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  1. By Tuesday we had accomplished all our first priority activities for our stay in Sydney. The forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday was a chance of rain but the rain never materialized. We left the hotel and took a city bus downtown to Circular Key, the heart of the transportation hub in Sydney. The bus route terminates near the ferry terminal and the commuter train station. We went to the ferry terminal and located the Manly Fast Ferry, a ferry service for people traveling to and from destinations within the Sydney harbor to the south of Sydney. It is not a tour boat but we used it as one. At the ticket office, we inquire about the ferry. The lady at the window says I’ve got a ferry just for you. She motioned toward the boat at the dock behind her and said it was about to depart and we could purchase our tickets on board. We hustled down the dock to the ferry and were welcomed by a young man who directed us across the gangplank and promptly pulled it in behind us. The lady in the ticket booth was correct, we were the only passengers on the ferry as it left the dock. We took seats on the top deck, an open air deck, which facilitated photography. Leaving the dock we got a harbor view of the Sydney Opera House. This was the only way to see the front of this amazing building. Among the stops were the Sydney Zoo and a National Park on the site of an early 1900’s immigration station. Manly is a community near the mouth of the harbor. All along the route we see one harbor after another with dozens of boats moored in each one. Beautiful homes crowd the hills along the harbor. In Manly we see many condominiums with harbor views. Our ride was suggested to us by an exhibitor at Vivid Sydney. He said you haven’t really seen Sydney until you have seen it from the harbor. He was correct. The ride around the harbor was a completely different view of this thriving city. Sydney is a city built around a harbor and they love their harbor. The Manly Fast Ferry is only one of the ferries that operate here. The City of Sydney also has an extensive ferry line that serves all areas of the harbor. There is a constant flow of ferry traffic into the ferry terminal day and night. Sydney has almost one quarter of the entire population of Australia. With nearly 4 million people, there is a life to the city that is found only in the largest of cities in the US. Our hotel was about 3 miles from the center of downtown Sydney. Foot traffic is heavy from downtown all the way out to our hotel all day long and well into the night. It is not uncommon to wait at a cross walk with 20 other people facing another group of equal size on the other side of the intersection. At ten in the evening we were surrounded by other pedestrians and felt quite safe. Sydney has a very diverse population. Its proximity to the Orient accounts for a large percentage of people from that area. We also met many people who were recent immigrants from European countries. One thing that stood out in our experience was the completely peaceful nature of the crowds of people. We saw no rowdy behavior or violence. Graffiti was rare and people were friendly, willing to strike up a conversation with us, total strangers. I even had one young man ask me how to use his Sony digital camera to photograph the night lights of Sydney. Not being familiar with his camera I couldn’t offer him much help but tried to give him some idea what the numbers on his digital display meant. We rode a city bus back toward the hotel but got off a few blocks away to get dinner at the Three Wise Monkeys Bar, now a favorite of ours. Once again we got a seat at the window and enjoyed watching the passing parade on the sidewalks of Sydney.
