Monday, October 20, 2008

The Rocks, Turkish Festival and the Opera House

We set out on a city sight seeing tour a couple of weekends back. After alighting from the bus at Circular Quay, we walked down to the area of the city called 'The Rocks', passing along the way, the Customs House.

The Rocks is one of the oldest parts of the city. We visited Cadman's Cottage, the oldest private house still standing in Sydney. Mind you, this is less than 200 hundred years old! It is situated on the western side of Circular Quay.

We then walked along The Rocks markets to the base of Sydney Harbour Bridge. This offered great views of Syndey Harbour and the Opera House. We then climbed up to the Observatory Park which gave us views out over the western part of the harbour.

We had Turkish food for lunch at The Rocks, and then walked back towards Circular Quay. There was a Turkish festival taking place at the Quay, with a live band playing foot tapping music, and food stalls all around. We had some great Turkish sweets and tea with the music playing in the background.

There was plenty of action at the Quay. There was a street performer who somehow squeezed herself into a tiny glass box. There was a musician strumming away on his guitar. There were also 2 aborigines playing the didgeridoo.

We then made our way (yet again!) to the Opera House. After the customary lap of the building, we headed back home.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Manly Jazz Festival

The first weekend of October is celebrated as Labour Day Weekend, with the following Monday being a public holiday. This is the time of numerous events across Sydney, one of which is the International Jazz Festival at Manly.

Manly is an ocean beach a few kilometres to the north of Syndey city. The best way to reach there is by ferry. I boarded the 12 noon ferry from Circular Quay on a grey, overcast Monday. I was on the port side of the ferry, and had good views over the bush covered slopes of Middle Head on Sydney Harbour.

The ferry wharf is on the inner, harbour side of Manly, from where it is a 10 minute walk along the pedestrian only 'Corso' to the ocean side beach. For the jazz festival, there were stages set up along the Corso, near the wharf and on the ocean beach. I started at the stage close to the wharf end of the Corso, and made my way up the Corso to the beach. By the time I reached the beach side stage, the sun had broken through the clouds, and it turned into a nice, fine afternoon.

After lunch of packed sandwiches, I set about exploring Manly. Walking south along Manly beach, one reaches South Steyne beach. This is a small beach backed into tree covered hills. There is a walking track up the hill, which leads on to look out points along the cliff. These provide wonderful views over Manly and the beaches running north along the Pacific Ocean, right up to Narrabeen. 

I then walked back, and by now, the sun was again behind clouds, and it started raining. But it didn't stop the jazz musicians from playing. The music continued to be good, and the crowds just as strong. Luckily, it didn't rain for long, and the sun came out again as I was listening to the last programme of the festival.

The ferry ride back was an experience, simply for the strong winds that made it almost impossible to stand on the bow of the boat. My eyes were watering from the winds, but it was worth it for the beautiful views of the Opera House and the skyline of Sydney city against a backdrop of the sun setting behind clouds.

The day ended with a train ride to Sydney Central followed by a bus ride back home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Some typical Sydney (and Australian) sights

I would guess that if one were to ask people around the world what comes to their mind when they think of Syndey - the answers would be Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, Sydney Cricket Ground (if the question were asked to Indians), and Bondi Beach. So let me write on these sights.

I first crossed the Harbour Bridge two weeks into my stay here. I was taking a train to North Sydney (across the harbour). The train starts its journey from Sydney Central station and quickly turns into an underground metro, before coming above ground just before the entrance to the Harbour Bridge. There are tow tracks that traverse the bridge, in addition to 8 lanes for car traffic, and separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians (the western side for cyclists and eastern for walkers). On the eastern side of the bridge, on the southern shore of the harbour, stands the Opera House. On this first day, though, it was raining, and the grey, gloomy weather did not really show off either the harbour or the Opera House in particularly good light.

My first close up view of Sydney Opera House came about one evening when I was in the city for some apppointments. As the Opera House is situated close to the place from where I had to board the bus to reach back home, I decided to visit this landmark building. The first thing that struck me as I walked around the building is its size. It is simply massive! The exterior of the building was influenced by the shape of the wind sails of the boats that ply the harbour, but the local Aborigines believe it's got an Oyster Shell appearance, and I agree with them. As I was there in the evening, I sat down for a while and was able to get a glimpse of the structure in both natural and artificial light. By then, the lights of the city were slowly coming on, and the Opera House provides one of the best places to view the big city lights of the city.

