Australia was supposed to be sunny! The run of poor weather has continued, and we’ve seen lots more rain in the week and half since the Blue Mountains. It’s fair to say that we wasted a couple of days through not trying to see enough during the rainy days, but by and large I think we’ve still managed to fill the calendar and explore the sights of Sydney.
Sydney has the feel of a busy city much more than Melbourne. In many ways it feels like a version of London with a harbour. In the sunshine it’s pretty, and there are plenty of places with good views of it spread all around the many coves of the harbour with ferries flitting around. It’s not too high-rise, and the buildings seem to be arranged with smaller ones by the water, so there’s a great feeling of space. The coffee’s still pretty good, but has nothing on the excellence of Melbourne!
The city was dominated for the last week by build-up to the Anzac Day commemorations, on the hundredth anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli in the First World War. Anzac is the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. This isn’t an event I was particularly aware of at home, certainly not on the scale of something like Remembrance Day. Here it seems to be considered something of a coming-of-age moment for the two young countries growing in global reach, despite the huge losses suffered.
On the day, sun and blue skies welcomed the parade through the city centre. We saw military units of all colours, veterans groups of a surprisingly large range of nationalities and even school bands. (Best drummers award goes to the Sikh Veterans!) Next to the memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park a police band and choir had set up, playing the same collection of old songs that we know in the UK regardless of geographical references (“There’ll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover…”). All in all a pretty happy affair, in contrast to the mostly sombre mood of Remembrance Day.
Shortly after the parade, by about 1pm, the whole city seemed to have decanted into the pubs – not sure whether this was for the special occasion or just the normal course of events. The beer was flowing freely and there were uniforms everywhere. Jo most liked the airmen, unclear whether uniforms or wearers. An old betting game called Two-Up is only legally playable in New South Wales on Anzac Day, and we saw a few crowds betting ten or twenty dollars a time on a game that basically amounts to tossing a coin. It’s remarkable to see such delight in such a primitive game! As the afternoon wore on the sun gave way to a ferocious but short-lived downpour that had us sheltered under cover just next to Martin Place, the central square, with members an army band (“this always happens on Anzac day!”). It turned out that we’d arrived just in time to see the main commemoration service of the day, at the Cenotaph in Martin Place.
I write this while Jo is out running without me, for which I blame the wine. Today notwithstanding, we’ve been back into our morning runs after a break while in the red centre and the Blue Mountains. From the hostel we stayed at for our first week (called “Wake Up!”, and exhibiting a faintly Soviet level of joy in the rules, “Wash up! Dry up! Put your things away!”) it was a short jog to the parks and through to the Opera House. The iconic view from Macquarie Point towards Sydney Harbour Bridge really is better in the sunshine, when the tiles of the Opera House gleam! The same can be said of the rest of the city, the harbour views really need a bit of sun.
One thing that we got right in Melbourne was exploring more in the suburbs than in the centre. In Sydney we had covered most of what we could in the wet first few days in the centre before we realised this. With a recommendation from someone in the hostel we headed out one evening to Surry Hills. Sydney seems to have lots of small suburbs in easy reach from the centre, many named after parts of England, and this is a nice one, full of classy-looking restaurants. Not long after we got to the main street we took shelter from rain (common theme) in a lovely bar full of fairy lights and wine. On a return visit later in the week we stumbled across a bar with a live jazz quartet playing, delightful!
We spent one night back in our trusty tent on Cockatoo Island, right in the middle of the harbour. The island has a rich history, having been an Alcatraz-style prison, a school for naughty children and the ship yard that built many of the Australian navy’s ships during both world wars. It’s now a tourist stop with an audio tour, bits of cranes littered around and a camp site that was rather warmer than the Blue Mountains. Also a handy bit of cut price accommodation in the middle of the city!
Our next residential stop was a move out of the city centre to Drummoyne, another lovely area a little along the harbour, to a guest house that proved to be a much more civilised and relaxing affair than the playing with the 20-year-olds in the youth hostel. Drummoyne seems to be well off the tourist trail, to the extent that we were asked in one restaurant how we’d come across it! It’s much more like a commuter-belt town, even though only a short ferry ride from the CBD. Like so many residential areas we’ve seen in Australia the main road is a six-lane highway! Just off this mini-motorway we tucked into sushi that puts Itsu to shame and tapas serenaded by guitar.
Sydney’s been a bit of mixed bag, and honestly hasn’t captured our hearts in quite the way that Melbourne did. The weather certainly hasn’t co-operated. We’re going to the Opera House tonight and a netball match tomorrow before heading off to the countryside for a couple more days in Harry’s ginger walls, and before long the real next step of the adventure beckons in New Zealand. Time to invest in some more thermals.