Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016 – Manly

Sue had left by the time we got up this morning…we usually manage up around 8:00 am…definitely not morning people! So, we had our usual relaxed morning; a couple of cups of coffee, shower, breakfast, and then on with the day. Today, Ray and I set of for Manly, one of the beach suburbs of North Sydney. We were going to do the Manly to Spit Bridge walk – about 10 k or 3 – 4 hours.  We caught the bus to the ferry at Woolwich Wharf, headed into Circular Quay where we were fortunate enough to glide off our Woolwich ferry on to the Manly ferry – and 30 minutes later arrived at the dock in Manly. The ferries are the heart and soul of Sydney Harbour. There is an extensive ferry route, and harbour side commuters are able to travel to and from work without the headaches of snarled up traffic.

We, along with hundreds of other tourists/locals unloaded and made our way out of the ferry terminal to the information booth where we picked up a map and some info for the walk and around Manly ….and off we went. 

You can see the interesting beachside scenery in the pictures: ocean swimming pools,  golden sand beaches, surf clubs, and serene oases. We hadn’t been walking very long when the black skies rushed over, streaks of yellow light torpedoed to earth in the distance, and the sound of crashing clouds filled our ears. Then…of course…..the rain! We were prepared though and pulled out our rain capes, but it was not very wise to continue along the ocean, up the cliffs, and through the forests in the middle of a lightening storm, so we sheltered underneath the stoop of an apartment. It looked all locked up, so hopefully the owner didn’t mind. The storm lasted quite a while, so we sadly gave up on our walk and headed back to the harbour once again avoiding the puddles, but keeping quite dry underneath our plastic covers!! We stopped at the ferry building and had some lunch, after which the rain disappeared, the skies brightened, and the sun came out! 

We didn’t want to go too far, as by this time it was around 2:00 pm, so decided to go overland to the Manly Beach and walk back around the North Head. I can’t really tell you where we went as nothing we saw on the walk matched the map we had, but suffice it to say we saw the eco sculptures in Cabbage Tree Bay and Shelly Beach before we headed up the cliffs to the heathland above and some spectacular look out points.

The Pines on Manly Beach

Eco Scupture - The Little Penguins

Water Lizzard

Heath Banksia

Pacific or Pied Heron....maybe
 We also assumed that there may have been military stuff going on up there (as in defence) as we came across a deserted stone wall that looked like battlements but may be a former school of artillery, gun emplacements, and “headquarters”. We also saw many beautiful coloured birds, scaly reptiles, and exotic flora.  So we discovered that the story is that is was a WWII fort ….and sadly, we missed the underground tunnels!! Oh well!!! 

We caught the 5:35 pm ferry back into Sydney and then walked up George St. to Dymocks, a huge bookstore on two floors that sort of resembles Chapters in Canada, bought some road maps for our trip, and caught the 7:15 pm bus back to Ryde Road. Jim wasn’t in, so we quickly washed our hands and headed down to the village for a beer and dinner. Australians clearly love to eat out and love to “socialize”. The restaurants are always busy, the chatter level high, and the food reasonably good, but expensive!  We got home after 9 and watched the tennis match between Andy Murray (British…and a good Scot) and Milos Raonic (Canadian)…..but couldn’t stay awake to watch the end.
Sydney Harbour

Cruise Ship in Sydney Harbour

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thursday, January 28, 2016 – Long Time Friends

Today was the first day back to school after the summer holidays, and we were brutally awakened this morning by the chatter of excited children reconnecting with their old school chums….primary school – ages 5 to 12! The school is situated right behind the house.

After breakfast we set off to visit Suzie’s Mum Pat, aged 94, who is now in a senior’s care centre. We first met her in 1978 when she came to Toronto with her husband Roger, and they both came with us to view our Uxbridge property. We saw her again in 1993. She remembered us and was delighted that we had come to visit. 

