Finally, the conclusion to the Great Sydney Caper!
A good friend of mine once said, “When in Rome…do … something!” She had a momentary brain lapse and couldn’t remember the end of this famous phrase. That is how I like to remember the phrase now, “When in [fill in name of city here], do something!” This post is about all of the “somethings” we did in Sydney that haven’t been addressed yet: the Opera House, sailing on an America’s Cup class yacht, and seeing a cricket match.
The Opera House
One of the most iconic buildings in Sydney is the Opera House, so this was clearly a must do. We decided we would take a tour, and since neither of us had been to an opera before, we thought this would be a great opportunity to enjoy that particular experience. We bought “tour and tasting” tickets for the same day as our opera tickets. We understood this to mean that we would have our tour and then go to the in-house restaurant where we would order dinner from some kind of a tasting menu, which I assumed would be small plates, similar to tapas. It turns out that they have a set menu for the tasting. You don’t have to choose anything, they just bring you a huge array of food! (It was all delicious.)
The tour was really interesting. You learn a lot about the building, of course, but you also get access to a lot of spaces that you wouldn’t see without the tour. That’s the best part for me- behind the scenes stuff!
Rather than quote the entire history of the Opera House, which you can find on Wikipedia, a few things that struck me:
- Jørn Utzon, the guy that designed it, didn’t have any clue how to make the structure actually work. It took years after he won the design contract for him to figure it out.
- The roof tiles are self-cleaning. They are glazed ceramic and when it rains they clean themselves. There’s also more than 1 million tiles.
- There are multiple theaters inside. I had no idea. I assumed it was one performance hall. Nope. The opera company has one hall and the symphony has another hall. Plus there are three other stages for plays and other types of performances.
So after the tour it was time for dinner. We had made “reservations,” such as they were, before the tour so they would have the food started for us. One thing the website doesn’t tell you is how much time to leave between the end of the tour and the opening of the show. We left ourselves an hour and we had just enough time to eat. Another half hour, or full hour, would have been good to enjoy our drinks and digest a little before going to our seats. Since the tasting package is listed on the website, I would have assumed that a lot of people take advantage of it. Apparently not, or at least apparently not that day. Everyone who walked by did a double take at our huge tower of food. They were probably just jealous.
The opera we chose was La Boheme. We chose it because I was obsessed with the musical Rent in high school and college and could probably still sing all or most of the words on the soundtrack. I have seen Rent at least half a dozen times, and Micah has seen it twice with me. For those not in the know, Rent is a modern day retelling of La Boheme. We thought La Boheme would be a good choice since we were both familiar with the basic story line. And it was. The set was gorgeous, the costumes were wonderful, and the performers (singers and orchestra) were fantastic. We really enjoyed our first opera experience!
Finally, we closed out the night with some decadent desserts. Because why not? We did the opera house tour on our first full day in Sydney. Why not kick off vacation with amazing chocolate creations?
America’s Cup sailing
The next “When in Sydney” thing that we did was supposed to be for Micah’s birthday. I talked before about this trip coinciding with a big birthday, and our quest for something “uniquely Australian” to do to celebrate. Before we found the Blue Mountains tour, we found a sailing excursion on an America’s Cup yacht. We could choose a regular cruise around the harbor, or go on the race day and participate in a race! We both enjoy sailing and being on the water in general. I wouldn’t call either of us sailors by any means, but we know the basics of how to use a sail to propel a boat. So we appreciated the opportunity to be on a real America’s Cup yacht and get to try our hand at grinding (turning the cranks to let in or take out sail). And racing one sounded even cooler! So we booked that for the day before Micah’s birthday (the race day is once a week), with the intent of that being “for” his birthday. I’m glad we did both the race and the hike.
I wasn’t sure if the race would be “real” or not, but it was an actual race, probably 30-40 boats. I guess Wednesday afternoons in Sydney in the summer they have sail races. It seemed pretty friendly to me, more of a “something to do” than a cutthroat competition. (The sailing equivalent of a Fun Run?) I would say there were less than a dozen boats and crews, probably about a half dozen, that were very serious about racing. Everyone else looked like they were just out for the fun of it.
