After one more sea day we arrived in what I now believe is the most photogenic city in the world, Sydney. We sailed in early (5:30 am) on Wednesday morning and our plans were to spend three full days here, flying out early on Saturday. In our heads we had some idea things we wanted to see but the only thing we had scheduled was a tour of the Opera House on Thursday afternoon that we had already purchased tickets for.
Being awake for the sail-in meant getting up around 4:30 so I could shower and be on deck by 5:00 as we entered the harbor. Sydney Harbor is huge if you look at it all the way out to the headlands near Manly. We had no idea how big it was until we went to Manly on Friday morning. Coming in the dark meant it was very hard to tell exactly where we were as Century traversed the harbor. But when she came around the corner and we could see the Opera House shining in her own lights it was amazing. I started right then taking pictures of a building that I would probably photograph 500 more times in the next three days. It is truly an amazing work of architecture and every time I looked at the building, it looked different depending on the light and the angle.
After taking pictures on deck for about an hour I went down to make sure Kathleen was awake so we could start our Sydney adventure. I found her still in bed and asked her if she liked the view outside our cabin. I opened the curtains and there was the Opera House, filling the window. The cruise ship terminal for big ships that can't go underneath the Sydney Harbor bridge is right at Circular Quay the hub of all Sydney activity and directly across from the Opera House. It is an amazing view to wake up to.
After a quick buffet breakfast onboard, we were off the ship and took a $20 (AUS) cab ride to our hotel, The Vibe. We had looked at lots of hotels in advance and would like to have stayed closer to the waterfront but I have this thing about hotels. I hate to pay more than $200 a night to stay in a hotel that isn't offering me something incredible. Don't get me wrong. We have stayed in some world-class, amazing hotels but I was lucky enough to get them all at a huge bargain. Like grabbing a wonderful room at Edinburgh's Balmoral the night after the World Cup Soccer matches for less than $150. Or finding an internet special for the Hong Kong Langham. But I could not find a single hotel near the waterfront (that we could stay in) that was under $275 a night. So I went to Trip Adviser and found a high rated hotel, near the city center and within walking distance of Sydney's superb transit system and the Vibe fit that bill perfectly. We paid less than $150 a night, it was a very nice room (see the pic) in a boutique type hotel (we love those rather than chains) and we could walk to the subway which took us everywhere in under 10 minutes.The rooms were clean, had all the needed amenities and I would not hesitate to go back and stay at the Vibe again.
When we arrived at the hotel it was about 8:45 in the morning and we did not expect to have rooms ready and they weren't. But we checked in and checked our luggage and headed out to catch the Sydney HoHo (Hop on, Hop off) bus.We had to walk about three blocks to the main railroad station, grabbed a 24-hour ticket and grabbed the first bus of the day. We highly recommend starting any visit to the city this way. It is well worth the money to see the city and get a feel for where you are. Even though we could hop off, we stayed onboard for about two-thirds of the tour and got off again in an area adjacent to the cruise ship terminal known as The Rocks. It is a great little part of Sydney that is full of fun shops and cool restaurants. We spent the morning looking at art, souvenirs, street entertainers and people still trying to get off the ship (see my note about embarkation on the Our Cruise page). We grabbed lunch at a little garden spot that we can also highly recommend. It is hard to find but really good. You can find it about one street up from the cruise terminal (The Swagman's Post Courtyard Cafe). It doesn't look like much from the outside but when you go through you find a beautiful little courtyard that is shaded from the sun and serves some great sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices.
After lunch we were back to our sightseeing and wound our way back to the HoHo bus which took us back close to our hotel where our room was now ready. After getting settled in we were back on the road headed back to finish the HoHo bus trip. We had done the "red route" in the morning that took us all over the urban part of Sydney and now we were going to switch over to the "blue route" and see the suburban/beach cities part of Sydney. Our first major stop was Australia's most famous beach, Bondi. Now I am not a beach person so I don't often get excited over beaches but this one was beautiful. The water was a brilliant blue and since it was summer vacation time Down Under it was jammed. We took some pics from the bus and continued the rest of the HoHo tour.
Our final hop off from the HoHo bus was at the Queen Victoria Building. This beautiful, old relic that has been painstakingly restored is now a very cool shopping mall. The shops were closed but the building was open and we were able to look through the entire building taking pics without a whole lot of other people getting in our way. This took us to about 6:45 pm and we were getting pretty tired after a day in the sun so it was time for a quick dinner and then to head back to the hotel for some much needed shut-eye.
The next morning we were up early and took the subway back to the Circular Quay to catch a ferry to the Taronga Zoo. First we did a quick breakfast at Starbucks and then on the ferry. If you are going to the zoo you can buy a combo pass that will get you a round trip ferry ride, zoo admission and a bus or gondola ride to the top of the zoo itself for only $51 (AUS) per person. A real bargain.
