Archive for the ‘Sydney Harbor Bridge’ Category

Lapointes Reunited

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Mom and I were up early on Thursday morning to check out of our hostel and check into The Menzies in downtown Sydney where we would be spending the next two nights and meeting the other half of the family assuming they had survived the flight. This was a big assumption. While I was excited for my mom to come to Australia early, dividing our family in this way meant that we were leaving the two least capable members of it behind to get through two flights and a layover by themselves. Mom’s anxiety about their arrival began almost immediately after we woke up that morning. Their flight was supposed to get in around six am but we had checked their flight status the night before and learned that it had been delayed two hours.

We arrived at the Menzies, checked into our rooms and then found a place to stage our stake out in the lobby. I was quite relaxed, I mean even if something had gone wrong it would be no fault of ours. Mom had given each of them a stapled, color copied, and laminated copy of everyones passports, credit cards, travel documents and visas, trip itinerary, and details on the location of our hotel in Sydney. All they had to do was get off the plane, find their bags and then locate the bus driver who was scheduled to pick them up and would be looking for them. Even if something did go wrong, neither of them had an international cell phone so there would be no way for them to reach out to us for assistance. So basically all there was to do was wait. Or at least thats all I thought there was to do. Mom found all sorts of other things to do, like try to predict what had gone wrong, mentally work through the worst case scenario, call the bus company thinking they would know something about wether or not they had arrived, pester me about checking the Qantas website to search for updated flight information, inform the concierge desk to look for them even though we already were. Mom was jumpy and anxious like anyone married to my father has reason to be.

We sat waiting in the lobby for a little over two hours and I watched moms breath quicken everytime a bus or taxi stopped outside the hotel. Around 11:25 we had this exchange.

Mom: I’m so anxious! Why aren’t they here yet, are you sure the flight information said they were only two hours delayed?

Me: YES. For the last time YES. I don’t know why you are so worried, relax, there is nothing you can do.

Mom: I should go get my blackberry so they can call us, do you have your phone? Where is your phone? you should go get it.

Me: What exactly are they going to call us from?

Mom:….well….I don’t know …can you just go get it please?

Me: No, they aren’t going to call us, and even if they do, what can we do?

Mom: If they don’t get here by 11:30 I’m going to–

Me: You’re going to what? Implode?

Thankfully around 11:35 they did arrive. They looked worn and weary but for the most part they appeared to be intact.  After a few minutes of hugs and hellos we all headed upstairs to our respective rooms so that dad and Julie could put their stuff down, shower and change. As it turned out, their flight had been delayed because there had been some sort of problem with the fuel pump, and so they had sat on the runway at LAX for two hours waiting for that to be resolved, thus turning their 14.5 hour flight into a 16.5 hour flight. Needless to say they were quite thrilled to no longer be on a plane or in an airport.

For our first day in Sydney Mom had booked us a hop on hop off Captain Cook cruise, which runs all day and goes to various attractions in and around Sydney Harbor. So after Julie and Dad had recovered a bit, we went to Pancakes on the Rocks for lunch and then got on the boat and headed towards Taronga Zoo, the premiere zoo of Sydney. Taronga is home to over 2,600 animals and is located north of sydney harbor on 52 acres of land by the water.  Taronga is an aboriginal word meaning “beautiful view” and this is perfectly fitting as the zoo has some of the best views in the city, but I feel like this is probably wasted on its animal inhabitants. It would be the US equivalent of putting a very fancy zoo somewhere in the hills of LA overlooking the city. Beautiful, yes, but it means that admissions is crazy expensive to pay for the massive real estate bills.  Taronga is one of only two zoos in the world that breed platypus, thus a platypus occupies their official logo.

It was a chilly and blustery day, and so most of the animals were hiding or sleeping. Dad became very frustrated by this and kept saying “This is a zoo with no animals! Great! We should go to the botanical gardens because at least we know the plants would be there!”

Entrance to the Zoo

Giraffe and Zebra exhibit and the Sydney Skyline

We wandered around the zoo from 2pm until it closed around 5pm and then took the boat back to our hotel. Julie and Dad were exhausted and while it was good that they managed to stay up the whole first day, they were ready to get to bed. So we headed back to the hotel for an early dinner in the hotel bar and then up to our rooms for an even earlier bedtime.

