Tag Archives: Sydney

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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Happy New Year

I am in Chicago at present, which means it’s well below freezing. Quite different from the New Year’s Eve I enjoyed several years ago in Sydney, Australia: sitting on the grass, glass of wine in hand, summer dress and sandals on, enjoying the parade of boats covered with lights, the bands on the moving stage provided by passing barges, and the astonishing fireworks show that concluded the evening.

So while I’m not there now, I’m still thinking of that warm, sparkly night–so wanted to share what it looked like this year with everyone. This is just a brief excerpt of the fabulous fireworks display, but it will give you a feel for the event.

Happy New Year, everyone, everywhere.


Filed under Australia, Travel, Video

Wednesday, September 18

Last day in Australia. I was up at dawn and walked across town, photographing everything in an effort to somehow hang onto it. Then I headed to Circular Quay, to the spot where all the day-tour buses gather, for my visit to the Blue Mountains. The area was crowded and the buses were filling rapidly, which was to be expected, but it made me wonder whether this was going to make any quiet communing with nature possible. Still, I was headed for the mountains, so I was happy.

One bus filled, and I was among the first on the follow-up bus, which meant I got a great seat—window near the front. This made the drive out of the city and up into the mountains a delight. I’ve posted so often about these mountains (Sept. 20, 2010, Oct. 23, 2011, Nov. 21, 2011, and Nov. 30, 2011) that I’ll spare you the rhapsodizing and detailed descriptions here, but suffice it to say I was enjoying the fragrant crowds of eucalyptus trees and sheer cliffs of the range.

The mandatory stop at a wildlife sanctuary offered joy in the form of wombats, wallabies, kangaroos, brolgas, cockatoos, penguins, and other Aussie classics. I never tire of these creatures, so I was pleased to have them filling my eyes again. Then it was off to Katoomba, to stop at the spot I’d visited previously, perhaps to hike, definitely to see the Three Sisters rock formation. It had begun to drizzle lightly, but the scenery was still wonderful. Sadly, however, things at Katoomba had become more touristy. The little restaurant and shop at the site had been built up considerably, and one wing was packed with video games, and all the machines were in use. I was pretty stunned that people would come to a place of stunning beauty like this and stay indoors playing video games, but clearly nature wasn’t the draw for them that it was for me.
I wandered outside, hood up against the light mist, and strolled the short distance to the edge of the cliff. As I had seen on my previous visit, there were numerous parrots gathered nearby, especially king parrots and crimson rosellas, lured by a few well-stocked feeders. I was happy to note that, with everyone packed into the restaurant or occupied with the video games, communing with nature was actually pretty easy.

We’d been released for a couple of hours, so I began to hike through the damp foliage. It was quiet and peaceful and exactly what I needed. When I finally made my way over to the Three Sisters rock formation, there were breaks in the clouds, and I was treated to the remarkable sight of a rainbow arching over the three rock pinnacles. I was delighted beyond words. It seemed the perfect climax to the trip—a moment of quiet serenity and remarkable beauty. Tonight, I’ll pack. Tomorrow, I’ll leave. But at this moment, I could simply relish this perfect cap to a wonderful trip. I felt grateful and blessed.
Three Sisters, Blue Mountains, New South Wales


Filed under Australia, Geography, Nature, Travel

Tuesday, September 17

Spent the day in downtown Sydney, shopping and walking. I wandered through the flashy Darling Harbour area–lots of shops, restaurants, hotels, and things to do. I mostly just admired the bright openness of the place, but did stop at a shop that sells Akubras (makers of the hat I’m wearing in my picture on the cover of my book) to buy a small flourish of feathers for the hat band, the original ones having gotten torn out by a branch during my riding trip in the Victorian alps. I then headed for the Queen Victoria Building. The QVB is a gorgeous old edifice, with statues, mahogany banisters, sweeping stairways, stained glass windows, vaulting arches and general magnificence on all hands. Constructed in 1898, it has lived many lives but has now been restored to its original intention of housing artisans, shops, showrooms, trades people, and cafés.

Shopped along George Street and then over to Pitt Street and down to Circular Quay, passing through Macquarie Place and over to the Rocks. I wandered happily among the old buildings but found the area enough changed to wonder if places I’d been before would still be there. A few were, but much of it was new. (Historic buildings were still there, but many had new tenants.) I had hoped to find again the golden wattle perfume I had purchased previously, but while the shop was still there, it was going out of business, and they no longer had the scent I loved. Still, the old buildings and old streets of this oldest part of Sydney delighted me, even though some that was familiar had vanished.

