Sydney in the Rain

Saturday, September 06, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 4:  Sydney
Though locals like to boast that "Sunny Sydney" averages 240 days of blue skies and sunshine annually, we awoke this morning to find gray clouds hovering over already wet streets.  By the time we were ready to go out, the rain was falling in earnest, knifing a hole into our mostly outdoor plans for the day.  Taronga Zoo?  Too puddly.  Walking tour of the city?  Too splattery.  Walking across the harbor bridge?  Too splashy.

After failing to track down a taxi to take us to the opera house in the hope of scoring tickets for a tour, there was nothing to do but duck into the Starbucks across the street from our hotel and regroup.  While drinking our beverages and pondering the day, we spied one of the hop-on/hop-off tour buses passing by and a plan was born.  A short slosh north on George Street took us to Town Hall where we boarded one of the red double-decker tourist buses that troll the streets of so many cities.  Not having ridden one of these coaches for a while, we were impressed with their adoption of modern technology.  Upon boarding, we were each given a set of earbuds (red, of course) for listening to commentary.  Each seat was equipped with its own audio device, which had eight channels for different languages and volume controls.  There was even a channel for narration in kidspeak.  Using GPS technology presumably, the remarks started and stopped based on the bus location.

When we arrived at the stop for the famous Sydney Opera House, we decided it was time to hop off.  Hour-long guided tours, which run every half hour, could be booked online, but this turned out to be unnecessary as we were able to secure tickets for the 12:30 tour, giving us enough time to have lunch at the Opera Bar on site beforehand.  Opting for indoor seating, we invoked the 15% discount card we received with our tour tickets and enjoyed a delicious meal.  Ken's crispy brussel sprouts with shallots and ginger sauce were particularly noteworthy.

After lunch we hooked up with tour guide Monika at the designated meeting place on the lower level. Though tour groups can be as large as 35, our little group was a cozy 14.  Monika's strong German accent required an extra dose of concentration but the earphones she distributed helped greatly, and she was a knowledgeable and congenial guide who clearly enjoyed her job.  By the time we were midway through the tour, the many windows of the opera house revealed a transformation in the weather.  Skies were a brilliant blue, and the sun shone brightly.

Designed by a young Danish architect in a 1957 international competition, the Sydney Opera House is actually a multi-venue performing arts center that hosts more than 1,600 performances each year.  On average, more than 20,000 visitors enter its doors daily.  Hailed as one of the most distinctive buildings of the twentieth century and named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007, the opera house is one of Australia's most popular tourist attractions.  Engineering challenges driven by the unusual design decimated the building's three-year, $7 million completion estimate.  By the time Queen Elizabeth arrived for the 1973 official opening, the iconic symbol of Sydney and indeed all of Australia was ten years behind schedule and more than 14 times over budget.  Winner of many international design awards and beloved as a proud landmark by locals, the success of the opera house has silenced its many early critics.

The Concert Hall
With a cathedral-inspired design, enhanced by the presence of a 27,000-pipe organ, the majestic Concert Hall is home to local and national symphonies and orchestras.  Its unique combination of brush box wood paneling and white birch seating and ceilings creates what is considered a favorable acoustical setting for musical performances.

By the end of our tour, the sunny skies were luring us to the beach, so we walked to nearby Circular Quay and bought tickets for the ferry to Manly, a beachside suburb 11 miles north.  Missing the 2:00 ferry by two minutes, we waited for the 2:30.  By the time we boarded, the gray cloud cover had reasserted itself, shoving the blue skies and sunshine into obscurity.

The ferry afforded terrific views of the opera house and the equally famous Sydney Harbour Bridge as well as closer looks at the busy traffic in the harbor area.  Green and yellow ferries, colorful sailboats, careening jetboats, and sleek wide-bodied catamarans surrounded us.  Near the quay, the monstrous Carnival Spirit cruise ship dwarfed other craft and dominated its home port.  As we left the shelter of the harbor's calm bays and reached South Head, where the Pacific Ocean pushes in toward Sydney, the waters became quite choppy, sending our 200-ft ferry rolling and tossing on the waves.

Soon we were back in calmer waters and docking at Manly.  As we disembarked, we didn't need a thermometer to tell us that the temperature had dropped about 15° from the balminess of the short-lived sunny Sydney.  We took a brief walk along the shore in search of a letterbox, which turned out to be missing, and decided to hop the ferry back to Circular Quay, where rain was again falling.  Just a short walk on Alfred Street took us to the bus stop where we found the double-decker Sydney Explorer bus waiting.  Happy for its shelter, we rode back down George Street and popped in at a Woolworths supermarket near Town Hall for dinner supplies before continuing back to our apartment hotel.

Tomorrow we are altering our plans a bit to hook up with a cousin of Ken's father who lives in the Sydney area, which will give us a bit more time in the city and maybe a chance to walk across the harbor bridge—if sunny Sydney makes another appearance.

Road Noise:
Good News/Bad News.  Ever the wise consumer, Ken asked at both the opera house and the ferry about senior discounts.  Yes, there are senior discounts and they are substantial (25% off for the opera house tour).  No, the discounts are not available to tourists.  Only Australian permanent residents qualify for senior "concessions."
It's My Party.  As we approached the meeting spot for our opera house tour, we heard before we saw 15 or so screaming and giggling six-year-old girls chasing one another in the area near the meeting spot.  Glancing over to the ticket window with thoughts of rebooking on a calmer tour, we soon realized that these little princesses had more important matters.  They were celebrating a birthday at the cafe nearby and had no time to tour a boring old opera house.

No Extra Charge for the Dirt.  In the produce section of the supermarket, we were amazed to see potatoes on display that were covered with dirt.  Some even had big clumps of soil attached.  The cultivar is known as golden delight, a product of an Australian farm which sells this species along with red delight and cream delight exclusively in outlets of this grocery chain.  Both the red and cream varieties were spotlessly clean—didn't look as if they had ever been underground—much in contrast to the golden.  Finding no apparent reason, we checked the Delight Potatoes web site for an explanation.  There was none, but curiously, the three types were pictured the same way there that we saw them in the supermarket.
Daily Stats:
  • Started in rainy Sydney, ended in rainy Sydney
  • Mileage - 35 miles           (Trip total: 9,659 )
  • Weather - rainy, sunny, rainy;  54° to 63°
  • Letterboxes - 0
  • People sitting at opera house sidewalk cafes in the rain -  0
  • People sitting at opera house sidewalk cafes in the sun - 2,611
  • Total cost of opera house construction - $105 million
  • Cost of current refurbishment and improvement project - $800 million
  • Swimmers at Manly beach - 0


Rain ending, tables drying out at Circular Quay
Fascinating opera house ceiling in one of the foyers
So different yet so recognizable even from various angles
Manly beach
Sydney Harbor Bridge was shorter than we expected, less than three-fourths of a mile long.