This was unusual for me. In most cases I go for fairly short vacations, but this was the longest vacation I ever had (five weeks), also the one that brought me farthest from home and included the most activities. Which makes it difficult to summarize the whole thing, so this is going to be a long and rambling web page about "what I did on my (southern) summer vacation.
After a long flight (an hour to Frankfurt, twelve hours to Singapore, ten hours to Sydney), standing in line for passport control, being singled out while waiting for my baggage for extra questioning and going to customs, worrying about whether some dirt on my second pair of shoes would qualify as a 'contaminated soil sample', I was finally outside the airport building. (Usually I don't mind these things much, which are just part of normal travel, much, but I was jetlagged, tired and just wanted to go to the hotel and get some sleep.)
But somehow I managed to get the most disgruntled taxi driver I've ever seen outside of Berlin (which is sort of famous for that). So during the trip to the hotel, I learned that european cars are incredibly expensive in Australia and a BMW goes at almost 1.5 times the price it goes in Europe, so nobody can afford them (which didn't faze me much - I live in Europe and I also can't afford a BMW, in fact, I don't have a car at all), got lectured about the bad condition the streets were in, the repairs going on, the fact that there wasn't enough drainage to get rid of the large puddles after the rain, that it had been raining the last two weeks and there were big rain clouds all over New South Wales and Tasmania and during the next two weeks that I'd be in Australia, it would be all rain and thunderstorms and miserable.
With this information, I arrived at the hotel and went to sleep. Needless to say, the next day the weather in Sydney looked like this:
(To be fair, the next two days the weather in Sydney was cloudy and rainy, but it still was far from the gloom and doom predicted by the taxi driver.)
In Sydney, I basically just covered all the usual tourist stops, i.e., on the first day I went to the opera house and the botanic gardens for the usual pictures of the Sydney Opera and the 'coathanger' bridge and, since the weather was fine, mostly just walked around until it became too hot and sunny for me and I went for the indoor attractions, like the Aquarium and the Powerhouse museum. But for taking pictures the main attraction is still the opera house and the skyline around it.
Though probably the most surprising sight were the bat covered trees in the botanic gardens.
I tend to associate bats with dark caves and somewhat rainy climates, so I didn't expect them to hang around in bright daylight in the middle of the city. They looked much more appropriate a couple of days later when they flew at night in full moon over the opera house. The only thing missing was some organ music drifting over the bay...
Anyway, onwards to the Aquarium...
I started the second day with a coffee/tea cruise to the inner harbour, but by then the bad weather actually had made an appearance, so it was somewhat dull and wet (but at least with something warm to drink).
Since it was still raining afterwards, I decided to do something indoors and go for a guided tour of the Sydney Opera. I just did the 'normal' tour, which just takes you through the corridors, halls and into the auditoriums. (There's also a 'backstage' tour.) Give the spectacular appearance on the outside, the opera buildings look surprisingly drab on the inside (at least the corridors and halls have the 'unfinished concrete' look), but it's well worth a look. When I was there, the Australian Ballet (or whatever the official name of the dance company is) was rehearsing "The Three Musketeers" and we could watch for a couple of minutes. I wasn't overly impressed (I don't know anything about ballet, so I wouldn't know a world class performance with internationally celebrated stars from a couple of kids pretending to be dancers), but it was a kind or irritating sight to have the ballet dancers run around in their 'workout clothes' and shorts with parts of those elaborate stage costumes (the Musketeers uniform jackets) worn over them. (Sorry, no pictures, since there wasn't any photographing allows inside the auditoriums, but it looked kind of goofy.)
After those bits of culture I don't care much about (and since it was still raining),
I went to that kind of culture I like much more: science fiction. There is a very good science
fiction bookshop in Sydney (the Galaxy bookstore) and it's very depressing to go there.
Because, and this might seem surprising at first, they have mostly books. Lots of them.
Which is quite unusual for a science fiction bookstore. Most of them started out as
bookstores, but by now they are mostly merchandising stores. With action figures, posters,
plastic toys, t-shirts, collectibles, DVDs, soundtracks, model kits, card games and so on.
Which I don't mind, but that usually means that the bookshelves get smaller and smaller,
until there is only one lonely book shelf left at the back of the store, half of which
contains TV tie-in novels and the other half are by Terry Pratchett. I really like
the Terry Pratchett books a lot, but he only writes two books a year and I read more than
that, so I need to buy other books as well. So finding a science fiction bookshop that
sells mainly books (ok, they also sell some DVDs and movie tie-ins and toys, but they are
sort of scattered around the perimeter of the shop, the core of the shop are still aisles
of books) and lots of them complete. (Ok, that's just my personal dislike of books that are
called "Volume I of the second chronicle of the fourth age of the second empire of Whorszte"
and which often summarize in "The heroes pack their things. [Continued in volume II].
I prefer books that tell a complete story.)
In short: that bookstore is a science fiction readers paradise.
So what's the problem?
