1 March 2000, Sydney, New South Wales

This was the first day of Autumn in Australia. You wouldn't have known it. The sky was brilliant blue with a few puffy clouds, just to give it depth. I got my first real taste of Australian culture at breakfast when I tried a spoonful of "natural yogurt" from the breakfast bar (ba-dum bum). It was awfully sharp, but I'm sure my reaction was less severe than Chris's was when she tried a bit of as-yet unidentified fruit. It turned out to be "a very tart plum" that made her pucker up like a toothless geezer sucking on a lemon.

After we had recovered from breakfast -- it was actually quite good -- we went to the hotel gym for a workout, then back to the room to get cleaned up and ready to go. We had planned the day with Micahael Lazerus, an ACT! Certified Consultant who sells, installs, configures and supports ACT! here in Sydney. Michael was born and raised here, and promised to show us the town. He picked us up from the hotel at 11:30 and we drove to Circular Quay where we boarded a very nice boat for a lunch cruise.

The cruise lasted over 2 1/2 hours during which we ate while watching the north and south shores of eastern Sydney Harbour go by. We had perfect views of the Opera House (right next to Circular Quay), the Harbour Bridge (also known as the Sydney Coat Hanger for it's shape), the skyline, navy piers, harborside suburbs, and parklands. The boat came back past Circular Quay, under the bridge, and into the western half of the harbor. There we saw Luna Park (a recently closed amusement park with roller coster, ferris wheel, and midway), merchant docks, the top of another suspension bridge, and more suburbs. The ship then docked, let off some of the passengers, took on more, and left again for a shorter cruise into Darling Harbor. We had more good views of the skyline, merchant vessels, and homes.

After we left the cruise, we walked around Circular Quay to the Opera House. The roof is designed to look like sails, and, once you know that, you can see the resemblance. Our guide book describes it as reminiscent of "turtles engaged in sexual congress," and you can see that, too. Some people believe it looks like shells. It's impressive, no matter what you think it looks like. The pictures don't do it justice, because you can't tell how big it is. It's huge. There is a concert hall, an opera hall, a restaurant, and three theatres in the complex. Some of it, like the information and ticketing area, is underground. There is also a lower concourse between the house and Circular Quay that has dozens of shops and small cafes.

The roof always looks bright white in photos, but is actually a very light creamy yellow. It's made up of hand-installed tiles that are about five inches square. Lots of them. When we finally got right up to the buildings, both Chris and I started taking pictures of the tiles from various "artistic" angles. Michael burst out laughing, turned on his video camera and said, "I've got to get this on tape. It's the perfect picture of tourists. Two people taking pictures of the tiles on the Opera House roof." He was absolutely right. We looked like tourists. Didn't phase us. We kept right on doing it. So did pretty much everyone else who was around there at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Once we had satisfied our artistic impulses with the cameras, we headed indoors. We asked what was playing there on March 21 and 22, when we would be back in Sydney. The Nutcracker was scheduled to play in the Opera Theatre those nights, so we bought tickets for the 22nd.

After the Opera House, we went back to Michael's car, and he drove us through King's Cross, known as the rough section of town. During daylight it looks harmless enough, but that's the area where drug pushers, prostitutes, and ruffians hang around. Sydney police have built a new station right in the thick of it to get it cleaned up a bit before the Olympics here in September.

From King's Cross, Michael drove us to Bondi Beach. First, to a point at the north end of the beach where we could look back at it. Then we parked at the beach and walked down to its south end. Lots of nice scenery. Australians seem to be less concerned about nudity than Americans (who isn't, though?), and it was pretty common to see women -- and men -- sunbathing topless. We looked out of place in the jeans we had worn for the harbor cruise, but we didn't let that stop us from taking a look around, then Michael guided us to Guido's Gelato, a stand that Michael remembers from his early childhood. He says the gelato is still as good as he remembers. My chocolate cone was certainly tasty. Chris also enjoyed her lemon and orange sorbet cone.

We loaded back into the car, and drove to Dover Heights, a suburb right on the ridge that overlooks all of Sydney Harbour. We stopped by a large flat grassy area to take a look. The view was wonderful. It turns out that the flat grassy area covers an underground water tank about the size of a football field. I don't know how deep it is, but it's a big tank!

While we were taking in the view of Sydney, an older gentleman came near us walking his dog, a wire-haired terrier. He took the dog over next to a tire swing, then started the swing moving in a circle. The dog chased after the tire, round and round, nipping at it whenever it got close enough. Several times the tire bopped her in the head, but she didn't slow down. We chatted with her owner for a few minutes. The dog's name is either Bonny or Bunny. The man brings her to the tire to get her worn down so his wife thinks they had a really long walk.

Once again, we piled into the car and drove through more suburbs, including a very wealthy one called Vaucluse. There we saw lots of gated estates, expensive cars, and a tucked back little park called Parsley Bay. You'd never find it if you didn't know it was there --several turns off the main road, then down a tiny strip of pavement to a grassy park that leads to a nice little beach, complete with shark netting to keep out the nastier marine life.

It was getting on towards dinner time, and Michael got an idea where to take us. He drove north from Vaucluse almost to the tip of South Head, the southern point at the mouth of Sydney Harbour. Before dinner, he wanted to show us The Gap, a cove on the Pacific side of South Head. The Gap is a series of cliffs about 150 feet above the ocean with a spectacular view of the water and a series of land points to the north. The Gap is the "popular" choice for suicides when in Sydney.

Down the hill from The Gap is a tiny suburb named Watsons Bay, called Watto Bay by they Sydneysiders. We got some beer, sat down at an outdoor table with an ocean view, and talked as the sun sank toward the horizon. On this day, from this bar, it sank right through the middle of Sydney Harbour Bridge, drawing appreciative comments from everyone in the place.

As we stayed at our table, the wonderful smell of cooking fish drifted up to us from a restaurant just down the hill and right on the beach. We finished our beer and walked down to Doyles Seafood. We were seated right away, and we all enjoyed a meal of delicious fish and chips -- except Michael, his fish was served with mashed potatoes. By the end of our meal it was past 9:00, and Michael needed to get back home to take care of some work. Before we left, we decided to walk to the end of the wharf that holds the restaurant, where we could get a good view of Sydney's brightly lit night skyline.

While we were on the wharf, the driver of a water taxi asked if we'd like to hire him. The fare to Darling Harbour was reasonable, so we decided to do it. Besides, our Australian friend, Heath, had highly recommended a nighttime water taxi ride across the harbor. We retrieved our packs from Michael's car, thanked him profusely, and headed back to the wharf. Heath is right; a nighttime water taxi ride across Sydney Harbour is wonderful. We had nice, flat water, a smooth ride, and a very nice cabby. He said that water-taxi driver is the worst of his jobs. Of course, we asked. His other jobs are teaching sailing and giving sail-boat tours of Sydney Harbour. Poor guy.

We arrived back at the hotel very tired, and very pleased with our perfect day. Thanks, again, Michael. You are a terrific guide.


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