SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – DAY ONE

Its disembarkation day, for us, and about 300 other passengers who have chosen to end their cruise in Sydney. We would have had to be up early anyway, on account of them wanting guests who are leaving to vacate their cabins by 7:30am; I’d set the alarm even earlier than that, though, in the hope of us making it up to the top deck in time to catch our arrival in Sydney Harbour.

Unfortunately, we’d arrived slightly earlier than expected. By the time we managed to get up on deck, the ship had already passed under the Harbour bridge and were in the process of parking alongside the quay. Such is the nature of the million dollar shot. Steven Spielberg would simply have ordered another take.

It didn’t matter. The view across the harbour towards the high-rise buildings of the city, with the sun rising behind them, was quite spectacular.

We had our final on-board breakfast in the bistro and dutifully waited in the Taverners Bar for light-blue luggage tags to be called. Disembarkation was relatively straightforward, and after a short period of queuing outside the cruise terminal building for an available taxi, we were soon on our way. By 10:30am, we’d crossed Anzac Bridge, checked into the Travelodge hotel and were preparing to head back out into the city. We have two days in which to explore and don’t want to waste a single moment; on Thursday, we’ll be heading home.

Out on the street, our first objective was the Victoria Building, a nineteenth-century heritage-listed building nestled in amongst modern high-rise skyscrapers and flanked by tramlines and busy streets. It was designed as a market place, and is today, still essentially, a shopping mall, but its interior is quite spectacular, and well worth the visit. With an ornate interior consisting of several floors connected by escalators, it features two very large old clocks that make noises and do things on the hour. One, the Great Australia clock, is a particularly enormous circular beast, while the Royal Clock displays six animated scenes from English Royal history. Both hang from the high ceiling. We had fun in the Victoria Building, but didn’t want to dally for too long, as we had even bigger fish to fry…

Sydney has a tower, and on this cruise, towers have been a bit of a thing for us. Having already taken the trip to the top of the Euromast Tower in Rotterdam at the start of the trip and the Sky Tower in Auckland, we naturally felt compelled to try for a hat-trick.

Sydney Tower isn’t quite as high as Auckland Tower, but the views are a little more impressive. Security was tighter too; we had to empty our pockets and pass through two airport-type scanners, and then endure a 10-minute presentation in a ‘4-D’ cinema before being allowed to take the elevator up to the top. It was well worth it, however; from the Observation Platform, we had expansive views right across the city. Below us, we could see the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with the top of the Opera House roof just visible nearby, and across the harbour we could see the Columbus parked there. In fact, we were rather surprised at just how much water there was in the area, with lots of river inlets as far as the eye could see. We enjoyed a cold drink and a snack before heading back down to ground level, where we spent lots of money in the gift shop.

From the tower, our route meandered through busy streets – some pedestrianised, others just busy – in the direction of the Harbour. Here, two of Sydney’s most famous icons are to be found very close to each other. As we approached ‘The Rocks’, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city which now mostly caters for the tourists, we could see the Opera House off to our right, and as the quayside curved off to the left, so there was the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. Between them, in Circular Quay, was parked ‘Voyager of the Seas’, an enormous, ugly floating block of flats if ever there as one.

We followed the promenade around the edge of the quayside, taking photographs as we went, and headed for the bridge. At each end of the bridge there are two distinctive concrete pylons; we were heading for what is known as the Pylon Lookout. A small glass lift carried us up to the level of the roadway, from where we were able to walk to the South-East pylon. A small entrance fee gave us access to a climb of about 200 steps, and an observation walkway, from where we enjoyed some particularly dramatic views across the bridge, and across to the Opera House and the harbour beyond. It is interesting to note that, for thrill-seekers, it is possible to climb along, and to the very top of, the bridge, under supervision and in controlled groups of course. We could see a couple of groups up there, and both Tracey and myself admitted that we’d quite fancy having a go at that. Not today, however; we’d walked too far, were tired, and it was getting quite late on… another time perhaps.

From the bridge, we started to navigate our way back towards our hotel. We paused for a beer in one of the pubs in the The Rocks, and went to take a look at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which we both agrgeed was total pants.

Our way back took us through Hyde Park, where we encountered, by the large ornate, Archibald Fountain, large numbers of fruit bats flying around. This kept us engaged for quite a long while, as we tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to film and photograph them. Gradually, we gravited towards the opposite end of the park, where the Anzac Memorial is situated.

By now, the light was fading and large numbers of locals were heading back home after a long days work. The memorial was closed, but we added it to our list of things to do tomorrow, when we will have a full day to continue our exploration of the city.

With our hotel being situated right on the fringes of Chinatown, we decided that what we fancied for dinner was a Chinese. However, as we walked through the area we soon realised that such a proposition was actually harder than you’d imagine. We found endless Thai and Korean Restaurants, interspersed with Japanese Sushi Houses. But could we find a Chinese Restaurant? Nope… In fact, we walked for quite some distance and were starting to lose hope of finding precisely what we fancied; a lot of the cafes and restaurants we saw were quite seedy looking. Eventually we changed tack and googled ‘Pizza’… at which point, things started to look up. We found ourselves in the ‘Macchiato Wood Fire Pizza & Coffee Roastery’, where pizzas were whizzed around and constructed before our very eyes, eager waiters flitted around making light work of customer demands, all accompanied by a small electric guitar and bass combo belting out standard tourist favourites. We ordered beer and pizza… we were in heaven.

In fact, the pizzas were too big for us – or, more likely, it was getting a little too late to be eating – either way, we had a couple of slices each left over for tomorrow’s dinner (our hotel room has a small kitchenette complete with microwave).

By the time we got back to the Travelodge, we were exhausted, but pleased with our first day in Sydney.

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