Tuesday, November 3, 2009
We woke up early, too early for breakfast at the hotel. The weather was really nice outside, so instead of waiting for breakfast, we just headed out, figuring we'd find something on the way. We walked down Kent and Sussex Streets to Darling Harbour, and got breakfast at Baia. We went to a restaurant named Baia in Cape Town, so we figure that Baia must mean something. As it turns out, it means "Bay" in old Portuguese.
After breakfast, we headed over to the Sydney Aquarium. Crystal finally got to see one of her favorite animals, the platypus (video here). It, and the echidna, are the only two mammals that lay eggs. As if that was not weird enough, the platypus has a bill like a duck, a tail like a beaver, feet like an otter, and the males are venomous - they have spurs on the hind feet that deliver venom strong enough to cause great pain to humans. When they were first discovered - and pelts were sent back to Europe - the Europeans thought it was a hoax. In addition to the platypus (which also has no universally agreed upon plural - we called them platypu), the Aquarium had lots of other odd and unusual animals. One was the dugong (which looks a bit like a manatee - video here) and a bunch of odd-looking rays and sharks (shark video here). We also saw crocodiles and fairy penguins again - this time a little closer and with better light.
After we left the aquarium, we went right next door to Wildlife World, which we had never heard of but was advertised as the "most visited" attraction in all of Australia. As far as we could tell, it was "one stop shopping" for families that wanted to show all of their kids all of the Australian animals without having to leave Sydney. In fairness, it was a very nice place, and a lot of the enclosures were well laid out, some of them even open to people walking in. We got to hang out with some kangaroos and koalas, who didn't mind that we were there one bit. One of the koalas was also active, warranting some video. We also finally saw a cassowary - as opposed to its footprints or droppings. There were lots of signs about how deadly many of the animals and insects are, but there were almost no deaths from any of them - apparently a lot of the deadliest stuff lives where people do not, and none of the animals (besides crocodiles) are aggressive. The Perentie was interesting - it looked like the lizards from Lizard Island, only with longer and really sharp looking claws.
We finished up right before noon, and as we were exiting, there were large crowds of people everywhere. It was Melbourne Cup day, and everyone was waiting for lunch parties to start. The Melbourne Cup is the biggest horse race in Australia, akin to the Kentucky Derby, but a bigger deal. It is basically a holiday, and everyone dresses up and starts partying at lunch time and through the rest of the day. We got lunch at Chinta Ria, a Malaysian restaurant in Darling Harbour. Justin had been craving Malaysian food the whole trip, and this really hit the spot. After lunch we walked around the Harbour trying to find some place not ridiculously overpriced to watch the Melbourne Cup. We didn't really succeed, but Homebar at the Tokio Hotel wasn't too bad, and we were outside and could watch all of the people walk around in their finest garb. It was comical to watch some of the people, as they were 1) intoxicated and 2) not used to walking in high heels. There were 2 ladies that walked by a couple times that looked like they might fall over on every step.
The lead up to the race was much more intresting than the race itself, which is only 3 minutes. Also, the cheering was less than expected, because there were 24 horses, all of which stayed in a tight pack for most of the race, making it impossible to tell what was going on and where your horse might be. After the race ended, we didn't wait around too much longer - we walked east to the Sydney Tower, which stands above all of the skyscrapers in Sydney's CBD (Central Business District, which the Aussies use instead of "downtown"). The views were nice, the place was touristy, but we were tourists - we could now mark the check box.
We walked up (north) George Street, then went into the Shangri-La hotel to go up to the top-floor bar, which is supposed to offer the best view in all of Sydney. We were not the only people with this idea - there was a mob of drunk people all trying to go to 36th Floor, all with no success. We asked if there was a problem with the elevator, and the concierge told us that the bar did not open until 5pm, so we and everyone else waited around for 15 minutes. When we finally got up there, they kicked us out since we did not meet their dress code - Justin was ticked off that the concierge hadn't said anything 15 minutes earlier, especially since our hotel was so close (we could have changed).
So we walked back to our hotel and decided on a plan - we were going to go to the Quay and see what interesting trip we could take out of the Harbour. We missed a boat to Manly by 2 minutes, then sat around waiting for the next boat, but in the meantime decided that we didn't want to go to Manly - it would be too late by the time we got there to do anything too interesting. We ended up walking around the Botanic Gardens for a bit. They were nice, but a bit like Adelaide's garden, the Sydney Gardens didn't offer too much that we don't already have in San Diego (or our own garden for that matter). On top of that, there were flies everywhere, and they were driving us crazy. Crystal told Justin to give up swatting at them, to which he responded "I'll quit when they're all dead - each and every one of them." So yes, they were driving us crazy.
We left the Gardens and walked around the Quay area, looking for potential places for dinner. Two restaraunts that looked nice - Quay and Wildfire - were ridiculously expensive. This was becoming a trend. Nearly all of the restaurants and bars we had come across in our first 24 hours in Sydney were jaw-droppingly expensive, and it was having a detrimental impact on our enjoyment of the city. Usually we splurge on our holidays, but we couldn't do it here, at least not at these prices. Plus, to be frank, none of the food we had in Australia was memorable - Jasmin and Chinta Ria being exceptions. In the end, we just walked back to our hotel, just thirsty, but the convenience store across the street was closed. Fortunately the proprietor got back in a couple of minutes and we got some water and soda. The bar downstairs was still packed with Melbourne Cup patrons, but we weren't in a partying mood. We were just watching TV for awhile, and then we heard a fight that sounded like it was right outside our door. Two guys were screaming at one another and wrestling or punching too. There was more screaming, then some broken glass - at this point the fight had been going on for 5 minutes. No one was coming to break up the fight, making us think that perhaps the owner was one of the parties to the fight. After it calmed down, we went out and got dinner at a Thai place we had seen earlier in the day while walking to Darling Harbour.