Sydney (4)

I’ve been back in Sydney since Wednesday night (it’s now late Friday night, and I return tomorrow AM to Vancouver). We’ve been staying at the Novotel Darling Harbour, which apart from the setting, is not actually a great hotel (thin towels, noisy, etc). I’ve also been a little less busy these past couple of days, although I’ve also had the advantage of getting to walk around with my dad, rather than by myself.

Yesterday, we took the ferry out to Manley, on the north-shore, right on the Pacific, and walked around, watched some surfers and swimmers, then headed back into town. I walked slowly back to the hotel, while my Dad headed off to give one of his talks. I stopped in at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which I must say, I didn’t particularly like: it was full of pieces that seemed somewhat masterbatory, rather than challenging or questioning. Or maybe I just didn’t get it, which is always, of course, the fear when viewing contemporary art.

The evening was spent in the company of some of my dad’s colleagues at a restaurant called ‘Aqua: dining’, which was situated overlooking an outdoor olympic pool, just under the north side of the harbour bridge, by an abandoned amusement park (Luna Park). It was quite amazing, although over-priced (not that I was paying).

Today, my dad and I did the Coogee to Bondi walk, along the coast, which takes a couple of hours. I then waded into the pacific at Bondui beach, watching some surfers. We’d seen some rather ominous clouds gathering while we were walking, but it stayed dry during our walk. However, just as we were heading off the beach, it started to rain. Within a minute, it was pelting down, in one of those great heavy-rain thunderstorms. The building we were in was actually hit by lightning, which was loud and exciting and scary all at once.

Dinner tonight was at a place called ‘Zenbu’, in Darling harbour, which was a east/west fusion restaurant that had the added schtick of providing complimentary head/neck/shoulder massages at your table – faboo! I could quite easily get used to this fancy-dining lifestyle, where our hosts have easily spent far more than my average month’s food budget in the past couple of days’ meals!

And tomorrow, home again to Vancouver.

Adelaide

So I’m currently in Adelaide (actually, I’m in Glenelg, a suburb), and this is what I’ve been up to:

  • I went to Kangaroo Island, and did a day-long coach tour of the highlights with my dad. Neither of us are really coach-tour folk, but it was pretty fun. I got to see sea lions, fur seals and koalas in the wild. I also saw the ‘Remarkable rocks’, which are some windblown rocks eroded into interesting shapes. We then flew back to Adelaide on Emu air. That emus are flightless birds is an irony that did not escape me. But we did have a good day.
  • Yesterday, which featured the worst weather I’ve seen yet in Australia, we went to the South Australia Museum, which was vaguely interesting. Most interesting was the exhibit on Aboriginal history and artifacts. This included a heart-wrenching exhibit about the ‘Lost Generation’, the aboriginal (and mixed-race) kids who were forcibly removed from their families for decades. There were some blank canvasses where people could share their own stories. These were the worst, really showcasing how horrible this must have been.
  • It is currently formal season in Adelaide. Each night, there has been at least 1 formal occuring in one of the ballrooms of this hotel. Seeing all these kids all dressed up and nervous is really endearing. Also funny is how some of these kids arrive: horse-drawn carriage, super-stretched glod-plated limos, hot-rods, etc. Way over the top.
  • From my hotel window, I have just seen 4 dolphins jumping in the water off the jetty
  • Last night, I had the best meal of my trip so far, at a restaurant called bergerac. It was AUS$55 for a prix-fixe meal, 3 courses, and it was of a quality that rivalled Lumière in Vancouver (not quite as spectacular, but in that league). Food is wonderfully cheap here.
  • I went wine-tasting today, which is somewhat lost on me, as I’m no expert, but it was fun. I tasted my very first sparkling red wine, which was quite interesting (though too sweet for me). We then had lunch at the ‘Salopian Inn’, a fabulous little restaurant in the middle of the vinyards. Interestingly, instead of a wine menu, they had a cellar, where you went and simply chose your wine yourself.

Peeing in Australia

So an odd thing I’ve experienced while travelling here in Australia is the urinal situation. For the most part, there are not individual urinals, but rather long stainless-steel troughs up to which one saunters and then pees. The largest of these wrapped around 3 of 4 walls of the bathroom. Some of these troughs feature grates that hover over the basin. I’m not totally sure whether one is supposed to stay on the tiles and pee into the grates (which would possibly reduce splash), or stand on them, and pee against the wall (which would also reduce splash). Unfortunately, I’ve seen users do both, so it was no help. And, as implied, these large metal troughs really seem to cause splash. I find myself standing as far away as I can from anyone else, as splash seems to be lateral mostly.

Also curious is that in the few places I’ve been that had individual urinals, these too have all been stainless steel, rather than the porcelain I’m used to in North America.

The finaly difference, and this is a good one, is that the flush systems here generally have 2 options: 1/2-flush and full-flush, so if you’ve just gone pee, you don’t need as much water. Also popular are toilets where you simply hold the button for as long as you think you need to clear the bowl. Which means less wasted water, which is all good

And I’m sure you all wanted to know about my peeing experiences, eh?

