Thursday, October 21, 2010

Work Week Woes

Is anyone else hating this work week?  As you saw in my Sydney posts, I was over there for work.  Now that I'm back, I have been working non-stop with my Aussie friends.  However, since they are 15 hours ahead, I find myself working all night (e.g. 5pm Eastern is 8am their time the next day).  Leaving for work at 615am and coming home at 930/10pm is getting pretty old!
Also, I think there may be a cold going around.  Monday night I came down with it and it's making that much more difficult to muscle through my work this week.

My three saviors have been:
1. My mom coming over on Tuesday night to bring me chicken noodle soup! She also brought over rotisserie chicken and a whoopie pie for dessert for Dave.  Isn't she sweet?!

3. Cloraseptic.  Although it doesn't actually provide a medicinal benefit, I am hooked on this whenever I get a cold/sore throat.  It's numbing spray is the best, most soothing mitigate to unfriendly cold.

3. Dreaming of my forthcoming trip to Sanibel Island! I will be leaving next Friday with Dave, Kristen, or Daisy at Indulge Inspire Imbibe, her boyfriend Adam, and our other two great friends Mike and Tarquinio.  I cannot WAIT to be there, care free and away from work.

My family has a timeshare there, which is how I became familiar with this little gem off the gulf coast of Florida.  They are actually already down there.  My Uncle Ed texted me these pictures, while also adding that it was 85 degrees with the ocean a mere few degrees less.

White sand beaches
His new beach buddy
Here are a few more from a collection of web sites, including one of the light house which is right by our condo complex :)

I can't be boarding that plane soon enough!

Lastly, thank you to all of the new readers, both that happened upon the site by chance and those that popped over from Kristen's blog.  I will be sure to check out your blogs too (once I ever get through this week)!  I will definitely plan to update the blog with all of my new travel happenings as well as with reviews of other trips that I had the chance to take this year.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sydney: Opera House

My last day in Sydney was by far the most beautiful.  The skies were crystal clear and it was about 75 degrees.  I headed over to the Opera House, armed with a coupon provided to me by my concierge that would allow me a 20% discount on a tour.

I stopped to take a few pictures on the way.

I spy my hotel

I made it over to the Opera House in time for the 10am tour.  The discounted price was $28.  I hurried down the stairs to meet the group.  Our tour guide handed us headsets and we were off.  The guide would hurry ahead and we could hear him no matter how far away he was from us because of the handy headsets.

He began by telling us that the Opera House doesn't only house operas.  In fact, it hosts concerts, ballets, comedians, plays, etc.  However, he pointed out that the "Opera House" rolled off the tongue better than the "Sydney Multi-Purpose Entertainment Center".
Example of the diversity of the arts
He next showed us a video of the history of the Opera House.  I found this particularly interesting.  It all began in 1955 when the government decided that they wanted to put an opera house on Bennelong Point right near Circular Quay.  They initiated a worldwide design competition.  It spawned a tremendous number of entries by various architects around the world.  Winning was a virtual unknown, a 38 year old Danish architect named Jorn Utzon.  His sketch, which prominently displayed the curved shells on the rooftops of the buildings, were inspired by the harbor.  However, he had no clue how to actually construct these shells in practice.  His design was way ahead of its time.

Construction of the base began in 1959.  Utzon knew that he would need a ton of support for the eventual shell rooftops, so there are many support beams and cables that go all the way down to 200 ft below sea level.  The base went up fairly quickly but the problem was that he still didn't have a solution to the shells.  After spending many years and money, they finally realized that the solution lied in the sphere itself.  They would build the shells in curved sections, connecting them piece by piece.  Thankfully, this solution worked.  However, this success was short lived because the Australian government grew frustrated by 1965, essentially forcing Jorn Utzon off the project.  At the time of his departure, the entire outside of the building was complete.  The government brought in a new, local Sydney architect to finish the inside.

The Opera House finally opened in 1973.  The project ended up taking 16 years to complete at a total cost of $102 million.  Jorn Utzon never came back to see the Opera House in its complete state.  I thought this was particularly tragic since his design was one of the single greatest architectural accomplishments in the modern era.  The situation was somewhat mitigated by the fact that the government asked Jorn Utzon back in 1999 to help with some renovations.  One of the changes was the addition of a room off of the reception hall.  It is appropriately named the Utzon room.  A picture of it is displayed below.  The mural is also his design.

Utzon Room
Jorn Utzon passed away 2 years ago.  Construction projects are still ongoing, although they are being led by Jorn's two sons (also architects obviously).

We also learned that the Opera House has a total of 6 venues, with a total of 5,500 seats.  The largest is the Concert Hall, which has 2,700 seats.  The Opera and Ballet Hall is the next largest with 1,500 seats.  The rest of the theaters are much smaller, each with 500, 400 and 300 seats, respectively.  The last venue, the Utzon room, has capacity of about 100.  It also has a restaurant.

We visited the Concert Hall next.  I couldn't take pictures inside the Concert Hall, but we were allowed to take pictures of the intermission area.  I LOVED this space.  There is a large bar on the lower level and guests can enjoy drinks while checking out incredible views of the harbor from suspended glass walls.  Here are a few pictures:

Intermission view
You could also see a nice view of the Opera/Ballet Hall next door, which is where we were headed next.

Looking over to the Opera/Ballet Hall
On the walk over, we got a nice view of the what the curved shell sections look like from the inside.

On the outside, the sections are covered in white ceramic tiles (imported from Sweden).

When we got over to the Opera/Ballet Hall, we learned that the famous Joan Sutherland spent a lot of her career here.  She just passed away recently and they are already thinking of renaming the hall in her honor.  Ironically, since the entire venue is named for the opera, the Opera Hall is actually not quite large enough to host a "large" opera.  It can only house small to medium sized operas.