The next day we were all up fairly early and after breakfast at a small cafe near our hotel we set out towards Paddy’s Market, or as dad came to call it- Trinket Heaven. My father is very persistent in his search for “trinkets.” For a man who doesn’t like to spend money he has an odd tendency to snatch up the most inane and useless objects he can find. I steered Mom and Dad and Julie through the maze of market stalls at Paddy’s and watched in horror as they purchased the most awful touristy items that could be found. A stuffed kangaroo, an Australia t-shirt, key chains, boomerangs and all sorts of other tacky and useless items. Not wanting to waste the whole day there, or any more money on kitschy trinkets I made every attempt to push them towards an exit. Once I was finally able to pull them out of the market we headed towards Central Station where Mom and Julie would catch the train to go to Featherdale Wildlife Park to pet marsupials for the day. Since I had already been twice and dad had no interest in going, we went instead to the University of Sydney to explore the campus and then walked through Darling Harbor and then along the water to the Sydney Harbor Bridge where we walked halfway across the the pylon museum.

Julie at featherdale with a koala who is awake- very rare.

Mom, Julie, and a marsupial

Feeding time

View of the Opera House from the Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney from the Bridge

Dad and I had a pleasant day catching up, and the weather was beautiful so walking along the water was breezy and picturesque. Around 6 we headed back to our hotel to meet up with mom and Julie. Since this was our last night in Sydney and Julie was of legal drinking age in Australia mom demanded that we go sit somewhere on the water and have a Lapointe family cocktail hour. When mom and I had taken the Opera House tour a few days before we had received a 20% off voucher for the Opera House Bar, so we headed there. The opera bar was a popular happy hour spot and it was crowded, but we each got a drink and took in the nighttime views of the bridge and the opera house before setting out in search of dinner. It was in this moment that dad officially dubbed our vacation the “Lapointes Get Hammered Tour.”

For dinner we headed back over to Darling Harbor to the Black Bird Cafe so that dad could get a kangaroo filet. Julie, who had pet a kangaroo earlier that day was mildly horrified that the same animal could be eaten with a side of vegetables, but dad wanted to try it. I think Australia must be the only country that eats their coat of arms.

A tasty coat of arms

Dad ended up not really enjoying his kangaroo filet because he enjoys his meat fairly well cooked and because kangaroo is such a lean meat it has to be served very rare. After dinner we walked back to our hotel and packed our suitcases to get ready for our 10 am flight to Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef.

Mom Arrives!

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Mom’s flight was supposed to land in Sydney at 6:30 am on July 3rd, but as nothing can ever be simple in my family this of course did not happen. As she was nearing the 15th hour of her trans-Pacific flight the captain came over the intercom to tell the passengers that the Sydney airport was shrouded in fog, and therefore they could not land there. Instead they would be making a slight detour trip to Brisbane (453 miles north of Sydney) to sit on the airplane on the runway there until they could be cleared for a landing in Sydney. By the time Mom actually made it to Sydney it was close to 11 o’clock which means that she had been traveling for over almost 30 consecutive hours. Luckily she had arranged to get a shuttle from the airport to our hostel and I didn’t need to meet her anywhere, otherwise I would have been waiting for quite a while. Not having slept  hardly at all on the flight she arrived at the hostel and we had our hugs and hellos before she demanded to know where the shower was located.

After a shower and a quick change she was feeling more human (and certainly smelling better) and I thought she would want to take a nap to sleep off some of the jet lag as almost everyone else who come to visit has wanted this. Not my mother. She was not going to let the flight beat her, so we set out in search of lunch and then got to walking. She wanted a picture in front of something quintessentially Australian to put up on the internet so that she could prove to friends and family that she had survived the flight and had arrived safely. So of course after lunch I steered us towards the opera house.

She has arrived!

Me, Mom, and the most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere

We walked from Glebe to Darling Harbor and then along the water to Sydney Harbor. We stopped in Darling Harbor for an hour or two to take in some street performers and soak up the sunshine and the lovely 70 degree winter weather. We even enjoyed our first official alcoholic beverages together as we sat at a table on the water chatting. We must have walked a good three miles over the course of the day, but mom kept on trucking. We walked around the craft markets at the Rocks and popped into a few opal jewelry stores to have a look. By 5 pm the jet lag had finally caught up to her and we found our way back to Glebe and enjoyed a light dinner at an outdoor Spanish wine and tappas bar before heading back to the hostel. We were in bed by 7pm, which in the world of me is utterly absurd. I was tired though for not having slept but a few hours the night before due to restlessness. We were both sleeping quite soundly until about 2:30 am when mom’s blackberry started ringing. We both started grumbling and through our grunts had this conversation:

Mom: Valerie…Valerie! What is that?! Turn it off!

Me: Mom, I think thats you’re blackberry, its ringing

Mom: Who in the world could be calling me?! Someone better have died.