I am a raingod

Before arriving in Sydney, I’d seen much news about the longest drought in years, massive bushfires, unbelievable heat for so early in the season. All this made me think that I wouldn’t need my raincoat, so I left it in Vancouver.

Since I’ve arrived, it has rained everywhere I’ve been. Not only that, but while it’s been wet where I am, it’s been nice elsewhere, only to turn rainy once I arrived. Adelaide, for example, was hot and sunny all week, as evidenced by sunny confines of the cricket grounds where the Australia-England test match was recently played (aside: they’re cricket mad here — even in the airport, they seem to switch one TV in any bank to the cricket, the rest showing the arrivals & departures. I don’t get the game at all myself. I mean – it takes 5 or so days to play!!!). Since arriving in Adelaide, it’s been almost non-stop rain. Currently, there is a storm raging outside my window — lightning, thunder, the whole bit. In Sydney, which was damp when I was there, is now hot and sunny. According to the weather, it will remian damp here until Wednesday, when I go back to Sydney, then turn sunny. Sydney will do the reverse.

So I think the Australian government should pay for me to fly around Australia and visit drought-stricken places. I’m sure within a day or two of my arrival, it’ll rain there too…

The House

The night we arrived in Sydney, my dad and I went to dinner (a barbie!) at a colleague’s house in North Sydney. It was to be an informal affair, with the possibility of swimming should the weather be nice. It wasn’t nice weather at all, in fact, it was quite nasty out really, so no swimming.

We drove up to the house — and it was one of those houses, you know, the ones constantly being featured in Western Living or Architectural Digest magazines. It was beayutiful. The layout was essentially a modified loft space, with open steel beams, lots of open space, a poured-concrete floor. Inside, the design was minimal and modern, with one of those Bose multi-CD changers hanging on the wall, the actual speakers built right in and invisible. To boot, the house had been built with sustainability in mind : many of the materials were recycled and/or recyclable; they had a massive container for catching & reusing rainwater (given average Sydney rainfall, their house’s water was self-contained. With the drought, they’ve had to use the city’s water, although much less, as they had a ‘dirty’ water recycler too. They were going to get off the grid and go solar, but the cost had stopped them (Something like AUS$25K per panel), but even still, used vastly less electricity with all sorts of ‘green power’ appliances, and a design that meant they never had to use heating or air conditioning. It was really an amazing house.

And the dinner was pretty good too!

Sydney (3)

After rain on the previous day, yesterday turned out to be hot and sunny. I took advantage of this, heading out to the Olympic Park, after a little bit of laundry in the morning. I took a ferry from Circular Quay to Homebush Bay, which essentially gave me a tour of the entire harbour area, which was great. Arriving at the ferry stop, there was a busloop, but no bus, so I started to walk. This was a mistake, as the walk was much further than I thought, and a bus passed me not 5 minutes into my walk. The other downside is that I somehow arrived at the Olympic Park through the back door. I slipped in via this little gate that did not look official at all, and I ended up being ‘back stage’, behind all this pavillions that looked like they were all set up for students to take exams, only they were all empty. The entire Olympic Park felt like I’d shown up at a party, only to find that everyone had left, leaving behind only the detritus. It was really pretty disapointing.

The park got a little better, once I found the part still in use as a tourist attratction, but the vast scale and the complete lack of people still made me a little uneasy. Unsatisfied with my visit, I went to the Aquatic Centre for a swim, which was excellent. It was full of people, and felt used, which was good. I managed to do one lap in the competitive pool before being told I needed a special pass to use that pool, so I went over to the public lap pool. The water in this pool was good, but the difference between the competitive pool and the public pool was amazing – I felt much faster in the competitive pool. I’m not sure what the difference was, but there definitely was one. In addition to the lap pool, there was another ‘leisure’ pool area, that included a flowing river, a water slide, water spouts, etc. This was mostly full of school kids, but I fooled around in there for a while too, and hung out in the hot tub, too. It was good.

I took the train back into the city, and on the train, was surrounded by school kids on their way home. There were 4 teenage girls, maybe 13 or 14, who took an interested in me, so I fielded their somewhat inane questions all the way back into the city (where’re you from? is it cold there? do you think she’s pretty? Do you like it here? do you snowboard? etc).

I then hung out with my Dad a while, as it was his birthday, and he had a break in his meeting for a short while (of all the days of this trip, yesterday, his birthday, was the busiest for him, unfortunately), and we went for a little walk, and had a drink. I bought him a birthday beer, which, right on the harbor, with view of the bridhe & opera house, cost me $6 for the two. It’s just so cheap here to drink…

In the evening, I hooked up with one of the kids of one of my dad’s colleagues, named Juliette (or Jet), and some of her friends, who’d just finished exams and were going out to party. I was pretty stoked to go check out the club scene here too. Juliette and her friends are all 18-19, so a little bit younger, but it was alright. Of course, much like how I was then, we had to find the ‘right’ cheap place to drink before hitting the club, so we traipsed up and down downtown Sydney to find an alright place (we ended up in the same place we’d started nearly 1.5 hours earlier, of course). I was beginning to worry we’d never get to a club, when suddenly, we up and were on our way.

