A Travellerspoint blog

Australia

Around Sydney

*A gleeful visit with my fabulous cousins*

sunny 15 °C

On my last night in Tonga, everyone staying at my guesthouse went to a traditional Tongan feast. It was put on for tourists, of course, but was good fun and darn good food. There was also traditional Tongan dancing. The women’s’ arms, covered in oil, glistened as they waved like sea anemones. The men were strong, exciting dancers, very well put together I might add, and at the end they did a fire dance, whirling sticks with flames on both ends. From two rows back I could feel the heat. This was all in a cave on the beach, large enough to fit an audience of maybe 50. A nice finale to Tonga.
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We got back to the guesthouse at 11pm. I slept a couple hours, then left for the airport at 2am to take a 5am flight. Checking in, I managed – yet again – to forget my pocket knife in my carry-on. Hey, I was tired. I went through the metal detector to see if they would notice it, figuring it was worth a try… they noticed. Happily, they did not kick me off the flight, and an agent was even kind enough to retrieve my pack so I could put the knife where it belonged.

Some hours later I arrived in Sydney, properly bleary-eyed from my night flight, to the home of my cousins Aron and Jo, who have decided to make their home in the land of kangaroos and didgeridoos. They put me up on their living sofa for what turned out to be over two weeks, showing me such a good time that I wound up extending my stay twice. Accordingly, this entry will be dedicated to Sydney highlights…

Welcome to Sydney
When I arrived on Saturday afternoon, the three of us went for brunch and started catching up on, well, life. It felt great to be with family, and their apartment felt like a home – something I have not had in a while. In the evening Aron whipped up a delicious dinner of grilled chicken and vegetables which, along with a clean and inviting bathroom and the immediate offer to run a load of laundry, made me feel properly pampered. On Sunday, Joanna and I went for a meandering coastline hike along Sydney Harbor and rewarded ourselves with a ‘boozy brunch’ overlooking the picturesque Manly Beach. Quite the introduction to Sydney!
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Surfing
I ventured back to Manly Beach on my own a few days later; Jo had several surfing lessons she hadn’t had time to use, so I showed up to Manly Surf School pretending my name was Joanna. The lesson began on the sand: Here’s how you paddle out on the surf board, here’s how you get up to catch a wave, here’s how you pick off jellyfish tentacles if they get on you… Yeah, I was wondering about that. I’d noticed them as we walked along the beach, hundreds of Bluebottle/Portuguese Man o’ War washed up on the sand, their iridescent blue bubble bodies with a long sapphire tentacle. The instructor clarified that the current was carrying them our way today, but the stings only hurt badly for about half an hour, plus we had wetsuits so the only open areas were hands and feet. Satisfied with this proposition, I presently found myself splashing around in the waves and doing a passable job for a first-timer. The jellyfish found me, of course, mostly around the ankles. Happily, but dancers are long trained to ignore pain in their feet, so I did just that and had a great time. And I have to say: I totally get the surfing thing now. There wasn’t room in my head for anything other than navigating the waves and trying to jump up at the right time (I most often did not). It was exhausting and happy-making.

Sydney Aquarium
Speaking of marine life. Again benefiting from Joanna’s demanding work schedule, I set out one sunny afternoon with an expired coupon for the Sydney Aquarium that Jo hadn’t had time to use. The woman at the ticket counter didn’t check the date, just waved me on ahead to where people were scanning their tickets and entering through a turnstile. I suspected that where the agent had not posed a problem, the bar code reader might. Watching the group in front of me enter, I noticed that the turnstile was generous enough to allow an extra person to slip in. I debated my options: Take a chance on the bar code, or just slip in? I opted for the latter. Once through, just out of curiosity and since no one was really watching, I reached back to let the machine read my ticket: “Code not recognized.” Satisfied at having made the right decision, I proceeded into the aquarium to enjoy my prize. The very first exhibit held…
A platypus! The coolest animal ever! I couldn’t have been more pleased.
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I also enjoyed the penguins (such personable-seeming animals), eels (fascinatingly ugly) , dugongs (which I had never heard of before but they are basically the southern hemisphere version of manatees), sea turtles (but of course), humongous lobsters (which made me hungry), cuttlefish (which were quite cute but also made me hungry) sharks (just so cool), and jellyfish (much better behind glass than swimming with me).
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Just hanging out

