Is it really Christmas?
Day 109 Settling In
We are unable to check into our Airbnb until 2 p.m. so we decide to see some of the sights first. Driving is not easy in this city and we seem to be paying tolls where ever we go. Eventually Mark manages to find St Mary’s Cathedral and from there drive past the Art Gallery to the Botanical Gardens. We find a parking space ($8 an hour fee) and set off to walk around the point, passing a large number of naval ships docked in Woolloomooloo Bay.
Right on the shore of the bay is a 50m saltwater outdoor swimming pool, the Andrew (boy) Charlton pool, where people are swimming laps in the sun. What a lovely place to come to get your daily exercise, overlooking Sydney Harbour.
Walking to the point we come across Mrs Macquarie's Chair, an exposed sandstone rock cut into the shape of a bench. It was hand carved by convicts in 1810, for Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of the Governor of New South Wales so that she could view the harbour. Whether this was by choice or not isn’t evident.
Rounding Mrs Macquaries Point, we have our first scenic view of Sydney Opera house and Harbour Bridge. This is just spectacularly beautiful and we all stare and gawp for a few minutes and take the obligatory photographs.
Making our way through the Botanic Gardens we reach the shore of Farm Cove. Part way along the path is closed as constructors prepare for new years eve with scaffolding, seating and tables. Detouring through the park which contains plant life from Australia and around the world we eventually find our way back to the shore.
The bay is full of charter boats and private vessels, some taking people on lunch tours of the harbour, what a lovely sight. The walk takes us to the iconic World Heritage-listed Opera House designed by the Danish architect Jorn Utzon. This is the most photographed site in Australia and it’s most recognised landmark. It is designed to represent a yacht’s billowing white sails and is a commanding presence on the harbour.
Climbing the steps, we notice that the sails are covered in small rectangular tiles and that all lines are curves. Entering we are surprised to find all the surfaces are hard concrete and the space is vast. There are five performance spaces where dance, concerts, opera and theatre are staged. The programme this week is very festive including children’s shows and light opera.
Leaving the complex, we climb the steps back up to the Botanical Gardens for stunning vies directly opposite the Opera House and the surrounding area. The crowds look like ants from up here.
The walk through the gardens takes us past Government House an example of Gothic Revival architecture and is the official residence and office of the Governor of New South Wales. It was built in the 1830’s and set in landscaped gardens overlooking the Harbour. Mark comments on the easy access of the public to these buildings, there are no guards and people are wandering round the gardens.
On reaching the car we set off towards Pyrmont and our home for the next seven nights. The flat is large and comfortable with two bedrooms and two bathrooms and very central to the city, should be OK for our Christmas in Sydney. The road outside is busy but double-glazing blocks out most of the noise.
Once unpacked we make our way to the Fish Market which is only about 250m away on Blackwattle Bay. This is quite a place with retail outlets and restaurants all specialising in fish. We are informed that they are open for 36 hours from 5 a.m. this morning to 5 p.m. on Christmas eve and expect to be heaving throughout. The crowds are massive and we’ve never seen so many prawns of all different sizes and colours, some cooked and some not. The tanks are full of lobster, langoustine, squat lobster, crabs and fish. Marcus loves these as he can watch the crustaceans moving around.
There are lots of diners at ramshackle chairs and tables and Marcus buys Mark and I scallop mornay and himself a battered soft-shell crab. Why does food like this taste so good? Is it so fresh or is it the atmosphere? I don’t know the answer but it is delicious. After examining the fare of all the vendors, we cross the car park to the butcher, the only place not specialising in fish.
Making our way home we promise ourselves that we will be back tomorrow to purchase our prawns for our Christmas lunch.
Day 110 Christmas Eve
Christmas eve is here and Marcus is still in bed so Mark and I decide to go to the supermarket before he wakes. This will get the shopping out of the way and then we can make the most of the day. Marcus is up when we get back and we decide to make our way over to the fish market for the prawns.
There is roaring trade taking place particularly in prawns, with crowds filling every outlet. Many customers have brought freezer boxes with them and are having them filled with shell fish. We don’t have far to go once we have bought our prawns so a bag of ice will be sufficient. We decide on the large tiger prawns which look huge, I’m sure they will be great.
The prawns are dropped off and we set off to walk along the coast to Darling Harbour. Walking along the waterfront we come to Pyrmont Point park which has the Sydney Harbour Bridge as it’s backdrop. There are BBQ facilities which we think would make this an ideal place to have our Christmas dinner tomorrow.
Looking out over Johnstons Bay we continue past Darling Island Road and onto Pyrmont Bay. The wharfs which in the past would have been busy with produce and immigrants from all over the world have now been developed with trendy bars, restaurants and apartments. All have fabulous views of the water, what a place to wake up to every morning.
On reaching Darling Harbour we pass the National Maritime Museum which has a range of vessels moored outside, including the impressive submarine HMAS Onslow and the destroyer HMAS Vampire. We walk under Pyrmont footbridge hardly noticing it whilst looking at all the yachts readying for the Sydney to Hobart race on Boxing Day.
Darling Harbour itself is very touristy with bars and restaurants lining the shoreline. Street entertainers play to the crowds and the bars vie for custom with happy hour offers. It reminds us of the South Bank in London and we enjoy the cheerful atmosphere. It starts to rain, oh no! no umbrella or rain jacket just shorts, sandals and strappy tops (that’s me, even Mark doesn’t wear a strappy top). We run into a bar and order drinks and a pizza to share, we are eating out tonight so don’t really need food. Two drinks later the weather appears to be improving so we leave for home.
Too soon! It starts to pour down and our only escape is the entrance to the public toilets where we wait it out. Once it slows, we decide to brave it and make a dash for the apartment. We are caught by little spits but not enough to worry about. Once home we shower, warm up with hot coffee and get ready for the evening.
We walk to The Spice Lounge, an Indian restaurant – Well we just had to, we always go out for a curry on Christmas Eve. On the way I pop into Woolworths for a brolly, just in case. Anyway, I’m sure it will come in handy in New Zealand.
The restaurant is relatively new, open 2 months but it is one of seven owned by the same proprietor. Talking to the owner we find that she is originally from Fiji, near to where we stayed (maybe a good omen).
Although, not busy there are other customers and people are popping in for take outs which we take as a good sign. Having learned from our curry in Hervey Bay we all make choices which we normally would not. I choose a fish curry – prawns, fish and scallops, and it is really good. Both Mark and Marcus really enjoy their meals and we are very impressed.
Not too late to bed cos it’s Christmas tomorrow and we’ve been reliably informed that Santa also calls in on Australia.