|Well after a fourteen hour flight
we are finally in Australia! We left San Francisco at 11:00 pm on Saturday night and
arrived in Sydney 6:00 am Monday morning. The flight was pretty uneventful except for the
three movies (Mulholland Falls; Dragon Slayer; Mission Impossible) that helped pass the
time and the fact that we got to sit upstairs on a double decker 747. Because we were
sitting above the engines it was the quietest flight I've ever been on. Of course we would
have slept better if we had figured out how to use the foot rest for our seat. Sadly we
didn't figure out how to use it until we had already landed, and yes I do have a college
degree! Needless to say today was "recover from jet lag" day.
We are staying at the Sydney Marriott overlooking Hyde Park and the Anzcac War Memorial. The War Memorial, an example of classic art deco architecture, was designed to express the horror and tragedy of war. It was completed in 1934 during the Great Depression, but due to a shortage of funds, not all of its many sculptures were placed in position. The central sculpture represents an Australian soldier upon a shield, supported by his mother, sister, wife, and child. The dome of the Hall of Silence is covered by 120,000 gold stars, one for each man and woman of New South Wales who served during World War I. The memorial is 30.5 meters high and is reflected in the Pool of Remembrance.
Since it's springtime here all the flowers have begun to bloom in Hyde Park. Hyde Park is the site of a number of firsts in Sydney's history. First recreation area, first zoo, first horse race meeting, first cricket match, etc, etc. It's really much smaller than New York's Central Park or San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, but it's just as beautiful and a lot cleaner. One thing I had heard before we came to Australia was that Sydney is an extremely dirty city by Australian standards. After being here for one day I can say without reservation that Australians don't know what a dirty city is. Sydney is spotless compared to New York or San Francisco and the parks are maintained on a daily basis. To add to the beauty the trees in Hyde Park are lit up at night with thousands of white lights.
After walking through Hyde Park for awhile we decided to check out the local mall. The Queen Victoria Building is a sprawling example of Victorian architecture in the middle of the city and contains more than 200 boutiques, cafes, and antiques shops. Originally the city's produce market, the sandstone building had become a maze of shabby offices by the time it disappeared under scaffolding in 1981. When the wraps came off five years later, the building featured sweeping staircases, enormous stained-glass windows, and the one-ton Royal Clock, which is suspended from the glass roof. The Royal Clock shows animated scenes from British history and it's especially fun to watch at the top of the hour. If you're looking for bargains Australia is not the place to shop for most items. I've been told that there's a name for people who come to Australia to shop: New Zealanders. Still you can find some bargains on Australian Opals.
Opals are Australia's national gemstone and were called "The Rainbow Stone" by the Aborigines. Australia produces over 90% of the world's supply of opals and there are three main opal producing areas. Queensland produces the bright and beautiful Queensland Boulder Opal which is mined around the Quilpie area in Western Queensland. Lightning Ridge in New South Wales is the home of the famous Black Opal and it derives its name from the color of the pieces of rough opal in which the gems are usually found. The third area is Coober Pedy and Mitabie in South Australia. Coober Pedy is an aboriginal name, meaning "white man in a hole" and that is exactly what the miners do to escape the fierce summer heat. This is where the White or Milk Opals are mined. We visited several shops today looking for the perfect Black Opal. Well looking for the perfect Black Opal under $500. We'll probably make a final decision before we leave Sydney on Thursday and I'll make sure to post a picture of our choice.
We ate lunch at a small cafe in the QVB and discovered a few interesting facts about Australian restaurants. One is that ketchup is called tomato sauce and has a vaguely licorice taste to it. Another is that tipping is not a standard practice down here. If you really get great service you might tip your server 10% of the bill. Unfortunately getting great service seems to be pretty hit and miss. That's probably because there's not much incentive to give great service if you're not likely to get a tip. So the next time you complain about having to tip your waiter or waitress 15% for good service, remember the poor Australians who might be waiting 30-45 minutes for a refill on a diet coke (we did).
After a long day of walking and shopping we decided to have
dinner, so we rode the Sydney Monorail to Chinatown. The Fodor's guide recommended the
Golden Century, a Cantonese seafood restaurant. This place is a mass of tanks filled with
crab, lobster (the largest and meanest-looking I've ever seen), abalone, baskets of tiny
clams, and schools of barramundi, parrot fish, perch, and silver bream. Some of the
weirder things on the menu included shark's fin soup and jellyfish. Since it was our first
dinner in Sydney we weren't feeling that adventurous. Note to all American travelers. When the menu at the Golden
Century tells you that their Szechwan beef is hot, you better believe it. I guess I'm used
to Americanized Chinese food, where even the hottest food has never been too hot for me.
There are only two words to describe my dinner at the Golden Century, wicked hot.
My mouth was on fire, I drank glass after glass of water, and I was sweating profusely. I
loved it! After dinner it was back to the hotel and in bed by 9 pm. I'm still adjusting to
the time change and the
strain of flying halfway around the world. Tomorrow we'll be exploring The Rocks and the
Sydney Opera House. See ya' then.
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