The boat we were on was called The Kookaburra. As we left the dock, the crew did a safety briefing and gave us instructions on the grinders and how to move across the boat and such. There were 5 crewmembers, 3 were obviously life long sailors and 2 were college aged. One of the older guys, Bruce, explained that this was an actual race. He said, “There’s a guy out there who built a $2.5 million boat specifically designed to win these Wednesday afternoon races. We are going to try to beat him.” Someone asked the name of the boat, The Black Hand, and who wins more. Sounded like The Kookaburra wins at least from time to time. So we cruise out to the starting point and Bruce yells, “Ladies and gentlemen! THAT is The Black Hand!” Obviously most of us had never seen that boat before, but all of a sudden we wanted nothing more than to beat it. It was a great way to get us involved in the competition and really invested in the day. The Black Hand crossed the finish line before we did, but The Kookaburra won due to the various handicaps the boats were sailing under. If I remember correctly, they would have had to beat us by around 5 minutes to actually win, and they only beat us by 2 or 3 minutes. I don’t think anyone actually wins anything, except for possibly bragging rights, so I can’t believe a guy designed a multi million-dollar boat just to win these races. I guess he didn’t have anything better to do with $2.5 million…
It was a really great afternoon. It looked like most of the people on board had at least some familiarity with boats and sailing but most were probably on the beginner end of the range, like Micah and I. After the race, when we were just cruising back to the dock, we got in a conversation with some college aged guys. They had a friend who was studying abroad at the University of Texas, Austin, so we talked about that a little, and then talked more about general “what’s it like to live here/there” kinds of things. One of the guys was suitably impressed with Micah’s new hat, which we had actually just purchased that morning. The day before, we had done the Manly Scenic Walk and got sunburned. Micah’s ears and the back of his neck were really badly burned, so he wanted something with more sun protection than his ball cap. Especially being on the water all afternoon for the race and then hiking the next day. We had read about a great hat store in The Strand, an old arcade-style mall, so we went there. After looking at all the options, and discussing his wants and needs with the sales guy, he picked out an Akubra hat. Apparently this is similar in history and street cred to a Stetson cowboy hat in Texas. So we felt good that he had “chosen wisely.”
We kept our camera stowed during the race, so unfortunately we don’t have very many pictures of the sail or boat. The sail was massive though. I don’t think I could have envisioned the scale relative to the size of the boat. If you are someone who enjoys sailing, and you have the opportunity to go on an America’s Cup class boat, do it. It was really different from the other sailboats I’ve been on.
The last “when in Sydney” thing we did was see a cricket match. Neither of us have ever seen cricket, and neither of us had a really clear understanding of the rules beyond the basics. We do love sports though, especially baseball, and we wanted to see something “uniquely Australian.” It was not Australian Rules Football season (our top choice), or rugby season, so cricket won. As it turns out, there was going to be a “One Day International” match between Australia and England, so we got tickets for that. I mean, go big or go home, right? If you’re going to see a cricket match, why not see an international match! And the benefit is that it was a one-day match, rather than something that would be stretched out over multiple days. I didn’t even know that was the normal type of cricket match until we got to Sydney and started talking to people about it.
We were advised that the match probably wouldn’t end until 9pm or later, so there was no real reason to be there for the 2pm start time. So we walked the Bondi to Coogee cliffs walk that morning, and got to the game just after 4pm. This was really excellent timing because our seats were in the shade and, as it happened, we got there for the last 30 minutes or so of England’s innings (their turn at bat). We got to get a feel for the game and figure out what was going on without having a real rooting interest in the play. We only had to ask the guy next to us for clarification on something a couple of times, so I’m going to call that a win.
Of course almost everyone else in the stadium was rooting for Australia, so when it was Australia’s innings, it was easy to get caught up in the action and know when to cheer or be upset. Australia won, and one of the players scored a century– which is a big deal in itself, but it was an even bigger deal because it was the first century Australia had scored against England in Australia.
Australia was gearing up to host the Cricket World Cup, so Micah bought a jersey. It was fun to follow the headlines as Australia won, and cool because we felt a small connection since we had seen the team so recently.
All in all, we had a wonderful vacation in Sydney. It was a very welcome change from KL for a week. We had intended for our week in Sydney to be our “big” trip during our expat year, and it did not disappoint at all. It’s easily among my favorite places that I’ve ever been and Australia remains on my list for future travel destinations.
Coming Soon: The beginning of the end. After 8 months in KL, we are beginning the final countdown of our expat year!