Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sydney, part II

So far, we have been walking around Sydney without a camera. This is not because I didn't think ahead and bring batteries AND a battery charger. This is because we accidentally blew up our battery charger and its contents when we plugged them into the adapter in the hotel room. (Note: Adapter, not converter.) Oops. Anyway, we figured the convenience store across the street would have batteries, and we knew we'd be paying tourist prices for them, but that's what happens when you do dumb stuff and have to rely on a convenience store across from your hotel. Anyway, we grabbed the batteries, and the guy rang them up and said, "That will be $30." I said, "Is that right?" and he turned the battery pack over to show me the price tag on the back which did, indeed, agree with his cash register. After my heart started beating again, I said, "30 dollars?? Why so much?" He seemed surprised by this. "Well, these are the lithium ones." "Are they also made of gold?" Okay, I didn't actually say that, but I was thinking it. Did I mention that these were not rechargeable? These were Energizer. I was pretty sure that I had about an hour's worth of use to look forward to from these batteries, maybe two, based on previous experience. We passed on the batteries. I'm prepared to pay tourist prices, but not $30 for batteries. My husband had been to Sydney before, so we already had a lot of pictures from there. Otherwise, I might have caved for the batteries. A few days later we finally gave in and paid $20 at another convenience store. Hey, it's better than $30. BTW, for any of you who are thinking, yeah, but that's in Aussie dollars, it makes no difference. The US dollar and the Aussie dollar are almost one-for-one right now, so it really was $30.

fter that we took the ferry over to Darling Harbour, which is just sort of the next harbor over, walkable, but my husband likes being on the water, so we took the ferry. We walked around for a while and then visited the Sydney Aquarium which was pretty cool. Near the entrance, they have a platypus, which is cool because I don't think I've ever seen one, and they're just so wierd! After that I wasn't overly impressed until toward the end where you get to walk through tunnels which go under/through one of their giant tanks, and you find yourself surrounded by lots of different sharks, big rays, and huge turtles. I could have spent hours in there. After you leave that area the overall aquarium experience picks up considerably compared to the pre-shark-tank part, in my opinion. They have lots of salt-water tanks that are very cool. I probably enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef because here I wasn't worried about drowning all the time. (More on that later.)

At the end of the day, we took a taxi back to the hotel. It was cold and my knee was pretty sore, and walking from the harbor to our hotel seemed like more than I could do. That was the night of the 3AM fire alarm where I realized that there would have been no way for me to make it down 26 flights of stairs in my gimpy condition and I would have burned alive had there been an actual fire.

The next day we walked around The Rocks where the main street was closed off for a street market. There were a lot of quality goods there, as far as street markets go. By the time we were done walking around we were getting hungry. We'd walked past a number of restaurants, but nothing looked quite like what we wanted. We thought about going back to GG espresso, which we'd been thoroughly impressed with a couple days ago, but that was all the way back by our hotel, and we were not too far from Lord Nelson's, so we decided to go back there and get a meat pie and some beer. After a fabulous meat pie and some great beer (my husband finally got to try the Nelson's Blood) we started chatting with some of the folks that were hanging out there. Turns out one of them was the brew master, whose picture you saw here . I'm going to call him Robert because I think that was his name, but I can't remember for sure. Whether his name is Robert or not, he was a very nice guy who gave us a tour of his brew operation and then plied us with free sample beer all afternoon. Quality control is important when you're the brew master! His mates, Jason, Eleisha, Tank, and Joel were all fun folks who were nice enough to let us hang out with them for the afternoon as well. Thanks guys! We had fun!

All in all, I would totally recommend Lord Nelson's Brewery Hotel. Their food was great, their beer was great, the people were friendly, and I suspect their accommodations would be great as well. Check them out if you are in Sydney!

After leaving Lord Nelson's we headed back over to Darling Harbour because I had purchased a package deal for the Sydney Aquarium and the Sydney Wildlife World. Turns out the Wildlife World was not that impressive, but I did get to pet a koala, which was as close as I got to grabbing a koala, stuffing him in my suitcase, and bringing him back home to hang out with my Basset hound as I was ever going to get. They will take your picture with the koalas as well and, of course, sell you the picture for about $20, but we ducked out after I got to pet the koala and before they tried to sell me a $20 picture...which I probably would have given in and bought, and now I kind of wish that I had because it's the only picture in existence of me and a koala. We had plans to go somewhere where I would actually get to cuddle a koala though, so we were counting on getting THOSE pictures. Never happened. Bird in the hand, people. Oh well.

