Trip 4:August 7

The weather is still cool, but today it is splendidly sunny. So perfect for the planned outing to West Head, to enjoy the scenery and have a picnic.

Our drive took us north, and I was delighted beyond words to see that we were headed into Kuringai Chase National Park. Because of yesterday’s rain, the mountainous park was gloriously lush, and because it’s spring, wild flowers were blooming on all hands. I was in heaven.

We wound through the hills, surrounded by sandstone cliffs, gum trees, acacias, and casuarinas, as we headed out to West Head, which we reached in about half an hour. What a glorious spot. And what a view. We were overlooking the Barrenjoey Headland and Broken Bay. The water was impossibly blue, and sailboats were plentiful in many of the coves far below.

Black cockatoos, magpies, and currawongs thronged the trees. Pink, red, yellow, and white wildflowers splashed the forest with color. The fragrance of a pittosporum in bloom stopped me in my tracks—much loved and familiar from previous trips.

I am endlessly amazed by the tenacity of the gums/eucalypts, and I had much reason to be impressed by them today. There were fires through here a few years ago, and we saw gums that had been burnt to shells, but still with a branch or two with leaves starting out of the seemingly dead stumps. Wonderful. Delightful place for our picnic. And technically, still part of Sydney.

After lunch, we resumed driving through the forest and along the shore, winding our way through parkland and small communities. Then, as Mardi was feeling a bit under the weather, we stopped in Mona Vale to pick up some throat lozenges for her—and some vitamin C for me, to try to make sure I don’t catch anything. Trees and shoreline made the view endlessly charming, but as the sun began to drop to the horizon, we turned out wheels home. Not to rest, but to get ready for the evening.

There was time to freshen up —and take vitamins—before heading out to a concert at the Sydney Opera House! The city was dazzling, with lights everywhere reflected in the water. The Opera House came into view as we reached the Harbour Bridge, and stayed in sight as we rounded Circular Quay and headed down Macquarie Ave. toward the garage.

Having viewed the Opera House so often, and even having toured it, attending a concert there was a real joy. And the concert was splendid. Hard to beat Joshua Bell playing Beethoven. Sadly, Mardi was still feeling poorly, and even though she said she was game for a post-concert dinner, I could tell she was relieved when I said that I thought taking her home was a better option. She headed straights for bed when we got home. Brian and I had cereal for dinner and talked until midnight. I was still a little weary from jet lag and so even if it wasn’t exactly an early night, I very much looked forward to sleep. But what a splendid night.


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Trip 4:August 6, Part 2

Walked all over downtown, through areas partially familiar, with new buildings or new names on old buildings, but much still recognizable. Each time I return, more has changed. Definitely bigger, but still vibrant. I found a post office and mailed off cards to friends back home—sending them early in the trip, to make sure the cards arrive before I get back home. Rain picked up, and while I had an umbrella (thanks to Brian), I figured this might be a good time for lunch: lamb kebab in a bustling food court. Then off again.

Next stop was the Powerhouse Museum. Like the city, this has grown immensely since I first visited it, on my first trip to Australia. It has absorbed or linked with other collections and museums I saw on previous trips, and now has a number of outlying locations, but I was set to explore the Ultimo location, the main campus of this sprawling Museum of Applies Arts and Sciences. It’s called the Powerhouse museum because this building once housed the electric dynamos that powered the city’s electric tram system.

Spent several happy hours at the museum. Fun and fascinating exhibits on computers, robots, the senses, history of experiments, cooperage, cars, medicine, domestic skills, porcelain, and the astonishing Strasburg astronomical clock. That’s barely a hint at what I saw, but here’s a video I found that shows a bit more.

On my way back to the train station, where I was meeting Brian, I stopped to pick up a comic book for a friend back home and some flowers for Mardi. Then Brian and I headed back to the suburbs, where Mardi awaited us. A bit of conversation and the evening news, and then we headed out to their favorite curry restaurant. Jolly evening.

