29 February 2000, Sydney, New South Wales

There's a 19-houir time difference between San Jose and Sydney this time of year. That's not as bad as it sounds, because you can treat it like a 5-hour difference, but you have to add a day.

We got through customs with no problems, got some cash at the airport ATM, then joined a very long queue waiting for taxis. There were plenty of taxis, but there were a lot of people there, too. It took about 20 minutes for us to get to the head of the queue. The taxi ride was quick and direct to the hotel. Check-in went smoothly.

We each took a quick shower, feeling much better afterwards. The first things on our agenda were to get oriented in Sydney by finding a telephone card and buying a pre-paid internet account. I had a printout of dealers for Microplex pre-paid internet access. I picked one that should have been easy to find, called "Strathfield City". We took light rail to the train station, then a train to Strathfield, about a 15-minute trip. What followed can politely be described as "getting our bearings and practicing getting around by train."

Sydney's light rail system is brand new, but only serves a very small section of town, most of it around Darling Harbour, where we're staying. To get anywhere else, you have to take a train, but the trains are cheap and frequent.

Once in Strathfield, I stopped into a travel office to see if I could get directions to the shop on my list. The man who helped me told me that the address for the store was actually in downtown Sydney, not in Strathfield, despite the store's name. Oh, well. We were in town, so we decided to walk around and see some of it. Just across a park from the train station was a tall building with a shopping center in the ground floor. As we walked to it, Chris said "It smells like fried donuts at the county fair" (Mmm, donuts!). We're not sure what was making that particular smell, but there were lots of take-away restaurants on the street and nearly all of them were frying something. Most of the restaurants were Indian or Asian. There was one called "Lick Sip Suck". I'm not sure what they sold, but we did get a picture of it. None of the restaurants struck our fancy, so we decided not to get lunch in Strathfield.

We did find a 7-Eleven that sold pre-paid phone cards, so I bought a $10 card. I can "recharge" it by phone if we use it all and can't find another one to replace it. We took the train back to Sydney Central, then found a nearby cafe for lunch. I inaugerated the phone card by calling Strathfield City to find out how to get there. Chris suggested that I also ask if they even carry the software. It turns out that they no longer carry it, so the trip would have been a bust anyway. We headed back to the hotel to make some more phone calls and plan the rest of the afternoon.

I called Microplex from the hotel (turns out they're headquarted in Sydney). The person I spoke to said that I could get the software at any KMart or 7-Eleven. Should have asked at the one where I bought the phone card. I located a nearby 7-Eleven in the phone book. I hadn't learned my lesson yet, so I didn't call them to see if they carried Microplex.

We decided to go to the Powerhouse Art Museum before heading to 7-Eleven, and set out on foot with directions from the concierge and a map. On the way we passed by the Sydney Motor Vehicle Museum. The sign we saw had a big blue "P" (for parking) just below the sign for the museum. I joked to Chris that they just let visitors walk around the car park. I can just hear the moment of realization: "Hey, these aren't museum pieces, these are just the cars people drove in here this morning!"

Before we got to the Powerhouse, we passed the Sidney Art Gallery and decided to check it out. It's a huge gallery with Australian-only art for sale. It was pretty to look at, but out of our price range. The piece we really wanted -- an abstract that looked three-dimensional -- costs AU$7,800. A bit out of our range, even though that's only about 5,000 "real" dollars. It was too big for our house, anyway, at about the same size as a full sheet of plywood. Smaller, similar pieces by the same artist were only AU$1,800, about US$1,200, still out of our range for art right now.

It was getting late when we left the gallery, so we decided to skip the museum. We set out for the 7-Eleven to buy the internet account, trying a couple of other stores and internet cafes we passed on the way. They all looked at us like we were speaking gibberish when I mentioned "pre-paid internet accounts" or "Microplex." The young man at the internet cafe even asked if we were sure there are 7-Elevens in Australia. We finally got to a bona fide 7-Eleven where we got the exact same reaction, then directions to another nearby 7-Eleven where we got that reaction again.

Feeling a bit foolish and wondering how we were going to get on the 'net, we headed back towards the hotel. We passed a store called D-Net Communications. This looked promising, so we stopped in. They hadn't heard of Microplex, either, but they did carry pre-paid internet accounts that were accessible from all major Australian cities. It's called gogo.net, and it works OK, if a little slow. That's what I used to post these web pages and access my e-mail while in Australia. I bought the 50-hour account, which should be enough to get us through our trip.

Victorious at last, we went back to the hotel, sank into chairs in the lounge, and had a couple of beers. Cascade for Chris, Victoria Bitters for me. We decided to go to Jordon's restaurant for a seafood dinner. It's just a couple of minutes' walk from the hotel. We went up to change from shorts to jeans, but Chris crawled into bed, still dressed, for a little rest. Thirty minutes later I figured she'd be no fun if I had to drag her to Jordons unconscious, so I dragged her from the bed to make her brush her teeth and get into her pajamas. I planned on a large and early breakfast.

Other than the "Lick Sip Suck", we didn't get any pictures this day. The shops we visited to buy the phone and internet accounts weren't very picturesque.

It's a shame we didn't plan for another 2 days in Sydney. The gay/lesbian Mardi Gras parade was on Oxford St. the Saturday night after we left. It was supposed to be one of the highlights of the Sydney year. It also looked like we would get rained on a lot on the northern beaches. Oh well, we'd see what happened. If it rained, we'd relax indoors and get out when we could.


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