We left Sue directing lunch procedures, and headed down to the Village Shops to enquire about a trip to Tasmania. It is probably not so prominent in the news in Canada, but Tasmania was set on fire by lightening during a thunderstorm in early January. The dangerous fires seem to be somewhat under control, although many are still burning. We are hoping that we will be able to visit there later in February.

Lunch was taken at the Dachshund  in Hunter’s Hill Village with Sue and Jim, and a long time school friend of Jim’s and his wife.  Then it was back home to do some Google searches to finalize the logistics of our trip.

Sue is off to Perth early tomorrow morning to celebrate her grandchild’s 3rd birthday.

Tuesday, January 26 – Happy Australia Day!!

Happy Birthday Australia
We celebrated two birthdays today: Alanna’s 35th birthday, and Australia’s 228th birthday, if you take January 26, 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip arrived from England to establish an agricultural work camp (a penal colony) for the 700 convicts who travelled with him as the “birth date.”

We caught the ferry to Circular Quay from Woolwich Wharf and as we got closer to the harbour area we could feel the energy in the air increasing.  
Luna Park
We got as far as Luna Park and the ferry could go no further as the harbour was spilling over with boats. We had a perfect vantage point to watch all the activities. We caught the 21 gun salute to Australia emanating from the Royal Australian Navy Flag Ship; then singing of the Au anthem filled the harbour; and finally, there was a thrilling air show put on by the Royal Australian Air Force and a group of 6 Russian Roulettes who were flying at times about 3 metres from each other, as low as 200 feet above the ground, and at speeds up to 550 km/h. But the most beautiful sight and one that pulled emotions up to the surface from deep down in my chest was watching a couple of sleek, shining silver F/A-18A Hornet aircraft doing a “bomb burst” over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at speeds of up to 550 knots prior to doing some low level aerial displays.

We didn’t have time to recover from this before the Australia Day Harbour Parade started and vessels of every description, including tug boats, sail boats, ferries, etc. paraded their colourful flags and other gear for the “best dressed vessel” competition. Then there was the fire boat that toured the harbour spraying water like a fountain into the ocean; a ferry boat race; a tall ship race; and a dance by larger vessels and ferries displaying their agility.  

When all of this activity was over, and the parade of boats had moved on down the river, we got back on the ferry from our “in-transit” harbour-side view and continued into Circular Quay. Australians and tourists were out in force to celebrate and the streets heaved with people in colourful outfits, bands playing, Australian flags waving, and pub-goers spilling over into the streets while “cheering” Australia.

To be carried away by the current, to be dissolved in the Other
Sangeeta Sandraseger, 2014

Barangaroo Reserve
We had a “British” lunch in the café at the top of The Museum of Contemporary Arts with its beautiful view of the Opera House and Sydney Bridge, after which we strolled through the hot and sticky streets of Sydney to the Barangaroo Reserve. Here 75,000 native trees and shrubs have been planted involving 84 different species native to the Sydney region. The park is young, and in a few years it will be a magnificent oasis in the CBD of Sydney.

When we could barely move one foot in front of the other, we headed first to the pub for a pint…of cider…with which to toast Alanna for her birthday, and then to the ferry and our harbour sail back to Woolwich Wharf.

What a fabulous day. Thank you Jim and Sue for sharing your Aussie celebrations with us!!
Happy Birthday Alanna!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Monday, January 25 – Rest Day and Peter’s Fish Market

With all the activity of the previous days, Ray and I felt a little tired this morning. I also wanted to get caught up with my blog, so we took a day of rest. We still managed to make a visit to Peter’s Fish Market on the waterfront in Sydney. What a place!! All kinds of fish most of which I had never heard of, and the names of which I can’t even repeat. A smelly place though!! We parked the car and walked around Blackwattle Bay for about 25 minutes each way with wonderful views of the attractive ANZAC Bridge.
The ANZAC Bridge 

And….guess what we ate for dinner? Sue made a lovely pasta dish with the fresh king prawns. I even helped cut off the heads with their bulging black eyes that looked like dried capers, de-shell the fish, and clean out the gut! Ugh!!
Sunday, January 24 - Playgrounds of the Aussies: Bondi Beach to Coogee

We observed a couple of things today about the Aussies. First, they are active, and second they love their food and drink!