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Trip 4:August 6, Part 1

Up early again and into town with Brian. The day was a bit gray and threatening rain, so I left my camera at the house. A repeat of yesterday’s train ride brought me again to the Wynyard station, from which I set off on foot. I made my way up George Street, turning in at The Strand, a favorite from previous trips. Built in 1891, this splendid Victorian arcade is home to high-end clothiers, impressive jewelry stores, fun gift shops, and charming coffee shops. To clarify, this is an arcade not in the American sense of a place with games to play but rather in the British sense of a narrow “side street” that takes advantage of the space between larger buildings and offers opportunities to smaller businesses. It’s elegant and bustling, and because arcades have roofs, one can window shop on damp days and stay dry.

Then onward to Market Street and the State Theatre. Didn’t have plans to see anything, but based on its reputation, I wanted to at least take a peek at this opulent venue. Timing wasn’t good for a tour, so I just admired the foyer and then continued on.

Next stop was the QVB—local shorthand for Queen Victoria Building. With that name, one could reasonably guess Victorian era, and one would be right. A full block long, the magnificent building offers not only lovely shops, but also with stained glass and grand staircases. The clocks are mechanical wonders—chimes and “action figures” portraying events in English history. I was fortunate to be standing right next to one of the clocks at 10:00, when it struck the hour, and so enjoyed the “show.” Most of the shops I passed were upscale, and on the upper level, most focused on Australian goods. There were also exhibits, from ones on Queen Victoria to ones on Chinese culture. But the building itself was the chief delight, with wood trim, high domes, carpeted floors, with a piano playing in the background. Just lovely.

On the lower level, it was a bit less posh, but offered a lot of little places to eat. I grabbed some chicken satay and a cappuccino for breakfast. And then I was off again.

But before I share the afternoon’s adventures, here’s a video to give you a bit more info and insight on the QVB. I think it does a pretty good job of capturing the experience.  

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Trip 4:August 5, Part 2

Leaving the Observatory museum, I headed down the hill and through the Argyle Cut to the Rocks. There, I did a bit of wandering. The Argyle Stores are much more posh and upscale than when I was there before (and, to me, seemed less fun). But a bit farther along, I found plenty of more fun, less posh shops. Hmmm. I may have to buy another t-shirt. But as I shopped, I suddenly became acutely aware of hunger. Time to look for lunch.

I turned in at the charming, old (1844) Orient Hotel. The grill was advertising a special of Australian beef, which sounded like a great option. I entered a bright, spacious room of tall windows, white table clothes, crystal, silver, and great service. A pianist was playing. Perfect. The menu offered many appealing dishes that utilized Australian ingredients: king prawns with macadamia nuts, wild barramundi with quenelles of bush tomatoes, and red curry of Balmain bugs. Wow. However, after a bit of an internal debate, I went with my first choice—the beef. Good choice. A lovely steak arrived piled high with sautéed onions, with tomatoes, zucchini, and au gratin potatoes. Lovely. And a final nice touch was the chocolate that came with my coffee

Then I was off again, hiking through the Rocks, around Circular Quay, to the Opera House, and then up into the Botanic Gardens. The birds were abundant today, and they always delight me. The gardens are extensive and glorious, and so consumed a fair bit of time. Noteworthy (other than the general beauty) was the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates. This 148-year monument is a copy of one built in Athens in 334 b.c., and the splendid Greek confection looked quite comfortable surrounded by palm trees. Another delight was coming across a “bird man” feeding his large fan club—dozens of white cockatoos, Australian mynahs, and ibises, plus, of course, pigeons and sea gulls.

About 5:00, I started to make my way across town (it has gotten more built up and more crowded) to Chinatown (which has expanded considerably), to meet Brian by 6:00 p.m. We strolled around looking for a likely spot, finally settling on a Chinese restaurant Brian had heard about. Kung pao lamb and stir-fried prawns with garlic sauce were a good choice.

