The Olympics Are Coming
Sydney is undergoing a facelift in advance of the 2000 Olympics. It’s tough to sit outside for a breakfast of white coffee, scones and fruit salad with the machine-gun fire of jackhammers a constant soundtrack, but hey, we’re on vacation.
The Landing Party winds through the streets of downtown Sydney through herds of young businessmen in suits and shades, past the stock exchange and the opal showcases, over jersey walls set out for the construction projects and across the pedestrian bridge spanning the Western Distributor freeway to Darling Harbour. This little cove has been redone in the last 20 years (DC-area folks can picture Baltimore’s Inner Harbor) and is home to the aquarium, a world-class facility that resembles, well, Baltimore’s National Aquarium.
It’s a good aquarium – the platypus is having lunch or something, so we miss seeing that water-borne freak. There’s a discussion of the different crocodiles (fresh-water “freshies” and salt-water “salties”), a bunch of luminescent jellyfish, a few penguins and seals. The highlight of the facility is the underwater exhibit, which leads visitors through viewing tubes deep inside giant tanks filled with all sorts of fish and sharks, giant rays passing slowly overhead like cargo planes headed for distant runways.
- This is a good aquarium, but we find out later that Melbourne has just opened a brand-new one. Maybe we should have waited to see that one.
We hike back into downtown (just a few blocks, really) and check out a few more aboriginal art boutiques, more and more convinced that the paintings in the gallery by our hotel are the paintings for us.
The Australian Museum is the country’s main natural history museum, and it gets a nice write-up in the guide book. It, like everything else in Sydney, is undergoing renovations, and it has a hollowed-out feeling thanks to curtained-off rooms and the echoes of hammers and boards. Our timing is good, and we get a private tour of the Aboriginal Exhibit, which gives a good background to the “dreamtime” cosmology of the natives and helps decode some of the imagery in the paintings we’ve been evaluating. Dots of a certain color represent a certain type of food; dots in ovals are food gathered in bowls; the exaggerated “U” shape is the imprint of a character sitting in the dirt, often facing a central fire pit. As the overall picture becomes clearer we are left alone in an exhibit describing the treatment of Aborigines at the hand of the colonizing English. The centerpiece is a harrowing series of paintings in the style of Francis Bacon or Ralph Steadman, depicting the forced removal of children from their parents and the legacies of physical abuse, drug abuse and suicide in the native communities.
Apart from this section the museum gets a middling score – a lot of the natural history exhibits lack the oomph I’m used to seeing, but then I’m spoiled by the top-notch institutions here in Washington.
It’s getting to be 4 o’clock – if we don’t hurry we’ll miss a chance to drink while the city around us is still at work. We hoof it up Oxford Street and stop at a dark, edgy bar for nachos and bright fancy drinks. The fancy drinks kick my butt. Life is good.
With the sun starting its long descent we stumble eastward up Oxford Street in search of the Paddington neighborhood, said to be a charming mid-nineteenth century neighborhood of “gingerbread houses” with their sharply-peaked roofs and Victorian trim. Typical of the rustic Gothic Picturesque architectural style – we nod knowingly and turn the book upside down trying to match the map with the narrow, haphazard tangle of streets in front of us. Up one hill and down another, and we find Five Ways – a little 5-way roundabout marking the northern corner of the neighborhood.
The little suburb is dense and photogenic with its terrace houses, ivy, ornate fixtures and friendly cats. All this charm makes us thirsty, and we make our way to the , one of many old neighborhood corner pubs. The bar is ornate, the ale is cold and the service is refreshingly attentive. A few Irish Coffees to round out our stay and we head out into the cool sunset, to soak up the evening sky over Paddington and find some grub.
We finish the evening with a fine dinner in the courtyard of the on Broughton Street, very close to the roundabout at Five Ways. The restaurant is BYOB – in Australia a bottle shop is never far away, in this case the Royal Hotel across the street from our table. The red wine mixes well with the coffee we just had, creating a kind of rocket fuel that sends us into a Noisy American orbit. As Frank Zappa once said, you are what you is.
It’s waaay too far to walk back to the hotel. A lucky cab driver gets an earful of happy tourist chatter.