When any foreigner thinks of Australia, Sydney is probably the first thing they think of. For good or bad, Sydney is synonymous with Australia. It's the one city on my itinerary that was non-negotiable. In all of my plans, I eventually wanted to end up in Sydney regardless of which other parts of Oz I saw.
Many people (including me) mistakenly think Sydney is the capital of Australia. It is Australia's biggest city, but the capital is actually Canberra. Canberra came into existence much like Washington D.C. Sydney and Melbourne were competing for the title like New York and Philadelphia were in the early days in the U.S. Neither place was likely to stand for the other being the capital, so the Ozzies carved out a new state called Australian Capital Territory, and built Canberra in the middle of that to be the capital. In the U.S., DC was carved out of Virginia and the capital was built over an old swamp. This reminds me of one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes: "Washington D.C. is where we traded a thousand politicians for a million mosquitoes and got the bad end of the deal". This of course has absolutely nothing to do with Australia, unless you replace the word mosquitoes with snakes.
I flew from Alice Springs to Sydney on Anset Airlines. Anset and Qantus guys have the coolest policy toward bikes of any airline I've seen. I just let some of the air out of the tires and turned my handlebars sideways. Then they rolled it onto the plane for the trip. No disassembling and boxing up required, no muss, no fuss. I liked this as I didn't really want to have to dig up a box that would hold my bike in Alice Springs. I was figuring I'd have enough trouble with that in Sydney. Once I saw that they did that, then I tried checking with the next airline for my flight to Russia. It turns out they do the same thing, so life was good and I didn't have to disassemble it at all for the flight. That's very nice.
This is the famous Sydney Opera House, one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. You can't really be properly considered to be a Sydney Tourist unless you have at least one photo of the opera house. I kind of liked the opera house because of the story of it's construction. It took twice as long to build as planned, cost twice as much as planned, and didn't come out the way they originally thought it would. That makes it just like a typical software project, so I have to like it.
I had another friend named Beth in Sydney, and she invited me to stay in her spare bedroom. That was very nice. It's the first time in six months I've stayed in a regular house, and it made a nice change form my usual hotels. Beth also has a Canon Digital Camera, and in fact the model that's one step up from mine. She took lots of photos, so I got a lot more photos of myself in Sydney than I ordinarily get. I've even thrown up some on the photo gallery page that I didn't particularly like just because Beth found them so amusing. Beth introduced me to a bunch of her friends, and they were all very nice people. You'll see some photos in the gallery form a couple of parties I went to, and a few where I gave my camera to some young kids and let them go hog wild.
Beth was nice enough to take me to all the tourist spots in Sydney. Most of them were worth seeing, but didn't make very exciting photos. One exception is this shot of the city from Darling Harbor that Beth took. We went down there for an excellent Indian meal. I've had lots and lots of Indian food in my life because I like it very much, but these guys had very different dishes from what I was used to. That's one of the great things about traveling is that a lot of the time you find that xxx-food is completely different in one place than it is in another.
Photo Courtesy Beth
While I was in Sydney, I set up a printer for Beth. I picked up a Hewlett Packard DeskJet 840, which is a really inexpensive ink jet picture. I was flat-out amazed at how good it does at printing out digital photos. It does a pretty good job on plain old copier paper, and if you buy glossy paper it comes out just about as well as the photos I got printed photographically in Saigon. If you're interested in digital photography, you really should get one of these or something similar because they work quit well.
Beth took this action photo of me doing actual manual labor. I went out to a birthday party for one of her friends named Clarrie. Clarrie turned out to have a load of hay that needed unloading, and I obviously needed some exercise since I'd been sitting around Beth's house eating Chocolate Biscuits and getting fat for a couple of weeks. It's been years since I threw any hay, so it was fun to revisit the concept for a while. I even almost managed to work up a proper sweat during the process.
Beth had a couple of dogs that are both about the size of a Jeep, but very gentle. Nanook is some kind of Alaskan Wolf Dog sort of thing, but she could be the gentlest dog I've ever run across.
Sydney has excellent food, and probably the best selection of dining I saw anywhere in Oz. Beth and I went out to several restaurants, and most were somewhere between pretty good and excellent.
One kind of food I've never had is Turkish. The restaurant was called a Persian Restaurant, and in this case, it meant Turkish. I've been to Persian Restaurants in the U.S., but they served Iranian Food. I suspect that the term Persian could refer to any of the countries that used to be in the empire of Persia. At any rate, it was very good and highly recommended.
We also had Mongolian Barbeque which was pretty much the same as the same as the Mongolian BBQ in Mountain View. You take a bowl and fill it up with thinly sliced and frozen meat, various vegetables, and sprouts and the like. Once you have that, you pour your own mixture of sauces from a choice of about ten bowls to flavor it, and then take the whole thing up to the chef, who cooks it on a big flat grille about 2 meters in diameter. It's very good, and my only real complaint is that as usual, the hot sauce wasn't hot at all. I'm beginning to think my standards for hotness may not exactly mesh up with the average person.
The last weekend before I left Sydney, I took a ride up to the Blue Mountains just to the east. The Blue Mountains was something I originally wanted to ride based on my previous research, but I'd chopped them out when I decided to go North instead of South. Now of course, since they're right outside of Sydney and I had a bike there was really no reason not to go.
These were very beautiful and worth visiting. The first obvious good thing about them is that they were the first mountains I've been to in Oz that had a hill climb that's worthy of the name. Most of the places I've ridden, the climbs were wimpy little climbs. This one had a climb of a few thousand feet in elevation, so it was a pretty good run.
The only thing bad about this particular ride though is that I found out where all the non-bicycle-friendly drivers in Australia are. They're in Sydney. I got hassled quite a bit going out of Sydney for the motorway I had to take out to the mountains. In a way this was good, because I felt just like I was back home, but it was a bit disappointing.
As I'm writing this sitting in the Airport in Vienna, I ended up chatting with a bunch of athletes from Iran. Chatting is probably the wrong word, since I don't speak their language and they're all deaf but we had a good time for about an hour. They are on their way to Italy to compete in a world games contest. One bunch of guys consists of Greco Roman Wrestlers, and the others are a Water Polo Team. This is the kind of thing that happens all the time if you're open to it.
I know this particular anecdote doesn't really fit into Australia, but I kind of consider Vienna to be the place where I flipped the switch over from Australia to Russia.
So what's the bottom line? I really liked Australia, and I would recommend it without reservation. The average Ozzie is very friendly and outgoing, and they speak English. Australia is a much easier country to visit than the others I've been tackling. Depending on your personality and experience, that can be a good or bad thing. At some points in the trip I felt like I was just visiting another American state, but overall I didn't really have that impression. The history, culture and way of life is quite similar to the U.S., but not exactly the same. There's a lot to see here. Australia is a big place, and I just scratched the surface.
I ended the trip with 4,000 km (2,400 miles) bringing my trip total up to 6,000 km (3,600 miles). I don't look quite like Marcel yet, but if you want to see what 6,000 km on a bike will do, take a look at this photo of my belt I bought last September. I punched the last hole on the right with my Leatherman in Sydney. The previous two were punched in Saigon by the handyman across the street. I now weight exactly what I did in 1980, and I had to get my pants taken in to 34 inches, which is exactly the size I wore in 1980.
If you want to visit Australia:
Australia Photo Gallery
Next - Russia