Ferries, Churches, Vegemite, Bagpipes, and Pubs: Saturday in Sydney

Yesterday I felt like riding a ferry and had nothing better to do, so I went to Watson’s Bay.

According to one of my Australian acquaintances, Watson’s Bay is where Sydney’s really rich people live. The homes are gorgeous, the clifftop views are beautiful, and it’s only a ferry ride away from Sydney’s CBD (central business district). In my little hypothetical world where I am rich and live in Sydney, I live in Watson’s Bay.

Anyway, back to reality. The ferry ride from Circular Quay to Watson’s Bay was pretty awesome. Most Sydney ferries are big and ugly and yellow and kinda slow and I love them. This one, however, was less ugly, white, and surprisingly fast. Shortly after the ferry blasted off from the wharf, the cloudy sky opened up and rain began to fall. I stood on the aft deck and enjoyed the rain and ocean water and wind in my face. It was absolutely exhilirating. (Sydney’s ferries do have inside seating. I just refuse to acknowledge it.)

Sign on the Circular Quay wharf. Was anyone actually planning to do this?

A typical Sydney ferry coming in to dock at Circular Quay.

Look guys, I shrunk the city!

When I got to Watson’s Bay, it was, of course, still raining. Blustery days in Sydney are good for three things: surfing, having national parks to yourself, and making the ocean look fierce. They are not, however, particularly good for photography (at least not amateur point-and-shoot camera photography). So I walked around and explored the bay, trying to get some decent pictures.

I found the Watson’s Bay portion of Sydney Harbour National Park and wandered around there for a while. Sydney Harbour National Park is a unique concept. It’s actually a bunch of small parks spread out in various places on the harbour, but collectively they’re all one national park.

Layering: not just for clothes anymore.

Fierce ocean is fierce.

This lighthouse, like most, was built after too many ships crashed themselves into the rocks along the shore. It's still used today.

In case you haven't noticed, I really like palm trees. I think it's a result of spending my entire life in a place where they don't grow.

At some point as I was walking through the park, the rain let up. It was still cloudy and windy, but at least I wasn’t getting soaked. I made my way to Gap Park, which I first visited on my third day in Sydney. At the time I thought it was one of the most beautiful places in the city, and I wanted to go back just to make sure. Yup. It is.

Sydney has the most beautiful coastline I've ever seen. Then again, I've only seen three and the other two were in Florida.

Gap Park is stunning, but it’s also kind of depressing. The sheer cliff unfortunately makes it a popular place for suicides, so signs like these are everywhere. There’s also a free phone that connects to 000 (the Australian equivalent of 911) and Lifeline.

I wonder how many lives these signs have saved.

Turning away from the ocean, I saw the steeple of Watson’s Bay’s Catholic church, and beyond that, the city.

Breathtaking views everywhere I turned. No wonder everyone wants to live here.

Up close, the church is absolutely charming. It was built in 1909, and it looks exactly like you’d expect a 100-year-old coastal church to look: a small, strong building constructed of perfectly weathered stone and intricate stained glass windows.

The front of the church.

I'd love to go to Mass here sometime, but Sunday, Thursday, and Friday at 9:00 a.m. is not a real Mass schedule. That's a...I don't even know what kind of schedule that is.

I was just thinking about how it would be a perfect place for a wedding when I looked in the door of the sanctuary and, oh hey, a marriage ceremony was in progress. One can only get so close to a stranger’s wedding without being a total creeper, but I did my best. Saturday was a state election day and there was a polling place next door, so plenty of people were coming and going. I tried without much success to blend in with the well-dressed Watson’s Bay residents.

Looking through the fence into the church.

Wedding guests gather as the newlyweds make their dramatic exit.

After I’d had enough of watching pretty people and looking at pretty buildings, I caught the ferry back to Circular Quay. I stood on the front deck of the boat this time, and struggled to stay on my feet against the hurricane-like force of the wind.  Here’s my Sydney tourist tip of the day: You could pay $65 to take a jet boat ride around Sydney Harbour. Or you could just pay $5.30 to ride the Watson’s Bay ferry to Circular Quay. It doesn’t go quite as fast, and doesn’t do the wild acrobatics, but I’d say it’s close enough.