Chinatown was selected both for the reliably good food and for its proximity to the Central Station, so it was only a short walk to where we could catch the train back out to the suburbs. One final fun adventure (or at least the sort of thing I always enjoy): we headed for Wooly’s for grocery shopping. (Wooly’s is short for Woolworth’s, which in Australia is a grocery store chain unrelated to F. W. Woolworth in the U.S.). I always enjoy a good grocery store, and here, the fun was in both seeing things I remembered from previous trips and checking out the unfamiliar. Couldn’t help but notice that the lamb section was much larger than it would be in any mainline grocery store I know back home.

Then back to the house and to the waiting Mardi. Tea and conversation filled the rest of the evening. Lovely day.

And because it’s always fun to learn a bit more about a specific location, here’s a video of the Orient Hotel, where I enjoyed lunch and a bit of history today.

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The Observatory

Just to help you imagine the visit described in the previous post, here is a short video that shows the observatory, a few of the displays, and the ball that was dropped to tell the time. Enjoy.

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Trip 4:August 5, Part 1

Cool, dazzling morning. I was up at 7 and off to see Sydney. Had a cup of tea and toast with Vegemite, and then Brian and I headed for the train station. The magpies were caroling and gum trees lined the streets. Glorious. I am wildly happy to be back.

Pleasant train ride into the city, through rambling suburbs and over the Parramatta River. Disembarked at the Wynyard Station. Even the shops in the underground station made it clear that I’m “somewhere else,” and I was nearly giddy with delight. Did I not believe I’d be able to return?

I emerged from the station to the bustling streets of downtown Sydney. Heading over to George Street, I turned toward the harbor, walking down to Circular Quay and along the shore, through the Rocks, up under the Harbour Bridge, past Dawes Point, and into to the Miller’s Point area. This stroll took me through an area that is impossibly rich in Australian history—and it was a piece of that early history that drew me on.

Australia’s history is rather anchored in stargazing. The coast was first mapped by Captain Cook on a trip that had sent him to the South Seas to observe the transit of Venus. During the 1700s and 1800s, both navigation and scientific curiosity were turning eyes skyward. Australia’s first observatory was built almost immediately after the arrival of the First Fleet by Lieutenant William Dawes on the point of land that is now known as Dawes Point. A larger and more formal observatory was built in 1858—the Sydney Observatory —and it was here that I was headed.

The observatory itself is quite wonderful—a heritage building on a historic site—and the museum it contains is delightful. I browsed through the often beautiful antique orreries, clocks, models of the solar system, telescopes, and other devices used in the 1800s for studying the motion of planets. I enjoyed the displays and videos that offered detailed insights into not only how the tools helped with research but also how observations fit into everyday life.

I learned about Australian astronomer and meteorologist Henry Chamberlain Russell. He began working at the observatory when it first opened in 1858, as a calculator, back when humans did the work machines do now. By 1862, he was the working director, and in 1870, he was appointed the official government astronomer. He took some of the first photographs of the southern skies—and the images were outstanding.

Russell increased the number of meteorological stations and worked on making measurements of time more precise. These were astonishingly important things for a world bounded by water. I learned that a brass ball on top of the observatory was dropped every day at exactly 1:00 p.m., so that all the ships in the harbor could set their chronometers accurately. The observatory’s telescope (among other things) made it possible to calculate time more accurately.

On display was the Earnshaw 520 Chronomoter, made by British watchmaker Thomas Earnshaw. This was one of five chronometers used on the voyage of explorer Matthew Flinders—and is the only one still working at the end of the three-year voyage (1801–1803) that first circumnavigated Australia. Also on display was a book on longitude, published in 1808, in which Earnshaw related to the public his contributions to the development of chronometers, particularly making them more cost effective and therefore more widely available. It reminded me that things we not take for granted were once new and rare.

So much more to see and learn, but those (and a display on the transit of Venus, important to both Cook and Russell) were among the most significant early histories of the place. The rest needs to be seen.

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Trip 4

Well, COVID is dying down and people are beginning to travel again, so I feel a bit more inclined to share my travels once more. I even have a friend who is heading Down Under in a couple of months. So here we go again:

Trip 4:August 3–4

Time to return to Australia. It seems to not be a place I can easily get out of my system.

