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Schooners in sunny Sydney

Sydney, Australia
Saturday, 27 July, 2013

Day 1 - Downtown Sydney

We started the day off with a brisk walk through Hyde Park on route to the Opera House. Hyde Park is much smaller than its name sake in London but is a beautifully quaint city centre park surrounded by the Central Business District (CBD) and within walking distance of some of the main sights. We made it all the way to the Opera House itself before realising we had left the wallet back at the hostel..... Doh! Before heading back to get the wallet we stopped off at the Customs House Museum to see the 1,500 piece model of the city that's displayed under its glass floor. After this it was a quick march back to the hostel but unfortunately Sonya's little legs couldn't keep up with the drill sergeant. We made it back pretty sharpish with Sonya hobbling the last bit.

To save some time we tweaked our plans and took the train back into town getting off at Milsons Station on the North side of the harbour. We walked back over the bridge which gave us some fantastic views of the Sydney Opera House. We find it hard to believe that it's been 8 years since we last visited Sydney and as we strolled along it didn't feel like we had been away for that long. We got some amazing shots of the Sydney Opera House whilst dodging the endless runners out for their lunchtime run.

During the course of this trip so far we have been lucky enough to stumble across some amazing views to look at whilst eating our lunch and today was definitely one of those days! The view of the Opera House has got to be one of our favourite views so far :-)

After lunch we decided to spend some time checking out the Rocks. An area nestled between the Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay overlooking the Opera House. Our first stop was Cadmans Cottage which is the oldest cottage in Sydney dating back to 1816. It was once a place where criminals were held before it was converted into a house for retired sea captains. It now serves as a centre for the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. We managed to get a quick photo just before loads of school kids arrived for a history lesson. Phew!

Next on the list was Susannah Place Museum which is only a short walk from Cadmans Cottage and comprises of 4 small terrace houses with a corner shop that is largely unchanged since 1844 and was lived in till the early 90's. Since then it has been converted into a museum that shows the different styles the terraces would have been decorated in over the years. Unfortunately the museum only has limited opening hours and was closed but just seeing the terrace houses from the outside surrounded by more modern building was surreal enough.

Next stop was the Rocks Museum, aptly named because it's bang in the middle of The Rocks. This museum was very insightful and told stories about the history of the aboriginal people who are the traditional owners of the land. In times gone by there were several different clans dominating the area with a total of 250 different languages and customs. They managed to co-exist together for hundreds of years.... the question is why can't we? Altogether the museum had 3 floors and although we are starting to feel we could write a book on aboriginal people from the amount of stuff we have read, we still found it interesting.

Our last stop of the day was The Museum of Contemporary Art recommended by Lonely Planet. As we have mentioned before on the blog neither of us are budding artists or claim to know anything about it, but as the museum had free entry and overlooks the Opera House we thought we would give it a go, if nothing else for the photo opportunity of the harbour. The first room consisted of randomly placed weird 'volcano' shapes that were stuck down with brown tape and had black wigs on top! Now if that's artwork then they can keep it! Unfortunately this was the sign of things to come and we probably should have cut our losses there and then. However we didn't and we made it up to the 3rd floor before giving up and walking out. We were only in there for about twenty minutes in the end but that's twenty minutes of our life we will never get back. Let's just say we are very glad that it was free and would like to warn fellow travellers to enter at their own peril and don't say that we didn't warn you about the complete and utter rubbish they call 'art'. We have also been to the Tate Modern in London and again neither of us appreciated their 'art' but at least they had empty rooms that weren't filled with the tosh. Oh and by the way the view of the Opera House and harbour is less impressive than from the Harbour Bridge.

Christmas in July?

When we got back to the hostel we took advantage of the free meal provided, along with just about everybody else staying at the hostel. However there was one quirky little difference to this was a Christmas dinner complete with Christmas carols and small little crackers! Apparently because it's the middle of winter they decided to celebrate 'Christmas' on the 25th of July too. It felt really weird listening to carols in July but we didn't want to turn down free food! For dessert we headed out to a couple of bars to sample some free beer using some tokens given to us by the hostel, more on that below. This is the life! :-)

Day 2 - Fish and boats

Sydney Fish Market

When we visited the Sydney Fish Markets eight years ago we agreed that if we ever came back to Sydney the markets would go on our to do list again. It's a great place to spend an hour and there are ample opportunities to grab some seriously fresh seafood at one of the many restaurants. We arrived bright and early and as we walked across the car park we spotted some absolutely massive pelicans who had cunningly placed themselves as close to the unloading area as possible, in the hope of nabbing themselves a free breakfast. It was funny to watch the havoc they created as they slowly waddled in front of all the cars completely oblivious to the horns that were blaring. Once in the market there was an array of stalls selling a bewildering amount of seafood and we actually started to wonder if there was any left in the sea. We enjoyed looking around the stalls and before we left we sampled some fried octopus in chilli sauce which was delicious. On the way out we spotted an oyster bar but after learning first-hand what happens when you eat a bad one we decided to give it a miss.

