The Grandeur of Sydney
Think Paris exquisite. You round a corner and a view takes your breath away. The architecture is very smart and seems at the forefront of engineering. There is almost always an essential nod to the sea. The city is very clean; the underground ok; bus network well tuned. Sydney is about the geographic size of London but easier to navigate due to the grid layout of the streets and the natural harbor borders on 3 sides. In 15 minutes you can walk from the Rocks in the north where the Opera House is to Darling Harbor in the West where the Fishmarket and numerous restaurants and activities exist.
I would describe the vibe as as American/Irish friendly with people 9 out of 10 times striking up a chat in the elevator. It feels casual but many dress quite smart. The largest ethnic populations are the Asian and the influence of their wellness and self-care secrets are everywhere. A large Aborginal/Torres Strait indigenous population exists in the area but we have not crossed many of their paths. The climate is temperate with daily variability. Their August winter is mostly 50-65F. Their January summer is mostly 70-85F. Random spikes into 100's can come if the wind comes from the desert. Anything unpleasant won't last long though. We arrived in extreme dry heat of around 110 and are now in jeans and sweaters.
Friday and Saturday night the commerce area if the city converts into a big, loud party. The clean up in the morning is intense- the guys are out with their hoses and zamboni-ish contraptions. If you wake past 9am you will never know about the destruction from the night before. The cost of living is HIGH. Numbeo's cost of living index rates NY as 100; London 120.78; Sydney as 143.09! It is staggering what things cost in this city. It probably explains why only 177,000 people live in the city. Most are in the burbs and commute in for work and fun. The city has a bike path through it and Sunday morning a large population suits up to ride the streets.
The Opera House is an architectural masterpiece. Angles and details from every view reveals lamented design and execution. Smart planners, builders and architects leveraged and partnered with every natural feature to the fullest- it is clear they knew their craft. At night with the city bright and moving water all around- light just seems to dance. There are numerous restaurants and places to hang out and watch the city sparkle so it makes it a sort of gathering place even if you don't have any show tickets. My family gifted me with an Opera house birthday. Sublime.
Outside the main commerce area of the city are neighborhoods. We visited Leichhardt to the west, which is the Italian section with a plethora of restaurants. The tiny million dollar houses there reminded me of beach houses with Florida clay roofs. Darlinghurst to the east is artsy and houses the homosexual population. The boutique mannequins were wild. Pyrmont to the west is home to the fishmarket. It's the largest in the southern hemisphere, only behind Japan for that status in the world. Bondi to the east is just one of many beaches. We visited mostly out of homage to the icon.
Bondi is bowl-shaped with cliffs on either side of its entry. The water is aquamarine. Waves move in reliably starting as large lumps by the cliff entryways. They soon edifice into beautiful white frosted curls and travel quite a distance dotted with hitchhikers before CRASH. Surfers omnipresent. Hardbodies work out on patches of sand between the fallen rocks where large chunks of sandstone retired from the cliffs. The beach is a yellow-sanded ample C backed by a concrete path followed by a grassy lawn. It's all very amphitheater-like with a 20-degree rise from the sea to grass affording a prime view of the magnificent bowl. People hang out on towels- not a beach chair in sight. One exception- the lifeguards, who sit in a bunch of 4 or 5 at a table and chairs under an umbrella. Their roost totally makeshift- no permanent structure. They are far back from the water's edge, dune buggie nearby. You get the feeling they are more like EMTs and solely there in case Jaws shows up. I witnessed no watchful eyes for distressed swimmers. Perhaps that responsibility rests on the crowd? Maybe the bowl shaped lagoon keeps current and rips from threatening flotation? Or perhaps the diving from the cliffs and access to safe pools makes the malady of drowning considered part of the brutality of natural selection? Whatever the case, there was not a rescue can in sight. David Hasselhoff would be pissed. I have to believe that the rescue personnel are more than qualified in their craft but their random outfits and outback hats combined with the hanging around the table makes them easy targets of my prose. The only thing missing from their table were red solo cups.
Batches of scantily clothed tanned and hippified 20-somethings everywhere. Woodstock meets the beach. There is signage that no alcohol is allowed until 2015. I wonder if this is like the punishment imposed the year we Philadelphians through ice chunks at the opposing team at a home NFL football game? We lost our beer for the whole rest of the year. Most of the beautiful hippies are off on the rocks drinking beer despite the alcohol ban. There are pools on either side of the large Bondi bowl. The one side is a beach club and people are enthusiastically swimming laps. The pool is rough concrete and the ocean beats up against it and spray often breaches in. Judging by the hue of the water there is clearly a seawater fill and empty portal somewhere. The pool on the opposite side is a little kiddie pool carved out of concrete and lined in sand- also clearly seawater, the portal open as you can see the waves enter and leave the pool. The sandstone stacks on either side of the water are dotted with people sunning themselves like reptiles and jumping off into the sea. I marvel at how the surf doesn't beat them back on to the rocks they just jumped from. Not a caution sign around. Darwin is not just a place up north, it's a philosophy here. Towards the east the waves crash over the rocks and spray reaches 30 feet or so. Dark shadows.
