|Sun., Oct. 20th
The day started off with bad news. One of the dear friends we have made on this trip was robbed of $800 last night, and it is doubly sad in how it happened. Our director had told us to leave anything we wished on the bus, it was perfectly safe. So this couple left their backpack and, coming straight from the airport, in it was the money. We had a delightful dinner and came back a little early. The bus driver came out of a store, saying, “I hadn’t expected you back so soon.” The couple got on the bus with the rest of us, and right away, she noticed her backpack had been tampered with – the zippers were not aligned like she likes to do. So she started to go through it and discovered the missing money. By that time, the bus arrived had arrived at the hotel and we all got off. The couple stayed behind and told our director who asked the bus driver. He got huffy and said, “I won’t stand for this. Being accused of theft. My family has owned this coach service for four generations…” and in a snit, he just up and drove away. Well, there was nothing to do but file a police report, so they had a most unusual experience - at an Australian police station. And we wonder what Grand Circle can do about this, if anything. Well, it can happened anywhere. Perhaps there are a thief’s genes in the guy’s DNA. After all, Australia was settled by convicts sent from England!
But our day was fine regardless. First off, we met a local man, Brian, who took us on a walking tour of “The Rocks”, the first settlement area of Sydney. He regaled us with stories from his great-great grandmother’s day…and everything up to the present. We walked though laneways where the bubonic plaque started, and we could see the remains of some foundations where those houses were burned down to stop the disease. Had excellent views of the underside of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and walked inside the first building in Sydney, the Cadman house. John Cadman was 27 years old when he stole a horse in England and was shipped to Australia for a sentence of 14 years. He arrived here in 1798.
Then we hopped aboard the bus again (same company, different driver) and took a lovely drive through some very ritzy neighborhoods. Sort of like LA, we saw Russell Crowe’s house, the house Nichole Kidman owned, etc. We ended up on Bondi Beach (Bond-eye) where we saw surfers coming in on some waves and sunbathers catching some rays (a few without tops!) and had lunch at a beachside café, the Surfish. We were right next to the Bondi Surf Bather’s Life Saving Club, where the practice of having lifeguards on beaches began in 1907.
Driving back into town, we stopped at Mrs. MacQuarrie’s Chair. The wife of the 5th governor of Australia was so despondent about being here, and missing her native England, each day she came to this rocky spot to watch for ships coming from England. The convict-settlers were ordered to cut her a little seat in the rock, and it is here today. The Governor was recalled, (I can imagine Mrs. MacQ’s delight!) because he had visions of making Australia much more than a penal colony and was over-spending in the attempt.
From there, we went downtown to Altmann and Cherney, a fine opal jewelry store. They showed us an interesting video of opal mining, which by the way, is done by prospectors. There is no corporate mining. Each “mine” is owned by individuals! Coober Pedy is an area for example where there’s a lot of mining for opals, the Australian national gem. Shocking me to tears, Darrel bought a lovely boulder opal for me, and I can’t wait to show you. A boulder opal is one that has been fused onto the ironstone rock. Other than my diamonds, this is the single most precious (and expensive!) piece of jewelry he has given me. What a guy! I think I’ll keep him for 37 more years.
After a short rest at our hotel, we took off in the evening for dinner down by the waterfront at a restaurant, called Wolfies. We had an excellent view of the Opera House, only a huge cruise ship (one of those “dam” ships from Holland America, the Volendam) was moored right in our way. Then, three blasts on the ship’s horn, and that ‘dam ship backed out of its slip and sailed away. What a gorgeous sight the Opera House was at sunset! Shortly thereafter, a tall ship came into to briefly load a group of passengers, and then it too sailed away into the sunset. Sydney Harbor is a very busy place, for ships and people and tourists.
We had an elegant dinner included in the tour. With a glass of wine for each of us, I enjoyed salmon and Darrel the steak. For dessert, I chose pannacotta and Darrel had orange cake.
Then we walked to the water taxi. Because we were in the first taxi, our captain took us on a little side jaunt, around the Opera House to see it right in front! Then on to the Sydney Aquarium, where we were allowed inside after hours for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour. We saw sharks, an upside-down jellyfish, dragon seahorses and even little penguins. I petted a Blue Linckia Sea Star and a Sea Sponge. We saw dugongs, who breathe from a spout on its back like a whale, but whose nearest relatives are manatees or elephants. (what!? Hey, I’m just repeating what the guide told us!) We saw little clownfish, who are born as males and, as they grow up, the strongest become females. So, I guess the sequel to the movie, Nemo, will be Nemette.
But the strangest of all the odd creatures in Australia is the platypus. The only poisonous mammal in existence, it lays eggs. It’s duck-like bill has electrical sensors it uses while swimming to find food, because it swims completely blind, having closed its eyes and ears!
Home now, and to bed. TOMORROW: The Sydney Opera House tour and a Coffee Cruise around Sydney harbor.