Awesome Cafe

I’d say that’s pretty awesome.

Across from Strathfield railway station.


Australian Animals

This post is for everyone who went, “ZOMG take a picture of a kangaroo/koala/poisonous snake for me!” when I told them I was going to Australia.  You know who you are.  So here you go.

A kangaroo. Honestly, they're much bigger than I expected.

A koala. Much cuter than I expected.

A very large green bug. Everything else may be bigger in Texas, but the insects are definitely bigger in Australia.

A saltwater crocodile named Rex. Fortunately, he and I were separated by a pane of glass.

A snake. I don't remember what kind, but it's probably venomous.

Today, a friend and I visited Sydney Wildlife World in Darling Harbour.  I haven’t spent a lot of time in that part of town, and I probably won’t, because it’s pretty much a giant tourist trap.  Anyway, Wildlife World is a zoo/museum that’s mostly indoors, but has exhibits of all kinds of Australian animals. I went there in lieu of the Taronga Zoo, because the zoo is more expensive and I didn’t feel the need to see animals from all over the world–I can do that in St. Louis.  Wildlife World was a good introduction to Australia’s animals, and a good way to see species I’d rather not come across in their natural habitats (Sydney Funnel-web Spider, anyone?).  I wouldn’t consider it a must-do for Sydney visitors, but it wasn’t a bad way to spend a few hours and several dollars.  Eventually, of course, I’ll get some pictures of kangaroos in their natural habitats.  And cuddle a koala.

Wildlife World is right next door to Sydney Aquarium on Darling Harbour (told you it was a tourist trap), so we went there as well.  I would recommend it over Wildlife World–if only for the walk-through fish tanks.  It’s difficult to take photos through glass in weird light with a point-and-shoot, but I tried.

A "common Sydney octopus": just your average everyday octopus.

Leafy sea dragons have got to be one of the weirdest and therefore coolest creatures on the planet.

Look, I found Nemo!

Both museums were randomly and inexplicably taken over by exhibits of giant LEGO creations.  Not that I’m complaining, because LEGOs are awesome.

Lego tourists.

Lego shark.

After the aquarium, I put away my guidebook and took off my socks with sandals (kidding) and went to explore some less touristy parts of Sydney.  But more about that later, after I get some homework done.

Exploring my friendly local national park

One of my favorite places in Columbia, Mo. is Rock Bridge Park, a state park just outside of town. It’s fifteen minutes from my apartment, and I found an out-of-the-way trail that’s beautiful all year round. I go there when I’m stressed or bored or just want to enjoy a nice day. So when I arrived at Macquarie, I wanted to find a place nearby that would let me get outside for a little while. (Campus obviously doesn’t count.) So I looked at a map and found several national parks in my neighborhood. (The Australian qualifications for “national park” are different than American ones. The parks are big enough, but not necessarily huge.) I had a free afternoon Thursday, so I caught a bus to Lane Cove National Park–it’s just ten minutes from my college! I didn’t have a map or anything, so when I got there I just started walking. I found a lovely trail that wound down a hill and alongside a river.

I think it's called the Lane Cove River, but that may be too logical.

Like all downhill walks, half of it was quite nice.  The other half wasn’t too bad either, though.  Along the way, I ran into a woman who told me she’d seen a goanna about 100 metres ahead, so I should keep an eye out for it.  I must’ve looked concerned, because she promised it wouldn’t eat me.  I didn’t know what a goanna was (I do now), or really what 100 metres was, but either way I didn’t come across the animal.  I didn’t seen any kangaroos either, despite this warning:

This sign is full of lies.

I did, however, see several birds, a few lizards, and a tree that appeared to be bleeding:

See? Plants have feelings too.

The trail eventually came out of the woods and joined a road.  Since I had no idea where I was, I just hiked back the way I came and caught the bus home.  It was an enjoyable afternoon, and I’m sure I’ll be spending more time in the park when I have a few spare hours this semester.

I also started classes this week (remember what I’m actually here for?).  More about that later.

Bondi Beach/sunburn

When people say the sun is strong here, they mean it.

Today I went to Bondi Beach, the most famous beach in Sydney.  It was everything I expected: fairly crowded with locals and tourists of all ages, hot, and absolutely wonderful.  My friends and I put on lots of sunscreen and ran out into the waves.  Being sure to stay between the red and yellow flags, we spent a few hours splashing around, swimming out and letting the marvelous surf carry us back in again.  We managed to avoid rips, sharks, and jellyfish: three of the most common Australian beach perils.  We did spot a few jellyfish, looking like little pieces of plastic floating on top of the waves.  Once you see them, it’s easy to steer clear.  In between waves, we walked to the surfers’ end of the beach to watch, um, the amateurs fall off their boards into the water.  It was pretty funny, but I’ll definitely be one of those people at some point before I leave.

Getting to and from Bondi was an interesting experience.  On a good day, getting from Macquarie University (the nearest train station to my college) to Bondi Beach requires two trains and a bus.  Today, though, a combination of weekend train schedules and work on the train tracks made the journey a little more complicated.  The part that would normally require two train rides turned into rides on three separate trains and a bus.  We decided to forgo the final bus ride from Bondi Junction to the beach, and walked the 2 miles instead.  It was a good decision.  The path was all downhill, and we got to stop and sample treats at bakeries, fruit markets, and meat shops.  On the way back, we were tired and sunburned and not interested in walking 2 miles uphill, so we caught the bus to Bondi Junction.  The track work was still going on, but we were lucky enough to catch each train as it was pulling into the station, so the return journey was much smoother.

