Takin' it to the Bridge

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
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Saturday, February 7, 2004

Tuesday February 3rd

Today, Adventurous Travel Dude was back in Serious Sightseeing Mode. I hopped on the ferry at Gladesville and took the 20 minute ride down the Paramatta River, past sumptuous riverside houses with their expensive boats tied up by the back door, towards the famous Sydney harbour. The hulking Harbour Bridge loomed before me with the Opera House appearing beneath it like a plate of pregnant clams. If it wasn't for the rain and the Japanese tourists in the way, it would have made for quite a picture.
I got off at the bustling Circular Quay ferry dock and wandered between the numerous coffee-shops and street entertainers and headed for the one of the most unique and recognizable buildings in the world, the Sydney Opera House. The radical design caused much controversy during its construction, but since being opened by the Queen in 1973 it has become, like Uluru, an Australian icon.
From there, I walked around the waterfront to the botanical gardens and the headland called Mrs Macquarie's Chair, looking back towards the postcard image of the Opera House with the Harbour Bridge - or Old Coathanger as Melburnians call it - in the background. After taking in the view (which included hundreds of lunchtime joggers sweating and panting their way around the park) and reading the paper I continued my walking tour of the city, making my way to the docks at Woolloomooloo and the seedier part of town called Kings Cross where I saw two smackheads fighting on the street corner (which made a nice change from watching drunk Aboriginals fighting on the street corner). As I made my way through Oxford Street, Paddington and then back towards the city at Hyde Park I wondered why they had nicked all of the names from London (there's even a Bexley). Maybe it's because they were named by the convicts to remind them of home, in which case there must surely be a Peckham and a Brixton around here somewhere.
Still walking, I made it across to Darling Harbour, up to the Harbour Bridge before catching the last ferry back to Gladesville.

Wednesday February 4th

After yesterday's exertions I had a bit of a lie in and spent the morning helping Paul clean out the garage and put up bookshelves. Whilst I was more than happy to help, it was my first act of work in over 3 months and it did not come easy. Lord knows what it will be like going back to work when I make it home! But I have a few more months before I have to worry about that.
Paul went off to work that afternoon and I decided to take a trip out to Jonny Wilkinson Stadium (in case you seppos have forgotten, that's the Olympic venue formerly called Stadium Australia where we won the rugby world cup last year). After waiting over half an hour for the bus in the rain I gave up and went back home to see how long it would take CNN to mention Janet Jackson. It was about 35 seconds.
That night I had arranged to meet Julie the running, cycling, swimming, tree-hugging Sydneysider who was on the camping trip to Alice. I hopped on the train south to Oatley to meet her and her sister, who it turns out had lived and taught in Bexleyheath for two years. We had been practically neighbours, and she even had good things to say about Kebabies. It seems that it already has an international reputation!

Thursday February 5th

One of the must-do things in Sydney is to climb the Harbour Bridge. This had been recommended to me, and I had seen the ant-like processions going up the bridge when I was in the city the other day, but I decided to wait until today because the weather was supposed to be perfect. It was.
The last bridge I had climbed was the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac in Washington when a friend (he knows who he is) suggested after a few beers at a hockey game that we take a boat out at night and climb inside the pylon to the walkway below the road. Whilst that was, um, fun fortunately this bridge climb is a bit more professional. It takes about 3.5 hours to complete, following a comprehensive safety briefing, including a breathalyzer test. After signing the obligatory 'if you die you can't sue us' declaration, we were kitted out in very attractive all-in-one grey jumpsuits and radio headsets so that the tour leader could give us a running commentary. So we couldn't drop anything on to the cars below we were not allowed to wear watches or jewellery or to bring wallets or cameras. This meant that you had to buy their pictures of you at the top - other than the free complimentary group shot they gave you.
I was in with a group of chicks from the Australian Marie Claire magazine on a team-building exercise and a couple from Sydney, meaning, unusually, that I was the only pom in the group.
Before we started climbing we had to walk along a gangway high above the river and just below the roadway, waving at the pedestrians craning their necks to see if any of us would fall. Then we climbed up ladders to emerge between two lanes or rushing traffic, before making it to the steel frame proper. By now the wind was picking up but as we were attached by cable there was no way we were going to fall off. I hoped.
We posed for photos on the way up, and again at the summit for the group shot. The sky was amazingly clear and not only did we look down on the harbour and Opera House, but we could see all the way to the Blue Mountains about 100 miles away. Completed in 1932 the bridge remains the highest single span bridge in the world with the summit 134 metres above the water, or to put it another way, if I jumped off it would take about 4.5 seconds before smashing into the water.
We eventually made it down, totally exhilarated despite being rather tired and windblown. The pictures they took of me were good - naturally - but they wanted GBP15 just to put them onto a CD. I politely told them to shove it, so the pictures I've posted here I nicked from their website.
After the climb I met Paul in the city as he had tickets to see Bryan Ferry (yes, that Bryan Ferry: the 'suave sophisticated king of cool' from Roxy Music) in concert. It was a good show, after which we had a few beers and by the time I got to bed I was exhausted.

Friday February 6th

I had booked a cheapo flight up to Cairns in the tropical north of Queensland, and arrived late afternoon. For the next couple of weeks I'll be making my way down the east coast before ending up back in Sydney at the end of the month.
What a difference in climate! Wet, grey and very humid - but then again it is the middle of the rainy season (or The Wet, as they call it). I had a quick walk around the small city centre, making sure to avoid the fighting drunk Aborigines on the street corner. Cairns is a gateway to the oldest rainforest in the world, as well as the Great Barrier Reef. So over the next few days it looks like I'll be getting wet one way or another!
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