Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Aussie Diary, Day 3

(Me and Steph atop Sydney Harbor Bridge)

I was given a breathalyser test yesterday. Its not what you think, though. I'll get to that in a moment...(how's that for a tease?)

Well, as you can see from the picture, we made it. I was really concerned going into the climb about my own physical abilities to make the climb. As you know by now, we've walked a TON since we've been here. My calves feel like beef jerkey now. So, I was worried about having to take a lot of breaks or just breaking down in general. So, after free buffet breakfast (thanks again AMEX!) we walk down to the station where the BridgeClimb takes place. You go in and the first thing you see is a wall-of-fame with all the celebs who have done the climb. This makes you feel like you're in the right place, brilliant marketing. Steve Irwin, Lawrence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Al Gore, Will Smith, the Prince of Whales etc., all of them have stood where you're standing. This gives you an inflated sense of your own importance, but what's a little delusion between friends, eh?. So, as we're standing around waiting to get suited up to climb, we see people coming off of their climbs who are much older and in much worse physical shape than we are, this gives us confidence. We then are called into the queuing area where they go over the do's and don'ts and all the other preparations you need. We were all given a breathalyser test to make sure we don't go up loaded, this was the first time I've take one of these tests and hopefully I never have to do it again. There are only two other people in our group, a father and son duo up from Melbourne, who are there to celebrate the son's 18th birthday. Tim and Jake were there names, in-case you were wondering. A joke is then made about Jake passing the breath test since 18 is the drinking age down here. (Nugget: The US has the most restrictive drinking age in the world, and the most alcoholics. Why do you think that is?) Having only four people in a group is a treat since they max out at 14 usually, its almost like a VIP experience. We are given a great guide, Melissa, she has been working here for 10 years but you'd never know it from how much enthusiasm she had for the work and how personable she was. She made the trip what it was. We had booked what the call the Discovery Climb, which is a climb that takes you through the middle of the bridge where you can see and learn about a lot more (the other climb goes up the outer arch) and since we're on the inside, the climb is more gradual until the end when you have to climb straight up for a bit. They take time in the climb with a lot of breaks built in, "this is a good idea" i think to myself. Melissa tells us about every building, boat, and factoid of note as we have the most amazing 360 degree view of Sydney and can see it all. The climb is 3 1/2 hours, so we have a lot of time to talk and chat and since we're only 4, its a very personalized experience. Needless to say (why do people say that? If its needless to say, then why say it?), it was an unforgettable moment. I highly recommend it if you're ever down under.

Remember when I said on day 1 that I hoped prices here were looking inflated because we were in an airport? Well, we weren't so lucky. Prices here are INSANE. $4 for a soda, $30 for a souvenier t-shirt, $17 for 6 AA batteries. Like I mentioned before, the exchange rate to the US dollar is the same, so, I really paid that much for battaries. Its almost as if they priced their items when their currency was worth a lot less; now that it's pulled even with the US (or has ours just gone down?) they figured "hey! they're already paying, why stop now???) The good thing is tipping isn't required in restaurants and tax is rolled into the listed price of goods/services (what a concept!), but it doesn't reduce the shock when you spend $18 on a single cocktail (yes, I did that). ). Our friend Doug told us that Sydney has higher prices than the rest of the country, so, we’re hoping for a bit of relief when we leave.
The climb ended at around 5ish, we bought a few souvenirs and headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit before dinner. We’re trying to pinch pennies wherever we can, so I look up some restaurants that won’t break the bank (this is difficult to do because our free hotel is in one of the highest-end districts in the city and the food is priced accordingly). So, we finally decide on a place called Pancakes at the Rocks. It looks like a mix between an IHOP and a BBQ joint, but it has a lot of history and its not too long a walk (a key criterion at this juncture). Here is another opportunity to tell you about another feature of this section of Sydney for which we were not prepared: the town (at least around here) is tiered. Think of it like a bowl: near the water is the center of the bowl and is therefore the lowest point, buts as you head away from the water, the city climbs and climbs, so as you’re looking at a map (with an aerial view) it may look as if two streets run parallel to one another, but in reality one is 20 feet higher up than the other and you have to find a flight of stairs (sigh) and climb up to reach it. These stairs are not easy to find either, so, a trip that looked simple at the outset when looking at a google map in the end takes forever and over a mile of wandering. At this point my legs are convinced that I’ve turned against them and are planning a revolt, I can feel it coming any day now.

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