I love this place more and more the more I see of it. Today's plan was to walk from the hotel, which is South and East of Sydney's main downtown district, to the Sydney Opera House, and to take in the sights along the way. The hotel staff here seemed to find this an improbable goal (do I sense a pattern here?), with the concierge admitting that he had tried it once and it had taken him two full hours. He plotted what he felt was a good course on a couple local maps (it's odd that none of the hotel maps is of more than a small section of the city) and I went up to sleep. I was up about 3:30 am, and waited until 6 and headed out.
(Manly Beach and Northward. We're told the forest fires are controlled burns; there were a bunch visible as we flew in.)
It's easy enough to navigate via the maps, but the age of the city and the hilliness of the terrain make the roads go every which way; there are a limited number of non-freeway thru-streets (most roads only extend so far and one must shift over to continue in the desired direction--and there is no grid except in the downtown proper. My route (which I think I've saved here) passed to the North of the University of South Wales, around the Eastern perimeter of the Royal Randwick Racecourse (where several jockeys were thrashing their nags around the course in the morning dew) and onward past a couple large parks--Centennial Park and Moore Park--before angling over to Hyde Park and up to the waterfront. The connecting route between Moore and Hyde parks was Oxford Street, Sydney's premier flamboyantly gay neighborhood (and location, I learned, of the famous annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras), with numerous clubs and sex shops and head shops and tattoo / piercing parlors. Even at 7:am there were knots of still-intoxicated, naughty-looking boys loitering outside many of the bars; I can only imagine what the place is like at midnight!
True to the hotel concierge's predictions, it took me a bit over 90 minutes to reach the edge of downtown, and after Hyde park I headed straight West to the waterfront and followed it up and around to the base of the famous Harbour Bridge (where there was a bizarre bit of presumably modern art consisting of a huge rock placed squarely on what once was a Ford Escort; one could only say "Hmmmm..."). This part of Sydney harbor has all the formerly-commercial spaces--piers and warehouses--converted into a zillion units of high-end housing with the attendant coffee bars and night clubs and shops. I climbed up five or six stories to the bridge's roadway level and across to the midpoint of the bridge to take photos of the breathtaking scenery, and then returned and made my way back down and over to the opera house by way of the Circle Quay ferry docks--like a European train station, except it's for Sydney's extensive ferry services.
After a tour of the famous opera house (see post below) and a quick lunch at an outdoor cafe by the Circular Quay (salami, cheese and tomato on grilled focaccia, chocolate cookie and D.C.: $16.90), I decided I had walked enough without adding another 7+ miles back on for the trip back to the hotel, so I caught a nearby bus and was dropped off near the hotel door half an hour later. I see for my next substantial layover here that there is a day pass (and a weekend pass) that lets one ride any train, any bus and any ferry unlimitedly for the duration. This seems a must-do if I have any time here. One of my crash pad roommates, who has been here a number of times, recommends I take the ferry across Sydney Harbor to the town of Manly (oxymoronically called the "Manly Ferry"). This is penciled in for my next visit.
My impressions of Sydney overall just get better and better. The town has extensive parks, and there is water everywhere. The terrain is fabulously interesting and varied, and architecture distinctive. As I noted on my first visit, even small houses all have some architectural detail that gives them interest and panache--a porch or arched window or odd dormer or bay window. Everything is made of brick or some other masonry, and everything has a tile roof. The population seems educated and friendly, and one sees intriguing details everywhere, from seawater pools to people playing cricket to folks with easels painting landscapes in the parks. And everybody seems friendly and most helpful. What's not to love?
For now, back to the hotel for (hopefully) a nap before departing tonight for Guangzhou and a three-day layover there.