I stumbled across the room to pick up her blackberry, and by the time I found it we had missed the call. On the call log it said that Home had called and Mom started assuming the worst. We thought it was Dad that had called us so we decided to call back. To our surprise it was not Dad, but Julie who answered the phone. That conversation went something like this:

Julie: Hello?

Me: Julie! Did you just call us?

Julie: Yeah, why?

Me: It’s 2:30 in the morning here!

Julie: ….o…I forgot about the time thing

Me: You just FORGOT that its a whole different day on the other side of the world?!

Julie: Yes. Look, can I just talk to mom?

I handed the phone off to my mom. As it turned out nobody had died, Julie just had some menial question that did not merit us being woken up at such an ungodly hour. After we hung up with her neither of us could get back to sleep and we ended up talking until the wee hours of the morning when we finally fell asleep for a few hours. We woke up the next day with a list of Sydney Sights to see. First we walked up Glebe Point Rd and had a light breakfast at a local cafe and then continued up the street so I could take Mom around USyd.

Mom at the University of Sydney!

Not only did I attend Hogwarts this semester, but I was a Gryffindor Lion too!

So excited to be at USyd!

After walking around and showing her where I had interned and where all my classes had been we sat in Fisher Library for a few hours so we could skype with Julie and Dad and listen to them panic about their impending solo travel mission. We walked Julie through what to pack and how to navigate the airport, even though mom had left a large packet of information behind for her and dad that contained all their travel documents, vouchers, important phone numbers and directions to everywhere they needed to be, all neatly numbered, collated, and color coordinated of course. Despite all this, we were both painfully aware that we had left the more inept half of the Lapointe family behind, so we were willing to field their panicked questions for a while. After leaving USyd, we hopped on a bus down to Circular Quay to check into an opera house tour, which wasn’t available that day due to rehearsals taking place, but we were still able to walk around the inside of the lobby and the outside of it. After leaving the opera house we made our way through the botanic gardens before grabbing a small salad to tide us over till dinner.

Botanic Gardens

As the sun was setting and the temperature beginning to drop we hopped on the bus back towards Glebe where had dinner at my favorite Australian mexican restaurant, The Flying Fajita Sisters, and then turned in for another early night.

A beautiful day

How Mary-Kate and Ashley Got it Wrong

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

The last two weeks exams have been in full swing. Since the exam period in Australia lasts for the better part of a month and most of us only have two or three classes this has lead to a lot of down time. In addition to this, it has been raining quite a bit and therefore we have spent most of our time confined to our apartments pretending to study, or just straight up procrastinating. After a few days of this we were beginning to feel the early symptoms of cabin fever, so late one sunday night Kaela and I decided to head to the local blockbuster to pick up some DVDs to watch. We grabbed 3 full seasons of Sex and the City, The Royal Tennanbaums, Ferris Bueler’s Day Off, Stardust, and this little gem:

More like: Our Lips are Full of bad stereotypes and cliches

It was Kaela’s idea.

Our Lips are Sealed is one of those classic straight-to-video releases that Mary-Kate and Ashley made in their prime before they started dating suicidal movie stars and developing eating disorders. The premise of the film is that the girls witness a crime and have to be placed in the witness protection program. They are relocated all over the United States but they keep blabbing that they are in the witness protection program so they are finally relocated to Sydney, where theoretically they cannot be found. It was one of my favorite Mary Cait and Ashley films when I was ten years old, and re-watching it eleven years later I am having serious doubts about my mental capacity as a ten year old.

In the film the girls spend all their time in Sydney, and all their time in Sydney around the Harbor. It’s as if American’s will only be able to recognize that they are in Australia if the Opera House is in the background of every shot. All the usual suspects were wheeled out for the film: kangaroos, vegemite, crocodile dundee hats, and all the boorish Aussie colloquialisms they could squeeze into an hour and a half.

While Jill, Kaela and I sat and watched the movie we mocked the bad acting and were elated when we could pinpoint every location they filmed at. During one scene they have a chase sequence that goes through the public restrooms in Darling Harbor that Kaela has used on many an occasion, she was quite excited that she could recognize them.

While we mostly just found ourselves laughing at the sheer idiocy of the film, we also found ourselves groaning at the grossly over perpetuated aussie stereotypes that the film rested upon. Here is a brief synopsis of what we found to be deplorable about this film. (Let me just say before I go into this that yes, I realize its a movie and a crappy low budget one starring Mary Cait and Ashley at that, so I don’t take anything too seriously nor delude myself to think that this film had much of an impact on anything, although one of Courtney’s friends from Bondi did once say that this film was her reason for becoming interested in Australia, which frightens me)

Aussie slang

1) Colloquialisms- Throughout the film they use words like “sheila” and “brekkie” over and over again, trying to illustrate the point that even though Australians speak English you can’t understand them half the time. This is highly inaccurate. While there is some use of colloquialisms here they are easy to figure out for the most part. For example, brekkie is short for breakfast, sunnies is short for sunglasses, bangers are sausages, barbie is short for barbeque, ect ect. While sometimes a thick Aussie accent can make someone a bit more difficult to understand someone, generally speaking it is really not a problem in Sydney where accents are not that thick. Also- the word “sheila” is only used now on tacky tourist t-shirts.