Sydney Maritime Museum

The very first maritime museum we visited on this trip was way back in Amsterdam where we had the opportunity to climb on board a replica of an East India Company trading ship that was docked in the murky harbour. Since then we've found it hard not to make comparisons to this museum every time we visit a new one. However we have come across some great examples along the way with a few naff attempts thrown in for good measure. One common thread that links all of these museums together is the fact that without the invention of ships the world as we know it would be a very different place.

When we did our research on Sydney we read some great reviews on the maritime museum making it an easy decision to add it to our itinerary. This striking building overlooks Sydney's Darling Harbour and has four very different ships docked here. The museum itself was free but with the purchase of a Big Ticket at $25 we could venture outside and we also got the chance to climb on board and explore the inside of the ships. This sounded like a great opportunity and we didn't want to miss out so we paid for our tickets and set off to explore.

The first ship that we boarded was The Destroyer HMAS Vampire that served in the Royal Australian Navy between 1959 and 1986. It was absolutely massive and took us a good hour to make our way around this maze of a ship. We went up and down steep steps and aside from seeing the main living areas of the crew we got to see some of the impressive rooms that were used to navigate and spot potential targets. We got to see some of the shells that would have been fired at enemy planes at a rate of 120 shells per minute. It was interesting to learn more about this magnificent war ship and we enjoyed having a good old nosey in all of the rooms.

After this we climbed onto the Submarine HMAS Onslow. We entered the submarine by walking backwards down some narrow steps where the service men and women would have taken one last look at dry land and the blue sky before venturing 600 feet under the sea! (No thanks) The steps led us down to the weapons room where a volunteer explained how everything worked before showing us the emergency escape suit. The bright orange escape suit would be pumped full of air and filled with oxygen before being sent on the 3 minute journey 'safely' to the top of the water, without having to worry about getting the bends, in Sonya's opinion (not a bloody chance) We were told that the living quarters of the mariners was very comfortable compared to guests who had to sleep on thin mats on metal floors under the weapons room. However when we wandered through the sleeping areas they were not much better and we were shocked by how small the space in between the beds were. Let's just say if you suffered from claustrophobia, you were in for a shock. It seemed to get smaller the longer we stayed down there and although it was fascinating to see, it really was a relief to walk up the steps and back into an open space again. Phew. In our opinion the men and women that manage to work and live in these cramped conditions, for up to ten weeks at a time, deserve a medal. We only managed twenty minutes and we were desperate to escape!

The next ship that we boarded was a replica of Captain Cooks Endeavour and it was without a doubt the most charming sailing ship that we have ever seen. The outside of the ship had glossy wooden panels and ornate carvings painted in gold and blue and with the sails open it looked absolutely stunning. We climbed down to the crew area of the ship which was set up as it would have looked. During the day the tables were set up with dinner utensils and of course beer jugs and by night there were hammocks that were strung up on the wooden beams to sleep on. In the middle of the room there was the cat of nine tails whip which would have been used on people speaking out of turn or even if you didn't use your knife and fork properly! The guy whose job it was to lash out the punishments had to make sure that he did a good job otherwise it was his turn to be whipped 9 We also saw some more sleeping areas for the more privileged members of staff that were more comfortable than a hammock. Apparently the ship is a working replica and has sailed around the world twice and if you have 10 days to spare and $4,000 you can join on one of its prestige voyages.

We also went on-board the James Craig Tall Ship which has undergone a massive restoration that has taken many years to complete. It was rescued from the bottom of the sea where it sat for 40 years and it's taken a group of dedicated people lots of time and energy to bring her back to life, not to mention the amount of money it took. The James Craig ferried coal between New Zealand and New York until it was bought by a company based in Australia. After spending many years at work it was abandoned and freely floated around. It soon became a nuisance to other ships so it was decided to sink it by blasting a hole through its hull, and there it sat for 40 years before it was recovered. Now restored the James Craig is still used to this day and sails every two weeks, occasionally going on longer jaunts for paying passengers.

By this time we had been exploring for well over two hours so we headed inside to see what the museum had to offer. This modern building housed a wide range of exhibits that ranged from aboriginal Canoes to the impressive pieces displayed by the Navy. Among the three floors we also saw rowing boats used in the Sydney Olympics and a great art exhibition thrown into the mix. This was a fantastic place to while away a few hours and we would highly recommend it to other travellers but make sure you buy a big ticket as most of the fun is outside.

Powerhouse Museum

After a fantastic morning we made our way over to the Powerhouse Museum which showcases the wonders of science and design using interactive displays and computers to show what can be achieved when the two are combined. As soon as you walk in you can't miss the old fashioned steam train on display and the huge steam engine which is the oldest of its kind in the world. The museum covered three floors with what seemed like endless rooms filled to the brim with displays and information. We came across a computer that was designed to 'talk' to you after you typed in a question and a robot that was programmed to dance to different music styles. You could also race the robot by pressing on different coloured buttons as soon as they lit up and the fastest 'person' would win the game. Ross played several times and lost every time (mainly because one of the buttons was broken). This was supposed to prove that machine is faster than man, which it clearly was even if it cheated! The best part was after you lost, it looked at your score and then back at its own before imitating laughing by shaking its head and changing shape to stick a finger up at you. How rude! There is so much to see and do at the Powerhouse museum and what we've mentioned only covers a tiny, tiny bit. This museum is well worth a visit but make sure you leave at least half a day otherwise you will need to skip whole sections out.

