Another early morning flight to Sydney, after the 5.20am bus ride to Gold Coast Airport. I am so familiar with Sydney Domestic terminal by now, I’m almost on first name terms with the drug detecting wand-wheelers at security.
I alight the airport train at Central Station and walk to the other side of Platform One and arrive at the coolest hostel I’ve ever seen. Okay, so I’ve only stayed in a handful of hostels up to now, but this one surpasses my expectations! The YHA Railway Square hostel has friendly, helpful staff who inform me my ‘carriage’ is ready to occupy – four hours before official check in. A quick glance around this amazing foyer and dining/lounging room and I make my way to my digs for the night – a railway carriage!
Built beside platform one – platform half? – I am greeted by one of the girls occupying this four bed dorm. Two sets of bunks, with only a top bunk left for me, but a really modern, clean (although untidy from two backpackers and a long term stayer) quirky carriage cabin.
I lower my voice to a whisper while I introduce myself to Canadian backpacker number one, as there is a sleeping body in a lower bunk, and explain that I am stopping over to see the Opera on Sydney Harbour the following night. Sleeping beauty raises her head and announces – “I’m in that opera, I’m one of the chorus singers”.
Wow! I’m so chuffed at meeting one of the stars – what a fluke! Now wide awake from my excited chattering, she goes on to tell me she has been part of Opera Australia for seven years and is staying in this hostel for the three week staging of La Traviata, as it is so close to the venue. The other two occupants are Canadian friends from Kamloops in British Columbia, doing the usual three month ‘cram all of Australia into one trip’ backpacking tour – just back from Adelaide they tell me. “You’ve got relatives there have you?” I ask them. “Yes, how did you know that?” they ask me incredulously. “Cause no one goes there for any other reason” I reply jokingly. I ended up selling them one of my books to send to aunty in Adelaide who has found herself divorced at fifty and needing a bit of inspiration. “I hope she’s broadminded” I warn them – it might be a bit brash for her if she’s in a delicate state.
I settle in (ie: make up my bed – not easy six feet above ground) and go check out the rest of the hostel. I find a notice board with all sorts of interesting notices – short term jobs, drinking meet-ups, car pools, and camper vans for sale at ridiculously low prices – obviously they need to be sold before visas run out and these travellers have to get out of the country. I’ll know where to look should I decide I want a camper van! This hostel even has a little spa pool and sundeck – what a great find, I think to myself.
I’m informed that downstairs from the hostel, in Railway Square itself, there is a German bakery – that could be dangerous! I fix myself some lunch in the well equipped kitchen after a visit to the German bakery, and relax for a while reading the free newsletters and magazines on offer. Then make my way out to catch the free shuttle bus down to Circular Quay – bus 555, a bright green bus that does the loop from Central Station down George Street to Circular Quay, then back to Central along Elizabeth Street. I only found out about this free service on the flight down to Sydney – those Jetstar magazines are worth the read!
Circular Quay is always a great buzz, I love visiting this harbourfront foreshore. Always street performers to watch, and a hive of activity.
I had booked an afternoon cruise on a tall ship – what a beautiful way to enjoy the harbour, on a lovely old timber ship – another Barquentine, I discover. It makes a majestic sight coming in to dock.
The cruise was delightful, the weather was perfect, and the company was friendly. A few finger foods were served and we listened intently to the skipper relaying the history of this grand old vessel.
The weather was so perfect that there was no wind to be able to sail around the harbour, so some sails were dropped just to show the passengers how they worked.
Sadly, we just drifted around listening to the squawks of animals in the nearby Taronga zoo. A crew member scampered up the front mast for a photo opportunity – no passengers were adventurous enough to brave it themselves – at $39.00 a pop, they would have to pay me to do that!
The walk back to Circular Quay sees me sidetracked into the newly re-opened Museum of Contemporary Art – hoping to add to my weird and wonderful sightings of questionable ‘art’. My last visit five years previously commanded an entire chapter in my book! This time, again, I wasn’t disappointed. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a screening of a twenty four hour running exhibition (again, I’d read about it in the Jetstar magazine) of a project called “The Clock”, by Christian Marclay. Being opening day, it was running continuosly – and was the most amazing ‘artwork’ I had ever seen. Not surprisingly, Mr Marclay won the Golden Lion award in Venice this year for best artist. Short description – a collage of movie extracts showing every minute of the day, through the appearance of a watch or clock-face – an incredible work of art that I highly recommend you try to see.
I sat in from 5.30 to 6pm and was mesmerized – every minute that passed by showed snippets of movies of all genres where a watch or clock showed the exact time, in real time. Visit this website for more info:
Dinner that night was another fluke, it happened to be ‘Thursday night barbecue on the terrace’ at my hostel – a kangaroo or beef burger with salad and a beer or soft drink for six dollars! Given my very restricted budget for this stopover, this was a great coup! Gosh, I’m loving this hostel staying – it’s saving me a small fortune, and of course meeting fascinating people from all over the world – I found myself assisting two gorgeous Italian guys attempting to cook themselves a pasta meal in the kitchen!
