Down Under

At Sydney airport, we loaded ourselves into a shuttle and asked the driver to take us to the Park Hyatt. The Russian driver, tried as he may, could not understand our american pronunciation. I worked on my best Russian accent but to no avail, until I finally came up with “Park KhayAtt”, and lo and behold, the driver’s face lit up at the realization that he is dealing with his former compatriot. One of his passengers had to go to Bondi, the famous Sydney beach, and the driver suggested that he drops this guy off first, so we could see a bit of Sydney. Thus, we got a complementary driving tour of Sydney complete with commentaries by the garrulous makeshift tour guide. The neighborhoods we passes looked tidy and well-kept. Some of the houses were adorable Queen Annes and some had ornate cast iron balconies, but overall, the city is rather architecturally nondescript, with not much personality. Our hotel is right in the harbor at Circular Quay. Sydney was blessed with a spectacular harbor and the wise decision to adorn it with its opera house. Even though the sight of this operahouse is largely familiar from all the images we had seen, nothing prepared us to how spectacular it is in real life!
Not only was the architect brilliantly creative, but you have to give much credit to the engineers and artisans who brought it into existence!
Our hotel overlooks the harbor, but to see the opera house, I have to go out to the balcony and crane my neck, while it’s perfectly visible from every point in the harbor.
The staff at the hotel is more polite than the British and smile more than McDonald’s employers.
The hotel is really beautiful and had just reopened after a renovation, so everything in the room is brand new, the sheets are brightly white and the towels are plush and huge – worthy of 5 stars.
We walked out of the hotel, onto the Circular Quay and into the Rocks, the historical neighborhood of the first Australian settlement. There was a street fair going on, we had a smooth and powerful cup of coffee at a neighborhood coffee shop, and ran off for a tour of the opera house. I must say that the interior does not quite match the glorious exterior. The main architect had a fallout with the management due to the minor fact that the construction price went up to 102 mil from the estimated 7 mil – a trifle not worth mentioning, and because the construction took 16 years in place of the predicted 3. So the architect was basically fired, and another architect designed the interior. And it shows.
We were getting pretty tired after our 24-hour journey, but sleep we could not. Tonight, Sydney was going to celebrate Mardi Gras with a parade down Oxford Street. So there we went, grabbed some fabulous food at Thai Nesia served by waiters in drag, and rushed off to see the parade. The crowd was huge. It was overwhelmingly young, mostly gay, and largely sober. It was also shockingly compliant. Friendly policemen were turning the newcomers away from the main area citing their concern for the safety of the crowd, and the crowd, without even trying to put up a fight, obediently turned around and walked to another,less crowded spot.
This turned out to be much more a Gay Pride Parade, and much less Mardi Gras. When we finally found a less crowed spot, we beheld a Jewish gay,lesbian, and transsexual group titled “Dayenu.” Several queen Esthers flanked by bare-chested king Davids singing “Heveynu Shalom Aleichem were marching by.” The Jewish group was followed by a smaller Gay Catholic group, and bringing in the rear, marched a tiny “Muslims against homophobia.”
I must say that I have never been to a parade with such orderly, clean, sober, and well-behaved people!


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