Day 3 - Opera House

We started our day at the magnificent Opera House and took the one hour guided tour that we also did eight years ago, at the time we were so jet lagged we can't remember a thing about it so we decided to do it again. We arrived for the 10am tour that was led by an enthusiastic tour guide who took us through the history of the building, including the story behind the architect and designer Jorn Utzon.

We were lucky enough to see inside three of the theatres including the main concert hall which was beautiful. The massive organ that is prominently displayed at the front of the room was designed and built by Ronald Sharp and was completed in 1979, six years after the Opera House was completed. It has more than 10.000 pipes and it took 2 years just to tune them! As all of these projects seem to go it started with a budget of just $400,000 but ended up costing a whopping $1.2 million!

Throughout the tour we were told some interesting stories and facts about this building and the stars that have performed here, including Pavarotti. On one particular visit a dinner was set up in his honour but when he arrived he flatly refused to even enter the room, because of the vibrant deep purple carpet. Apparently in Italy it is the traditional colour used to line a coffin and as he was a very superstitious man they had to pack up the whole room and set it up in another part of the building in a room that had a red carpet. We enjoyed this insightful tour very much and it was worth every penny :-)

St Mary's Cathedral

After lunch we visited this beautiful Cathedral and were blown away by its elegant style and stunning architecture. The inside of the Cathedral was just as impressive with tall ceilings, wide stone floors and plenty of flickering candles that made this a very atmospheric space. It was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. We would have taken some photos but photography was banned so after spending a few minutes looking around we headed outside to enjoy the tranquil surroundings of Hyde Park that only seemed to enhance its beauty and charm.

Anzac Memorial

Before making our way back to the hostel we visited the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park that was opened in 1934 by the Duke of Gloucester. The first thing that caught our eye was the Pool of Reflection that is flanked by rows of poplar trees. Although these trees are not native to Australia they were planted to symbolise the area in France where the Australian troops fought. The building itself is quite striking with a domed roof and several bronze plaques are strategically placed around the outside of the building depicting scenes from the war. There are wide sweeping stairs on the northern and southern sides of the building that lead up to the Hall of Memory where the roof is filled with 120,000 gold stars which represent all of the service men and women of New South Wales who served in World War One.

In the centre of the room there is a large circular banister known as the Well of Contemplation that forces visitors to look down with a bowed head into the Hall Of Silence. In the middle of the floor there is a poignant brass sculpture named Sacrifice depicting a scene where a fallen soldier is being carried by his mother, his sister and his wife who is also holding their child and the sculpture stands upon an eternal flame. There was a lot of controversy when this sculpture was completed because the soldier is naked and at the time of completion this was seen to be too graphic. In fact there are some sculptures that never made it onto their platforms because of this reason. The idea behind the sculpture incorporating women was to commemorate the personal losses and contributions of women as well as the fallen men who ultimately sacrificed their lives for their country. A lot of thought went into the design of the Anzac Memorial and its well worth a visit.

It's cheaper on the East Coast!

You can't get cheaper than free! So when we checked in and were given a selection of discount vouchers including free beer we couldn't believe our luck. Our hostel was right in the middle of the main backpacker area and with bars and restaurants fighting for custom there were some amazing deals to be had. Having just paid close to $15 for a pint and a half of local ale in Melbourne we couldn't believe that it was only $5 for a pint of Guinness and $7 for jugs of beer in Sydney. So we didn't waste much time in sampling some Aussie brew, we managed to get through 7 free schooners each and if we had gone out on the night we arrived we could of had another 3 for nowt, how cool is that! Our thanks go to Star Bar, Maloney's and Shark Bar for the freebies. Shark Bar it's probably best you learn from the other two, and offer cheap nosh too, otherwise like us people will go to one of the others for free beer and cheap food and then rock up at 9pm each night for the free beer before moving on but thanks anyway!

Hostel Review

We stayed at the Maze hostel in a double private with shared bathroom facilities. The place really lives up to its name and is a rabbit warren of old rooms surrounding the kitchen and common room. This is the first hostel we have stayed in with a real hostel atmosphere with people coming and going at all hours. Although the place was gigantic there were enough shared facilities to go round. With a massive kitchen area and 4 rooms full of fridge's to store food. Our room was tiny and literally had a bunk bed, a bin and a plastic chair but was okay for what we needed as we were either sightseeing, in a bar or sleeping! The hostel was average but its location was fantastic with only a 5-10 minute walk from Central Station and even less to Town Hall, Museum and the nearest tram stop. Surrounded by bars, restaurants and a shopping centre with a massive supermarket the hostel has everything on its door step.

6.0/10 Revised 2013.10.17

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