As much as I was enjoying the Rocks, on the whole, I was not enjoying being in the city. I had spent too much time surrounded by natural beauty, and I began to feel like two days was too much time here. Even the concrete was disagreeing with me. Despite having walked or hiked for hours every day while in desert or forest, I was getting blisters from walking on sidewalks. So I turned my steps back into city center to find the NSW tourist office, where I booked a day tour out to the Blue Mountains for tomorrow–one final dose of the bush before I head for home! Then I figured I’d better tackle the last of my shopping endeavors, so headed to the handsome Strand Arcade, where I found the remaining gifts needed for folks back home.

Finally, after many hours of wandering, I headed back toward Chinatown and the Cambodian place I had discovered last night. Not sure when I’ll ever get Cambodian food again, so don’t want to miss another opportunity.
Good day. And tomorrow, back to the Blue Mountains.

[P.S. That would not in fact be my last taste of Cambodian food. A couple of years later, I actually made it to Cambodia–a very different but absolutely wonderful experience. Seeing Angkor Wat was another dream come true.]

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Monday, September 16

This morning, Judy and I headed for Australflora and Gum Nut Village, a nursery that specialized in Australian plants, plus craft gallery and tearoom, all run by a charming, lucid man named Bill, who obviously knows Judy well. (Not too surprising, given how focused on indigenous plants Judy’s garden is.) We browsed for a few hours through the fabulous flowers, and I bought a few packets of seeds, to see if I can raise a few Aussie blooms in a pot back home. We chatted with Bill for a while, about local events, local folks, and how to care for a few plants Judy recently obtained. Then we headed for the giant “gum nut.” A gum nut is the hard, woody fruit of a eucalyptus tree—though in this case, it is a replica of said fruit the size of a small cabin. This gum nut houses the craft gallery as well as a lot of May Gibbs books and paintings.

May Gibbs was the artist/writer who, about 100 years ago, created a world of fairy folk that she dubbed gumnut babies. These delightful little creatures, who lived among and dressed in the flowers of gum trees (eucalypts), populated a series of children’s books, the most famous being Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, which appeared in 1918. Gibbs’s creations became part of Australians’ childhood heritage. In fact, so iconic was Gibbs’s work that she was honored with a Google doodle on her 136th birthday.

And in case you haven’t seen a gum flower before, here is one of the many varieties—and one can see how easy it was to imagine it as the attire of tiny fairies.
Judy and I had lunch in the tearoom then we headed back to the house. Geoff was waiting for us. We chatted for a little while over tea, then I finished packing. At 3:00 pm, it was time to head for the airport. Judy and Geoff have been so gracious and generous, as well as a lot of fun, that I really hated saying good-bye. However, I’m sure part of that is also realizing that the trip is nearing its end—too soon, I’ll be saying good-bye again to Australia.

It was dark by the time I landed in Sydney at 6:15. I caught the bus to the city then hiked the rest of the way. Fortunately, I have a suitcase that can convert to a backpack, and when the walk turned out to be longer than I’d anticipated, I made that switch. Still, even with the suitcase worn as a backpack, I was fairly weary as I climbed the stairs to reception at Sydney’s Traveller’s Rest Hotel. However, I was pleased to find that, though a bargain accommodation, Traveller’s Rest was clean and cheerful and quite comfortable.

After settling in, I walked toward nearby Chinatown, stopping at a place that offered an all-you-can-eat Cambodian buffet. Glass noodles with tree ears, curried eggplant and pumpkin, meat with chilies, tofu with veggies, and several other dishes made for an interesting and tasty meal. Then it was back to the hotel and early to bed. Tomorrow, I get to find out how Sydney has changed.

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Thursday, August 22

At 7am, I landed at Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney, Australia. I’m back.

Because I will be driving for a fair bit of this vacation, often in less populated areas, my dad had given me a good supply of beef jerky, no doubt thinking that if I were stuck somewhere remote with a flat tire, I’d be able to survive for days. Alas, while I knew well enough that I could not bring fresh meat into the US when traveling overseas, it had not occurred to me that dry meat taken out of the US would be an issue anywhere. All my jerky was confiscated in customs/quarantine. I’m sorry, not for the loss of the beef jerky, but simply because dad will be so disappointed. He thought it was such a good idea—one more way to protect his little girl. Oh, well. I still appreciate the thoughtfulness that prompted the giving. On the other hand, it frees me up to rely on Aussie products.

I picked up my car and travel documents at the car rental place and set off on the adventure of driving on the left side of the road. With less time for this trip, I felt the need to do a bit more planning, so I pre-booked more things, including this car and the next week’s accommodations, so I wouldn’t have to worry about a place to sleep as I wound my way up the coast.

Being in the wrong lane and on the wrong side of the car made changing lanes just enough of a challenge in the maniacal airport traffic that I missed the turnoff for Sydney and had to go all the way around the airport again. Outside the airport, it was not immediately clear which way to go, so at a stop light, I asked a charming cabbie if I had any hope of getting on the Princes Highway. He replied that I had every hope and gave me simple directions, and soon I was on the main thoroughfare that would take me up the coast—but right through Sydney, first.