2) Vegemite- In the film the students at the girls new school make them eat vegemite to prove that they are ‘worthy’ of hanging with the Aussies. While vegemite can be found at most continental breakfast bars and has its own shelf section in the grocery store, it isn’t something people are big into forcing onto other people because even the Australians know its kinda weird. Vegemite is a gritty brown food paste that is made from a yeast extract and it is typically eaten over a piece of buttered bread. So basically you are putting bread on your bread. In the film one of the twins tries it but it is fairly obvious she is eating Nutella and not Vegemite as the substance she spoons into her mouth is creamy looking and smooth, whereas vegemite is thick and gritty. I even looked it up on IMDB and it was cited there as being nutella as well. Not that I put too much stock in Mary Cait and Ashley films but SERIOUSLY!? They couldn’t even be bothered to ACTUALLY try vegemite for one scene? So much for method acting.

Care for some bread and yeast?

3) Kangaroos as pets- In the film the girls have a kangaroo as a pet. This is not only ridiculous but its something that Australians often make fun of Americans for thinking. Keeping a kangaroo as a pet would be like the American equivalent of keeping a deer as a pet, you just wouldn’t do it. Yes its true kangaroos are everywhere, because, like deer, the population has gotten a bit out of control, but you are more likely to see them lying dead alongside a major highway in Sydney than anywhere else in the city. Just like you don’t see deer in New York City you aren’t going to see Kangaroos in Sydney unless you go to a zoo.

4) Climbing The Sydney Harbor Bridge- At the beginning of the film the girls and their parents live in a trailer and the twins share a room. When they move to Sydney they work at a hotel on the harbor but have almost no guests, suffice to say it isn’t a very profitable enterprise. Yet, one day they meet two boys who ask them what they are doing later, and they say nothing. The next scene cuts to the four of them climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I did this during orientation and it is a $200 excursion, certainly not something in the budget of most 14 year olds and definitely not something you can just do on a whim as you have to schedule it ahead of time and its an hour of processing to get onto the bridge.

5) Manly Beach- At the end of the film the girls attend a surf competition that is supposedly held at Manly Beach, which is in North Sydney. Had they actually been on the beach in Manly then the would have been surfing on the ocean and not the Harbor, and therefore would not have been able to see the Opera House or the Harbor Bridge in the background, and yet during this scene that is exactly what you see. Anyone with any sort of basic geographic knowledge of Sydney would know that if you can see these landmarks then you are not where waves could be caught because you would be in the harbor.

6) Boomerang usage- A boomerang is an Aboriginal flying tool that was used for hunting and for sport and has become an Australian icon, but you are far more likely to find one in a tourist trinket shop than anywhere else. Living in Sydney for four months I have never seen anyone tossing a boomerang around a park like a frisbee, or tossing a boomerang to an animal to catch and retrieve. It just doesn’t happen. In the film they make a big deal out of the Australian kids playing with boomerangs like frisbees and one of the Olsen twins even masters the art of using one so that it actually comes back to her after she throws it. Most boomerangs are not “returning boomerangs” which are a kind of boomerang that is specifically designed to return when you throw it, but you have to learn how to do it, it doesn’t just happen if you chuck it mindlessly into the wind.

7) SHAMELESS Qantas Product Placement- Qantas is the big airline in Australia, and clearly they thought it advantageous to use Mary Cait and Ashley as their marketing monkeys throughout this film. It went further than just showing the famous kangaroo logo every time the characters flew anywhere, they even went so far as to blatantly spell out where all the funding for the film was coming from during this little exchange.

Mary-Kate: You need to get yourself down to Australia

Ashley: I recommend Qantas, is a long flight.

Not that I thought the Olsen twins had standards or souls when it came to creating films, but COME ON.

The whole film was camp, kitsch, and embarrassing in its shameless promotion of Qantas and pushing of inaccurate Aussie stereotypes, but then again, it’s a Mary Cait and Ashley movie, so I can’t say I expected much more out of it.

