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We flew home from Perth on Friday with a stopover in Sydney. The layover was 23 hours so we booked a hotel for the night and spent a good half day checking out the sights. Wanting to see the landmark Sydney Opera House, we booked a hotel within a kilometer of the famed venue.
Upon arrival however, we had no idea exactly where it was so we hopped on a shuttle bus. Few of the hotels have free shuttle service from the airport so it cost us $30 for the two of us. There was a train service to downtown but we didn’t know exactly where the two downtown stations were with respect to the hotel so we opted for front door delivery.
As the above map shows, the opera house stands at the end of the center point of three points that, with their two bays, form a W. The left bank of the left side of the W is an old section of downtown Sydney called The Rocks. Our hotel was the Holiday Inn on George Street, just a block from the Overseas Passenger Terminal. And, we found, everything is only a short walk away.
The opera house is connected to the cruise ship terminal by a broad pedestrian walk called the Circular Quay. At the center of the quay are five ferry wharves that are home to ferries plying the waters to many different areas of the city. Old Sydney is at the center of a waterway marked by many inlets.
As we emerged from the side street leading to the bay, we found ourselves on the quay. To our left was a cruise ship terminal. Behind and above that was the Sydney Harbour Bridge, noted for welcoming in the New Year every year with a spectacular fireworks display. And across the bay was the opera house, its iconic sails jutting into the sky.
Although we arrived on a wet, rainy, and fairly miserable day, we decided we wouldn’t let the weather dampen our spirits. We started to walk along the quay and came across a circular plaque in the ground. Joseph Conrad it read and featured a short quote from the man and noted his relationship to Australia. Very cool. A short distance further we came across another plaque about another author. Then another. It turns out the entire quay is dotted with such plaques, part of the Writers Walk.
Halfway along the quay is a plaque explaining it. Dedicated in 1991 by the Minister for the Arts, Peter Collins, it reads “What we are and how we see ourselves evolves fundamentally from the written and spoken word. The Writers Walk demonstrates that this evolutionary process continues to channel the thoughts and perceptions, the hopes and fears of writers who have known this great city and its people.”
As a blogger and writer I was quite fascinated by this and snapped photos of sixteen of the two dozen or so authors. Mostly writers I knew of or whose works I had heard of and one I had never heard of but whose quote I found particularly moving. I’ll post a separate photo gallery of the sixteen plaques I shot, authors that include such notables as Mark Twain, Jack London, Germaine Greer, James Michener and Arthur Conan Doyle.
We walked along the quay past the wharves and a selection of restaurants to the other side. Above the complex of restaurants and shops is the Circular Quay train station. Sydney Trains is a private-public partnership between the government of New South Wales and the Reliance Rail Consortium. $3.6 billion of modern rolling stock was acquired in 2006.
We followed the trail of writers, passing many shops and restaurants along the way. Sidewalk patios were everywhere. The harbour bridge stood out across the water.
And then, as we passed the last of the high-rise apartment buildings flanking the quay, we saw the opera house again.
We were struck by how different it looked live than in pictures. Photos always seem to show it with dazzling white sails. In fact, the tiles are alternating white and beige. And they are an off-white, a sort of creamy white. However, in photos, including the ones I took in the rain, the sails appear white.
On the shuttle bus ride to our hotel, we heard an ad on the radio for the show at the opera house and we thought it would be great fun to actually attend a show. A new production of My Fair Lady was on. However, it just happened to be opening night for the show and it was completely sold out.
But we were able to go in to the ticket sales wicket and did see some of the grand interior. Tours of the complex were available but we thought it a bit pricey at $37 person so we declined.
We wandered back out to walk around the opera house. Off to the left and circling the bay was the Royal Botanic Gardens, celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, and the Domain, a large 34 hectare park. With nicer weather and more time, we would certainly have walked through it. As it was, we just looked at it from afar.
Circling the opera house we ended up at the rear which faced the water. The larger wing here is the main concert hall. It is the largest of the sails.