After disembarking from the ferry and attempting to put my hair sort of back into place, I took a train to Central and walked a few blocks to Bourke Street Bakery, which I heard about from somewhere. The internet, maybe. Anyway, the line at the bakery was out the door, but the service was super fast. I ordered a meat pie and a chocolate cookie. The meat pie was amazing–beef and mushrooms encased in a flaky crust sprinkled with poppy seeds. The cookie was delicious as well. It had raisins in it, which I wasn’t really expecting, but they were good raisins (is there such a thing?) and the effect was quite nice.  After devouring the late lunch, I took a train back to college. But wait…this story isn’t over yet.

At dinner that night, I told one of my friends I hadn’t yet tried vegemite.  She encouraged me to do so…so I did. I remembered Ryan’s advice about having a good-tasting drink on hand, so I poured myself a glass of limeade. That was a very, very good decision.

At DLC, the vegemite is served in little packets, right alongside the peanut butter, jelly, honey, and other such condiments that normal people eat. I opened a packet, spread some very thinly on just a corner of my toast, and corageously took a bite.

I’m pretty sure it was the worst tasting thing I’ve ever had on my tongue.

The rumours are true. It was absolutely hideous. Ariana says it’s better mixed with butter. Somehow, I don’t really believe her. According to Australian Geographic Outdoor, vegemite can act as a substitute for salt when removing leeches from the body. I think that pretty much says it all right there.

That evening, with my mouth still tasting slightly of vegemite, I went to the city to visit a few bars pubs with some friends. No one says “bars” around here–it’s one of those lingiustic differences that after six weeks I’m still getting used to. Anyway, it was fun to see what normal Sydney twentysomethings (i.e., not nerdy me and my nerdy friends) do with their Saturday nights. The pubs were great, I’m sure, if you like pubs.

Personally, my favorite part was the street musicians. Walking down George Street, we saw a guy in full Scottish regalia–kilt and all–playing the bagpipes. The six of us just turned to each other and busted out laughing. It was so ridiculous.

My favorite, though, was in Town Hall train station. A man was performing a very good, very energetic version of Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

On the flute.

It pretty much made my night.


Christmas in Australia

This is irrelevant to my life right now because it’s currently March, but today I came across a very interesting column giving an Australian perspective on American Christmas celebrations. I encourage you to check it out here on the Sydney Morning Herald website if you’re interested in learning more about the cultural differences between the two countries.

Meanwhile, I’ve been relatively busy this past week with my new internship and the first round of essay due dates. As if that weren’t enough, I also need to plan my mid-semester break travels (it’s in two weeks!) and figure out what I’m doing this summer (yes, unfortunately, I have to go home eventually). I haven’t had a lot of time to do anything awesome in the past few days, but hopefully I’ll have a few good adventures and a few good blog posts this weekend.


A Religious Experience at St. Mary’s Cathedral

It has been raining all day. When I woke up this morning, I could hear the splashy sounds of cars driving down the wet road. This evening, as I write this, a cool rain-soaked breeze is drifting in through the window and occasionally manifesting itself on my left arm.

As a result of this and some other things, I spent most of the day at my college. In the evening, though, I went to Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. It was still raining occasionally when I got off my bus at the Queen Victoria Building and walked through Hyde Park to the cathedral.  Along the way, I marvelled at how well Sydney’s beauty holds up even in the rain. It rains rather frequently here–though not as much as London, and rarely for hours on end.  Most cities just look drab and depressing in the rain, but not Sydney. I can’t explain it, but the rain seems to somehow invigorate the city, making the sidewalks shine and the lights sparkle.

Anyway, you’re not here to read about the rain. You’re here to read about the cathedral.

St. Mary’s Cathedral has somewhat of an interesting history. The original Catholic church on the site was built in 1821 to serve the city’s large population of Irish convicts. In 1865, the original church was destroyed by fire. So they started building a new one in 1868, but it wasn’t really finished until 2000, when its two spires were hurriedly completed in time for the Olympics.  Pope John Paul II visited the Cathedral twice, and Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass at the Cathedral to celebrate World Youth Day in 2008.

The cathedral is designed in Gothic Revival style (I didn’t just know that, I looked it up), and the outside is pretty darn impressive.

The cathedral with the Hyde Park fountain in the foreground.

Newlyweds take photos in front of the cathedral.

The stained glass windows from the outside.

Palm trees appear in the most unexpected places.

Detailing above the front doors.

A statue of Pope John Paul II outside the cathedral.

