We just can’t go back to the US now …
11.12.2007 - 11.19.2007 76 °F
Well, that’s not really true, but Sydney was so nice, that we couldn’t help but contemplate a life without moving back to the US. The people, the harbor, the skyline, the CBD, the shopping, the food, the weather, the kid friendly venues; this city has got it all. As much as we love our favorite big cities in the US, there is no city in the states that compares favorably.
For the first time on our trip, we didn’t have to stay in a hotel. We stayed in a serviced apartment that had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a laundry room (yeah!), and a full kitchen (yeah again!). Better than that, it was on the 76th floor or the Meriton tower and had great views looking west over Hyde Park on to Bondi Junction, and we could see Airplanes land and take off from the Airport 12 km away. The Meriton tower was on the edge of the Central Business District, in a lively neighborhood, and literally sat atop a mall with some great shops, convenient restaurants, a large grocery store, and even a monorail stop. We could easily manage downtown with a quick monorail ride and a little walking. Most days, we didn’t really get started until noon or later after the boys had completed their homework, so the speed of getting around town was very nice.
Animals, Animals, Animals:
Griffin is all about animals, so we had to check out all the animal venues in the city. We had heard that there were some great places in Sydney for viewing animals; The Sydney Zoo, the Sydney Aquarium and right next to the aquarium, Sydney Wildlife World... so we of course had to see ‘em all. We started our animal adventures viewing the native animals at Sydney Wildlife World. It was great to learn little facts about indigenous animals, for instance, did you know that if a stick insect looses a leg in an accident, it can grow a new one, or did you know that during mating, a female praying mantis may bite the male’s head off.. see the photo for the rest of the incredible (though predictable) fact. We also got up close and personal with some Koala Bears for some photos … who, just like Pandas, are super cute. However, unlike pandas, aren’t really bears, are perpetually high on Eucalyptus leaves , and present no risk of gouging your eyes out. From there, we ventured over to the Aquarium which featured underwater glass tunnels that allowed you to view fish around and above you. Sharks, Rays, Turtles, and giant cod swam around us and made us all feel so relaxed. .. Carol came nose to nose with a turtle and she swears it followed her around the tank. I think it just might have – perhaps foreshadowing for events later in the trip? A little more about the Zoo in a minute.
Skate boarding in Australia is like nothing I’ve seen in America, and we’ve only seen the Sydney area so far. The boys skated Maroubra, Bondi and Monster , which were the parks we researched from the states and each park was better than the last. Not only that, the ability of the skaters was off the charts. Young kids, 20 year old and even 40 year old skaters were fantastic. It seems every community has a skate park, and in beach communities like Maroubra and Bondi, the parks are right on the boardwalk. We took the bus to Maroubra, a beach town toward the south of Sydney that was very local and apparently used to be a pretty sketchy neighborhood, sporting race riots a few years back. It seemed to be a pretty nice community beach and I’d wager a place ripe for investment as it swings up. Carol and I hung out on the beach as the boys skated. I tried to skate but my knees were toast. Taking the bus to and from Maroubra was super easy and made the Sydney area seem so small (it isn’t).
I have a buddy that I’ve known for some time who lives on Bondi Beach. Julian Holman is a super-fun, high-energy Aussie who is virtually impossible not to like. I hit it off with him the first time we met, and we’ve stayed in contact ever since. We were lucky that Julian was in town given his hectic schedule, and he arranged a breakfast at his business partner’s condo (Daniel Haigh) in Bondi Junction. The breakfast was awesome, and we took in the views from Daniel’s top floor apartment. We could see downtown Sydney and the water toward Bondi Beach as we ate our breakfast. After a delicious breakfast and great conversation with Daniel, Julian and their significant others ,(Lucia and Tanya respectively), we were off to Bondi beach so the boys could have a skate and Carol and I could lay out and swim or body surf. As it turned out, there was a press conference and peaceful protest at Bondi Beach that day protesting the Japanese slaughter of Humpback whales. To gather media attention, an American artist was trying to break a world record by creating a giant mural of a humpback whale, out of human bodies on the beach. Carol and I thought it would be novel to be a part of this, so while the boys skated, we joined the throng of nearly 2,500 people that created the outline of a humpback whale. Surfers, shoppers, grandmas and kids sat on the sand in the outline of the whale, while an aborigine blew whale songs on a didgeridoo. Helicopters hovered overhead and took pictures of the mural which garnered local media attention, but unfortunately didn’t break the world record, (hard to believe there was one to break). It was fun nonetheless, we learned some new things about whaling issues, and we met some great people that had also decided to be a part of this event. We picked up Griffin and Parker at the skate park and watched them throw down with some of the locals who were pretty skilled. It was fun seeing both the boys improving and gaining confidence in the mix with other skaters.