Baggage allowance on aircrafts.
It was a long vacation, so I carried quite a bit of stuff with me and I was already close to my 20 kg of checked in baggage, so buying books was out of the question. (Well, I bought three, but they were just small paperbacks.) So here I was in a bookstore that I liked and deserved to make money and had quite a few books that I wanted to buy and I was forced to do the meanest thing you can do to a bookstore these days: Browse the books, note down the once you like and want to buy and then order them from Amazon when you get home...
Next day I had booked on a tour to the Blue Mountains. I had stopped raining, bit it still was more of trip to some greyish mountains. Nice stop for animal pictures at Featherdale Wildlife Park (including the obligatory 'tourist posing with koala' picture) and a short stop on the return trip at the Olympic Stadium. (Which, by now, is named after some sponsor and not that interesting as such, but I liked the way they 'personalized' the space. Sport sites tend to be a bit gigantomanic, anonymous and impersonal and they tried to change that a little bit by putting in columns with the name of the participants in the olympics and markers and counters for the various heights, lengths and times achieved by athletes in the various events. Nothing big, but a nice touch.)
About the ominous sign: I found that quite irritating. It's next to the bottom of the waterfall, where the well trodden tourist path ends and the bushwalking paths through the Blue Mountain area start. The odd thing about it is that it's only in asian languages (chinese, japanese, korean) and there's no similar sign in, for example, english, german, french or italian. What the sign basically says is: Don't go any further unless you're with a guided tour. I'm not quite sure whether this is a bit insulting in assuming that asian tourists will get lost without a guide where other tourists can manage on their own) or whether they value the asian tourists, and the more of the rest gets lost, the better. Strange sign.
Next day it was still kind of cloudy. So what else to do on a cloudy Sunday in an unknown city but to go to the zoo? The Sydney Zoo (the official name is Taronga Zoo) is the zoo with the best location and layout I've seen so far. It is located on the bay opposite the opera house on a hillside, so you can have a short ferry trip to the zoo and then, so you don't have to walk uphill to the entrance, there's a gondola taking you there. Convenient. From the entrance, it's a downhill walk through the zoo back to the ferry. From most of the zoo there are some nice views of the harbour bridge and the opera house, which, weather permitting, would probably make a nice background for some animal pictures. I skipped the 'photo with a koala' opportunity here, since I got one of these the previous day, so I went for a 'photo with a giraffe' opportunity instead. (If you have to feed the giraffes anyway, you may as well make some money by having visitors to pay to do it.) Feeding them while being photographed is a bit tricky, since the giraffes can't see well 'beyond the end of their nose'. So if you're in front of them and hold a carrot under their mouth, they can't really see it, because their nose is in the way. So when tourists feed the giraffe, it just lets the tongue hang out, you touch the tongue with the carrot, the giraffe gets the idea and eats the carrot. Works ok if you're facing the giraffe. The someone says 'try again, but turn to the camera' and things get (just a bit) complicated, with neither you nor the giraffe being able to see the carrot, so you carefully wave the carrot around somewhere to your side and back, hoping to make somehow contact with the giraffes tongue, which is also moving around a bit. Which explains the slightly contorted look of the picture.
While at the zoo I also got an idea where the 'ostriches put their head in the sand' myth might come from. One of the ostriches there seemed to do exactly that and then I noticed that I had tried to map human anatomy to something that is (anatomically) basically a giant chicken, which means the 'knee joint' (which is really the 'ankle joint' for birds) is the other way round. So if you look at the ostrich, it seems to be kneeling on the ground (with the head nowhere in sight, so it *must* be buried in the sand), while it is actually sitting on its backside. (Difficult to explain, easier to see in the pictures). I'm not sure whether this is really the source of the 'head in the sand' myth, but it may have added to it.
After the zoo it was back with a ferry to Circular Quay and then on to another ferry to go to Manly for dinner. If you're a tourist in Sydney, you'll spend quite a bit of time on ferries, since quite a few attractions are located at the shores of the bay and unless you've got a car, it's much easier to go there by ferry than by land.
Next day it was already the last day in Sydney, which I started by going to the chinese garden. Which is calm, quiet, well maintained, surprisingly full of things for a relatively small area and has a nice little cafe where you can drink tea, have a bit of breakfast and look serenely from the balcony over the ornate lake and gardens - until someone on the table next to you takes out his mobile phone and starts talking loudly about the weather and his schedule, completely destroying the melancholy feeling I was trying to build. Time to go.
In the afternoon weather turned back to nice and sunny, so I mostly hang around the quay/opera/botanic gardens area, drinking coffee, walking around, enjoying my vacation. In the evening the full moon came out, so I walked around a bit to get a nice picture if the opera house early at night, with the full moon above it (and preferably a couple of bats as well), but a full moon rarely photographs well together with other stuff, so most of the pictures look a bit like underexposed pictures taken in bright sunlight. But it looked great on location...
Next day: Onwards to Tasmania.
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