It was the interior, though, that really grabbed me. Every surface is dark wood and intricate designs. It’s not a mind-boggling, neck-cramping collection of mosaics like the New Cathedral in St. Louis, and it’s not bright and flooded with light like the Old Cathedral.  It reminded me of an old European church. The original (as in pre-Vatican II) altar is still intact and like most of them from that era, it’s gorgeous.  The pews are dark and wooden and have a large amount of space between them. (My theory is that it’s because ladies wore larger dresses in the 1800s.) Beautiful painted depictions of the Stations of the Cross hang along the walls. The best view of the worship space is from behind the last pew, near the doors. The church is long and narrow, so the aisle seems to go on forever, ending in a grand and dramatic fashion at an intricately designed altar with a massive stained glass window behind it.  Remember in “The Sound of Music,” when the Captain and Maria are married and there’s a shot of Maria walking down that long, dramatic aisle? Yeah, this cathedral reminded me of that.

I wanted to photograph every part of the church’s interior, but there was a “no pictures” sign and a security guard, and thought getting kicked out of a Catholic church wouldn’t get me any points with God. So I put my camera away and found some pictures from people braver, or sneakier, than I.

Here’s the altar. I have no idea who those people are.

See what I mean about the aisle?

Some pews along the side, along with the Stations of the Cross paintings.

Mass was just as beautiful as I expected for such a awe-inspiring church. I have just one complaint: the tourist wandering around the side pews for several minutes during the service. Really, sir? Reeeaaally? I know it’s architecturally significant and all, but it’s also a place of worship, and there are plenty of non-Mass times the church is open for admiration. Just…don’t be that guy.

Anyway, the organ music was loud and dramatic, as organ music is prone to be. Besides that, it was your basic everyday Mass. That’s one nice, comforting thing about being Catholic: Sunday Mass is basically the same everywhere you go. America, Australia, doesn’t matter. The magnificence of the space, though, elevated this one from an ordinary service to an incredible religious experience. The church was less than half full for this Saturday vigil, but I bet Easter will be an entirely different story.

I’d love to go to Mass there on Easter, but, God willing, I’ll be away exploring the rest of Australia. Maybe I’ll go to Stations of the Cross sometime, or try the Solemn Sung Mass on Sunday morning. Either way, I’ll definitely be back–hopefully when it’s sunny, so I can see what the windows look like with light pouring through them. A cathedral like this is too magnificent to only experience once.

This post is very lovingly dedicated to my grandma, who passed away March 17th.  She was a remarkable woman and the kind of Catholic the rest of us only try to be. This is the first time in five weeks that I’ve honestly wished I could be back home. I extend all my love and sympathy to my–and her–family during this difficult time.


Caught in a Rainforest Rainstorm

I had quite an adventure in the Blue Mountains a few weeks ago. I didn’t blog about it here, but I did blog about it on missouriabroad.com.  I highly encourage you to check it out.  Here’s a preview:

The sun reappears after a rainstorm in Blue Mountains National Park, February 28, 2011. The park covers 1.03 million hectares (4,000 square miles) of land in New South Wales.


Laundry Room Threats

The residents of 3 East are obviously very passionate about their sleep.


Beach Day!

Here’s some photos from a lovely Saturday spent exploring Bondi Beach, Bronte Beach, and the beautiful coastal walk connecting the two.

Bondi as seen from the coastal walk.

"I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean..." etc.

If it looks like it was 75 degrees Fahrenheit and slightly breezy when this photo was taken, it's because it was.

A bird doing its bird thing.

Rock fishing is apprently one of the world's most dangerous sports. This guy was doing it anyway, nbd.

Sign posted at the entrance to a rocky shoreline. In other words, "Welcome to Australia. Try not to die."

I think a surfboard is the Australian equivalent of a guitar: carrying one just makes you look instantly cooler, whether you actually know how to use it or not.

Some of the shops, restaurants, apartments, and palm trees across the street from Bondi.


In the Next Room

This story begins with a class I took sophomore year called English 2189.  It was an unremarkable class, except that I met Caitlin and Lamia and I read the play “The Clean House” by Sarah Ruhl.  I really liked it, so I read the other three plays in the anthology: “Late: A Cowboy Song,” “Melancholy Play,” and “Eurydice.”  (I still have that book, if anyone wants to borrow it.)

Then the MU Theatre Department put on a production of “Eurydice” that semester, so I went to see it.  The performance was just as fresh, quirky, charming, funny, and irreverent as the script itself.  I started to fall in a little bit in love with Ruhl’s work.