During the week, Aron and Jo were generally busy. Other ways I amused myself included struggling through several dance classes at Sydney Dance Company, a world-famous contemporary company offering open classes. I was actually not as bad as I’d expected after two months off, but the walk back home afterwards sure felt a lot longer. Aron and Jo also happen to live in close proximity to Kings Cross, which doubles as the backpacker area and the legal red light district, making it a fun place to wander around. So I hung out there a bit, though sadly did nothing more racy than get ice cream. The main other way I occupied myself (note the word choice, ‘occupied’ versus ‘amused’) was to spend hours on end on my laptop working on grad school applications. Not the most glamorous of activities, but what’reyougonnado.

Far and away the best part of Sydney was being with my cousins. On my second Saturday in town, we began our evening with drinks at the Sydney Opera House. Prior to seeing it in person, I found the very idea of it, annoying. I tend to assume that anything that famous is bound to be over-hyped. Not so. It is a truly impressive structure, and has a great bar right on the harbor. We felt good and swank sipping wine there as the sun set, sporting our yoga pants and five finger shoes.
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Then we went for dinner at Golden Century, a Chinatown restaurant that is popular with the executive crowd. Like the aquarium, Golden Century has some impressive fish tanks, only not quite for the same purpose. When you order a fish, let’s say a barramundi, they scoop it out of the tank, weigh it, and bring it to you flapping in a plastic bag for your inspection, just in case you don’t like the price or the look of the fish. Assuming it is all acceptable, next time you see the barramundi it is on a platter, aromatic steam rising from the surrounding vegetables and broth. Did I mention that Aron and Jo made me feel pampered?!

To cap off our Saturday night, party animals that we are, we… went home and watched Glee. Before arriving in Sydney I had never seen the show and had barely heard of it. But it is a major activity in my cousins’ household, so there was no avoiding it. At first I thought it was unbelievably corny and would just keep one eye on the show while reading or doing email. Then it grew on me. I realized the kids sing about real issues (friendships, relationships, identity, confidence, etc.), the characters are actually fun to follow, and the music is catchy. I secretly began to look forward to the next episode. I was genuinely worried when I learned that the last disc of the season might not arrive in the mail before I left for Thailand. Happilyeverafter, it did.

On Sunday we all took a tour of the Sydney Opera House. It was interesting to hear the history of the building from the design competition through the off-schedule, over-budget construction, including drama with the architect. At the end of the tour, we got tickets for a Pinter play called “No Man’s Land,” for which Aron and I ventured back the following week. The actors were great, and on the walk home we managed to have what I thought was a rather sophisticated discussion considering the oeuvre was largely over my head. After the opera house tour, Jo took me to High Tea with a girlfriend. Aron decided to pass, I don’t know why, not like it’s girly or anything. No matter. Hooray for multi-tiered profferings of desserts.
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Other highlights: Aron taught me how to use the grill – it’s fun and yummy! I took advantage of his excellent coaching to make Thai lettuce wraps later in the week:
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Aron also resuscitated my computer after it caught a virus. With grad school applications in progress, it was not the most opportune time for my computer to quit. Then again, it could hardly have been any more opportune: Aron used to do virus removal tech support at Harvard. Suffice it to say, I owe him one. Meanwhile, as November rolled on, I realized that if I didn’t watch it, I’d get so comfortable in Sydney I’d never leave. Of course every time Aron talked with family back home, he was admonished to keep me out of Thailand’s floods - as if it were his job, poor guy. I finally kicked myself out of Australia on the 15th. Joanna had offered me to be her Executive Sherpa, but I felt I should first improve my qualifications for the position by learning some Thai massage…

Posted by sbw2109 02:47 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

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