  2. Our third day in Sydney, Monday, May 26, is a big day. We start out with a second ride on the tour bus. We purchased a two-day ticket. There are two routes for the scenic drives, this one takes us south of the city to Bondi Beach and then back to the city. We remained in the urban area the whole trip but are away from the large buildings of city center. This trip was interesting as we traveled through many older parts of the city. Bondi Beach itself is a gorgeous wide beach with a nice surf. Across the road from the beach is a whole community built up around the beach. It is similar to many of the popular beaches in southern California. When we returned to town we got off the bus at The Australian Museum. From there we walked down toward the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We stopped to get ice cream at a little shop near the bridge. Then we were on to Bridge Climb Sydney. We had reserved a sunset climb to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We would start our adventure at 3:05 in the afternoon and finish about 7:00 in the evening. Once we checked in, we were met by an employee who escorted us in and took us through signing the liability release form. Then we were given our bridge climb coveralls. We changed clothes, leaving behind all metal and all personal objects except eyeglasses and stud earrings. Then we passed through a magnetometer to ensure we had no metal objects in our possession. With the security check complete we met our guide, Nick, who would take us to the top of the bridge. Now we were outfitted with a safety belt with an interface to hook us into the safety cable that guided us along our walk. We received a radio receiver and headset so we could hear our guide. We also got a pack with a fleece sweater to wear if we needed an additional layer of clothes to keep warm. We were given a headband flashlight and finally a handkerchief and a hat. All of these things were hooked onto our coverall suit so that nothing was able to fall onto the bridge below us. The final preparation was to practice going up a ladder and down a ladder. Once all this was done we slid our safety harness line onto a safety cable and were out the door and onto the bridge. We exited the door and were already about 20 feet above the ground. Initially we walked on a catwalk well out onto the bridge. Then we began to climb, three step ladder-like sets of steps took us up another 20 meters or 60 feet. Emerging onto the top of the upper girders on the bridge, we were now on top of the bridge. Railings on either side of the three foot wide walkway give us an added sense of security. Looking around we can see onto the top of the roof of some of the tall buildings in the city! From here there we walk on top of the bridge girders. There are step platforms on the surface so we were are walking similar to the way you would walk up a widely spaced set of steps. The incline is steep at first then begins to level out near the top of the bridge. Along the way we stop and have pictures taken by our guide. At the top, 436 feet above the bay below, we all give a cheer. Everyone in our group makes it to the top without any problem. Our guide, Nick, has kept up a constant patter of information about the bridge, Sydney, Australia, and much more. His commentary gives us something else to think about than the height above the waters of the bay below. As we reach the top, the sun is setting in the west. Sunset colors in the sky reflect off the waters of the bay. Sidney bay is a labyrinth of water, islands and peninsulas. Standing atop the bridge we are able to see the patchwork of water highlighted by the skylight reflections. How I wish I had my camera. I would have taken hundreds of pictures! Soon it is time to begin our descent. We stop for one last round of pictures with the lighted city in the background. As we are about to leave the bridge Vivid Sydney lights up the Sydney Opera House and we can see it from the bridge. Then it is back down to Earth. We reverse the dressing procedure removing all our equipment and are out to the gift shop. We get our certificates with a picture of our group as part of the deal. We also purchase the set of pictures taken of us as we climbed the bridge. With that challenge behind us, we found a restaurant, the Waterfront Restaurant. We were able to get reservations for 8:30 which was an hour and a half from the time of the reservations. I was prepared. I had my tripod with me so I could photograph some of the Vivid light displays. I visited a number of the displays in the area and also spent time photographing the Opera House. Time arrived and we got a table right by the wall that separated the dining area from the dock area with the displays. We enjoyed our first real restaurant meal in Sydney spending an amazing amount of money for a simple meal, a bottle of wine and desert. We had wonderful service and enjoyed the evening. On the way home I continued photographing lighting displays including the Museum of Art which had the whole building covered with a constantly changing design. There were other buildings with displays, one had a forest that bloomed, leaves came out then the colors changed and the leaves fell off and finally took you back to the bare trees again. We talked with one exhibitor who told about how their group had developed their display. We had a nice conversation and picked up a suggestion for the next day.
