Sydney is one of the most spectacular cities I've ever seen.
The Opera House is emblematic of the city, and while it comes close to capturing the spirit (the domes meant to symbolize the sails in the harbor are an inspired bit of architecture), it just can't communicate the amazing setting of Jackson Harbor and the outer coast. My first day here--Monday--I took a ferry to Manly, a town that straddles a peninsula dividing the harbor and the sea. I can't decide if I like the look of all the houses on the hillsides, or the barren cliffs that stretch up out of the water and then back, covered with green trees. Or the beautiful blue water. At Manly I walked along the beach (which is lined with lovely tall trees of the fir variety--there's a good picture here) and up to another little inlet, Shellie Beach, and then out to the coastline beyond. It's all sheer cliffs, and there's tons of spray from the massive waves that kept rolling in. I was reminded of the California or Oregon coastline, but had never seen water this blue there: the white water after the waves had broken was tinted blue. I'd been out Manly the night before with the friend I'm staying with (Stephanie) to help her babysit the daughter of one of her coworkers, but it was evening and I was still recovering from Saturday night, so we didn't do much more than order pizza and watch Safin beat Hewitt in the men's final. I did finally learn the rules of tennis, but I didn't find out that there was more to Manly (we were in a building on the water on the harbor side) until the following day.
I caught a ferry back to Sydney (the only way to see the harbor: the boat was full of tourists taking pictures of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge together), complete with a cup of gelato--they have gelato places everywhere here--which left a lovely stain on my skirt. I met my friend for dinner at a Mexican place and, while it was good, it doesn't even come close to the Mexican food I've grown to know and love back at home. They served my margarita in a martini glass, for Christ's sake, without ice. Honestly.
Tuesday's expedition was to the Blue Mountains. They're about 100 km out of Sydney and the start of the Great Dividing Range. Their name comes from the fact that they appear blue, due to the mist of eucalyptus oil from all that trees that fills the air in the morning and evening. I couldn't really smell the eucalyptus (my nose is pretty selective about when it wants to do its job), or the tea trees, for that matter, but there was plenty for my senses to do anyway. I walked from the train station down to Echo Point, which is the major lookout towards the Three Sisters (here's a good picture, taken on a day much clearer than the day I was there). After that I hiked around Prince Henry Cliff walk and down into the canyon. The sheer sandstone cliffs, the tall trees, the waterfalls... it was a gorgeous hike. The canyon was a ways down, though, so I paid $7 to ride one of the steepest railways in the world back up to the top. They call it the Scenic Railway, which makes one think of a long train ride that winds along clifftops rather than a 60-second train ride down a 50 degree incline. But whatever, if it meant not having to climb back up, plus riding something that steep (that was pretty cool... they used to use it for mining, though I'm sure a few local kids must've had plenty of fun with it--minus the injuries--on off days), I think I got a bargain. I had a ticket for one of those hop on hop off buses, and rode that around to see another valley and then to a place a little past Echo Point, where there was a nice lookout and further walking back to Echo Point, with a stop off at the base of one of the Three Sisters. After that I was done with hiking, and took the bus to Leura, where I thought I'd have a look around before heading back to Katoomba, which was where I wanted to get lunch before taking a train back to Sydney. It started raining in Leura. After such a hot day it was nice, but that was only the first 40 minutes or so. After we got ditched by the bus the next time it came around (we were waiting where we were supposed to and bastard didn't even stop!), we went in search of a cab to take us back to Katoomba. I got my lunch, then got on the train, and finally made it back to Sydney. Stephanie was working late that night, so I showered and went out to see The Motorcycle Diaries, which was playing nearby and was something I'd wanted to see for awhile. Damn good movie. A nice end to the day.
Yesterday I decided to actually go and see Sydney itself. I made plans to meet an American friend of mine living here--JR--for lunch. Totally random: I haven't seen him in at least 5 years, and while we're from LA and Cleveland, respectively, we've never actually seen each other in either of those places. Nope, the last time we saw each other was Breckenridge, Colorado, and the time before was central California. At this point I don't think it's possible to get any further away without coming back, though. Anyway, we caught up, ate, had gelato (so I got a chocolate stain on a different skirt), wandered around the Rocks and then up to the Sydney Observatory, which has a good (and free) permanent exhibit, and a decent view of Anzac Bridge. It's still obstructed, but it's the best look I've had yet, and that's one cool-looking bridge. After JR left, I walked into the Museum of Contemporary Art, because you just never know what you'll find in a place like that. I got lucky. They had an exhibition on Bridget Riley. I was first exposed to her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Glasgow, and have remembered her ever since. Her paintings were what gave me respect for contemporary art. They're flat paintings, but consist of lines that, because of their placement, look like they're moving. I thought it was a brilliant way to use the medium, and was really excited to see that this exhibition was going on, which featured paintings over the span of her career. Turns out the line stuff I love was done in the late 60's/early 70's, and she's moved on to brighter shapes, which are also beautiful but don't create the sense of movement that I love. Anyway, I spent awhile there listening to the free audio tour--lucky day for me, everything there was free!--enjoying the paintings, and looking through the exhibition book, which I ended up buying.
I spent the rest of the afternoon just walking around. I walked over to the Opera House, which is just as dramatic close up as it is far away. I've never seen so many people taking pictures from so many different vantage points. After that I walked through the Botanical Gardens, which were lovely, and up to the Art Gallery of NSW. Nothing was going to top the Riley exhibition, and nothing did, but it was interesting to go through and see their collection of Australian art. By this time it had become overcast (earlier it had been very windy, with lots of little clouds that matched the whitecaps in the harbor), so I started heading towards George St. in the city in hopes of catching a bus back to Newtown. My timing was pretty good, though not good enough: it started to pour. The bottom of the bag carrying my Riley book fell out. Thankfully, I found a bus driver who gave me a lift for free to the Central Station (you couldn't catch buses to Newtown further north), and as soon as I got there I jumped on a bus to Newtown and was back. I'd meant to check email and all that good stuff, as it was only about 4:30, but ended up just showering, looking through my new book, and listening to the Kill Bill soundtracks I bought in Bali. When Stephanie got back we went out for sushi. It was one of those places with the little belt that goes by and you just pick off whatever it is you want to eat. It was awesome. It was the first time ever that I really had my fill of all my favorite kinds of sushi. Afterwards we had gelato for dessert, and I stayed up watching the finale of Outback Jack (Steph says there's no way he's from the outback, his accent is too subtle and has to be from a city... besides, he isn't even cute). American television at its finest.
I still need to head out to Bondi and try out surfing again, but today is actually kind of cold, so I'm considering just shopping and hanging out in Newtown. The main street here, King Street, reminds me of Clark Street in Chicago. But with more sushi places and fewer taco stands. Which reminds me, it's time for lunch.
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