Breaking Bread with Feathered Friends

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

The first time I took Justin to the botanical gardens he was amazed to see the hundreds of cockatoos that inhabit the grounds. They can be seen all over Sydney, but there is a heavy concentration of them in the botanical gardens, and I suspect this is because people feed them there. So that first day we observed two girls feeding (read: getting mauled by) some cockatoos and while Justin tried it that day, not having anything better to offer than some seeds he picked up under a tree the birds didn’t take any particular interest in him. He made me promise we would return with bread. So one day after we had been doing some shopping and walking around downtown we headed to the botanical gardens once more, this time with bread in hand.

We walked around the park for a good 15 minutes before we could find a group of birds on the ground. When we eventually did find some they were already being fed by a couple sitting on a park bench. Justin attempted to lure them away and while it was slow at first, eventually word got out that there was food to be had.

Cockatoo feeding gets off to a slow start, but we have a taker

Justin makes some more friends

And they're up!

And then there were three

And the birds come marching in

Getting his head scratched

I am not quite the bird whisperer that Justin is

Getting the hang of it

At ease

NOT COOL

I don't know who is freaking out more here, me or the cockatoo I am trying to shake off of me.

I made peace

Once all the bread had been expended the birds tried to feed on the next obvious food source, Justin's shoe

I had far more fun watching Justin with the birds than I did having them on me. They have very sharp claws and I was very afraid of having one of the birds go all Mike Tyson on me and end up loosing a bit of my ear. Justin seemed not to have these fears and was giggly and geeking out the whole time. After we had used up all our bread we spent a little bit of time strolling along the waters edge and letting our minds wander out into the harbor. It was a beautiful autumn day as the sun shone warm on our faces and a cool breeze moved through the trees every few minutes.  It was a perfect way to end the day, and to think I would not have made it out there had Justin not been here. Having someone to share Sydney with has really given me a second wind and swept me right out of my routine. While I do love Sydney and Australia will always hold a special place in my heart and my memories, I think I will soon be ready to be stateside once more. After all, there’s no place like home right?

One of my favorite spots in Sydney

A Evening for Partying, An Hour for the Earth

Monday, March 28th, 2011

After another saturday morning of sleeping in luxuriously late I awoke to a missed call from Lyndsay, and a voicemail asking if I wanted to head over to the Seymour Center box office to pick up Spring Awakening tickets for this weeks performance. I called her back, showered, dressed and we headed out. On our way out we ran into the lovely ladies form Apt 23 and when they asked us what we were doing we were more than happy to share our plans with them. As luck would have it Glebe is populated with more theatre geeks than I originally thought, and they were not only excited and knowledgeable about Spring Awakening, but asked if they could go to the show with us on Wednesday night. So our party of two became a party of five.

SKETCHY advertisement that we saw walking back from the box office. It totally sounds like this guy is trying to set up some sort of ametur porn studio. "Furnitured"? O yeah, this guy sounds legit. Even I can spell better than that

We walked up to the Seymour Center, with the air thick with the threat of rain. We purchased our student discounted tickets and as we walked back, the apt 23 ladies told us of their plans to have a candlelit dinner that night in honor of Earth Hour.

Earth Hour is an event that was started in 2007 by The World Wide Fund for Nature in conjunction with The Sydney Morning Herald. It is held on the last saturday of March every year, and during this hour it is asked that households and businesses turn off all non-essential lights and appliances for one hour to help raise awareness for climate change and the global energy crisis. The first year it was held 2.2 million Sydney residents participated, and in 2008 other world cities began to take notice and participate as well. While I had never heard of this before coming to Australia its a fairly big deal here. The Australian government even pitches in by shutting off the lights on the opera house and the Sydney Harbor Bridge during this hour. (When I watched the news the following day the newscaster said that due to the participation during this one hour electricity in Sydney had been cut by 12% for the day.)

The ladies of Apt 23 (Alana, Megan and Amanda) invited Lyndsay and I to partake in their earth day feast. Knowing my manners, I refused to accept the invitation without promising to bring something. They had said they were making a pasta dish for dinner, so I decided I would make a tomato bruschetta to go with it, and Lyndsay purchased a box mix cheesecake mix, and together we went in on a bottle of wine to contribute. (We actually caught an estate sale special on wine and we got four bottles for 15 dollars, three white and one red)

Once we got back to the apt Lyndsay and I got to baking and then headed across the hallway to apt 23. Once we arrived we heard that word of our small candlelit pot luck dinner had gotten out, and members of both the boys rooms had gotten in on the action as well. Someone decided that we should all dress up since a candlelight apparently cannot be properly enjoyed without wearing nice clothes. I thought for sure only the girls would be doing this, but much to my surprise the boys were great sports about it and showed up in collared shirts and dress pants.