Continuing around the opera house we catch an excellent view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge again. I noticed some little spikes along the curved summit of the bridge. They were moving. People? I changed to a zoom lens and took a couple of pics and a movie. Indeed, people were walking at the top of the bridge.
I looked it up afterwards and there is a company called BridgeClimb. They offer a variety of bridge climbing experiences including an evening walk as well as a sunrise walk. If you’re fearful of heights, you can get a package that only goes half way up. These excursions don’t come cheap. Prices range from AU$158 for the Sampler Climb (half way to the top) to AU$383 for a twilight or dawn climb. Cheapest climb to the top is $278. Prices are less for children. Despite the price, it’s on my bucket list. If I’m ever back in Sydney, damn it, I want to walk along the top of that bridge. What a rush that would be!
Continuing along we came across a lot of restaurants along the lower concourse, many with outdoor patios. Prices at the restaurants vary though we were told that they get more expensive the closer you are to the opera house.
It was around 4 PM now so we stopped for a bite at a little Italian place across from Wharf # 6.
After dinner we headed back towards the opera house again to visit a few shops. One called Aboriginal Art Galleries specialized in aboriginal art and had a massive display of didgeridoos, the long pipelike instrument with a very distinctive sound. Not as easy to play as you think. My daughter’s fiancé had gotten me one for my birthday on our last trip. I got the shop keeper to demonstrate for me on tape.
Did you play that video? Did you listen to that sound? Isn’t that amazing?
It was getting darker as we left the shop so we walked a bit further to get a glimpse of the opera house lit up at night. It was spectacular.
Then we headed back around to the cruise ship terminal. There was a large crowd of teenagers there, many dressed to the nines. Some sort of grad party maybe. A couple of gals were standing nearby as we walked past. Two young guys approached them and one of the girls opened up her jacket and showed the mickey sticking out of her inside jacket pocket. These kids were ready to party!
We decided to walk past the terminal to see if we could get to the bridge. The rain had let up so we could close the umbrella. The temperature was mild and pleasant. We passed a long row of restaurants. In front of them were masts – a nautical theme to the whole row. The dinner hour had just started and we could see tables with white cloths inside. The upper floors had large open doorways with people casually standing in them even though they opened on empty space.
To our right was the Park Hyatt Hotel with the Sydney Harbour Bridge showing behind and above it. Large colour slides of footy (soccer) players were being projected on one of the bridge supports.
We walked around the hotel and came to a small park which commanded a great view of everything, the bridge, the opera house, the city.
We headed left and followed a narrow road beside a steep wall with large ivies growing up it. At the end was an old building with a large smokestack above it. The building was a power station from 1902-1908. Today it serves as the Arts Exchange. It is “an operations hub for Sydney’s major festivals and key arts organisations”. Tenants include a dozen different arts groups.
We soon came to another grand old building in this historic section of the city. It stood at the edge of the parking lot for the cruise ship terminal. A sign at the front indicated one of the tenants was Emerge Capital, a large investment bank.
We walked a short distance more and found we had come full circle back to our hotel. Not planned. Just serendipity.
We got a good night’s sleep and in the morning took the train to the airport. The train is slightly more expensive than the shuttle bus, but the bus took us an hour to get to the hotel in all the crazy traffic. The train takes just fifteen minutes to get to the airport. The train is a much better option.
It was a bright sunny day. Too bad the previous day had been so rainy. So I grabbed a few sunny pictures from the station platform to round out our visit.
Sydney is spectacular. The old part of the city around the Rocks and the Circular Quay is very accessible. The architecture and scenery is amazing, even in the rain. We will definitely visit Sydney again. Hopefully for a longer visit next time.
There are two additional photo albums for you to check out. Just click on the links below or scroll on down if you are on the main page. I’ve included additional links of interest as well.
- Photo Gallery: Old Sydney
- Photo Gallery: Writers Walk
- BridgeClimb website
- Sydney Trains website
- Arts Exchange website
- Royal Botanic Garden website
- Aboriginal Art Galleries website
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