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From the Land Down Under

Today is March 20, 2015 and my third day in Sydney, Australia. I was supposed to be here last week but due to the recent storm activity in the Pacific Rim area I was unable to make a flight until Monday night. I flew out Monday night at 10:35pm and arrived in Sydney at 7:20am on Wednesday, March 18. I flew backward over the International Dateline and missed Tuesday altogether, which is extremely unfortunate because it was St. Patrick’s Day and my second favorite holiday (first on my list is Thanksgiving – sorry Santa). Fortunately for me (and the flight crew) I slept through most of my 15-hour flight so I was not in terrible shape when I arrived here and decided that it would be a great idea to go in search of the Sydney Opera House as soon as I set my pack down. This was maybe a bit optimistic and by the time I returned to my room several hours later I was sunburned, sore, and exhausted. I fell over on my bed at 3:00pm that afternoon (somewhere around 9:00pm California time in my head) and slept until 6:30am the following morning (just after noon PST).

I awoke Thursday morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to tour the Sydney Opera House, the only solid plan I had made before leaving the Bay Area. My gusto was short-lived. Halfway to the Opera House, at a bit past 8:00am, I realized that my cute black flats were a poor choice of footwear for the walk. That thought had occurred to me while getting dressed but I was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at that particular moment and decided I would just walk a little slower. One does not walk slowly in the Sydney sunshine while wearing polyester. I was halfway through the botanical gardens – an otherwise beautiful walk – when my polyester dress started to stick. At first it just stuck to my back. Then it started sticking to my arms a bit. By the time I got to the Opera House ten minutes before my tour started I looked like I had just been thrown in a swimming pool. The lady behind the ticket counter must have thought I had fallen in the harbor on the way over.

Thankfully the Opera House has air con (we shorten things on this side of the world – like bottle-o, which evidently means bottle shop) and I was soon back to the proper temperature. The tour was incredible and I can now add the fact that there are 1,056,000 white- and cream-colored tiles covering the outer shells of the Sydney Opera House to my list of conversation starters. Among the interesting things I learned while on the tour is that the architect who designed the building never saw his masterpiece completed because he had a falling out with the premier who took over for the original one in charge when the project started. The project was estimated to take three years and cost 7 million dollars – by the time Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth dedicated the building in 1973 the Sydney Opera House had taken 16 years and cost 102 million dollars. Our tour guide said that Australians like to think optimistically – and that they have the highest gambling rate per capita in the world (a lottery actually paid for the construction budget overruns).

Before my tour started the lady at the ticket counter told me that they were offering a special on tickets to the day’s events for people who had gone on the tour but that I was going to be late so if I came back after the tour she would tell me all about it. I’m pretty sure she was just trying to get me away from her counter as I was starting to create a puddle on the floor; my tour did not leave for another ten minutes after I got down to the meeting point. But return I did and she said they had an open seat in row M for $50 – usually a $300 ticket – to Madama Butterfly. I love Puccini so I jumped at it. I had nine hours to kill before the show started so I headed back to my room. By this time it was now about 10:30am. I was still wearing the same cute black flats and the same polyester dress. I could have swum across the harbor instead of walking back around it through the botanical gardens and I would have looked better on the other side. By the time I got back to my room I was a disgusting, sweaty mess but now I had a deeper sunburn on my neck (because I forgot about the sunscreen I had purchased the day before that I had purposely put in my bag for the walk) and a blister on the bottom of each of my feet. I was dripping and hobbling along Victoria Street, fabric clinging to my skin, slightly hunched over for having purchased three liters of water on my way back while still carrying my full-to-the-brim blue sling bag, and it occurred to me that I must look like Quasimodo after he’d fallen in the fountain during the Festival of Fools. So much for bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

I did, however, finally make it back to my room. Unfortunately, all the stress from traveling and my inability to stay hydrated caught up with me and I had to go the local clinic for yet another UTI. I purchased travel insurance before I left but it does not work like regular health insurance. You pay the bill and then submit all the receipts and forms to the insurance company and hope for reimbursement. So, $120AUD later I had medication and a pile of receipts. Australian clinics are a unique experience for three reasons: (1) they have a national healthcare system that is efficient and cost-effective; (2) they did not send anything off to a lab anywhere, they did all tests four feet from me and determined that I do indeed have a UTI; and (3) the whole visit, including the part where the receptionist moved me up the queue because I was going to be late for my opera, took me less than an hour and cost me about $100USD. That included the $23USD spent on a weeks worth of nitrofurantoin. When I told her that Cipro did not work for me she said they did not like to prescribe it unless they really needed to because it costs so much. Incredible.

I made it out of the doctor’s office with plenty of time to spare so I talked to reception and had them explain the best way to get back to the Opera House (I was, under no circumstance, going to show up to an opera looking like a wet cat). As it turns out Sydney has an underground train system. I love trains so I was completely stoked. My elation lasted long enough for me to get to the bottom of the escalator and through the turnstile. I bought an Opal card and looked at the train route map. I would like to note here that I am a well-educated woman, and I would like to think that I am at least slightly above average in intellectual capability. I could see different lines with different colors and the names of stops. That is where my comprehension ended. There are different platforms but no clear indication of which train is going in which direction. There are monitors that have a rolling list of stations but you have to accurately locate your platform (26 of them at the Central stop) before you can stand in front of the monitor and wait for it to scroll down to a stop you recognize that may or may not be in the direction you are going. By that time the train you were hoping to get on has come and gone three platforms over and two platforms up. I will say that the people who work in the station must understand that their system was designed by blind cave goblins because they know every stop on every line and which platform you need to be on to get there. I have yet to ask a station worker for direction that did not give me a correct answer instantly. I no longer bother with the map.

I successfully navigated the train system (with the help of a talented station worker at every junction) and made it to the Opera House well ahead of my 7:30pm show time. I went upstairs to the popup bar and had a glass of prosecco and a caprese salad while watching the sun set over the harbor. It was magnificent. The opera was less so. The opera hall was not as spectacular as the concert hall, which I did not really notice that morning on the tour because there were only twenty of us in the hall. The seat spacing was off so the people were a bit crowded causing some, like the lady next to me, to have to sit up very tall to see over the person in front. The performance itself was good but there was nothing outstanding about it and throughout the performance I was continuously distracted by the monitors with the English subtitles (Madama Butterfly is written in Italian). The Sydney Opera House may be a stunning architectural masterpiece but I will take American theatre any day; I was nearly asleep by the end of Act II. However, there was a little boy that was absolutely darling and the only member of the cast to receive a full standing ovation at the end. Afterward I trekked back to the Circular Quay (pronounced ‘key’) station, got on the train going to wrong way, and had to double back to my crossover point. This is reason number two why I no longer bother with the map.

Today I went back to The Rocks and went to the Friday Foodie Market. I had some of the best gyoza I have ever had from one of the street vendors in the market. When I told the guy working that I was a practicing vegetarian while traveling because of food safety concerns he assured me that I was in Australia, not the Congo, and had nothing to worry about. Australians eat an unbelievable amount of meat – finding anything vegetarian on a menu is rare. I also had a mini latte cupcake that had coffee flavored frosting on a chocolate cake that was amazing. The frosting was very dense and sugary – it was delicious. Sydney is absurdly expensive and much too warm for my taste (it is supposed to be autumn here) and the people are not very friendly unless you ask them a direct question but I am glad I can check “See an opera at the Sydney Opera House” off my bucket list. This weekend I will be traveling to Bondi beach and the Blue Mountains (weather permitting). I’ll post pictures as soon as I can get them out of my camera.

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