  3. Our second day in Sydney we took a bus tour through the city. The bus was a double decker with an open upper deck so that is where we sat. I took photos as we drove along. We had earphones with commentary on the areas of the city as we rode along. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm. At stops I had a chance to stand up and get better pictures. My philosophy on taking pictures when moving is that you shoot lots of pictures knowing some will be blurred or will not be well framed. If I take enough pictures there is a better chance that one will be satisfactory. Often the rate of travel gives just a single moment when a good photograph is possible in which I am quick on the shutter button, timing is key, hesitate and the shot is gone. Our tour took us downtown and to the waterfront. The waterfront in Sydney is like a glove. The tour visited one bay after another. I photographed a mixture of new modern buildings and skyscrapers along with heritage buildings over 100 years old. Each is interesting it its own way. Some old buildings are well maintained and look quite beautiful while others have been neglected and will someday soon become unusable. Sydney presents a nice mixture of old and new. We are enjoying the difference in architecture between buildings of different ages but also different from the architecture we knew from the US. There are a wide variety of cultural heritages which influence buildings here in Sydney. We rode most of the route before getting off near the Royal Botanical Garden. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Botanical Garden before starting our walk home. The botanical garden is free and has wonderful old and very large trees. There is a fernery with an amazing variety of ferns. Louise said she expected to see a dinosaur stick its head out from behind one. There were tree ferns, giant ferns and a whole group of ferns that didn’t look like ferns at all. We found an herb garden which was very aromatic. Every step brought a new scent. Then we spotted an armillary sphere, a special form of sundial. This one was a recent addition to the garden. It commemorated the work of a volunteer who worked at the garden for many years. Around the horizon circle were sculptures of herbs with their names. With a diameter of 2 meters, there were quite a few herbs illustrated on the horizon circle. We left the garden about 4:30 in the afternoon. We waited at the bus stop for the next bus that would take us back toward our hotel. It took about 15 minutes for the bus to arrive. We rode for several kilometers getting off at the north end of Hyde Park where we had seen a restaurant/bar we wanted to try. The bar, the Three Wise Monkeys had a large statue of three monkeys in the classical hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil pose. We thought it would be worth a try just for the fun of it. We found seats at the windows which are open and right on the sidewalk looking out on a major street. Our table was the window sill and people are walking by on the sidewalk outside the window, just a few feet away. So we had a wonderful seat for people watching. Sydney is a very busy city. The sidewalks are filled with people all day long and far into the evening. It was a fine night of people watching.
  4. With this entry, we are clearly outside the realm of motor home experience but the remainder of our trip started with almost three months in the motor home so I'll finish off the last three weeks just to give the story an ending. We've flown to Sydney after turning in the campervan at Britz in Perth. When we checked into our hotel they gave us some information about a festival starting in Sydney on Friday night, the night we arrived. It is a two-week festival of lights, sound and ideas. There are 60 exhibits set up around town with various kinds of visual activities. Some are large like the projection of lights on the Sydney Opera House and others are small like an exhibit with a camera that you looked into and it put your face on a wall. Your face was altered and blended into a colored spot. The exhibit was called Graffiti Me. There were simple things like a light tunnel to walk through. Others exhibits were very complicated. An exhibit downtown near Circular Key projected a cartoon image with clouds, lightening, rain and a light bulb cartoon character walking across the walls of several skyscrapers. The ferries in the harbor were lit in coordinated constantly changing colors that matched the color on the ferry terminal. Other boats were lit in a variety of colors. We went down town to the famous Sydney Opera House to tour the building. Louise would have liked to see an opera there but the season doesn’t start until July. When we arrived to tour the building there was a huge crowd with more arriving every minute. This was the opening night of Vivid Sydney! Our tour of the Opera House lasted until sunset. Before the tour was over the building was the palate for ever changing patterns and colors. Once outside we enjoyed watching many of the exhibits. As we walked back to our hotel I took pictures of some of the exhibits and the city at night. Crowds were huge throughout the city with throngs of people walking everywhere. We stopped for dinner at Gallagher’s Irish Bar and continued our walk back to the hotel. Part of the way we walked through Hyde Park, a very nice park with lighted fountains and wide well lit walkways. At one point another person stopped to photograph something. I looked and they were taking pictures of a possum. These are much different than the Opossums we have in the US. They look more like a squirrel. We saw a second, a female with a young one on its back. By the time we arrived home it was late and we had pictures to process and needed some down time to relax before turning in for the night.
