribe a few here. Jorn Utzon, the architect who designed it, was rejected by three of the four judges for the competition to design the building, but the last judge, an American, deemed it “outstanding” and eventually swayed the other judges to his opinion. It cost AUD $102 million to make, and the initial estimate for its construction was AUD $ 7 million.) It is the equivalent of 22 stories tall and contains 1000 rooms. It is in the style of Expressionist Modernism and once a chicken flew into the hall during a performance and landed on a cellist.

Probably for the best that there
were not actual birds in those cages...
We walked around the exterior of the building, which houses 4+ restaurants and a bar, took a bunch of photos and remarked that it looked smaller in life than it ever seemed to in the pictures of Sydney. We then walked to an area called The Rocks, which I will get into more detail about in a few paragraphs, but we hung out at a busy German bierhall called Lowenbrau where we drank large beers and ate many calories worth of schnitzel and bratwurst. They had an apricot schnapps there that I have been unable to find outside of Germany called Marillen (just the German word for ‘apricot’) and we enjoyed a few sips of that to end the meal. The sun had set and we were pretty tired, so we walked back to the hotel through the downtown area. There was plenty to see at every turn downtown, but one notable discovery was an alleyway Chinese restaurant who decorated their outdoor area with an array of decorative birdcages. I thought it looked cool, so pictures. Finally we returned to our hotel for some much needed rest.

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