Monthly Archives: April 2023

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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