Bondi Beach
 It seemed a little cooler this morning, and Ray and I decided we would do the Bondi Beach to Coogee walk along the eastern coast of the Sydney suburbs (around 6k). Jim said he would come with us, so we set off around noon, caught the 506 bus right outside the door, changed in the City to another bus, 380, destined for Bondi Beach and started our walk around 1:30. I am sure you have all heard of Bondi Beach. It is one of the world’s well known beaches, right up there with Ipanima, and Copacabana in Rio, and Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai.  The walk was busy….lots of runners, walkers, dogs, and children. The path was good and varied in difficulty, sometimes steep steps, sometimes steep path, sometimes flat. 

We came across some “painted stairs” similar to the ones we saw in San Francisco, but much older and therefore not quite as spectacular. We passed through other eastern beaches suburbs Tamarama, Bronte Beach, Clovelly Beach, Gordon’s Bay, and Coogee. We wandered around the cliff top Waverley Cemetery at Bronte looking for Sue’s Dad’s grave, to no luck! But the view from the cemetery was spectacular: it looked out over the wide open Pacific Ocean to Chile and must be one of Sydney’s most expensive real estate.

The views from the walk are outstanding: beautiful beaches, full and active oceans and beautiful rocks pounded by the ocean into amazing shapes; various birds serenaded us with song, and pretty flowers grew up alongside the path. All along the walk we noticed various activities going on: swimming in ocean pools, sand volley ball, surfing, lawn bowling at the Clovelly Beach lawn bowling club, cricket at Coogee Beach, and the most interesting to me the work out stations along the way including a spectacular outdoor gym at Clovelly Beach - what a neat idea! And, of course, Jim and I had to try them out!! In addition to all the physical activity going on, we also noticed groups of people enjoying a picnic and a beer or wine; and the restaurants and bars in the little towns were packed to over flowing with mainly 25 – 40 year olds, but of course all ages were well represented!! Everything felt so alive and vibrant!!

When we arrived at Coogee beach we noticed that there was no one in the water. Then we wondered what the helicopter was doing over the ocean close to shore. Then Jim said there must be a shark alert, and sure enough we heard the loud speaker announce it. It was quite exciting watching the little life saving dinghies charging back and forth in the bay, and eventually a larger life saving boat with flashing lights arrived on the scene, and all the time the helicopter was actively chasing shadows I assume across the bay. This continued for probably half an hour, then the helicopter lost interest and disappeared and shortly after that the coast guard announced that they believed the shark was no longer in the bay, but entering the water was at your own peril!!

It was close to 7 p.m. by the time Suzie picked us up from the bus in Balmain. She had been busy: we had a delicious dinner of barbecued chicken and salad. Soon…..well around midnight….we made it to bed ….and slept….with the memories of the day’s walk filling our minds.

Thursday, January 21 – Getting Connected

Slowly we are getting over jet lag, acclimatizing to the heat and humidity, and learning to understand the Australian accent.  It amazes me that peoples who have developed from the same lineage have such different accents. Think of the Brits, the Aussies, the Kiwis, the Canucks, and the Americans. Each of them sounds “different” and even within these countries people from different areas have different accents. Why is this? I’ve sort of done a quick Google search on this and can’t really come up with any explanation other than that different people living together tend to speak the same way because it is easier to understand each other. Nonetheless it is a pretty amazing phenomenon.

On Thursday Sue and I went to get what we needed to get “connected”. First, the Opal cards. These are free smart cards that you load up with money to pay fares on the buses, trains, and ferries. When you travel you need to “tap” on at the beginning of your journey, and tap “off” at the end of the journey. The system automatically computes the fare for your journey and deducts it from your outstanding balance.