Then I came across her newest play, “In the Next Room, or the vibrator play.”  It sounded fascinating, and not just because it had “vibrator” in the title. (But mostly because it had “vibrator” in the title.)  In 2010, the play was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Play.  Around the time I was planning my study abroad trip, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis announced the play would be part of its 2010-2011 season.  Of course. A play I’m dying to see is coming to one of my favourite venues, and I’m going to be 9,000 miles away.

Then I did a little more research and found out the play was to be part of the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2011 season at the SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE.  Yes!  I moved snorkeling and koala cuddling down a few spaces and put seeing “the vibrator play” at the Opera House at the top of my Sydney to-do list.

So a few days ago, I bought my ticket. It was only $40 because they give discounts to people under 30 (everyone should do that, amirite?), and because I went by myself, I scored the one unsold seat within the first few rows of the theatre.  It turns out the Drama Theatre only holds 544 people in 19 rows, so really, there’s no such thing as a bad seat.

An ad for the play outside of the Opera House

I got to the opera house about an hour early so I could pick up my ticket and wander around for a while.  Unlike, say, the Fox Theatre, the Opera House isn’t nearly as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside. It’s nice enough, but the 1970s design influences are a little too apparent.  The interior’s best feature is the windows that provide gorgeous views of Sydney Harbour.

A photographer captures the Harbour Bridge from the steps of the Sydney Opera House

Oh hey, I'm just hanging out at my office in the Sydney Opera House. (Disclaimer: I don't actually have an office in the Opera House. Only in my dreams.)

In addition to its many performance spaces, the Opera House has several restaurants and bars on the premises.  An hour before the show, most of the tables were full of well-dressed people sipping wine and mingling.  I tried to compare the classy yet relaxed scene to something I’d seen in St. Louis (or anywhere in America, for that matter), and came up with nothing.  Oh.  Now I remember why I’m here.

People mingle at the Opera Bar on Sydney Harbour before a performance at the Sydney Opera House.

There's a restaurant in that glass part.

Sails? Seashells? Pope hats? All of the above?

Theatregoers mingle outside the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre before a performance of "In the Next Room or the vibrator play."

Dramatic light is dramatic.

As for the play itself…it was sensational.  I’m not a theatre expert, but to my eyes the production was flawless–the acting, sets, costumes, and sound were all phenominal.  I tend to judge the quality of a performance based on how I feel when the curtain falls at intermission.  If my first thought is “It’s about time,” that means I’m not too into the performance.  Last night, my first thought was “Really? already?!”  That, for me, is the mark of an engaging show.

I’d never read the play before, so the only knowledge I had of it came from the summary on the Opera House website.  In many ways, it was different from what I’d expected.

For one thing, it was funny.  I suppose I was anticipating a piece of Serious Theatre providing Thoughtful Commentary on the lives of women in the 19th century.  But nope.  This play was hil-arious.  I don’t know if I was sitting in a room full of thirteen-year-olds or what (they all looked pretty grown-up to me), but my fellow audience members giggled hysterically every time one of the characters made a sexual joke or had an orgasm.  Which, quite frankly, was most of the first act.  I’ve seen enough performances of “The Vagina Monologues” that women moaning onstage don’t really faze me anymore.  But I still found plenty to laugh at in “the vibrator play.”

Secondly, the play made sense.  Most of Sarah Ruhl’s plays are nonsensical in the same poignant, delightful way that modern art doesn’t make sense.  I recall spending most of “Eurydice” thinking “WTF?!” and delighting nonetheless in the playful absurdity.  But “the vibrator play” had a normal plot and a normal understanding of space and time. (Disclaimer: the world “normal” is very, very subjective in the context of theatre.)  It wasn’t what I expected from Ruhl, but her signature style still came through in the script’s playful humour and light-hearted touch.

The element that catapulted my “vibrator play” experience from great to unforgettable, though, was the venue.  During intermission, I walked outside and oh look, there’s Sydney Harbour.  In case I had somehow forgotten where I was, the Harbour Bridge was right there as a striking reminder.  After the play ended, I left the Opera House surrounded by excitedly chattering theatregoers.  I walked through the Opera Bar on my way back to the train station.  It was just as crowded as it was before the play, and a small jazz combo was providing some seriously lively music.

As I continued on my way to Circular Quay, I became vaguely aware that it was starting to rain. Somehow, it was perfect.