We went to a club called Y U, in King’s cross. It was the first anniversary of a night called ‘Ear Candy’ there, so we figured it would be good. And it was decent, but not great. There were two rooms, a hip-hop and a house room. In the ‘dance’ room, they were spinning top-40 house, with a couple of old classics — pretty commercial, and not reallly well mixed. It was a little like listening to a mix tape without the 2 second gaps between songs. But it was of course danceable, so dance I did. In the hip-hop room, which isn’t really my thing, it was much better. The DJ there was really working it, which made it a lot of fun. Also, I learned potentially why hip-hop is so popular. With the exception of the a run of old-school tracks, the beat of all the songs mixed remained constant. The line just kept running right through all the songs, from Jennie from the block to Get your freak on, all the recent hip hop had the same beat. Very odd. We stayed at Y U until around 4:15 or so, with me collapsing onto one of the couches a little earlier, my feet tired and getting blistered, then I came back to the hotel, and slept until quite late this morning.

On a completely seperate note, this hotel is good for celebrity sightings: When I arrived, I saw John Howard, the prime minister of Australia. Last night, I ran into Jay, from Jamiroquai (me: Hey! you’re the guy from Jamiroquai. Him: yeah. Me:You won’t remember, but I’ve now run into you in London, Vancouver and here. You following me? Him (laughing): apparently so. Bye. (and into the hotel he went)). Today, I believe that Prince Phillip (or some British Royal at any rate) will be arriving, so I could see him (or whoever)

And this evening, it’s off to Adelaide!

Sydney (2)

I’ve now had 2 full days to explore this city, and have done a fair bit: Yesterday, I started things off at the aquariaum, which was most excellent, except for the oodles of school kids that were there. Of most interest was that I saw a duck-billed platypus there! This is the first one I’ve ever seen. It is small and most definitely cute. There were also the standards – fish, seals, sharks, crabs, etc. The ‘walkthrough’ section, where there’s water on 3 sides of you, was wonderful, full of giant rays and sharks, etc. I took a photo looking at fish through my feet, which is kind of fun.

After the aquarium, I ventured over to the Powerhouse Museum, which is essentially a museum of industraial history & design. They happened to be featuring an exhibit of how the story & characters of the Star Wars series relates to classical mythological tales, which also had many costumes and production drawings & models, which of course, I absolutely ate up. Also of interest was Ecologic, an exhibit featuring small changes that can be made to current pop-tech to make it more eco-friendly and sustainable (like using dirty water in toilets, or 2-flush-level toilets, etc), which I found fascinating. There was an also an exhibit on furniture design called From Mod to Memphis, which featured all the fabulous plastic & material design from the 60’s to the 80’s (and the Memphis design collective, of course).

After the Powerhouse, it had started to rain, so I made my way back to the hotel. In the evening, my dad and I went to see the ballet at the Sydney Opera House, which was a great experience. The ballet, 3 short pieces in celebration of the Australian Ballet’s 40th & the Western Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary was also quite good, with the first piece, a whimiscal piece about a party, being my favourite.

Sydney

operahouse_web.jpg

That’s the view from my hotel window here in Sydney. Pretty sweet, eh? Note, of course, the beautiful, hot sunshine in this country in the grip of one the worst droughts in history. It’s actually rained nearly every day I’ve been here. But Australians seem happy about this, so it’s all good. It’s not like a little rain’s going to stop me…

Melbourne

Melbourne is an amazing city. Arriving, I’d really had no idea what to expect — Indeed, I thought Melbourne was a city of maybe 1 million, but no, there’s something like 3.5 million people here. The topography of the city is nothing special, and the remnants of an industrial city can be seen on the outskirts. However, there has been massive re-investment in Melbourne in the last few years, with spectacular results

First and foremost here is the architecture: There are beautiful examples of almost every major style/school of architecture since the Victorian age. The house I’m staying at is itself a beautiful old Victorian townhouse. These townhouses, which all feature nice iron latticework are in a mixture of states, but judging from the neighbourhoods, are affordable to for people to purchase and live in.

Within the city proper, they’ve done massive redevelopment along the river Yarra, with beautiful walkways, new buildings & bridges & parks making it really interesting to walk along. The design work gone into this city is amazing. The scale, amount and importance given to contemporary design, both in architecture, signage and postering is wonderful to see. The presence of public, contemporary art in all sorts of strange corners suggests a city willing to invest heavily in its culture (which, judging by the amount of clubs, concerts, etc that are present, is indeed true).

The highlight so far has been the Melbourne Museum, it’s design on such as vast scale, incorporating & reflecting elements of the old, victorian-era building opposite it is breathtaking. I didn’t actually have time to wander through the museum itself, but the grounds themselves were well worth the visit.

I’m off now to meet my dad, then some party at the house we’re staying at (although Jamiroquai is apparently playing a concert here at the Rod Laver Stadium, so I may try and go see that), then tomorrow, we’re driving to Sydney along the coast road (a 2-day trip). Last night, we were taken out to dinner by a couple of my Dad’s colleagues, and the guy who picked us up drove a convertible. So now we may rent a convertible to do the drive, which would be way cool. I’ve never really been in one before last night, I don’t think.