As I crossed Sydney, I could hardly believe how much she had grown. But I didn’t have to think about that for long, as I was out and over the Harbour Bridge, through the northern suburbs, and out of the city. Soon the scenery was comfortingly familiar. Tree-covered mountains and sparkling water surrounded me. Signs bearing familiar names— Kuring-gai Chase, Brisbane Water, the Hawksbury River—flashed past my windows. I rejoiced to see these old friends again, all looking even more beautiful than I remembered. There was only one “scenic view” turn off where I could stop and take pictures, and while I was glad for that one, I would have liked more. Of course, I could have gotten completely off the highway and explored, but I didn’t know how long the drive was to my evening’s accommodation in Bulahdelah, and I didn’t know how long my energy would hold up, having just spent two days flying, so I pressed on.

The rugged, forested mountains of Kunring-gai Chase gave way to rolling, green farms, horse properties, and sheep stations. The drive was alternately pleasant and gorgeous.

My maps were old (they had none at the car rental place for outside of Sydney), so I wasn’t always sure where I was, particularly because there was a lot of construction in progress and a number of extended detours. But signs would appear before I got too worried, reassuring me that I was still on or headed back to Highway One. I passed Cessnock and drove through Kuri Kuri in the impressive Hunter Valley wine-growing region. No time for a winery tour this time, alas. But I could hardly feel sorry for myself, given my surroundings.

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Saddest or Sweetest View of Sydney

The photo below is of Sydney from the Kingsford Smith Airport. The saddness or sweetness of the view depends on whether you have just arrived or are departing. When I took this photo, I was leaving. It was the end of my first long, glorious trip to Australia. At the time of the photograph, I could not know that I would get to come back again — three more times (so far). So for me, it was a sad view. However, I did return to Australia, and I shall shortly start on tales of those subsequent trips, though with a few interesting tales in between.

One such tale is in regard to the name of the airport from which I was flying. Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport is named for one of Australia’s many aviation pioneers: Charles Kingsford Smith. Having served in the Royal Air Force during World War I, Kingsford Smith taught aviation after being wounded. However, it was after the war that Kingsford Smith gained international fame. Among his several remarkable feats of aviation, he was the first to cross the mid-Pacific Ocean by air.

In October 1933, Kingsford Smith completed a solo flight from England to Australia in seven days and five hours, and in 1934 he flew with P.G. Taylor from Brisbane to San Francisco. Sadly, in 1935, Kingsford Smith and a companion disappeared during a flight from London to Australia.

If you’re keen on aviation history or biographies of people who lead dramatic lives and helped change the world, you can go here to read more of Kingsford Smith.

Sydney from the Airport

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Picnic Ibises

One of the many things that delighted me while at the Taronga Zoo — and, indeed, in several other parts of Sydney — was that the wild birds that showed up were occasionally as exotic as the things one was seeing in cages. In the suburbs and out in the surrounding mountains, I’d seen parrots, rosellas, and galahs, but the “city birds” of note included white cockatoos in the Botanic Garden and, anywhere there was food to be scavenged, Australian white ibises. It amused me no end to see the ibises strolling amid the picnic tables at the zoo, perched on the edges of garbage cans, running down anything dropped by a careless child. Pigeons were on hand, as well, and a few seagulls, but most of those seeking handouts at the zoo were the ibises, which were also so building nests at the tops of some of the zoo’s palm trees. In Florida, large, exotic birds may be a common sight, but to a Chicagoan, it was a delightful surprise.

Wild Ibises, Taronga Zoo


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Taronga Zoo

I really love a good zoo. I’m also fond of wildlife parks, walk-through aviaries, and even butterfly houses. I’ve been to the world’s oldest zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn just outside of Vienna, Austria), the world’s largest zoo (San Diego Zoo in California), and a fair number of innovative or well-regarded zoos in a number of other places. But among them all, the one with the best view has to be Syndey’s Taronga Zoo. The name of the zoo actually sums up the place pretty well– it’s an Aboriginal word for “water view.” The zoo meanders up a hillside that faces Sydney Harbour, and from almost all points in the zoo, one can look out over that handsome expanse of water, with the city of Sydney in the background.

The zoo is beautiful, too, engulfed as it is in greenery. But it is the view that really sets it apart, as you will be able to see in the photo below. (Nice collection of animals, too. So you’re not just going for the view.)

View from the Zoo


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The Opera House Photo Folks Expect

A while back, I posted a photo of a view of the Sydney Opera House that I found amusing. But today, I offer the photo everyone expects–beautiful image of the Opera House floating between sea and sky. The photo below was taken from the ferry while I was in transit from Circular Quay to the Taronga Park Zoo, on the far side of Sydney Harbour. It couldn’t have been a lovelier day.

Sydney Opera House

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