I made a second visit to the place one sunny afternoon in my wife's company. The place also offers one of the best views of the harbour bridge, and it's a nice place to just stay and obervse the ferries and other boats plying the harbour. And it impressed me just as much the second time around. It's definitely worth traveling a long distance to just view one of the landmark buildings of the world, one which is also recongnised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The other Sydney landmark I was keen to visit was the Sydney Cricket Ground, more commonly known as the SCG. As it lies on the bus route from where we stay to the city, I had passed by it a few times. The opportunity arose in the form of watching as AFL (Australian Football League) game between the local team, the Sydney Swans, and the visitors from Brisbane, the Lions. Tickets were arranged by my wife' University's International Students Services body, which helpfully, also sent us notes on the game. 

We reached the venue just past 6 pm, an hour before the game was scheduled to start. The stadium was lit up with the tower lights. We were seated at the opposite end to the pavilion, with it's old fashioned architecture, and clock tower. It struck me was that the stadium was not very large, though definitely bigger than the grounds at Mumbai, and Bangalore. We had assigned seat numbers, and comfortable plastic bucket seats to sit upon. However, we were not covered by a roof, so when it started drizzling later on in the game, we had to get our rain gear on. Luckily, it didn't rain heavily, and we did not mind the light drizzle.

The game started right on time. It is a cross between rugby and football, where the objective is to kick the ball throug the opponents goal, but the players can hold on to the ball and pass it by kicking or pushing the ball by hand (not  throwing, but kind of like boxing the ball which is held on the palm of the other hand). There are 18 players to the team, and the playing area is the same as the cricket ground. It's a high paced game. This particular one, though, was particularly one sided, with the home team run away winners, much to the delight of the home crowd. 

We have visited Bondi beach just once. Staying close to Coogee beach, that's where we head whenever the sun is out and we have some spare time. Bondi beach is bigger than the one at Coogee, but quite similar in layout. It's a long, semicircular swathe of sand between two cliffs, with golden sand lapped by the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. As the sea here offers longer and larger waves than at Coogee, one sees a many surfers trying to ride the waves. Even though we visited on a cold, winters' day, it was still crowded (by Sydney standards!). So one can only imagine what it would be like in summer. There is a very pleasant walk that starts from the southern end of Bondi beach, and winds its way right through to Coogee. We walked till the edge of the cliff that marks the southern end of Bondi bay, and were rewarded by views of a pack (?) of dolphins swimming in the sea, very close to the beach.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Beautiful city...contd

After North Head, we proceeded back to the city and Darling Harbour, where we had a drink at a trendy lounge / bar. We were undecided on whether to stay back in the city or head home, but decided on the latter. However, as the day was still sunny and beautiful, we decided to go for a walk around Coogee.

We headed south from Coogee, along the coastal walkway. We really appreciate the concern for the environment that the city exhibits. This walkway is yet another example of that. The authorities are trying to recreate and preserve the original coastal habitation of this area. Along the way are boards that describe the local flora, and exhorting the citizens (and tourists) to preserve it.

In addition to the flora and fauna, this walk provided yet more stunning views of the sandstone cliffs that surround Sydney, protruding into the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, and creating beautiful coves and sandy beaches. We are, frankly, still to come to terms with the amazing blue colour of the waters, and just how clean and clear it can be, so close to such a large city.

The next day, Sunday, turned out to be an even better day, simply because the cold winds of the previous day were absent. We decided to head north along the coastal walkway to Bondi beach. Because of the pleasant day, there were many others who had decided to do the walk, mostly in the opposite direction. Along the way, we passed small, but delightful, Gordon's Bay, the cliffside cemetery of Waverley, before reaching the upmarket suburb of Bronte. We had a light lunch on the grass at Bronte's park, overlooking Bronte Beach and the sea, before catching a bus back to Coogee.

P.S:While I had written this post concurrently with my previous one, it took me more than a month to post it!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

One of the most beautiful cities in the World

Exactly 3 weeks after we landed here, we finally did our city sight seeing tour. This was organized by the ISS (International Student Services) of the UNSW, and conducted by Colourfultrips. The driver and guide was an affable, middle aged gentleman named Lee, with a nice sense of humour. We were also lucky with the weather; it turned out to be a fine, sunny day, after a particularly dull and depressing Friday.

Our first stop was at Mrs. Macquaries Chair. This is a bench carved out of the sandstone overlooking Sydney Harbour. On the way to the chair is Mrs. Macquaries Point, which offers stunning views of those two iconic Sydney structures - The Harbour Bridge, and Opera House. On this day, the view was picturesque indeed, with the sunlight glittering off the white exteriors of Opera House, framed against a clear blue sky, and lapped all around by the clean blue waters of Sydney Harbour. However, the wind was blowing strong, and the cold wind was making things a
tad uncomfortable. So we were not too unhappy to make our way back to the comfort of the air conditioned bus.