My return to my carriage dorm later that night found the ‘chorus girl’ already home from the opera performance, removing hairpins from her wild mop of hair – her part in the second half of the show was that of a school boy, so no wig and her hair had to be pinned back to resemble a boy.
On the move again the following morning, this time to another YHA in The Rocks area, down near Circular Quay. I again catch the free bus to the Quay, and trundle my heavy case up the steep hill to the highest point of The Rocks where the hostel is situated. A poor passerby stopped to check if I was okay – I was breathless by the time I reached the top of the hill – I think she thought I was in serious trouble, poor lady. “No, this always happens when I walk up hills” I assured her.
Another great find, another fantastic hostel! This one is built above an archaeological site called ‘The Big Dig’, and all the internal walkways look down on this fascinating excavation site of the historical Rocks area.
Another spotlessly clean four bed room, this time with only one occupant. Again, I’m given early access and can claim a lower bunk where I leave my suitcase and head back out for the day. I visit my aunt who now lives at Springwood in the Blue Mountains. Another pleasant train journey (I love them, they are so relaxing and scenic) and a visit to Aunty Rose’s new villa before a stroll into the village for a delicious lunch and glass of wine at her new favourite restaurant. Back on the train for the journey back to the city, an easier walk from Wynyard station (not so hilly) and I quickly shower and change for my big night out at the opera.
A quick introduction to my room mate – a delightful contemporary dance teacher who lives in the hostel three nights a week. Another chatterbox, I have to interrupt our storytelling to begin my walk to the Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair- the site of the opera.
Passing the very classy Shangri-La Hotel next door to my hostel (what a contradiction I thought – one of the poshest hotels in Sydney located next door to a youth hostel), I see a row of police motorbikes and numerous police all gathered on the pavement, as well as a string of limousines lined up in the porte-cochere. Never one to hide my curiosity, I asked a policeman who the dignitary was? An African president, I was told. He wasn’t forthcoming with any more information though – probably didn’t know himself. As I walked down the hill, the cavalcade began, complete with full police escort. I did see this President of an African nation as his limo passed me, but couldn’t tell you who he was – other than he was big and black and better looking than Robert Magabe. Presidents of African nations is not one of my strong points!
Another enjoyable walk down to Circular Quay then through the gardens, following the crowd of opera goers. A tree captures my attention:
An easy process of collecting my ticket at the box office (I love internet bookings!) and I head on down to the north terrace for a bite to eat. I settle on an antipasto plate – being almost the cheapest thing on the menu – and a can of soft drink at five dollars a can. I capture a beautiful sunset over the harbour and enjoy the ambience of a balmy autumn evening at the opera.
I made my way to my seat after capturing another few photos – cameras are of course not allowed throughout the performance. I ask someone to take a photo of me – to prove I was there.
Interval proved amusing. The couple beside me told me that a close friend was also in the cast (after I told them I had met with a chorus girl – a bit of one upmanship on their part), and just as we had discussed this, a transvestite marched up beside us bellowing out “Madam in seat 88 row BB, are you there?” and proceeded to enchant and embarrass this ‘friend’ seated beside me. He/she gave her a fan, then handed one to me – “it matches your top darling, I just have to give it to you”, he/she stated with a giggle.
My first taste of Opera was a huge success. Colourful, engaging, fabulous music, brilliant performers and a setting that I think just might surpass my other ‘must see’ opera setting in the Arena in Verona.
The long walk home to the Rocks, through the Domain because the Botanic Gardens are now shut – I think it took me close on an hour. My room mate was in a talkative mood and we took ourselves off to the tv room where a Harry Potter movie was screening and enjoyed warm cups of tea and snacks, and nattered quietly throughout the movie.
The following morning – my last day in Sydney – I took myself off to Customs House at Circular Quay to join a free walk (again, read about it in the Jetstar magazine – good value this trip). I thought I knew a bit about our history but this young guide put me to shame! A three hour guided walk with informative narrative through the Rocks (where we lost the Swiss girl).
We are guided down George Street (where the Swiss girl re-appeared) and into Angel Place, just before Martin Place, to view an art installation called “Forgotten Songs” where a collection of empty bird cages hang seemingly from the sky, and accompanied by bird song from Sydney’s lost birds which once lived in the area. Quirky but poignant, a nice unexpected art exhibit.
Into Martin Place to the war memorial and a bit of history on the General Post Office before heading into beautiful Hyde Park.
Into Hyde Park Barracks for a drink stop, where I leave the group to head back to the Botanic Gardens and the Art Gallery, not before giving our tour guide Jesse a generous tip for his informative walk and history talk. See www.peektours.com.au for information about this free walking tour.
A quick bite to eat and I am on my way to the airport – via a transfer shuttle bus from the hostel door straight to the Domestic terminal for less than the cost of a train journey. I’m a hostel devotee now – such great value for money. On to my next destination – Tasmania.