|Water taxi at the Darling harbour|
Australia is a relatively young country, unknown to the western world until the late 1700s, and only becoming an independent nation in 1901. So, if you're looking for a surfeit of historic sites and castles, you won't really find it here. However, this isn't to say that the country hasn't been inhabited by indigenous folks before it became a nation. In fact, Australia is said to be the world's oldest landmass. Thanks to my Uber driver during rush hour Sydney traffic, I learned the abbreviated history and the political issues surrounding the Australian aboriginal people.
The Pecking Order
|Main quadrangle at University of Sydney|
Some of my meetings were at the Australian universities, and University of Sydney's New South Wales campus wowed me. It's the oldest University in the country, and the buildings are made primarily of sandstones. The grounds have sitting areas scattered everywhere - people friendly and animal friendly too! I especially enjoyed the roaming ibis with their unique downcurved bill.
What I enjoyed the most in Sydney is the different street fauna. Walking around the city and seeing all these new animals for the first time reminded me of the first time I saw squirrels in California when I first arrived in the United States. Then the raccoons in Florida during night time. I didn't care that they were ransacking the garbage cans! They were adorable... from afar!
A runner I met in Melbourne gave me a Sydney tip - if you want a good view of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour bridge, take the walk along the Royal Botanic Gardens to Mrs. MacQuarie's Chair point. Boy, was he right! The eucalyptus trees' scent filled the air, the squawking Cockatoos kept me company during my walk. I couldn't believe how common these sulphur-crested Cockatoos were. I didn't even need my binoculars as they were just a few feet above me. And these weren't the only crested birds I saw. The crested pigeons I nicknamed "rockstar pigeons".
But of course, nothing screams Sydney than the picturesque Opera house, with more than 8 million people visiting to see it each year. That's insane! I was trying to figure out what the structure reminded me of - wings... lobster claws... my husband's scary guitar nails for finger picking... It turns out I was partly right, the Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, who won the design competition was inspired by nature in general - bird wings, clouds, walnuts, palm trees, shells. I can't see all of those, but I was never good with that ink blot test either. Anyway, the shells design was inspired by peeling an orange back. Oh-kay. I'll take it. By the way, while you can't really get a bad view of the Opera house, but for another great shot, take a ferry ride. My sister-in-law and I took a ferry to Watson's bay, and it was a short, fun ride!
|How about a bridge climb for a bird's eye view of the Sydney Opera House?|
|Where are all the birds??|
I don't know what it was with birds and me on this trip, but I just saw birds everywhere in Sydney. Except when I didn't.
One place I purposely visited after a full day of meeting was the "Forgotten Songs" Sculpture. The sculpture remember and mourns the calls of Sydney's lost birds, 50 of them, lost to Sydney's urbanization. I especially loved that this sound sculpture is tucked away above Angel Place between busy streets - should be easy to find, yet very easy to miss - it's location profound and makes you contemplate even more how the city's development is closing in.
Now, let's talk briefly about Sydney fashion. I have to say that if Melbourne reminded me of Philly, Sydney is just like mini-New York. The majority walked around the Central Business District (CBD) in dark colors and all shades of black. I felt like a sore thumb in my bright orange dress. In spite of proximity of the city to the beaches here, like Bondi (pronounced Bond-eye as my good friend corrected me), locals don't necessarily wear beach casuals like Californians do. The Strand Arcade, Sydney's shopping epicenter, carries local and international designer labels and specialty stores.
"Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem." - A. A. Milne
Not knowing any better and short of time when I made my hotel booking, I was fortunate to pick a hotel somewhere between The Rocks and Darling harbour neighborhood. The wharf was 2 blocks down, leading to the lively darling harbour, where the Sydney zoo is located smack in the middle of shopping and tourism. For my last day in Sydney, I made a reservation for a Breakfast with Koalas at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo. The breakfast itself was blah... but the experience was a memorable one. I'm so happy I decided to go. The breakfast included early entry to the wild life zoo before it opened to the visitors, and koala encounters at the rooftop while you enjoy your breakfast.
The zoo is bigger than what one would think from the outside, but still small for a zoo. You won't find any tigers here! But a huge ~ 6 meters saltwater croc, you'll see. They definitely have the iconic Australian animals: Kookaburras, wombats, wallabies, platypus, Tazmanian devils, and of course, Kangaroos and adorable Koalas.
|Petting Dot the Kangaroo|
|Princess, the colorful, flightless cassowary, is actually male|
Last but not least, breakfast with the koalas. There were about a dozen "not bears" on the rooftop, and all of them were sleeping. One would slip down a foot on his tree, wake up, climb back up, and snooze again. They sleep for 18 hours a day. I wonder if the eucalyptus has anything to do with that. Haha! But before you check for yourself, eucalyptus is actually poisonous. Koalas are special in that they have an organ that allows them to digest eucalyptus safely.
These koalas were so adorable, I was really hoping I'd get to touch them like I did Dot, the kangaroo. But by law, no one in New South Wales (and most Australian states) is actually allowed to hold a koala unless you're a zoo keeper. This law makes sense though as touching would stress these cuties. While koalas are not on the endangered list yet and they are protected by law, their homes are not; their habitat is shrinking with the housing development. While I was glad to see buddy and his friends at the Wildlife Sydney zoo, I would have loved to see one in the wild. Want to adopt a koala?