  5. We’ve been touring Australia for almost three months now. Along the way we’ve collected some souvenirs for ourselves and for our friends and family. When we started this trip our bags were packed to the limit. We investigated shipping the souvenirs and some of the clothing we would not need on the cruise back to the US. Every query ended up with prices that were extreme for even a small package. Then in a discussion with a park ranger at Monkey Mia we found out about something different. She suggested using Sea Mail offered by the Australian Post. She had shipped her goods from Britain to Australia that way and said it was an economical alternative. We investigated and found the prices that UPS, DHL, FedEx charged for a two pound package would pay for a 20 kilogram package shipped Sea Mail. The difference of course is that the Sea Mail package will arrive in 60 to 90 days instead of two days. That was perfect for our needs. We didn’t need to have the materials in hand quickly. So we purchased packing materials and loaded up two boxes. The amount of materials that we wanted to ship back were too much for one box so we split it into two boxes of 13 and 14 kilograms each. That is 27 kilograms or 60 pounds of goods we shipped back to the US. This took care of the excess we had purchased on the trip so far and also lightened the load in our suitcases. Shipping was accomplished on Wednesday before our Friday morning flight. Thursday was pack the bags day and also clean the camper day. We set out suitcases on the benches in the rear of the camper. Frist Louise packed the majority of her clothes and goods and then I took my turn. There isn’t enough room in the camper for both of us to be moving around at the same time. Louise did a final load of laundry and while she did that I packed my clothes and goods. Clothes were laid out for the next days flight and then everything was given a good cleaning. We didn’t wash the outside of the camper, that was not required but all the dishes and cabinets had to be left clean. The linens and towels didn’t have to be washed. Those would be left on the bed when we turned in the camper. Thursday night it rained. It rained hard off and on all night. By morning I was getting anxious about the final work of disconnecting the utilities, electric and grey water. It was going to be messy. We were parked on a sandy lot and nothing sticks to things like wet sand. If the rain continued I was going to get soaked in the process. Just before sunrise the rain quit. I got up and made a trip to the restroom. Several people were busy packing up to leave while the rain had stopped. I think everyone was thinking the same thing I was, get out quick before it starts to rain again. We had a quick breakfast, washed the dishes and disconnected. I washed down the hose and electric cord as I rolled them up. Then a last bit of packing and we left the park at 8:30 a.m. I took Louise to the airport and left her there with all of our baggage except my brief case which had the Britz documents and my records from the rental. The GPS showed me just a few kilometers from the Britz office. Ten minutes and I was there. I had called Britz on Wednesday to confirm their hours of operation. I was told they didn’t open until ten and our flight was scheduled for 11:30. The agent I talked to said he would be there at 8:30 and he could get me checked out at that time and offered to arrange a cab to the airport as well. He also confirmed for me that I would be able to take the campervan to the airport, it would be allowed in the drop off area which is something that isn’t allowed at most US airports. Anyway, he was there and after a brief look at the camper, a cab was called and I was on my way back to the airport. I met Louise in a coffee shop where she was waiting and we went to check our luggage. We got a surprise. The tickets I had booked with Virgin Australia didn’t include checked baggage. That was an additional charge. The Expedia confirmation didn’t say that baggage wasn’t included it just said that additional charges may apply for baggage. So we paid for shipping our bags and then were off to the security check. Once through security we had about an hour wait for the boarding call. Our plane was an Airbus 300-200, a wide bodied plane for this cross country flight. I was expecting a smaller plane but was pleased by the wide body plane. It takes just under four hours to fly across the country from Perth on the west coast to Sydney on the east coast. There was also a two hour time change for the time zone difference. We arrived just after sunset. I was able to photograph a spectacular sunset from the airplane. It took less than 30 seconds for the sun to disappear below the horizon once its lower limb touched the horizon. By the time we landed and got out of the airport it was dark. We picked up our luggage and found the taxi line. A $40 ride got us to our hotel in the Chinatown area west of downtown Sydney. We are right across the street from a large shopping market with three stories above ground and another story below ground. The lowest level is a vegetable market and has other vendors with booths selling other products, rather like a large flea market. Above the basement level are two stories of shops and stores including a large grocery store. The top floor is the food court. We got a simple dinner in the food court and then walked around the neighborhood.
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