That night we ate at Alfredo's, the adorable little Italian restaurant which is right next to the Marriott. They offer authentic Italian and, if you're lucky you might catch them on a night when they have live entertainment, opera if I remember correctly. Anyway, we decided to try them out, and it was terrible. It was the worst food we had the entire time we were in Australia, and it was probably the worst Italian food I've ever had. I ordered a pesto dish which was flat noodles-larger than fettucini but smaller than lasagna. I'm sure there's an official name for these, but I don't know what it is-so, anyway, big flat noodles, pesto, and olive oil. This sounds great; I eat stuff like this at home all the time. It was a disaster. You couldn't taste basil or nuts, but it was super oily. It just tasted like oil, and not even good olive oil, just oily. The parts with the sprinkled-on parmesan cheese were less nasty, but not enough so that I was able to finish my dish. My husband ordered the Penne with Italian Sausage. This came out looking like someone had dumped a can of Chef Boyardee on top of some penne. Always willing to give the chef the benefit of the doubt, he tasted it, and it tasted like it was straight out of a can. The sausage was...mealy? I know sausage is ground up meat parts, but it shouldn't be squishy. Also, it was not Italian sausage, at least not what I consider Italian sausage-spicy, flavorful, not squishy. I'm willing to allow for the fact that I've never had Italian food from Italy. I know and love my American versions of Italian food, but I'm pretty sure that this was not a matter of authenticity, especially since we were in Australia, not Italy. I think this was just bad food. I think if Gordon Ramsay had been called to consult on this place, he would have had some choice words for the head chef. There was a plaque on the wall behind us thanking Alfredo's for their service to the 2004 Olympic teams? commission? I don't remember exactly, but I remember thinking that this couldn't have been good for anybody's morale during the Olympics. Then again, a lot could have changed since 2004. Maybe ownership has changed, maybe management has changed, maybe the head chef has changed. Or maybe they just had a bad night the night we were there, but our experience was not good. I will give props to the lovely gentleman who was playing the piano. He came around and asked all the tables if there was anything he could play for them, and did his part to keep up the ambiance. So, for the entertainment, I will give Alfredo's one star.

After our disappointing dinner we returned to our hotel to find two clean, non-smoky robes hanging nicely in our closet, not draped sloppily on a wire hanger on our bed like the last one.

The next day we walked through Hyde Park. (Yes, we're still in Australia; it turns out Australia has lots of things that England had first.) Pilgrims are beginning to arrive en masse and they are walking around everywhere wearing their countries' flags as capes. I sort of have mixed feelings about this. I'm not super patriotic, but some things are just tacky. Along with the flag capes there are lots of people with guitars and lots of groups singing and generally being youthful and excited but in a good Catholic way.

From Hyde Park we walked over to the Chinese Peace Garden, which was beautiful. They have a bamboo garden area that I really liked, and I would like to do something similar in my backyard.

The gardens were very well laid out and even though they didn't cover a huge area, there were lots of places that were tucked away around a bend or down a hill so that you discovered them as you walked through the gardens, rather than being able to stand in one spot and scope everything out. Also, the temples were painted in colors that perfectly matched the winter foliage. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but I thought it was a nice touch!

After this we walked back through Hyde Park to the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain where they have a "Sex and Death" exhibit starring orchids and carnivorous plants and it's housed in the Tropical Center which is this cool glass pyrmid that reminded me of the one in front of the Louvre. I was really disappointed. For as phenomenal as the rest of the gardens are, this was a sad, sad display. Everything looked overgrown and half dead. I don't know if they were attempting to make it look "natural" but it just looked "unkempt." So, my advice would be to go check out every nook and cranny of the Botanic Gardens and Domain that you can, but don't waste your money on the Tropical Center. I would, however, highly recommend the United States Botanic Gardens in Washington DC. They're display is largely indoors, extensive, and quite well-kept. And, I didn't get mugged while I was there.

We finished off our night with another fabulous meal at Lord Nelson's Brewery Hotel, and went back to the hotel to pack up for our travel to Newcastle.

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