Since we didn't rent a car in
Sydney we've been doing a lot of walking and it's been both a blessing and a curse. The
blessing is that it's enabled us to see parts of Sydney we might not have seen if we just
concentrated on the tourist areas. The curse is that we walked a total of about 20 miles
today! Our walk today started out at our hotel and
from there we walked through Hyde Park over to George Street where the Town Hall is
Sydney Town Hall is the stately centerpiece of a group of three High Victorian buildings
which include St. Andrew's cathedral and the Queen Victoria Building. The Town Hall
features a grand wood-lined Victoria concert hall and an 8000 pipe organ which, when
shipped from London in 1890, was the largest organ in the world. Well at least that's what
the visitor's guide told us. The Town Hall was closed for a concert rehearsal when we went
there. The Town Hall actually stands on the site of an old graveyard which was in use
between 1793 and 1820 before old maps show it as being "Full". By all accounts
it must have been a problem area as a wall was erected by one of the early governors to
keep out the "rogues and ruffians" who made fires of the old fence palings and
slept in the old damaged vaults of the graveyard. The Town Hall, not the graveyard, was
restored to its former glory for Sydney's Sesquincentenary. Now for a small challenge, can
anyone tell me what "Sesquincentenary" means? I'll let you know if anyone gets
it right before we leave Australia.
On the left of the Sydney Town Hall is St. Andrews Anglican Cathedral. St. Andrews is the oldest cathedral in Australia, not the oldest church. That distinction belongs to St. James Church which was built in 1822. The interior of the cathedral is magnificent and several prominent early residents of Sydney are buried within its walls. I apologize for the quality of the interior photo of the cathedral. We discovered that you can only change the shutter speed on the Epson PhotoPC when it's hooked up to a computer. Otherwise the default shutter speed is auto and it doesn't handle dark interior shorts very well. Short of carrying my eight pound notebook computer around with me, there's no easy way to move from exterior to interior shots. From here on in we'll be using our 35 mm camera for most of the interior shots and I'll be posting those pictures when we get back home.
After what seemed like a 5 mile walk down George Street, with frequent stops at Opal shops, we finally arrived at The Rocks. The Rocks is Sydney's oldest settlement. Within weeks of the penal colony's settlement in 1788, huts and tents were erected on the west shore of Sydney Cove at the foot of slopes on the rocky sandstone peninsula. When more substantial houses were built there, they occupied the low ground at the water's edge, but by 1797 huts began to appear behind them. There was no town-planning; dwellings were placed wherever a site was available. By 1803 the name "Rocks" was in common use and already the first complaints about proper access were reported. The difficulties of access and the protection this afforded from the authorities appealed to the town's low-life and the worst characters in the young colony began to gather there. Before Sydney was twenty years old the Rocks had become its first slum. For more than a century from the early 1800's, it was a place of iniquity where poverty, filth, and vice went hand in hand and its lurid reputation rivaled the worst slum ports anywhere in the world. The Rocks today is one of Sydney's most popular tourist attractions with sensitively restored colonial buildings, charming restaurants, shops, galleries, and historic pubs. It's also where we found our opal at the Rocks Opal Mine. We picked up a seven carat Black Opal for a very reasonable price and we're having it made into a ring. I also picked up an opal watch for myself at another store along the way. With the Great Opal Hunt out of the way we could finally concentrate on something other than shopping. ;-)
Looming over The Rocks is the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Work on the bridge, which is known affectionately as the "Old Coathanger", was begun in 1923 and continued until 1932. At a total length of 3770 feet, the bridge is the second longest single-span bridge in the world. Only the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco at 3772 feet is longer. While it may not be the longest single-span bridge it is definitely the heaviest, weighing in at a massive 52,800 tons. The bridge's steelwork has always been painted gray, a legacy from the Great Depression. A one-coat repaint takes 7,000 gallons and the only suitable paint available in sufficient qualities in 1932 was gray. The four imposing pylons are purely decorative, as the massive framework is supported by four huge metal pins, each 14 feet long and 15 inches in diameter, that are mounted in bearings anchored in concrete and resting on the lower halves of the pylons. These pylons served as antiaircraft-gun positions during World War II. Today you can climb up to the Pylon Lookout and have a beautiful view of Sydney Harbor. Of course to do this you have to climb up approximately 200 steps and after walking all morning I couldn't convince my traveling companion that it would be a good idea.
From the bridge it was only a short walk to the Sydney Opera House, the most recognizable landmark in Sydney. The Opera House was opened in 1973 after 14 years of construction and at a staggering 95 million dollars over budget. While it was being built it had many nicknames: the New South Whale; the Hunchback of Bennelong Point; the Operasaurus, a pack of French nuns playing football. Then it was finished and was proclaimed the "building of the century" by the London Times. Amazingly the building was completely paid for by July 1975 through a lottery. (Maybe we should let the Australians have a crack at our budget deficit?) In my opinion the only thing more spectacular than the outside of the Opera House is the interior. Like any self-respecting tourist we took the $9 tour of the Opera House which covered the Concert Hall, the Opera Theatre, and the Drama Theatre. I wish we could show you some pictures of the interior, but photography is not allowed. I wasn't going to risk incarceration in an Australian jail by taking a picture. 8-) Especially since we're going back tomorrow night to see the Symphony perform in the Concert Hall. The Concert Hall, which seats 2690, is highly regarded internationally for its acoustics. The ceiling, which rises 82 feet above the platform, is panelled with white birch plywood and the lower walls, stairs, boxes, and stage platform are panelled with a hard brown wood, brush box. Above the platform are suspended 18 adjustable acrylic rings or "clouds", which assist musicians by reflecting some of the sound of the instruments straight back to the platform. The Concert Hall also houses the largest mechanical tracker action organ in the world with 10,500 pipes. It was designed and built by an Australian, Ronald Sharp, between 1969 and 1979. In addition to the Symphony the Concert Hall has hosted everything from wrestling and boxing to political conventions. Supposedly Arnold Schwarzenegger won his final Mr. Olympia contest there. This points out to me one of the paradoxes of Sydney culture. It is an amazing mix of both formality and casualness. The dress code for tonight's Symphony performance is simple: you must wear shoes. Other than that anything within reason is acceptable. For example jeans would be acceptable, while no clothes at all would definitely not be acceptable.
The other two theaters that we toured are not quite as impressive as the Concert Hall, but each has its own attributes. The Opera Theatre, seating 1547, is mainly used for performances of opera, ballet, and dance. The auditorium, like the Concert Hall, is paneled in wood for acoustic reasons, but the ceiling and walls are painted black to allow the audience to focus its attention upon the stage. On the stage there are four platform lifts which raise and lower scenery between the set storage area at ground level and the stage 33 feet above. The Drama Theatre, seating 544, accommodates performances of drama and dance. Like the Opera Theatre it is painted black, but the rather low ceiling is made of refrigerated aluminum panels which help to create an even temperature without a draught. The stage which is about 52 square feet, contains two revolves, one inside the other, which can turn separately or together. The acoustics in this theater like all the rest are incredible. Microphones are rarely used in any of the performances that are staged in the four main theaters. The fourth theater, which we didn't see, is the Playhouse which seats 398. The Playhouse is used for small cast plays, lectures, and seminars, and is also a fully equipped cinema.
After finishing the Opera House tour and
purchasing our symphony tickets we started the long walk back to our hotel. By the time we
arrived we were ready to order room service and crash once again. For the second night in
a row we were in bed by 9 pm. This is getting to be a rather disturbing trend. Either
we're getting old or we're still suffering from jet lag. For the moment I'm still blaming
the jet lag. See ya' tomorrow.
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