Next came the SIM cards. These I got at the Telstra store. Aus $2.00 per SIM card and the starter package is Aus $30 for a 28 day service. We have some brand new HTC unlocked phones that we bought in Canada before we left, and we are finding them very different from my Samsung and Ray’s LG!  Regardless, we feel better now that we are “connected”. Of course the only people who know the phone number are Alanna and Sue and Jim!

Sue on The Great North Walk

White Heron
After getting sorted in the morning we went for a walk with Sue and Jim on part of the Great North Walk. The length of the walk is 250 k and goes from central Sydney to downtown Newcastle and it was created in 1988. The part of the trail we did was mainly through the mangrove forest in East Ryde. We saw a white heron, which is a smaller version of the blue heron we had in Ontario, and ibis which is a long legged wading bird with long pointed beak
Friday, January 22 – Circular Quay

On Friday morning Ray and I woke up early, around 7:00 a.m., and felt that we had whipped jet lag into submission and that we were ready to take off for our first run in Sydney, which we did. Even although it was early, it was hot and humid; we had to run down a considerable sized hill to get back to the Tarbin Cove trail that we had walked previously; and we got totally lost in the maze of residential streets. We soon realized that travelling 10,000 k two days previously and running in 30C temperatures after being used to running in 0 C – 5 C temperatures did not make for a stellar run. Nonetheless, we did about 6.5 k and crawled back to the house for breakfast. After some food and quick shower Sue drove us to the Woolwich Wharf for the 10:30 am ferry to Circular Key in Sydney’s CBD (Central Business District).  Here we got to use our brand new Opal cards. The ferry system is amazing.
It is an independent system of ferries in Sydney harbour and on the Paramatta River in Sydney. The two storey green and creamy yellow boats race in and out of the docks and across the river and harbour narrowly avoiding sail boats, motor boats, and other marine vehicles. They are very agile with their double hulls and add fun and vitality to the water scene just like Scuffy the Tugboat.
Once downtown, Ray and I began to feel the heat, the humidity, and the effects of our early morning run! But it was exciting to be there. We saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge which spans the harbour.
As we gazed admiringly at the bridge we realized that people were climbing the bridge and walking over the upper level of the arch. I recalled that I had heard someone talk about “climbing” the bridge. I checked this out, and yes you can do that for a basic fee of Aus $158 (weekday) and Aus $173 (weekend). Not sure I feel like spending that much money just to climb up the bridge, but it is a great idea!! Have since read that Lonely Planet suggests you can get just as much fun by running or walking across the bridge in the allotted pedestrian lanes!!

Next we went to the Opera House and walked all around the outside of this beautifully architectured music hall. The cloud-white, shell-shaped sails soar up into the blue skies creating an unforgettable image back-dropped by the Sydney Harbour Bridge and in stark competition to the enormous cruise ships that download their passengers into the streets of Sydney for a day’s sightseeing.

I recalled visiting the Opera House in 1993 to see Sue’s daughter perform in a school competition and thought this time we should take one of the tours, but once again we weighed up the cost of the two hour Backstage Tour at $165 times 2 so Aus$330 and didn’t feel like dropping that amount of money on the experience. Nonetheless we were in awe of the beauty created by the Danish designer Jorn Utzon in 1957 (building lasted until 1973 with much controversy along the way). So, we moved on with our walking tour to the Opera Café and lunch. We had to protect our lunch from the seagulls after we noticed one gull just about snatch the food out of the mouth of one of the patrons. They are very brazen!!

"Satyr" A Statue By Frank ‘Guy’ Lynch
Then it was off into The Royal Botanic Gardens. Here a natural beauty awaited us; 30 hectares of gardens squeezed between the ocean on one side and Sydney’s downtown skyscrapers on the other. We wandered around the pathways past beautiful sculptures, towering trees, and a kaleidoscope of colourful flowers. A sweet aroma from the flora filled our nostrils and made our senses swirl.