Overall, I had a great day at Bondi Beach.  It was a classic Australian experience, and one I felt like I couldn’t leave without doing.  Will I be back?  Probably not.  There are many other less crowded, less touristy beaches in Sydney that I’d love to visit.  But Bondi was a lovely introduction to Australian beach culture, and a few hours there was all it took to rekindle my ongoing love affair with the ocean.

Saturday in Sydney

Today was nice.  I slept in, ate brunch in the dining hall, then gathered a few friends to go out and explore Sydney.  We caught a train in the general direction of the city, put on lots of sunscreen, and started walking.

Our first stop was Luna Park, a small, colorful amusement park on the harbour.  If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the park, built in the 1930s, was inspired by New York City’s Coney Island.  The park closed in 1979, and was restored and reopened again in 2004.  It has many modern elements, but plenty of old-fashioned kitsch keeps the atmosphere decidedly retro 80 years later.  Admission to the park is free, but rides cost $10 each (unlimited day passes are avaliable for $40).  Maybe sometime I’ll go back and ride the Ferris Wheel.

This building is filled with small rides (such as wavy slides) and, interestingly enough, video arcade games. According to a sign, it's the most intact remaining attraction from the original park.

A very large clown welcomes visitors to the park.

Palm trees, the Harbour Bridge, and the park make for an interesting combination.

The park with the bridge in the background.

So colorful!

After Luna Park, we walked a few blocks to the entrance to the Sydney Harbour Bridge Walk, which is–you guessed it–a pedestrian path across the Harbour Bridge.  It was fun to linger on the bridge and see the city from another new perspective.

What makes the Opera House design so brilliant? For one thing, it looks good from every possible angle.

One of the bridge’s four massive pylons (which, incidentally, are for decoration only) contains a museum about the bridge and a lookout point that visitors can climb to.  The experience cost A$9.50, but it was worth it.  I learned a lot about the bridge (16 people died while working on it!), and the views were, of course, stunning.  I’d love to do the terrifying-yet-exhilirating-looking Bridge Climb, which takes participants to the very top of the bridge, but the experience costs almost $200 and I just can’t justify the price.  I’d rather go to surf camp instead.

Can you spot the climbers? (Hint: they're wearing grey jumpsuits.)

The harbour is crowded with boats of all types.

I'm on a bridge!

After descending the pylon, we walked across the rest of the bridge and wandered into The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest neighborhood.  We walked around The Rocks Weekend Market, several blocks of vendors selling produce, crafts, and Australian souveniers (boomerang, anyone?).  We sampled hot sauce and cashews and marveled at the beautiful handcrafted jewelry.  The Rocks area is charming, albeit a bit touristy.  Restaurants and pubs line narrow brick streets, and people of all ages enjoy drinks in their outdoor cafes.  I’ll definitely be back there.

By this point, we were all tired and ready for dinner, so we took the subway back to college.  Turns out weekend meals in the dining hall, unlike weekdays, include ice cream.  After walking around for hours in humid 87-degree (that’s Fahrenheit, silly) weather, my chocolate popsicle was a welcome treat.

After dinner, I joined some other college residents in watching a rugby game on the TV in the lounge.  I don’t know the first thing about rugby, but I’m hoping to learn through osmosis.

Tomorrow is the last day before classes–and real life–start.  I plan to spend it at the beach.  Even though my week of freedom will soon be over, I’m looking forward to getting into the swing of things here.  Plus, I’ll still have weekends to wander, discover, and explore Sydney!

Sydney Harbour Cruise

Last night, Macquarie University invited all 400-some of its study abroad and exchange students to a free cruise on Sydney Harbour.  A few others and I took the subway to the departure point outside the Opera House, and my first Sydney public transit experience went smoothly.  We had a slight moment of confusion on the way home, when the boat unexpectly dropped us off at a different dock than we departed from.  But we were able to get directions from a University employee on the boat and easily found our way back to the subway station.

As for the cruise itself, well, it was lovely.  Packing 400 study abroad students onto a boat with drinks and music isn’t usually my idea of fun, but we escaped to the upper deck and managed to avoid most of the debauchery.  We also took in some wonderful views, like these:

I wouldn't mind living in one of these buildings.

Does this scene even need words?

Crossing under the Harbour Bridge

I can't wait to go to Luna Park

My next goal is to befriend someone here with a sailboat.

I've taken a lot of pictures of the Harbour Bridge. This trend will probably continue.

Sydney (and the Australian flag) from our boat

Sunset over the Opera House

I wish you folks in St. Louis could see this moon. No, really.


Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens

It’s past midnight, but blogging is more fun than sleeping.

Tonight, a few people and I took the subway downtown for a harbour cruise for international students (which I will blog about later, in an effort to keep you in suspense).  We intentionally got there early so we’d have time to explore a little.  We took pictures of the Sydney Opera House with all the other tourists and walked around the Royal Botanic Gardens.  I’m sure I will be visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens several more times.  Why?  Here’s why:

Free range and free of charge. Gives the Missouri Botanical Garden a run for its money.

And here’s some more motivation for me to visit this lovely spot again in the future.  We only covered about half of the park.  If that.

A tree.

Some more trees.

One of several iconic Syndey views.

The birds are quite friendly.

The Botanic Gardens are adjacent to the Sydney Opera House, so we walked around it.  I hope to go to a performance there sometime this semester.

Lots of steps.

The Opera House's seashell alter ego.

This is what the sails look like up close.

Tourists doing their touristy things around the Opera House.