I’m happy to report that I have successfully found other cafes and internet access points, a true necessity as the wifi at my hostel is inconsistent and only available in certain locations. After two days in Sydney, however, I’m still not quite sure where I am.
Day one progressed as most first travel days do. Restored by a cup of coffee and encouraged by the slight signs of sun, I left the shelter of Starbucks. I headed from Central Station up George Street, meandering through side streets. Not three blocks from where I started, I was confronted with one of Australia’s dark political situation: their disregard for refugees. On a street corner, right next to a Burberry Store is a small statue of a child and a tiny plaque (it’s the small plaque—the big plaque is about the building) noting that there’s a refugee crises and children are negatively affected. I’m not sure who created this statue, but it’s placement is rather appropriate. Very few people even seemed to notice it, ignoring it as they headed to work or to tour the city, just as so many of us ignore the refugee crises. I was pleased when another tourist stopped to take a picture of it, smiling at me as she saw my Love Trumps Hate button, and reminding me that this is why I was traveling: to experience other places and see both the good and the bad that is happening in the world.
Buoyed by this silent exchange, I headed north to the Harbor. For someone who doesn’t much care for water sports, there’s something I love about cities on the water. I suppose I like that in this one way mother nature can tell humans to stop developing (except in the Netherlands, but I’m ignoring Dutch engineering for the moment). Of course, I scientifically know that water influences the air pressure which influences how I physically feel in a space, which could medically explain my love of cities on lakes and oceans. But, I’ve decided that today is a day for philosophizing, so I’m sticking with my belief that I love water cities because I love it when mother nature wins. Anyway, when I reached the harbor in Sydney, the first thing I saw was, of course, the massive bridge. Shortly thereafter, I glimpsed the opera house. It is a beautiful and impressive structure, but I was surprised that it’s not actually white. The roof is a mix of white and cream, the cream almost glittering gold when the sun popped out. On the other side of the opera house, there’s a small, quiet ferry dock called “Man O’War Steps.” I have been pretending that Australia is not designed to kill humans and apparently that’s what Australians do. Because why else would you name something after a deadly jellyfish? On the topic of potentially deadly things, from here I saw a sea plane fly low overhead. Sadly, I didn’t get to see it land and can only hope that it successfully made it around the corner it turned.
As the rain once again picked up, I ducked into the Museum of Contemporary Art Café on the other side of the harbor, where I heard a rumor that you could get a great view of the harbor and opera house. I’ve included some shots below, but am hoping to get a better look at the building from the ferry on Friday. From the MCA, I again started walking through The Rocks, wandering back towards my hostel slowly as I began to feel my jet lag and traveling exhaustion catching up with me.
After a restful, quiet night, I woke early on Thursday and decided that I needed to catch up on work before I could relax enough to do anything else. I feel fortunate that my employer asked me to stay on part-time at my current job and supported me traveling and moving this summer, but I’m still adjusting to working while on the road. I naively thought it would be relatively easy, but the inconsistent wifi in my hostel so far has made it a challenge. So, based on a recommendation from a friend in Canberra, I headed to the State Library of New South Wales and am pleased to report that it was marvelous. On my way there, I ended up taking an accidental two-hour detour, wandering through Surry Hills to find coffee and then discovering Sydney’s Hyde Park. It obviously isn’t as great as the best Hyde Park in the world, which is in Chicago, but it certainly was beautiful first thing in the morning. I’m not sure why Mesopotamia was listed as if it was a country in the World War I memorial, but the building was certainly impressive. Of more interest to me was the monument to Aboriginals who fought for Australia in any war. It was much more modern and is made up of standing and fallen bullets.
From the edge of the park, you can make out the top of St. Mary’s Cathedral, the largest Cathedral in Australia. When I walked into the church, I was surprised to hear music more reminiscent of that sung in a non-denominational or evangelical church than in a catholic one, based on my limited experience of course. In front of St. Mary’s Cathedral, however, was the highlight of day two: an ice-skating ring. Australians seem to think it’s winter. I promise you it’s not. It’s 60-70 degrees during the day and 45-50 at night. It’s definitely brisk when the shade and rain come out, but it’s not cold. I’m not complaining, however: I am in heaven. This is my favorite kind of weather.
A few blocks from St. Mary’s, I found my goal: the library. Just before the library and again outside of the library, however, were two cute and confusing animal statues. Outside of the hospital, which is right next to the library, there’s a boar wishing fountain. You have to put your coin directly into a coin slot (I suppose too many people were stealing the coins?) and then rub the boar’s nose for good luck. If that wasn’t amusing enough, there’s a cat statue on the wall of the library. Meet Trim, the cat who circumnavigated Australia with his master, Matthew Flinders, and then shared his exile on the Island of Mauritius. Why Trim and his owner were exiled was not listed on the plaque. It’s on my list of things to investigate.
After whiling away the day at the library, I headed back to the harbor to check out Bastille Festival, Sydney’s food and wine festival. The festival is broken into sections based on region. The Nordic section included a tent with stroopwaffle ice cream sandwiches. I didn’t try one, but all of my Chicago friends who are obsessed with stroopwaffles should appreciate the picture below.
As I walked on Wednesday and Thursday, both through Sydney and the Bastille festival, I couldn’t help but wonder where I was. It’s natural for humans to try to create connections between their present and their past experiences. For me, this meant that I’ve been comparing Sydney to other major cities I’ve lived in and visited. The connection to the UK is obvious and to be expected. The royal seal pops up in places and the monuments to Queen Victoria, in particular, are rampant. The grandly designed Town Hall, Queen Victoria Building, and St. Mary’s Cathedral, just to name a few, would fit in next to historic structures in London or elsewhere in Europe, although the sandstone finish may make them look slightly out of place. While the city smells of Britain, it’s clear that Sydney isn’t in Europe. In fact, Sydney reminds me in some ways of the other British colonies I’ve visited: Cape Town and Buenos Aires. The history of these three cities are, of course, very different and I am not intending to compare either these colonial histories or their current situations. But, aesthetically, these three places have some similarities. You can see the British/European clashing and adapting to the local natural and human environment. In Sydney, at least from what I’ve seen so far, Europe is clashing with Asia to produce a first-world city.
There’s also, sadly, an American influence in at least two ways: pizza (dominoes) and Game of Thrones. Here’s hoping my Floridian readers will find both of these photos amusing. Also, Tesla. And Uggs. No comment on either of those. Lastly, I did see a double length bus from across a park, which could almost have been the 6 bus in Chicago’s Hyde Park (apparently, my nostalgia for Chicago is a little high right now…)
More to come from Sydney and the Blue Mountains.