Sydney Walking Tour and Watson Bay
February 13, 2017
The walking tour that we took today was very crowded and the guide was hard to understand. The good thing about the tour was that we got a better lay of the land and a little bit of a history lesson. Even before the tour, Barry and I walked from The Rocks to the CBD (central business district). This was our first chance to see lots of real Sydneysiders going to work. It’s hot again today and most of the ladies are wearing breezy summer dresses with sandals. Most men are not wearing ties and I don’t see any men in jackets, even carrying them. It seems very casual here.
It looks like most cities, with similar international chain stores and businesses. We did enjoy walking through most of the QVB (Queen Victoria Building, what is it with all the initials?) The QVB inhabits a large city block and is a Romanesque Revival “cathedral” to shopping. High end international brand shops fill the four stories. Stained glass, wrought iron, statuary and tea rooms give it such the ole British tone. To me, the most interesting features are two mechanical clocks. Each one features dioramas and moving figures from moments in history. The Royal Clock activates on the hour and displays six scenes of English royalty. The Great Australian Clock, weighs in at four tons and stands ten meters tall. It illustrates 33 scenes from Australian history, seen from both Aboriginal and European perspectives. The Aboriginal hunter circles the exterior of the clock continuously, “representing the never-ending passage of time.”
It was a tremendous help to us that we read Bill Bryson’s book, In a Sunburned Country. It’s an excellent book, Bryson has a wonderfully dry sense of humor and the book is well researched. I read it about seven years ago and read it again for this trip. I forced Barry to read it too. (I can be so domineering, ha!) Bryson makes the following major assertions: Australia really is an amazing country, There are more things that can kill you in Australia than anywhere else in the world, Americans don’t know much about Australia because they aren’t doing stupid things to get themselves in the news.
So, having read that book, we knew about the convicts who were shipped over here to Australia to reduce prison populations in England. Many were sentenced to, in reality, lifelong exile in a very hostile land for relatively minor offenses such as theft. The colonization was ill planned and many prisoners and ship’s crew died during the journey and even more died from famine or disease after arriving here.
Though Aboriginal people have been living in Australia for more than 40,000 years, and on more recent evidence perhaps as long as 60 000 years or more, the British named everything after themselves when they arrived. (So British!) Of particular interest is Lachlan Macquarie, a Scot. He was the Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821. An inscription on his tomb proclaims that he is “The Father of Australia”. I suppose that lots of things in the USA are named for the father of our country, Washington. Likewise you can’t walk very far in Sydney and even throughout Australia and not see something named for Macquarie.
Therefore, on our walking tour we hear lots about Macquarie. We also see old hospitals where they locked the patients in, because it was a death sentence to be treated there. Conditions were horrendous. We enjoy a little bit of the Royal Botanical Gardens, learn about Sydney Tower, monuments, early buildings and such. Honestly, without the Bryson book, it would have been meaningless.
The temperature and humidity climb, beer (or beer-ah, as they say here) is required.
Two different Sydneysiders tell us that Watsons Bay is the place to go when it gets sticky in the city. We give public transport a go and buy an opal card. This clever card allows you to use busses, ferries and trains in Sydney and its environs. You put a minimum of Australian $20, and top it off at kiosks all around as you need to add more money to it. There are discounts for the more you use it.
A Samoan teller at the tourist office sells us our cards and we strike up a little conversation. This fellow is so muscular, and so good looking, and so neatly tribally tattooed, and so friendly, he looks like a Disney version of himself. Anyway, he asks where we are from. When we travel we usually say we are from California just to be more precise. These days, we also distance ourself from the buffoon in office, by saying we are Californians. We tell Gorgeous Samoan, “California”.
He says, “USA”.
We say, “California”, with a little more meaning than before.
He had a good laugh, “Ah, ya, I get it!”
As our ferry pulls out from Circular Quay into the harbor, I am surprised at how compact this area seems. I feel like I could ALMOST swim from the bridge to the opera house. For about $5 US, we get a very pleasant 40 minute ferry ride right past the opera house, by beach suburbs and up to little Watsons Bay.
“I could live here.”, both Barry and I say simultaneously.
It’s a little beach town with rowboats in front of nice little homes and a seafood restaurant that opened in 1885. The seafood place, Doyle’s, has even added onto over the years and looks crazy charming. Before we get some Sydney Bay oysters, we need a little walk about. Though the weather is a little cooler here, it’s still damned warm. We make it to the “gap”. This is an thin strip of land between the harbor and the open sea beyond. There are rocky cliffs and an inviting hiking path. However, it is tooooo hot. The remedy is beer and fresh shucked oysters.
I don’t feel too badly when I check the Fitbit, 8.06. miles!