So I flew from Wellington to Sydney after a delightful lunch and city tour from Jill G., a friend of Steven Levine's. I am indebted to her for the day and the lift to the airport.
As with New Zealand, there are strict quarantine laws about what you can and cannot bring into Australia. I had no problems, and took a cab to my hotel. Now if you're travelling on a budget, do NOT take cabs from airports. The cab was quite expensive and the driver had never actually driven to my hotel. Checked in OK, enquired about WiFi, and discovered that there was no signal in my room. I spent a restless day cut off from my online world while I tried to get connected.
Next day I ventured out to look for a SIM card. I had our iPhone3, now fairly obsolete but useful, as it was unlocked, as I thought. I went to a Telstra outlet in central Sydney, and bought a SIM with data. Problem was, I couldn't connect with it. Our former flatmate Win, who is a Sydneysider, brought his Android phone over that evening and I tethered to that for a while. Asked O2 what to do and the guru there told me that, sometimes, unlocked phones revert to locking when a new SIM is inserted. So, he unlocked the phone but I then had to get connected to iTunes to complete the unlocking and, of course, I had no way to do that. So I spent a second day unconnected. I was so miserable that Win gifted me with a three-day stay in a downtown hotel. I was grateful (my hotel was a bit ancient) but later on I regretted it, as I lost a lot of Thursday moving from one hotel to the other.
I did discover a museum, the Powerhouse Museum, that had good food and powerful WiFi, so I had lunch there twice. The first time, I went to Central Station and took the tram there. Then, I discovered that it was actually two blocks from my first hotel and I could have walked there. So I did that on Thursday between hotels and again took advantage of the WiFi and the excellent food. Highly recommended.
Next day I went to the Apple Store downtown and they happily connected me up and got the SIM working. I was very grateful.
Sydney's Central Station was within walking distance of my hotel (just). I must say, the signage there was quite deficient and confusing. And, it's huge. Almost all the transit in the city begins or ends there. The main train lines are somewhat like the RER in Paris; they are quite diffuse and go through the central city and then fan out to the suburbs. Some of them are quite old, especially the Circle Line (a very short version of London's). I saw something I've never seen, even in New York in the 1970's: graffiti on the floor. These elderly train cars are also not air-conditioned. It's quite hot in Sydney in summertime, and I was there at the end of summer--the autumnal equinox happened while I was there. There is one tram line that starts at Central Station and goes to, basically, Nowheresville. It does pass through the downtown market, and I enjoyed walking around that.
I did find the hop-on-hop-off bus at Central Station, and spent a day looking at all the sights. I had gone to Circular Quay (the main ferry terminal) earlier and gotten the obligatory pictures of the Coathanger (Sydney Harbour Bridge), including tiny stick figures climbing up it to the top. They said it was a climb not for the fainthearted thus I pled faintheartedness and didn't bother. The bus included the Opera House (amazingly utilitarian considering its outside configuration), and various other attractions. There is a Sky Tower, and I went up that (as there's a discount with the bus). Got the usual discounts. The people who built it must have been disappointed when a highrise office tower was built that cut off views of the Opera House from the tower. I bought my souvenirs there, including a kangaroo scrotum coin purse, as a prize for the Washington Post's Losers Invitational, which gives out wacky "prizes" for those who lose (ie, win) their competitions.
On Maundy Thursday I attended one of the highest of high churches in Sydney: Christ Church St. Lawrence, at Central Station. I have never seen a Mass as high as theirs, even as a Roman. The highlight was the procession to the Altar of Repose, where the priest carrying the Sacrament was preceded by two thurifers, perpendicular to him and facing each other along the aisle,"sweeping" the path in front of the priest with the thuribles full to bursting with incense. Afterwards I was treated to dinner by Andrew W., a parishioner who is a friend of a friend.
On Saturday Win and I took a coach to Canberra. The trip is miles and miles of miles and miles, with grassy meadows mostly looking like well-manicured golf courses. Canberra is flat and low-rise. There are few buildings taller than 5 or 6 stories. The old Parliament building is stately and Victorian. The new one is very trendily new. The House chamber (if you saw Julia Gillard's YouTube video lambasting the leader of the Opposition for sexism that's where it happened) is interesting as the leaders sit at a dispatch table, rather than sitting on a bench facing it. Win's friend drove us around,and I'm grateful as public transport seemed to be mostly absent. The coach back was again mostly miles and miles of miles and miles. I then packed for the flight to Melbourne.
I'm about to go out to meet my friend Ruth in the Melbourne suburbs, so I will leave Melbourne and Tasmania for next post.
Short addendum: My friend Ruth has just messaged me that her mother died overnight, so I won't be going out to see her. My condolences, Ruth.
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