Our next stop was a guided tour of the NSW Government House built around 1836 to 1845 in a gothic revival architectural style. It was interesting hearing about the development of the house over the years, and seeing the beautiful state rooms with their elegant 19th century furniture.century furniture. 

After the tour we chatted with an Australian couple who had visited Toronto and Vancouver with fond memories! Next we set off for the waterfront and Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair passing playful ducks dipping for food in the ponds, ibis whose long beaks could spear you like a hat pin if they confused your foot with a worm, and nesting seagulls who were squawking angrily at their rivals as they tried to oust them from their nest and the egg-hatching process.

An Ibis
Mrs Macquarrie's Chair
Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair is situated right on the point and is a sandstone rock hand cut by convicts in 1810 into the shape of a bench for Governor Macquarie’s wife. Tons of tourists must visit this site as we could hardly make our way past the rock and on down the peninsula. On the way, we passed the St. George OpenAir Cinema located near the point. This provides about 70,000 cinema-goers annually with first class cinema and new releases on the big outdoor screen as well as first class cinema in the background: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House, and city skyline.

And then it decided to rain….really rain! Of course Ray and I had ignored the weather forecast and had nothing with us for rain. We decided that we would have to cut our walk short and head back to Circular Quay and the ferry. So moving quickly, and enjoying the rain, we headed back through the gardens with fleeting views of the Sydney Fernery, the Palace Rose Garden, and the Palm Garden. By the time we reached Circular Quay, we were dripping puddles with each step….and getting cool.
Selfie in the Rain
We stopped for a cup of tea and coffee before catching the ferry...and to warm up. We weren’t heading home though. We were meeting Sue and Jim and a couple of their friends in the pub for dinner!! Thinking quickly, I phoned Suzie and asked her to bring a change of clothes for me and a sweater for Ray.  Of course, once we got a glass of wine in us, all memories of being wet and cold faded and we enjoyed our $10 fish and chips and another glass of wine!

Saturday, January 23 – Cockatoo Island

After breakfast on Saturday morning, Jim and Susan suggested we take advantage of a “free tour” which was advertised in the local paper “Sydney Morning Herald” on Cockatoo Island and Jim drove us down to the ferry at Woolwich Ferry Wharf for the next-stop ride across the Parramatta River to Cockatoo Island. I had heard of the island but had no idea what it was all about, and Jim and Sue had never been to the Island! Sometimes it takes a “tourist” to prompt locals to investigate their heritage!! We had a grand time! Prior to European settlement the island was populated by Aboriginal people. Then the British came along and between 1839 and 1869 the island was used as a “convict penal establishment primarily as a place of secondary punishment for people who had reoffended in the Colonies.”  Then between 1867 and 1991 it was the site of one of Australia’s largest shipyards. In 2010 the island was declared as a UNESCO heritage site. So needless to say it was an eclectic tour with a mix of different structures, ranging from the isolation cells in the prison to old machinery from the shipyards. Today, the island also has a “tourist” industry, as tourists flock there to learn about Australian development. In addition there are tents and a tent site which offer super luxury glamping, glamping, and  camping. Also, you can rent a four bedroom house, or an apartment. It’s not cheap, but rather neat to be able to do that right in the middle of the river overlooking the landmarks of Sydney.
Solitary Confinement Cells

Some of the old Shipbuilding Buildings

Is it Camping or Glamping??

They still have pull chain toilets

January 26 is Alanna’s birthday, and Australia Day. So we have decided to celebrate both albeit that it may be a day early to celebrate the birthday. Guess we will just have to celebrate it twice!! Happy Birthday Alanna!!! We love you and wish we could be with you to celebrate your special day. Love and hugs from us all!!

Stay tuned for Australia Day Activities!