Normally we don't do zoos when we travel. The wildlife sanctuary that we had wanted to visit in Melbourne had a huge collection of Australian animals and we really wanted to see their native animals and birds in their natural habitat. But since we had missed that, we decided to hit the Taronga Zoo instead. We had also heard that there were amazing views back to the city from the zoo so we had high expectations for this zoo experience. We have been to the San Diego Zoo many times (never together) and kind of look at it as the zoo that all others are compared to. Not anymore. Now it's the Taronga Zoo. Besides amazing views they had something we had never seen in a zoo before. I am sure you have been in zoos that have aviaries filled with birds that you walk around inside of, with the birds. Well Taronga has enclosures like aviaries that not only have birds in them but animals. We found ourselves in an aviary-like enclosure with kangaroos, wallabies and emus. Amazing. We even got to pet a wallaby when helped by a very friendly zookeeper. The rest of the exhibits were just as good as were those incredible views. We spent the entire morning there before heading back to the Circular Quay by ferry. An amazing morning.
After a quick lunch at a restaurant on the Quay we walked up towards the Opera House. We had purchased tickets for the 4:00 pm tour and we had about 90 minutes to go. Even though we were pretty tired and hot we decided to hang out until 4:00 near the Opera House. We walked up to the booth where we were to pick up the tickets for the tour we had purchased online and the wonderful man inside said that we could do the 3:00 pm tour if we wanted to, so we said YES! The Opera House tour is superb. We got a great guide who took us through the entire Opera House and it is as spectacular (if a little 60ish dated) on the inside as it is on the outside. The tour runs about an hour but ours lasted longer as it was the last one of the day for our guide and we really appreciated the extra time and info he passed on to us. We would highly recommend this tour. Buy your tickets ahead of time, online and you will save some money.
After our tour we took the subway back to the hotel and while Kathleen cooled off, I looked around for a restaurant nearby we could go for dinner. My iPhone did a great job of finding us a 50+ year old Greek restaurant within easy walking distance. Greek is my favorite food to eat out. And from their menu I found that they had my favorite food in the whole world---OCTOPUS! And it was outstanding. Now, finding this new Greek place wasn't easy. It's called Diethnes Greek Restaurant and even with the address you still have to look carefully because it is in the basement of the building. But it was worth searching for. Kathleen's lamb was as good as my octopus (well, almost). After dinner we walked around a little to explore and then back to the hotel where we were watching our local Seattle news online. They were broadcasting a huge ice and snow storm that was going on back home. It was almost surreal seeing the ice and snow at home while the temps outside our hotel hovered in the high 80s with plenty of humidity.
The next morning we were up early again and back to Starbucks at the Quay and then we were off to Manly. We really had started the day by buying a full-day pass which gave us access to all the subways, monorails, busses and ferries. The pass cost $30 AUS and was really worth it. After our Starbucks breakfast we were off on the ferry to Manly the furthest out community before you leave the harbor. Our tablemates Andrew and Helen had suggested it to us and we found it to be a charming community where we could take a short walk from the ferry landing across to the ocean side of the village. Kathleen decided she really needed to put her feet in the Pacific in Australia so she dropped her shoes and while I took her picture, she did some wading. After she had cleaned off her feet and had her shoes back on we walked around the village before taking the ferry back to Sydney proper. When we arrived at the ferry terminal at Circular Quay (all ferries seem to start and end from there) we switched over to a ferry that took us to Darling Harbor, the one place we still wanted to see. There you find the Maritime Museum and a lot of other tourist attractions. We walked the entire area and grabbed lunch there. Can't really recommend the restaurant. Food was OK but service wasn't.
A note about the service Down Under. We found it underwhelming, but we had known that going into our trip. On the flip side you don't tip Down Under unless you want to. No one does. And it is so unusual that when we did leave a nice-sized tip for our waiter at the Greek restaurant (he was super) he followed us out the door to thank us profusely. I would say that most of the time the servers were the least friendly Kiwis or Aussies we met. Some were almost surly while every other Kiwi or Aussie we met were among the friendliest people we have ever met.
After lunch in Darling, we jumped back aboard the ferry and back to Circular Quay, switched to the subway and headed back to the hotel. Kathleen was just done in after three days of trekking all over Sydney with no real rest. I, on the other hand wanted to hit beautiful Sydney one more time. So while she relaxed and surfed the web I took off on a two hour trek to see some sights I had missed that were pretty much only accessible by walking. I wanted to walk all the way out to an area known as Mrs. Macquarie's Point which had another different but great view of the OperaHouse and the Bridge. I know, how many pictures can I take of the bridge? The answer to that question is NOT ENOUGH! I walked through parks, St. James Cathedral, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Government House and finally back to Circular Quay where I grabbed the subway back to the hotel. We walked to a nearby cafe for dinner and then back to the hotel to pack for our flight home early the next morning. A quick note about getting to the airport. We had heard and read that the cost of a cab to the airport was about $30. Our cab ride was $50. So beware. Thankfully I still had $100 AUS in my pockets so I was able to pay him. I am still not sure if he ripped us off or everyone else was just mistaken.
That was it. An amazing visit to an amazing city. We loved Sydney. I would have to say that it now ranks in my top five favorite cities in the world along with Barcelona, Venice, Hong Kong and Seattle. I would love to go back. I should mention that while many things are a great value in Sydney food and drink are spendy. Drinks that cost $8 at home might be $18 in Sydney. Just a note. It is a great city to get around in and a great city to photograph. The people are amazing and we would go back in a minute.