Box mix cheesecake by Lyndsay, strawberry decoration by me.

She was so proud she had baked something.

Some of the Earth Hour Banquet spread. My very pretty tomato Bruschetta

Alana, Megan, Amanda, little Jordan and Lyndsay

Glebian Ladies! Looking o so pretty. From the left, Lyndsay, me, Yaella, Amanda, Alana, Megan and Rebecca.

Glebians!

After a dinner of mostly carbs and a small salad (provided by me of course) we broke into the heavy liquor and dug into the cheesecake. We sat around chatting and eventually decided that we wanted to go out for the evening.

We actually were eating by candlelight, although the camera flash ruins this effect, but without it, pictures come out blurry like this.

Drinking and dining in the dark

Getting ready to cut the cheesecake!

The whole group

After we had dispersed from dinner Yaella Lyndsay and I decided we wanted to go out, as the night was young and there was dancing to be done. We wanted to go back to retro bar, as our previous attempt at going there had failed and it was supposed to be a pretty happening place. According to the website it had three floors, each featuring music from a different decade. 90′s music on the top floor, 60′s and 70′s on the second floor, and house music on the bottom floor. Alana, Seth and Jordan decided to join us in our pursuit of nighttime entertainments. Before we left we looked it up on the web to make sure it was open, to avoid a repeat of our previous failure and we discovered that they were running a promotion that night where if you wore green you got free admission. Obviously this called for a quick change. Outfitted in our green outfits we flagged a cab, arrived at the club and breezed through the entrance without having to pay the $20 cover charge.

As we were walking into the club some guy yelled at us that St.Patricks day was last week.

Cool chalk wall on the 60's/70's floor. Also- Yaella is doing the YMCA.

Jordan bustin a move

Retro bar specializes in "hen parties" aka bachelorette parties. To distinguish themselves from the rest of the club all the members of the differnet hens parties going on wear matching head bands. We saw antennae, bunny ears, princess crowns and all sorts of random stuff.

Yaella carrying Lindsay back to the apt on her back because Lyndsays feet were killing her from her heels. This is true friendship.

After we had danced ourselves silly we walked back to the apt and collapsed into our respective beds. Another evening in Sydney well spent.

Over and Under the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Tuesday was another early morning that I had no trouble getting up for (I don’t think I will ever get used to that). Today we were scheduled to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge. This is a very pricey activity that we had the good fortune of being able to do on the cheap because we bought group tickets for a group of 80+. Normally I think it costs $180 a climb, and ours was less than half of that.

After waking and meeting in the lobby of the hotel we all boarded a bus and were taken to the Sydney bridge climb headquarters, which is located at the base of the bridge. http://www.bridgeclimb.com/

We were in groups of 14 and went into the processing area at 15 minute intervals. The first step is to get breath tested. If you blow a BAC of over .02 you are not allowed to climb. This is the legal limit for judgement impairment in Australia, and obviously if your judgement is impaired you have no business climbing a bridge at 9 in the morning. Our orientation leader told us that every year somebody failed this, and this year was no exception. Some frat boy bro from Maryland (there are an OBNOXIOUS amount of people from maryland here, and they all seem to belong in frats and be idiots. One girl said ” I only brought shorts and tank tops to this trip, I didn’t realize it got COLD HERE” I mean, did she do any research into this country other than to find out she would be legal to drink and the boys had accents?? I have never had a reason to dislike maryland but some of the people here are providing me with one.) failed the test. He was escorted back down to the lobby area where he had to wait a good 4+ hours for everyone to finish their climbs.

While waiting in line to go into the processing area we were all given lovely blue Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb hats with special clips on the back of them that would attach to our jumpsuits for the climb

Very sexy hat.

Once you passed the breath test and filled out a form declaring any medical issues everyone was given a gray jumpsuit to wear over our clothes. The jumpsuit is  very specific color of gray as to match with the bridge and not detract from tourists taking pictures of the bridge. Whoever came up with the color to paint the bridge certaintly did not work for crayola as his most creative idea was “sydney harbor bridge gray.” Who hires these people? WHere can I get a stupid easy job like that? It would be like working at a kitchen appliance naming institue. You just say what the thing does and add er. WHat does this do? that toasts, o well then thats a toaster. What does this do? that refrigerates, o well then thats a refrigerator. I’m going on break!

You were only supposed to wear a shirt and underwear under them so we were sent to a bank of changing rooms to do this and then assigned lockers to store our personal belongings. Next we were given harness belts that had a clip on them that would connect us to the railings as we climbed. There is never a point on the climb where you aren’t fenced in, but this is a precaution as it can get quite slippery and windy up there.