Since it is clear that I have headed to Australia in August each time, I thought I’d mention that there are a number of reasons. First, it’s off-season, so the airfares are cheaper—and, just as importantly, I’m not battling crowds of tourists everywhere I go. Second, it’s winter in the top half of the country, which means days and days of dazzling sunshine. Then spring begins September 1, and while it can be cold and blustery in the south, it’s not cold compared to Chicago – and it’s usually in full bloom and quite a delight to see. So while it might not be the ideal time for everyone, it is for me.

(Of course, my first trip, when I was there for six months, I got to see more of a span of seasons and weather, but that was a different trip. Only important thing to remember is that you can’t really do the north in their summer—January and February—the monsoon season. But if you’re just heading south, summer is dandy, as well—though it can be toasty.)

My flight to Los Angeles was on time. First order of business was to hike over to International. It’s funny—as soon as I headed downstairs from my arrival gate, I had one of those travel flashbacks. It had been nearly three years since I’d hiked this same route, but in reverse, making my way to Domestic after about 25 hours en route home from Bali, and suddenly, the walk seemed as familiar as if it had been yesterday.

As you may remember, if you’ve read the tale of trip #3, not all travel days are this easy, but this was a breeze—or as much of a breeze as anything can be that involves a 15-hour flight. But this was happily uneventful. An inadequate amount of sleep the night before made sleeping on the LA to Sydney leg of the trip pretty much guaranteed, which makes the flight seem a little less long.

I was looking forward to seeing Australia again but also to visiting friends from previous trips. I would of course visit Judy and Geoff on their lovely ranch, and Nikki and Richard had outlined a grand adventure to remote areas still on my wish list. In addition, a friend from back home, Brian, had married a lady, Mardi, who is an Aussie, and he moved to Sydney, so I had someone new to visit.

And then, at long last, Sydney Harbour was passing below me and we were landing. I’m back in Australia! Brian and Mardi were waiting for me in customs, and we headed for their car. The drive through Sydney was lovely—much familiar and much changed. Out to the suburbs and home.

Their house is charming. Mardi took me for a quick tour of the house and of her small but lovingly arranged garden of indigenous plants. Fun to see so many of the flowers and shrubs that I knew from previous trips. Then a cup of tea, some delightful conversation, and finally upstairs to bed—because sleeping on a plane is not the same as really sleeping.

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Opera House Update

Few images of Australia are more readily recognizable than Sydney’s Opera House. Far more than just an opera house, this iconic structure has long offered both multiple venues—and multiple problems. The problems began when the designer of the structure, Jørn Utzon, was not allowed to complete it. Now, Australia is asking Utzon to return to solve the problems created by that unfortunate decision. In this video, 60 Minutes visits both the Opera House and Utzon, to find out what is hoped for the future.


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There are many things to love about Australia, not least of which are the birds. And it’s not just that there are a lot of birds—though there are—it’s also that the birds are remarkable. I’ve posted several times about specific birds: lyrebirds, kookaburras, magpies, brolgas, jabirus, and more. But among the feathered denizens of the land Down Under, it is the parrots and the cockatoos that are the attention getters. Because I’ve covered so much of Australia, I’ve seen many varieties of both. Fortunately, there are experts who spend months researching Aussie bird life. I’ve just come across a new YouTube channel where one of these experts shares both images and insights about his favorites among Australia’s birds. In this video, he focuses on Cockatoos—but if you visit his channel, you’ll find others.

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A Treat from 1930s Australia

As a food historian, I always enjoy learning about old recipes. I’ve tasted and tested recipes from a wide range of nations and time periods. Today, I saw a video of a recipe from Australia’s past, and while I haven’t tested this one myself, as is often true of people who cook a lot, I can “taste” it based on what I know of the ingredients. So I’ll add it to my “try soon” folder—but today, as it is from 1930s Australia, I thought I’d share it here. This is a channel created by a Canadian gentleman (which the pronunciation of words such as “about” will make clear) who specializes in dishes from old cookbooks. He also shares a bit of background on the dishes and how foods evolve, which is also fun.

A perfect little something for an afternoon tea. Enjoy.

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