An hour away and to the west of Sydney are the Blue Mountains. Here you find the 3 Sisters rock formation and a temperate rainforest. The houses very much like the animals. Do you remember the Star Trek episode where there was a problem with the teleporter and several things beaming at once reconstituted inappropriately? That's the houses. By the way, this same concept, perhaps more FLY describes the wildlife here. I keep thinking I am going to find an insect with Jeff Goldblum's face on it. Help me (small voice). The geology remains sandstone and layers of the earth exposed looking like beautiful artwork of tans and orange inviting you to scratch in and join in the creation. In addition to the Blue Mountains, the inland desert is also easy access from Sydney to the west as well as the island of Tasmania to the south. In addition to its own grandeur, Sydney is definitely the gateway to some interesting exploration. Without a dose of the natural world to bring you to your senses, you can be lulled into feeling like you are in America- right down to the gearing up that is under way for the super bowl. It is only when you focus on the natural world that you realize you are not.
Australia has 1 million native species of which more than 80% are unique to them and can be found no where else on earth. I suppose its geographic isolation has separated it from the DNA blender. The Wollemi Pines in the Blue Mountains are thought to be the sole representatives of a group of tree species that existed at the time of the dinosaurs- a species around 65 million years old. Forests are largely eucalyptus aka gum trees so they feel clean and have a faint lovely hint of Vicks. As far as mammals- the marsupials rule. Some kangaroos are as tall as humans and can jump 30 meters in a single spring. These poor creatures are in such large numbers they are considered a pest and hunted. Think the Pennsylvania deer scene. After long exposure to them you feel like the teleporter likely housed a t-rex, deer and rabbit the day they were constituted. There are more than 140 species of marsupials including kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and wombats and devils. The poor devils are now only in Tasmania and are nearing extinction due to a really nasty facial tumor disease. The koalas act permanently stoned. They sleep and wake with the munchies then sleep again…are totally obsessed with 1 leaf….their gross motor movements stunted. They say its because eucalyptus is so low in nutrients. I keep wanting to see little t-shirts on the souvenir stuffed ones that have a cannabis leaf on it or CRS (cant remember sh**). My favorite marsupial is the wombat. It's like a snuggly pig. A lot of personality. Some marsupials actually have their pouches on their backs- like the koalas and wombats. Guaranteed, the koalas keep a bowl in theirs.
The egg laying mammals aka "living fossil" platypus are shy and rare but their cousin echidnas easily seen. Out of the zoo (although we saw some invaders had found their way into the habitats at the zoo).. rats and eels live under the city and there is a plaque touting their existence. The eels apparently can traverse dry land as well as swim and journey from the Coral Sea to the Sydney sewers yearly as part of their breeding cycle. The plaque tells where the largest colonies of rats can be found in the city. I find this fascinating.
There are more venomous snakes here than on any other continent including 21 of the world's 25 deadliest snakes. There are more venomous snakes here than on any other continent including 21 of the world's 25 deadliest snakes! There is also, of course, the world's largest coral reef system in the water. Also in the sea are a healthy supply of great white sharks, some 12 meters in length as well as portuguese man o wars and box jellyfish- one of the most venomous animals in the world. Two forms of crocodiles are found in Australia and you can find these gargantuans in both fresh and salt water. The one we saw was salt and had eaten numerous dogs and taken to a farm in penance to breed future purses. It killed every mate so ended up a feeding machine spectacle at the zoo.
Of 869 types of reptiles here, 773 are found nowhere else. There are exquisite pink cockatoos and strange creatures that look like the cross between a rabbit and a rat…many to be studied and admired…I only focus on the dangerous creatures because I find it remarkable how this society lives with them side by side. I find it has shaped their culture and personality. The zoos here have an added mission to educate side-by-side living. I have learned a lot. Always where closed toe shoes in snake areas. Stomp your feet so they can feel the vibrations and hopefully get out of your way. Freeze for 5 seconds upon an encounter and give the snake time to leave then slowly back away. Parents are taught to practice this with their kids: hide a fake snake in the yard then have the kids find it and practice FREEZE then back away. In case you run into a snake that was not properly educated on their part of the back away game there is ample training and online videos for the well-known pressure-immobilization technique to help you manage the movement of venom until help can arrive. Where is the emergency charging station for your cell phone?
Friendly AND tough, these Aussies win the pageant (and not by their charitable works with the homeless). Yes, I am very taken with the homeless issue. I think the Aussie desensitization to the brutalities of nature and natural selection seriously plays a role in their attitudes and values. Every culture is shaped by its flora and fauna in ways they have long forgotten- wisdom of the ages sealed in DNA. No matter what the reality is about my passionate social issue, Sydney is great. Colorado, Paris and California collided in the teleporter.
Now go play hide the snake. Chortle.