Next we were given two bags to clip onto our belts, one containing a rain jacket and one with a polar fleece. These came in handy. Next you are given a radio with a headset so you can hear the climb leader when you are out on the bridge since you walk in a single file line and its very windy. Once everything was clipped and secured to our person including hats and sunglasses it was time to climb! The whole process from check in to return takes about 3 hours, most of that is the climb, which isn’t scary at all. You are very secured and there are railings everywhere. Meanwhile, as you walk the tour guide provides information about the creation, maintenance, and history of the bridge.

I learned that when the bridge was built in the 1930s nuts and bolts were thought to be to expensive so the bridge is constructed with 6 million steel rivets. The Eifel tower by comparison only has 3 million. It is the worlds largest long span bridge and it is the tallest steel arch bridge in the world, measuring 134 metres (440 ft) from top to water level. The granite pylons at either end of the bridge are purley cosmetic, and hold no structural importance to the bridge itself. During its construction only 6 people died, which considering there was no use of safety harness or safety nets of any kind is hella impressive. The total cost of building the bridge was 10 million dollars and this was not paid off until 1988 when construction officially began in 1923.

The way the climb works is that you go up one side, across the summit and then come down the other side. Since you are not allowed to take any loose articles with you nobody had cameras. You do get a picture taken of your whole group at the summit but since I am without a scanner I can’t provide that here. Instead here are some other peoples pictures that I am shamelessly lifting from various places on the internet. Enjoy.

Lovely gray suits that everyone is given. These guys make them look far more attractive than they actually are.

The climb is very steep at the beginning and at the end but in the middle things even out and its more level. The views were spectacular even though it started to rain once my group got to the summit.

Despite the fact that it was overcast and rainy for a majority of the climb I somehow managed to get a very mild sunburn on my face. After the long climb we were taken back to the hotel for free time (read: NAPTIME)

At 4:30 we walked down to Darling Harbor for a harbor dinner cruise which would mark the end of our orientation. We cruised for 3 hours and watched the sunset over the harbor. Again, spectacular views and an amazing day. If I keep having days like this I may never come back to the US. 

The Orientation Process Continues!

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I don’t know what is causing this but everyday almost everyone is waking up around 6 or 7 am without an alarm, myself included. I am sure it has something to do with jet lag/being on the wrong time zone but its a very odd feeling to wake up and have no idea why. Usually when this happens to me its 2 pm when I needed to be somewhere at 9am, so I ususally wake up in a panic and scramble to find some device that tells time to confirm my fears. While the fleeting moments of panic are still there I have been pleasantly surprised to find each time I found a clock that I have woken up 1-2 hours earlier than I needed to.

SO in other words, this country has caused nothing short of a miracle to occur in my life. Let us all pray this blessing does not soon pass.

The first order of business when I awoke for day two was to find my luggage! Luckily it had in fact arrived when they said it would, and was waiting for me in the lobby of our hotel at the concierge desk. I have never been happier to see suitcases in my whole life.

I scampered upstairs with my suitcases bounding behind me and quickly found my shampoo and clean clothes. This was blissful.

45 minutes later it was time to head down to meet up with the rest of the group. Today was going to be all about living in the city and learning where things were. Our tour guide Russ, a native Aussie took us on a three hour walking tour all over the city. We started our tour in Hyde park which is very central and houses the Australian War Memorial.

Australian War Memorial

This building has four corners and there is a statue on each one. A member of the airforce, marines, navy and the fourth one is a woman. Russ was explaining that Australia was the first nation to grant women the right to vote, and that equality has always been a big part of AUstralia culture. Since women ran the country while the men were away at war during every major conflict, they are featured on the memorial. Inside of it is a sunken statue of  solider. It is sunken in so that you have to bow your head to look at it, assuming a position of reverence. The statue has three sets of hands supporting it that represent his mother, his wife, and his daughter. These women symbolize the past, the present and the future of Australia.

Also in Hyde park is this statue of James Cook. Much like Christopher Columbus he did little more than stumble into a large land mass, mistake it for something else, and get credit for finding it when someone else was already there. Essentially he is the Christopher Columbus of Australia. Why we can’t properly credit people for discovering our countries baffles me. I took the picture from this angle because our tour guide showed it to us from this angle and made some interesting comments about his….telescope.

As we made our way downtown towards the shopping district we could see the Sydney Observation tower. At the top there is a very fancy revolving restaurant. Being that the hotel we were already staying at was 80 floors high we were told not to waste our money to see the views from atop this thing as it would be expensive and no better than the ones we already had in our hotel.