We then crossed the Harbour Bridge, and made our way across North Sydney to Manly Beach. North Syndey has its own CBD (Central Business District), which felt more relaxed than the city one across the bridge. This is where many
electronic and insurance companies have their offices.

We encountered bad traffic on the way to Manly (and on the way back too). If there is one thing that I do not like about Sydney, it has to be the amount of cars on the road. I am surprised why so many people would take their cars out given the difficult traffic and parking conditions, and given that the public transport system is quite efficient. But I guess I will learn along the way...

Manly Beach was given its name by Captain Arthur Phillip, who, when he made his way here, found the local aboriginal people to be in a manly, healthy condition. The beach is typical of Sydney's ocean facing beaches - clean green waters of the Pacific Ocean lapping against the golden sand with a backdrop of green trees. And with the ubiquitous wet suit clad surfers with their boards in the water. Today was just too fine a day for surfers, with hardly any waves for them to ride.

We then made our way to North Head. This is a part of the Marine Parks reserve, overlooking the northern entrance to Sydney Harbour. There is a nice walking track that offers sensational views across the Pacific Ocean, on the one side, and Sydney city, on the other. Walking along this track, it is easy to understand why Sydney is consistently voted as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

First Bus Trip and Visit to the City

We took our first bus trip to the city centre on Monday (the 14th). I had a meeting at the CBD, and we also decided to go to the bank to activate our account. The bus ride was comfortable, though unlike in certain European cities, they do not have announcements about the next stops. So one needs to know where exactly to get off. Bus tickets can be purchased from the driver, or one can purchase pre paid tickets.

The CBD was my first view of the non - touristy side of Sydney - that of the business capital of Australia. There were more people in suits and jackets walking around than I expected (might also be because it's winter).

We also got our first glimpses (it was not much more than that) of two man made landmarks of Sydney - The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Syndey Opera House - from Circular Quay. After our meetings, we proceeded to the University of New South Wales. The Uni (as it is called here) is massive, spread over a large area right in the heart of Syndey. After finishing a few formalities there, we took our third bus trip back to Coogee.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Initial Impressions

The drive from the airport to Sydney provided our first glimpses of the city. The traffic was not very high, possibly because of it being a Saturday. There was a lot of greenery, at least around the main roads. Interestingly, the condition of the roads was not always the best, but there were no potholes such as we see in Mumbai.

We did not venture out much on the first day, only taking a walk around Coogee Beach. The beach is small, but beautiful. The sand is clean and golden, with clear blue waters. There was a flock (?) of sea gulls on the beach. Very few people were strolling on the sands, but there was one brave man having a bath in what must surely be freezing waters at this time of the year. Though it was only past 5 PM when we were near the beach, it was quickly turning dark in the Southern winter. There was a strong breeze blowing, which was really making it cold outside, So we decided to cut short our first outing in Sydney.

It was nice to see a few things that we also get back home. The dish Tv in the common room (FoxTel) was exactly like Tata Sky, with the same remote! There were also a few common channels (Channel V). Outside, it was good to see McDonalds and Subway. We walked into a grocery store to buy some stuff for dinner, and saw Maggi Noodles! These small things remind us that the world we are living in is truly a global village.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Arriving in Sydney

The Qantas flight into Sydney was easily the best international flight I have taken. The aircraft was an Airbus A 330, with a seat layout of 2 - 4 - 2. We were lucky to get the window seat. It was the first flight I had with entertainment on demand, so managed to watch a few movies. The food was average, but service was friendly. Though we started late, we managed to make up some time and arrived in Sydney at 12:45 PM on Saturday, the 12th of July.

The airport, for such a large city, was surprisingly empty. Though we were warned that it costs money to use trolleys at the airport, we discovered that that was not the case. We were also a bit apprehensive about the quarantine process, but that also went through smoothly. After the procedures, we sought out the International Students Service desk at the airport. We were given directions to our temporary accommodation, along with a pre paid taxi card.

It took us about 15 minutes to reach our budget accommodation, located very close to Coogee Beach, called 'The Beachhouse'. Here, we had to wait over 30 minutes for the office to open after its afternoon break. Our room is medium sized, with a bunk bed (double bed at the bottom with a single bed at the top). The bathroom facilities are shared, but very clean. There is a common room with comfortable seating, tables to eat on, Tv with dish TV, and, very importantly, a heater. There is also a common kitchen, with round the clock tea and coffee.