Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Aussie Diary, Day 4

(View of the Opera House from the rear. No one ever shows this angle.)

Rain , rain go away.

Steph and I have been trying to get to a beach around here since day two, but the weather has yet to cooperate with us. We awake on day 4, to see rain dive-bombing the streets below. Poop! So, we have to make a tough choice, both options we had planned to choose from today involved being outside, so, do we go to the beach (or zoo) and risk having a bad time, or do we try to find something else to do indoors? This choice paralyzes us for a while and we end up wasting most of the morning. Another thing slowing us down is the fact that we have to check out of our 5-star suite from the gods and transfer to a place we can afford which is across town and, well, not as nice to put it mildly. So we pack up our gear, bid farewell to our absurd view and we head out. We store our bags with the bellmen so we don’t have to lug them around. Just as we’re leaving the hotel, however, I run into someone I met on-line but had never met in person. Geoff Cooper is a fellow Green Bay Packer fan that I met on twitter. It just so happened he lives in Oz, and it just so happened he was going to be in Sydney the same time we were (he lives in Brisbane), and it just so happens that he was checking into the exact same hotel we were staying in, and it just so happened that we bumped into each other as he was coming in and we were going out. My Packer sweatshirt gave me away. That was crazy. It doesn’t look like they’ll be time to hook up in Sydney but we probably will in Brisbane next week.

So, we decide to go to the zoo, but after learning about how much time we need to do it well we decided that we’d wasted too much time. We call an audible and decide to wander over to the Opera House and take a tour of it instead. As I’m walking towards it I start thinking about “how many buildings in the world are as recognizable as this one?” If you were shown pictures of buildings around the world, how many would you know without a caption? Obviously ones you’ve visited or lived near would fall in that category, but what of the ones you’ve never been to? I thought of the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, The White House, things like that. If you’re compiling a list like that the Sydney Opera House has to rand in the top-5, right? So, we go on the tour and one of the first things they tell us is that the Opera House has a global recognition rating (who’s ever heard of that before? How the heck do you calculate it anyway?) of 4 billion. Meaning 2 out of every 3 people on the planet can tell you what and where this building is upon seeing a picture of it. “That’s pretty good”, I think to myself. The tour teaches you lots of interesting things about its construction: they held a design contest for the right to build the house, and the guy that one had already had his design thrown out, but they added a new judge to the panel and he insisted on seeing the entries discarded before his addition to the panel. Also, the design was way ahead of its time and no one could figure out how to build the curved roof. After years of trying, they had almost lost hope when a solution was finally found. We your some to the halls in the house, some are smaller and more intimate (400 or 500 seats), they use those for theatre and smaller one-man acts. Then they took us to the grand ballroom. Its amazing. Everything in the room is designed to add to the audio experience. The wood in the walls and on the floor, even the wood on the chairs, all are part of the plan. They tell us of the wide variety of shows that take place there from Kieth Urban to Mr. Universe competition (The Goven-ator won his title here) to sumo wrestling competitions. All happen on this stage. The organ they have built is truly a sight to behold. You can see it in the front of the room, 138 pipes standing tall and proud and you think “man, that’s a lot of pipes”. Then they tell you that there are 10,000 more pipes behind the wall that you cannot see. The organ took 10 years to build and an additional 2 years to tune. My God. As you continue along the tour they have video where they tell you more about the building of the house. The architect who designed was (he dies in 2008) the only person alive to have a structure he designed given World Heritage status during his lifetime. A great honor.

(The wife and I atop one of the pylons of the Harbor Bridge.)

After the tour we decide to climb one of the pylons of the Harbor Bridge. If you have paid for the Bridgeclimb experience, then they throw this one in for free. Otherwise you pay. It may surprise you to learn that the pylons have no structural significance to the bridge at all. They’re purely decoration. We ran into a couple from Wisconsin on the way up the bridge, and as I was wearing my Packer hoodie (its cold in the wind in Sydney this time of year) we had much to discuss. The view from the pylon is similar to the one atop the bridge, obviously, just not as high. They have a lot of facts and figures about the construction of the bridge there, but we heard most of them on the tour when we climbed it.
It was then time to face the grim reality that we were no longer guests of the Shangri-la. So, we go by and get our bags from the porters, catch a cab to the new hotel (which shall remain nameless since I’m ashamed of it). After weeping a bit over the downgrade in accommodation, the wife and I set out to the Queen Victoria Building to find a Pandora store so Steph can buy a charm to commemorate our trip (its our little tradition). So, we brave the subway system for the first time and we get to the mall in time to discover that it closed just as we got there. The woman at Pandora tells us about another place where we can get a charm, so we do. We the head back to Darling Harbor for dinner. It must be prom night because there are hundreds of sweet smelling, finely dressed teenagers everywhere. Strange sight on a Wednesday night, but we roll with it. On the way to dinner we run into a professional street performer named Paul who claims to have been doing this for 10 years. We stop and watch his show for light amusement. He juggles 5 balls at once to start, then moves up to knives. He then blows up a long slender balloon (like the one you make balloon animals with) and proceeds to swallow it whole. Yeah, it was crazy. The coup de grace is the escape from a strait jacket wrapped in chains, Houdini style. He asks me and another guy to help. I got him strapped in the suit and helped tighten the chains. He then gave me the mike and had me time his escape counting down from 3 minutes. I lead the audience in a countdown from 10, and he made it in the nick of time. After another kangaroo filet dinner (yes, I’m doing it as often as I can while here) It was off to the roach motel for a quick sleep. The zoo awaits us tomorrow...

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