Friday, March 20, 2009

Sydney, AU

We entered Sydney Harbour late limping with one broken engine. The ship sat in the harbor with doors below the stateroom decks open to the sea looking as if work was being done to engines but it’s unclear if it was or would be repaired because we left 90 minutes earlier than originally scheduled. Would that much time help us get to our next destination on time? We have 2 days at sea so could 90 minutes matter?

Entry into the harbour brings one past a number of beautiful bays and beaches as well as the house the queen pops into when she visits. Elaborate digs for sure. As we entered, a Celebrity ship sat sadly in dry dock for repairs and I crossed my fingers that there wasn’t a dry dock in the near future for the Volendam.

We docked in Sydney at 9:30 rather than 8 and then there was a delay in clearing the ship to disembark so that frantic people were stuffed in the hall at the gangway location. It was a log jam of people, luggage and wheelchairs so the ship’s powers directed everyone, over the pa system, to vacate the halls and stairs until they were called to return or the gang way would stay closed. Like good do-bees we left and only returned when in-transit passengers were called. Here’s the thing, when we reached the gangway that same log-jam of increasingly desperate people stood there.

People with early flights were desperate about the time and we in transit were just going for sightseeing but we were allowed to repeat “In Transit. Excuse me.” and so make our way off the ship while they were refused exit, Maybe the luggage transfer was the problem. The ship is generally quite organized soi there must have been a reason for the delays still it would have helped everyone to know what was going on because it felt like a mutiny might erupt at any moment on those stairs.

The big thing we did on our first day in Sydney was a tour the Endeavor, a replica of James Cooke’s ship. What a project!

There was a charge to see the ship, a bit of a shock after all the free museums, but it was staffed with devoted volunteers. The original Endeavor sunk during the American war of Independence so a few years ago a wealthy person decided that he’d build an exact replica. It seems he went to jail so things faltered and then there was a new sponsor and that ended but third time’s a charm and the Endeavor replica was carved, fitted and launched – for a mere $17 million US.

The first thing I noticed on board was the array of ropes but while I was gaping at the 29 kilometers of rope a volunteer insisted on showing me the toilets. It’s not that they thought I had to “go” but rather that they enjoyed the shock value of the “toilets”- large boards with holes cut out of them so that one marched out to the bow of the ship, dropped one’s drawers and balanced on this board depositing one’s personal waste through the hole and into the sea. Arse-wiping was done with the frayed end of a rope which was lowered into the sea to clean it off for the next person. Recycling, one volunteer said, is nothing new. Life at sea, I thought, must have been very tough.

The original Endeavor, built in 1768 for considerably less than $17 million, was state of the art for its time. The cook stove was a huge iron stove set on stone set on tin and fueled by wood. A fire burned from morning till mid day cooking first 94 breakfasts and then stewing enough to give hot stew for lunch and leftovers for dinner. The fire had to be put out midday to reduce the danger of fire at night.

To say that conditions were tight gives little of the sense of space available. One could stand in the center of the below deck area but it was necessary to scoot/scuttle through parts of the ship where the ceiling and floor were only about 4 feet apart. Hammocks with 14” of space were strung over tables at night and when the sailors got up hammocks were stowed away and people hunched over to walk around. They lived like this for 3 year – except for those who died of dysentery.

Actually they did well for a long while because Cook was attentive to health. Everyone had to wash hands and dishes with vinegar and they were given sauerkraut for the vitamin C that kept scurvy away. Each sailor had 2 hammocks – one to use while the other was washed and allowed to dry. Once dysentery and malaria joined them on board, it was a mess.

This replica sails every 3 or so years following one of Cook’s routes and one can book a berth if in possession of enough cash and a willingness to part with it.

Day 2 in Sydney started with walking across the bridge. Had we been willing to part with $329 each we could have climbed to the pinnacle while lashed to the iron work and led by guides. We could have looked down from so much further up and could have had the adventure of a greater wind and wider view but the cost seemed steeper than the bridge so we just walked on the sidewalk – no small walk.

The sidewalk traffic was brisk with walkers and joggers. The view looking down on the aquarium, the Hyatt Hotel and all the boats was worth the climb.

On the way to the bridge we went to a very classy street market and after the bridge we went to the Powerhouse museum to see Australia’s first steam locomotive, a steam engine built by James Watt and used in a mill for over 102 years, a model of the Russian Soyez (4 and 5), and models of the very tiny Vanguard and larger Sputnik. There were lots of entertaining interactive exhibits and periodically the exhibits roared to life. Near the train the audio would turn on with the sound of horse hoofs clomping on the road and the train engine and whistle and people talking with the call for All Aboard sailing over the din. It was an interesting feature except for the startling effect of sudden noise on the un-expecting.

I, for one, was worn out by the walking and gawking. There are marvelous buildings here and lots of people to look at. The school groups are all defined by their uniforms which include sun hats. There are many stylish people about and several outfits were worth two moments of gawking. The shoes and sandals are impressive. How can anyone maneuver on those tiny spiky heels? How many straps can one pair of sandals have? Who first thought to pair knee highs with spike heels? How many variations on the drawing of a skull can one find on T-shirts or socks? It’s an interesting world.

Then there are the variations in architecture. Sydney is filled with lovely old buildings from the colonial era but the most recognizable structure is the Opera House. Did you know that the roofs are covered in ceramic tiles? I didn’t. The colors of the tiles give the sense of texture from a distance and up close they become a detailed design. It’s huge and elegant outside so no doubt striking inside though we didn’t take the tour but instead went into the Botanical Gardens where we also didn’t take the tour. Not very good tourists, are we?

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