Sunday, April 3, 2016

Surprising Sydney

Note: We stayed in Sydney before we flew to Western Australia and then again on our return. In this blog, however, I will group the blog posts for each region together to make them easier to follow. I am also using American spelling, rather than the Australian “Harbour City.”

Sydney is a beautiful city with its water views, extensive green spaces, and tree-lined suburban streets. We liked the way that the old blends in with the new, and we were surprised that Sydney did not feel like a huge city, mainly because it’s a collection of neighborhoods.  

The trees are a type of fig tree. Aren't they beautiful?

Among the older buildings, the Queen Victoria Building is an absolute standout. We were thankful that efforts some years ago to have it torn down had failed, leaving Sydney with a unique shopping space.

Sydney is a very walkable city, and when you want to go farther afield, the metro and bus services get you quickly where you want to go. If you buy Opal cards, like Seattle’s Orca cards for public transport, you can get around quite easily and relatively inexpensively.

Our first day in Sydney, we took a tour of the Sydney Opera House. Another surprise was discovering that the opera house did not open until 1973. It is such an iconic building, and it seems like Sydney really didn’t become a world-class city until after the opera house was built,  though perhaps Australians would disagree.  The building was supposed to take 3 years and 7 million Australian dollars to build, but it took 16 years and over 100 million dollars.

The Sydney Opera House has become a fitting symbol of the city.

Part of the problem was that the Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, had provided little more than sketches when he won the competition. He only won because the Finnish-American architect Eric Saarinen joined the award panel and revisited some designs that had previously been rejected. With his support, Utzon’s proposal won.

Another reason for the cost overruns was that Utzon was a perfectionist, who demanded that everything be “just so.” The costs eventually saw Utzon deposed as head architect, so he returned home to Denmark, no doubt feeling a bit depressed. He was vindicated, however, when UNESCO named the building a world heritage site in record time, while he was still alive. And, in spite of the huge cost overruns, the resourceful Aussies paid off the debt in only 18 months, through a lottery.

We found the building much more stunning in person than in the photos we had seen before we came.

The architect had visited Central American ziggurats, for instance, and as you ascend the steps, you get the sensation of leaving everyday life behind and approaching something special, almost like entering a cathedral or other sacred space.

The details on the inside contribute to lifting your spirit.

And take a look at the close-up of the tiles that cover the roof:

The ladies room has an undulating sink bed that tilts to control the flow of the water.

They’ve also had some unusual concerts* at the Sydney Opera House, including one for dogs that played sounds only in the range of a dog’s hearing! (That concert was held outdoors, so there were no worries about the pooches fouling the interiors.)  We attended a performance there too, but in the concert hall. The acoustics were marvelous (Utzon wasn’t responsible for those). The concert was Kevin's belated birthday gift, because we had decided to celebrate his birthday in Sydney a few days late--and it was a night to remember. We heard Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, as well as Scheherazade .2 by the American composer John Adams played by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. (We much prefer Rimsky-Korsakov’s version.)

Other highlights were our visits to the Australian Museum and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.  We were particularly interested in aboriginal culture and art work. I will write more about that later—and the wonderful people we met—in another entry. For now, just enjoy the photos.

Boomerangs for the tourist, not very authentic, I'm afraid.

Addendum: Another surprise!

We were taken aback to see a UCLA Store in a mall in Sydney. I stopped by to ask if it was official. The young man who was managing the shop told me that it was official and that UCLA has several stores throughout Asia too. (Sorry, I somehow lost his email address. Maybe he'll stumble across this blog?)

And speaking of attractive young men, here's the friendly fellow who cut my hair in a barber/salon for men and women:

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