Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sydney Day 3

This morning I got up so early, there was no line for the shower. There was nobody in the kitchen, and though it seemed to me like I was the only one in the city awake, I was soon among the walking commuters of a big city with no parking. My goal was the Sydney Opera House (SOH).

I didn't walk straight to the SOH, but made my way south on York to Market and then east to Hyde Park. Market Street is the home of some upscale shopping and I saw perhaps the most involved Christmas displays in the David Jones windows. There were puppets. They were singing. There was snow.

After having a quick look at the Archibald Fountain in front of St. Mary's Cathedral, I headed north on Macquarie Street. I passed the mint (strangely white- nothing old here was made white), Sydney's first hospital (looked more like a university), parliament house (looked like a glorified clapboard house- no wonder they never had the capitol!) and the state library (your basic columns). Soon I was amid the Royal Botanic Gardens. I took a short stroll along the only green grass in town (level 4 water restrictions) and soon I had arrived at the SOH.

I was very lucky to be there before the masses, and I basically had the whole site to myself for a good half hour. Just long enough to get some good photos without all those pesky tourists in the way! As soon as the box office opened, I signed up for the opera house tour and prepared myself for some good stories.

We began the tour in the foyer, where the tour guide explained that the Danish architect pinched a fit in the mid sixties and quit the project after a change in government took away funding. The result, an outer shell built according to his plans, but everything on the inside was designed by an Australian architect (no photos allowed in the theatres- bummer!).

We headed into the Opera Theatre, home of the Sydney Opera and Sydney Ballet. She pointed out little details like the make of the wood on the walls and the chairs (Australian hard and soft woods, respectively- I can't remember their names) up to the surtitle bar over the stage. Apparently, not too long ago, the opera company decided to stage an Italian opera and set it in the outback. Since they could, they translated the Italian into Australian English- right down to the slang. "Bonjourno" became "g'day mate" and "you're a beautiful woman" became "you're a bloody good looking Sheila!" Cheeky.

Then we headed into the Concert Hall, the largest of the halls, mostly used by the symphony, but has been known to host anything from the Australian idol finals to the Mr. Universe pageant (go Governator!). The definite highlight of this hall was the huge pipe organ in the back wall. Supposedly (and now that it's been the better part of a day since I've listened to this- I could be wrong) you can see about 130 of the pipes from the organ, but there are over 1,000 in total. That's enough to drive me to wearing funny masks and kidnapping musicians.

Last, we went underneath the Concert Hall to the Playhouse. This theatre is much smaller and was once used as a movie theatre. Actually, it was used as a movie theatre of surfing films. Surfers would come in from a hard day at Manly or Bondi (complete with board) and watch the latest surf film. Oh yeah, it was also the only movie theatre in town where alcohol was allowed.

That was most of the tour. I tried to get last minute tickets to Pirates of Penzance, but all they had left were obstructed view seats. Bummer.

Next on the list- whale watching! I secured myself a ticket late yesterday afternoon and was looking forward to four whole hours at sea. I boarded the boat at Darling Harbor and after we stopped at Circular Quay to pick up more watchers, we were off.

We weren't out of Port Jackson for more than five minutes before the guide had spotted a spout. It took the rest of us a bit longer. OK, about 15 minutes longer.

The whales are migrating south for the summer after they all gathered for spring break in the area near the reef for mating and birthing. We were following two adults and a cub for the day and once I got the hang of knowing where to look, I was a pro.

Couldn't get a good photo to save my life, but it was fun anyway. The cub practiced breaching (jumping fully out of the water) at least four times, and we got as many tail slaps from the adults and even a wave from one of those fins on the side (dorsal?).

The ride was pretty calm by ocean standards, but when you are on the top deck fighting for some elbow room on the only bar for balance, it gets a bit rough. I'm still feeling the ocean. I didn't see anyone lose their lunch, but the crew was passing out ginger sea-sickness pills like after-dinner mints, so maybe that had something to do with it.

The whales would come up for air about every seven minutes and between times, the guide would spout off random whale facts, most of which we all forgot as soon as he said them. One I do remember is this: the mother whale will produce over 900 liters of milk per day for her cub. (Yikes!) The milk is over 60% fat and the mother doesn't feed herself while she's nursing. That's one heckuva way to lose baby weight I guess!

I hopped off the boat and onto a train and made my way back to the hotel to get cleaned up. My last activity for the day: heading to the Star City casino and a performance of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" the musical. Just in case you don't remember the movie, it was a very Australian movie about three drag queens finding their inner diva while on a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs. The musical was way better than the movie for two reasons: 1) the music was outstanding and 2) the costume budget for the musical was about twenty times that of the movie. The costumes were amazing.

The show was funny and brash and loud and raunchy- everything I had expected. It was a late night though, and so I made it back to the hotel worn out and ready to sleep in!

Vocab of the Day
Wedding cake: Lighthouse/sentinel tower in Port Jackson. They're white and terraced and topped with a light, resembling a wedding cake.

When we passed one of the wedding cakes on our way back into Circular Quay, a pod of dolphins swam with the boat for a little while before returning to their original course towards Manly.

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