Monster Skate Park:
The boys and I left our condo at noon after studying to take the train to the Sydney Olympic Park where the new Monster skate park was built only two years earlier. Again, lending to the sense that this big city was small, getting there was a breeze in spite of it being 20km or so out side of the CBD. We had to transfer trains only once and the second train dropped us to within 600 meters of the park. The trains were clean , comfortable, fast and quiet, and made us all realize how cities like LA or even the bay area suffer from a lack of reasonable public transportation. This skate park was insane with outdoor wooden ramps, an indoor street section and a on-site shop. Also insane was the number of skaters. There must have been 200 or 300 skaters celebrating Monster’s second anniversary. A competition was being held and the boys recognized some of the skaters from skate videos and U-Tube. The quality of the skaters was incredible – and both Parker and Griffin held their own, but steered clear of the competition area until it was open for casual skating. I was ready to strangle the announcer of the event who belted loud “wooohooos!!” and nicknames, and phrases into the microphone without noticing that his comments were being broadcast at approximately one billion decibels to the entire park “ YAH JESSE!! LAYIN DOWN A 360 FLIP TO AN OVERCROOK GRINDAH!! YAHHHH JESSE! Followed by me and a few other folks “FREAKIN SHUT UP DUDE!” The train ride back to town was uneventful, but we had to switch trains a couple more times due to a track repair closure. Carol took the opportunity to hunt for some last minute things in downtown Sydney for Griffin’s Birthday which was taking place the next day.
Griffin turned 11 in Sydney and called all the shots for his special day. He decided we would start our day by taking the Ferry to the Sydney Zoo, then either going to Monster Park again, or doing a street skate all over Sydney’s CBD. We would follow this by opening presents, eating Pizza in our room and watching scary movies until late. That is the perfect day for Griffin. It was about 80 degrees and beautifully sunny. We took a Cab to the Ferry which takes you across Sydney Harbor to the Zoo. From the Ferry we were treated to gorgeous view of downtown, the opera house and the rocks, so pretty it felt almost cliché, where every picture we took reminded us of a post card or advertisement we had seen before. Incredible. The Sydney Zoo is the most gorgeous zoo we have ever been to, and we had debates about whether San Diego or Sydney was the best. Sydney is smaller than San Diego, but it is well laid out a bit more walk-able, cleaner, and has the great views of the Harbor and Skyline. We cruised the Zoo for a few hours and took in the animals and then took the Ferry back. We wouldn’t have time to go to Monster again as it turned out, so Parker, Griffin and Dad got on Skateboards and skated all over downtown, skating from our Hotel all the way to the Opera House, through the Rocks (the original settlement of Australia), and almost all the way back to the Hotel through Darling Harbor. The kids stopped all over town to do tricks when they saw a spot they recognized from their favorite skate videos. The kids would gasp excitedly when they recognized one, in the same way an artist might gasp when coming upon a well known piece at the Louvre. The kids got pretty tired on the skate back to the hotel and so we caught a very quick cab. We ate Pizza, opened presents and watched “Lady in the Water” and another unmemorable scary movie that kept us up past midnight. We needed some sleep because the next day was planned to be a big one.
I met a business friend of mine for lunch in Sydney the second day I was in town. He had always said “when you come to Sydney, you must look me up and we’ll do lunch or take in a surf or something”. I didn’t expect to be retired when I got there and was hesitant to visit, but after some encouragement from some friends at Microsoft and yahoo, decided to ask James Packer if he’d like to do lunch. He said sure and so we had a great lunch and a lively conversation. James is an excellent businessman, a great guy that anyone would be glad to have a pint with, and someone who is incredibly unassuming. At the end of lunch, James asked if the family would like to take the boat out. I thought that would be a lot of fun and said sure. I had no idea what to expect. I talked to the captain of the boat and asked if 4 friends could come along and he said no worries, and so I invited Julian, Daniel, Tanya and Lucia. When we showed up at the designated boat dock (at the opera house), I was astounded to find a 110 foot Yacht with a 43 foot tender boat to take us back and forth the Yacht. This “boat” had a full crew, a fantastic chef, and sported a couple of living rooms, four bedrooms, two 4,000 horse power diesel engines, and a couple of Jet Skis for having some more fun. We were flabbergasted. We cruised to Palm Beach and dropped anchor in a protected bay. We dove off the sides of the boat and swam around. The back of the boat opened up and two Wave Runners were hoisted out by electric winch. Griffin was taken to a secluded shore about 600 meters away, where he built a fort and hunted for Geckos, while Parker and all the adults raced around on the wave runners (which could go 90kmph), swam, dove and listened to great tunes. Carol swam to “Griffin’s beach” and both were brought back on a Wave Runner. At the end of the day, we were all pulled on a “tube” just like you would on a ski boat behind the wave runners. That was incredible and the highlight of our Sydney visit to be sure.
When we arrived back at the dock, the kids just wanted to go to the condo, so gave them the keys and cab fare and off they went. The adults stopped for drinks at the opera house and had a great dinner at the Rocks. What a perfect end to a perfect week in what feels like the perfect city – ahhhh Sydney. We’re coming back for sure, but we’re not sure we can really leave…