We had one more stop in Sydney before leaving our fourth continent. This was a treat because none other than VK Powell, my fellow author and our friend from North Carolina, was in town. VK and T. also share a former profession, so we always have lots to talk about. It makes a change from just me talking all the time!
We also enjoyed meeting VK’s best Aussie mate, Lyn. The weather in Sydney was wintry, i.e. rough seas and rain, so when some dry weather broke through Lyn decided we must be getting cabin fever. She drove T. and me around La Perouse, on the edge of Botany Bay, and a beach called Maroubra.
Lyn was also kind enough to arrange for all of us to go to Vivid Sydney at the Taronga Zoo. Vivid is a festival of illuminations all over downtown buildings, and we were lucky not to get soaked, as the rain was pelting down ferociously while we were waiting for the ferry. T. put her rain pants on and from then on, the rain magically stopped.
|Sydney Harbour Bridge in the rain!|
At Taronga Zoo, Vivid takes the form of illuminated sculptures of animals. The actual zoo animals were off duty, but we enjoyed a cable car ride and a great many vivid creatures, including many native to Australia.
Yet some of the enjoyment of staying in one place for a while was the pleasure of cooking our own food. Of course, we do that camping as well, but T. was unable to roast a Sunday dinner in a camper van! Then there was my salmon, and something called “curry soup” that we’d never heard of before, but was so lovely when our friends made it that we’re now loaded up with packets. One more thing to declare at U.S. customs!
VK spoiled us, but we also had family to catch up with in Sydney. Liza was away traveling but we did get in another Thai dinner with Jim. He had lots of good suggestions for our next destinations—Hawaii and his home state, California! We also went out to Richmond one day to meet up with T’s cousin, Emma.
That was a fine day, but as I mentioned, there was lots of rain in Sydney. It didn’t matter because there were also lots of movies on TV. I certainly hadn’t seen that many films in the past year—even the airlines we’ve flown lately don’t include entertainment. Among the highlights was Trumbo, a timely depiction of the Hollywood blacklist and what it did to writer Dalton Trumbo. It was good to be reminded that freedom of speech really starts to matter when it’s speech you don’t agree with.
Our “mates” also took us out on the town, including to Tea with the Dames during the Sydney Film Festival. This movie is just the Dames (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins) sitting around having tea and talking about their overlapping acting careers. As witty as these four women are, and given that each has been made a dame of the British Empire for services to drama, this was a highlight too.
As was lunch in Spice Alley, the Sydney version of an Asian food court. There was even a tuk-tuk out front!
When I couldn’t bear to sit indoors any longer, I walked all the way down Elizabeth Street to the central business district (CBD). I love walking an unfamiliar street and discovering a slice of that particular city’s life. I passed a Maori Anglican Church and the office of a women’s peace and justice association, missions and museums, an old hotel pub and a place that sold Singapore chili crab. And I didn’t spend a cent.
Not that it’s possible to spend a cent in Australia—they round everything up to the nearest five now.
Although we’ve both been to Sydney a number of times, there are places neither of us had ever visited. We took advantage of another sunny day to take the ferry to Manly. It wasn’t quite swimming weather (though there were brave souls out there in wetsuits), but the beach was lovely to walk on, and of course there’s always coffee—and ice cream! A touch of rain on the horizon was enough to provide us with a stunning rainbow on our ride back across the harbor.
The final day trip we took was to the Blue Mountains. Everyone should do this, as it is effortless—you just catch a train from Sydney in the normal way, using your local transit card, but it’s a real long-distance train and takes you to Katoomba in about two hours. From there, you can get the hop-on, hop-off bus that goes from Katoomba to Leura and many stops in between. The bus and driver were first rate, but we didn’t really get our money’s worth from the bus, as we just walked from hike to hike. The stops turned out to be a lot closer to each other than we’d realized. Still, it was a nice day for hiking—not too warm. And we were glad to have a ride back to Leura train station at the end of the day.
Places like Katoomba and Echo Point are built up and have all kinds of facilities, yet a short walk brings you to lookouts over vast forested areas like the Jamison Valley.
There are Aboriginal carvings in the Blue Mountains that are thought to be thousands of years old. We didn't see those, but the features that perhaps inspired some of that ancient art impressed us equally.
So what will I take from Australia? In some ways, it is a very familiar culture to a North American, which is why the differences can be instructive. We had a look in a gun shop the other day and that reminded me that there is a middle ground between the free-for-all gun culture of the U.S.A., and no guns at all. Recently, there was a terrible shooting within a family in Western Australia; the last mass shooting in Australia was in 1996. As I mentioned in my Tasmania post, Australians saw that their country had a problem, and dealt with it.
We’re off to the U.S. next. We will miss our friends and many family members who so generously hosted us in Oceania, and made it possible for us to stay so long. Australia is the home of my favorite guidebooks, the Lonely Planet series, and in preparation for the U.S.A. I’ve been amusing myself with their take on my native land. In addition to guns, here are some aspects of U.S. culture Lonely Planet feels international visitors should know about:
*Tipping is not optional.
*Never walk away from a police officer (see guns).
*There’s never been a better time to be gay in America. But don’t be “out” in rural or conservative areas.
*Remain calm when answering intimidating border officials (they have guns too).
*Smoking, another dangerous thing that causes death, is barely tolerated anywhere in America, even outdoors.
*But Americans are friendly, so make an effort to meet them.
That’s about how I remember it, too. Bring on the birthplace of President Obama (and no, it wasn’t Kenya! Unless you mean Barack Obama, Sr.)