This is part of the shopping district. Almost all the stores are located in open air alleyways like this. They are really quite beautiful and you can just wander in from the street without having to go through doors.

Throughout Sydney there are a bunch of public parks that feature the work from local artists. The design in this fountain that Russ is standing in front of is from a local artist. Also- since the soil in Australia is so nutrient poor the trees there never loose all their leaves completely since they don’t have the recourses to replace them all at once like the trees in the US do. Instead they loose a few all year round.

We also walked through the Botanical Gardens. When you first walk in the sign says “feel free to pick the flowers, climb the trees, walk on the grass and feed the animals” I thought this was really refreshing how they encourage a hands on experience when in the United States it would be very “NO TOUCHING”. The big white bird in this picture is really like the pigeon of Sydney. THese things are EVERYWHERE. They are very friendly and will eat out of your hand. Here, Russ is demonstrating how they will sit on your shoulder and eat out of your hand if you let them. They have a particular fondness for banana bread we found out. Many of the students tried this, one guy even had about 4 birds on him.

The botanical gardens back up to Sydney Harbor, where the famous sydney bridge and opera house reside. Of course everyone wanted a picture of this stunning view. I’m fairly certain all 80 kids from my program have this exact picture only with a different person in the foreground in every one.

Harry's Meat Pie Stand. These things are world famous apparently. None of our group was incredibly blown away by them. They were kinda bland, and not great food for an 80 degree summer day.

After our walk around the city we stopped at Harry’s meat pie stand for lunch off of the Harbor. Supposedly these things are amazing and quite famous in Sydney. I didn’t eat the tradition version, because it has meat in it, but instead opted for a veg version.

Harry's Meat pies with potato, mash pea, and gravy. Mine was a vegetarian one. Obviously this is not mine because I would never put coke zero (read:POISON) into my body.

It’s like a pot pie with a serving of mashed potatoes and smooshed peas on top covered in gravy. Its good but certainly not the life changing experience it was built up to be.

After lunch we all were loaded onto a bus and taken to Featherdale Wildlife Park http://www.featherdale.com.au/

It is a very nice facility that is a hybrid between a park and a zoo. While the birds and more dangerous animals were kept in cages the more docile ones were allowed to roam within the permitters. So you could be looking at a pretty exotic bird in a cage and all of a sudden a kangaroo goes bounding past you. Its really awesome. This darling little guy was the first animal we met. He is a newborn baby wallaby, and very sleepy as you can see. But o so incredibly soft and cuddly.

Baby Wallaby

There were also Koalas EVERYWHERE Almost all of them were sleeping in trees, which looks very funny and uncomfortable but they don’t seem to be bothered by it in the slightest.

To me they kinda look perpetually hungover. But also very cute and cuddly. And so incredibly soft.

The Kangaroos and Wallabys are very docile creatures and do not mind at all if you play/pet them. They are very friendly/indifferent. Also super soft. I think one of the major genetic traits of marsupials is that they are really soft.

tiny penguins! They huddled in a little group like this and it was adorable. I was so tempted to scoop one up and let it live in my bathtub for the next four months.

My favorite. So beautiful

Being that Australia has been so isolated from the rest of the world biologically the animals have evolved quite differently, or sometimes very little evolution has taken place at all. This lizard is a very close decedent of the dinosaurs, and he looks it too.

This crocodile is MASSIVE. The inclusion of the girl on her cell phone in this picture was intentional to give it some sense of scale. It was FRIGHTENING to be that close to such a gigantic and ferocious creature.

These guys are wonderfully fuzzy. And as long as they can still get to their food they don't really care what happens to them.

kookaburra!

So after we finished up at the wildlife park we went back into the city and had the rest of the night off. I went with some friends out to dinner at a sushi bar. I am not a big fan of sushi but they were very hell bent on having some since it is so plentiful and cheap in sydney. The quality of fish here is also a lot better than it is in the states. The water around Australia is actually very clean. SO clean in fact that they have begun to attract sharks. While this may seem alarming and unrelated, if the plankton and organisms at the bottom of the food chain have food to eat and can swim in the water then they attract bigger organisms, and this goes all the way up the food chain. So if you have a body of water that is attracting large predators like sharks you have a very flourishing and healthy ecosystem. So if you ever get bit by a shark, look on the bright side, you were swimming in a very healthy ecosystem when it happened!

So after my sushi dinner experience I have gone from a casual dislike of sushi to a passionate one. Luckily it was cheap and I didn’t waste too much money discovering this. After that some poeple elected to go out, but after a long day of marsupials and walking I was quite exhausted and decided to hang out with some friends in the hotel and then call it a night.