Good evening from Down Under. I have made it to Australia and am now midway through a 6 day stay in the country's signature city, Sydney. The early morning flight with Jetstar really took it out of me, although the flight itself ran smoothly. They at least offered in-flight entertainment TV's for a small fee, which saved me 3 hours of complete boredom. When I stepped off the plane I was hugely disappointed to find the weather was a bit miserable. It was very windy on the runway and not that warm. Unbelievable to think that just a day earlier temperatures had hit 42.5C at the airport - the second hotttest November day ever in Sydney. On both Monday and Tuesday it struggled to reach 20C. Sydney Airport was probably the most chaotic airport I've ever seen - although that could be because it was Monday morning. Immigration and customs queues were huge, and there were not enough baggage conveyer belts for every flight, so some people's bags were being dumped on the floor. When I finally made it through I boarded a CityRail double decker subway train, which cost a small fortune, and travelled just 4 stops to Central Station, where my hostel is located.
I really couldn't be bothered to do much on Monday with the weather as it was and stayed around the hostel area. The first thing that struck me about Sydney was that absolutely nobody I encountered was Australian. I have since found out that one in three Sydney residents are born overseas, and that must account for just about everyone in the service sector here. I braved a haircut from a Korean woman whose English was pretty poor. It didn't come out looking too bad, although the woman in Pucon, Chile, did it much better. I then went into a pub and watched a re-run of the Tottenham-Wigan game (the barmaid was German), and then spent the evening on the Internet before going to bed very early!
The next morning I awoke to find the weather had got even worse and it was drizzling. I had a think about what was best to do in bad weather and decided to head out to the Olympic Park in Homebush, which was a 20 minute CityRail ride away. Despite the ride being much longer, the ticket was much cheaper. CityRail is a cross between a subway system and a regional rail network. Every line runs through Central Station, and at first it took a bit of figuring out which platform I needed to be on. Trains run around every 20 minutes on each line, but not every train stops at every station. Its not complicated, but its about as complex as a suburban rail network could be. After I got on the tatty subway train I found myself alone in a carriage of scruffy werido's and it suddenly dawned on me that there were virtually none of these people in New Zealand cities. Christchurch had some people bordering on chavvy, but apart from that there was no one you looked at and thought "he's mental". Sydney has a population marginally greater than the whole of New Zealand, so its perhaps not surprising it has its fair share of lunatics. After passing through some skanky looking suburbs the train stopped in one of the stations and the driver announced that we would be delayed indefinitely by a broken down train ahead. At this point one suited guy got off and launched a tirade of abuse at some official about how crap CityRail was - sentiments I've heard echoed by Aussies I've met on my travels. Indefinitely turned into 15 minutes, which meant I missed the 11.00 stadium tour, but at least it wasn't too long.
The Olympic Park was a bit desolate. There were some office buildings there but the only people who seemed to be about were builders who were preparing the park for a V8 supercar grand prix in a couple of weeks time. As I took photos around the place these builders looked at me like I was an absolute mentalist. So it was to great surprise that I turned up for the 12.30 stadium tour to find 16 other people there. The ANZ Stadium, formerly Stadium Australia, was the centrepiece of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and also hosted the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final, when Jonny Wilkinson scored his famous drop goal to win it for England. Its capacity has been reduced since the Olympics to 83,500, which is still pretty large. The stadium now hosts rugby league, rugby union, Aussie Rules, one day cricket internationals and soccer games, and the lower tier of the side stands can move in and out according to what sport is being played. The 1 hour 20 tour took us to the top of the stadium, around an executive box, through the media suites and changing rooms, and finally to the olympic podium at pitch level. Afterwards I had a walk round the park itself and saw some of the other olympic buildings, none of which were remotely inspiring. I then did a 5km walk around a wetlands nature reserve created around the Olympic Park perimeter, which took me across a mangrove boardwalk and past a cove where there were loads of shipwrecks to photograph.
Thankfully today the weather was much better. Clear blue sky with highs of around 25C, which is pretty much perfect for walking around a city. I first went up the Sydney Tower, which is the tallest building in the city and a specially constructed observation tower. Due to the fact a new shopping centre was being built at the base it took me an eternity to find the entrance. I was then a little unnerved when I got in the one working lift to hear the sound of drilling right next to me, but thankfully I made it to the top OK. The views were good but completely spoiled by the fact the windows were horrifically dirty. Where I took a photo from was dictated not by what view was best, but by which window was cleanest and had least reflection. After descending the tower we were then hoarded into some motion simulator ride which gave us a brief tour of Australia. Even though it barely moved it was enough to some people screaming loudly. I didn't see the point of it in all honesty!
After my pretty stressful tower experience, and the fact every road seemed to take an eternity to cross, I really wasn't liking Sydney, but my opinion changed when I reached the city domain and botanic gardens. They were awash with parrotts and other strange birds, and it was nice to escape the hectic city centre. I got my first views of Sydney Harbour from the end of the peninsula and it was a really spectacular sight. The views got better the closer to the opera house and harbour bridge you got, and to get right up to them seemed almost surreal. Two amazing sights in such close proximity. The harbour area was also very lively with lots of nice (but expensive) restaurants about and loads of people sat outside. With the hot sun blazing down I was then reminded Christmas was coming by a group of carol singers - a truely bizarre sight to a British person! I walked right around the ferry docks and through the area known as The Rocks, which was a quaint if overly touristic area. I then walked across the bridge and was pleasantly surprised to find you could scale one of the towers for a fee 20 times cheaper than the bridge climb that takes you to the very top. The view was still amazing. I visited more viewpoints on the northern shore and then got the subway back to near Sydney's other harbour - the more recently renovated Darling Harbour. Although nowhere near as picturesque as the main harbour it was still a busy area and the skyline provided a nice backdrop.
I quite like Sydney so far. I'm looking forward to comparing it to Melbourne later in my trip as nearly as the Aussies I've met are Melbourne natives, and they all slate Sydney as a traffic congested hell-hole! Its certainly not a hell hole, but it is a pretty hectic place. I'm off to the Blue Mountains tomorrow and hopefully Bondi Beach the day after. I'll update again before my tour starts on Sunday.