The last piece of information that was interesting to learn was that all 6 venues are open to rent for a day or even half-day.  The Concert Hall goes for $15k a day, the smaller venues rent for $1k per day and the Utzon room is open for private functions for $2k per day.

I finished my morning by walking through these gardens.  I enjoyed the scenery and the warming sun.  I walked by many trails, as well as the Government House.  The Government House remains the official reception space for the Governor of New South Wales.

My walk continued by the Public Library of New South Wales, the Parliament House and the Sydney Hospital.

Now famished, I found a little Italian bistro over in The Rocks, a neighborhood with original architecture from the 18th century.

After I finished my meal, it was unfortunately time to walk back to the Marriott and check-out.  After which, I grabbed a taxi and made my way to the airport.  On my journey home, I had ample time to reflect on just how lovely a city is Sydney.  I need to figure out a way to get back here sometime.

Sydney: Explore 4 Pass

With koalas on my mind, I wandered over to the ticket counter at Sydney Wildlife World.  I decided to purchase the Explore 4 Pass for $49.99.  It provides single entry to Wildlife World, Sydney Aquarium, SydneyTower and OceanWorld Manly.  Since Wildlife World and the Aquarium are adjacent to each other and SydneyTower was just up the street, I figured I could get my money's worth.  It wasn't going to be feasible to get back over to Manly to see what they have over at OceanWorld.  Maybe next time.  The lady at the ticket counter told me that it generally takes people about an hour and a half to go through each.  Seemed like an excellent use of 4.5 hours of my time.

First up was Wildlife World.  They have all sort of creatures here, including butterflies, insects, snakes, lizards, crocodiles, birds and marsupials.  This venue is distinct from the Taronga Zoo, which is much larger.  Nonetheless, I was pleased with the breadth of animals Wildlife World had to offer.  Plus, it is conveniently located in the city.

The first habitat was for butterflies.  Hundreds of them were flying about but a few of them landed on these platforms which made for an easier photo op.

Next up were invertebrates (or spineless animals).  They had a ton of these creepy crawlers, including one that had me particularly spooked.  This would be the funnel web spider, the most venomous spider in the world.  They are found in the Sydney area and, although they are not aggressive unless approached/cornered, the bite of the male can kill you in less than a half hour.  Yikes.  They did develop an anti-venom in the 1980's, so there have not been any deaths in about 30 years.  The funnel web that they have on display was hiding on me, so I looked it up online and here's a picture of what they look like:

After being sufficiently creeped out by the spiders, I found little solace in the next habitat: snakes.  Wildlife World has many highly venomous snakes, as well as the most venomous snake in the world, the inland taipan.
Inland Taipan
Once past these snakes, I found some other reptiles to observe.  There were these mini-alligator like creatures that were obsessed with watching me.  I bet they would nibble on my finger if they had the chance.  Also on display was the largest lizard in Australia, the perentie.  It can get up to 6.5 ft long.
He's got his eye on me
On my way over to the marsupials, I came across Rex.  Rex is a monster at 16.4 ft.  It was a nice way to end the reptile exhibit with a bang.

On my way over to the kangaroos, I spotted a huge bird.  Reading the signage, I learned that he was a Southern Cassowary.  Also hanging out were a bunch of Yellow-footed Rock Wallabys and two Laughing Kookaburras.  They are known for their call, which is famously displayed in the Tarzan movies.
Southern Cassowary
Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby
Laughing Kookaburra
Finally, I made it to the kangaroo habitat.  Ordinarily, you can interact with them because it is all open, but it was pretty hot at this point and the trainer told me that "all the 'roos were hanging out in the corner being lazy".  Cute nonetheless right?

The koala habitat was the final one and also the clear highlight for me.  These little guys are adorable.  A few things I learned about them is that the have a special lining in their digestive tract that allows them to digest eucalyptus leaves that are actually toxic.  Eucalyptus leaves are also not very nutritious, so koalas' "sluggish, dopey nature is a survival mechanism, as the koala cannot afford to waste precious energy on a big brain or active lifestyle".  They also don't really have a natural predator.  I seriously loved these guys.  I spent an inordinate amount of time watching them, even though they were mostly just sleeping.  At one point, one woke up and stared right at me.  How cute?!!

Putting my Explore 4 Pass to good use, I next headed to the Aquarium.  Although there were a myriad of fish and shark habitats all unique to the oceans surrounding Australia, I was a little annoyed at the crowd.  The Aquarium is a linchpin in the Sydney tourism industry so I'm not surprised it was so crowded even though it was only a Wednesday.  However, I found myself making my way around more quickly than I did in Wildlife World.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Completing my Explore 4 Pass, was my trip to SydneyTower.  SydneyTower is the highest point in the city.  One level is the circular, wall to wall glass observatory.  Obviously, GREAT panoramic shots.  Also on the observatory level is an attraction called Oztrek, which is a virtual tour of Australia.  I wanted to do this but it was closed because of renovations.  Not pleased.  You can also upgrade your ticket to include something called SkyWalk.  In the SkyWalk, they harness you in and then you're able to actually step out on a clear platform high above the city.  There is also a restaurant below the observatory if you are interested in dining amidst beautiful views of Sydney.  Here are the best shots I took this day.

After the tower, I decided to walk back to the hotel.  I took a route that led me up George Street, which is very well known because of all its good shopping.  I purchased a few souvenirs and also got myself some jewelry from a store called Diva.  I was so beat after all of my adventures that I found myself ordering room service once I got back.  The next day would be my last in Sydney.  I had an 8am meeting and was free for a few hours before I needed to head back to the airport.  You better bet that I made the most of those few hours.  Stay tuned for my last post on Sydney, where I explore the Sydney Opera House and Botanical Gardens.