Monday, 12 September 2011

Days 8 & 9: Burness Arrives

Burness has arrived.

This photo was taken on his second day in Sydney, on the 47th floor revolving restaurant of the Australia Square skyscraper. At about £8 a beer it's not cheap, and I gather that in the evening the dress code becomes a little stricter so that the travelling backpacker likes of myself and Burness aren't favoured, but during the day it is a superb place to visit, offering panoramic view across the city and most notably the harbour area.

It was recommended to us during a free walking tour - Peek Tours -earlier in the day. In actuality, although technically free, the tour guides do rely on tips for payment which you do kind of feel obliged to give; however, for three hours of an interesting guided tour it's hard to begrudge paying a little money. And considering the bus tour, which went round much of the same places and featured a recorded pseudo-celebrity on a stop-start tape loop frequently speaking at the wrong place or drowned out by traffic and cost $35, I could happily and unequivocally recommend the free tour over it.

It left at the Customs House at Circular Quay at 10.30am (although we were picked up from Burness's hostel at 9.45am), and our guide was a smiley Australian blonde called Sam. Unlike the bus tour's pre-recorded "Bruce", Sam was a fully interactive human, able to answer questions. Although she certainly had a script to go by, the personal touch made the stories more interesting, as she took our group round the historic harbour-side "The Rocks" area, through the city, to Hyde Park, and concluding in a truly superb view of the Sydney Opera House from the Botanic Gardens that I had been previously unaware of.

Sam was full of interesting titbits, some of which I'd already picked up over my last week, but many of which added to what I've been finding out about Sydney. One of my favourites was the fact about Manly, the suburb I travelled by ferry to the other day. It was apparently named by Arthur Philip, Captain of the First Fleet that colonised Australia and then the first Governor of New South Wales, who upon arriving on the shores of Manly and seeing the aborigines, considered that the men were somewhat, in Sam's words, "buff" and therefore bestowed on it the name of "Manly". I enjoyed this fact so much that I refused to believe it could be true, but further investigation confirms it. Arthur Philip cropped up a few times in Sam's spiels, and sounded an interesting character. He also had a front tooth missing which by one of history's great coincidences was an initiation ceremony feature of the aboriginal tribe he encountered at Sydney. Thus they considered him one of their own and the path to European progress was greatly smoothed. I'm not sure it worked out so well for the aborigines.

She offered other interesting things too, such as boomerangs being found in Tutankhamen's tomb despite them being quintessentially Australian items (they crop up in other civilisations too, it seems). And St Mary's, the cathedral I've visited a handful of times with the magnificent interior and stained-glass windows, by virtue of the spires only being completed in 2000, is the largest cathedral in the world to be built this millennium.

She wasn't just packed full of historical facts though, and offered a number of handy tips, one of which was about the Australia Square restaurant, featured in the first photograph. Sydney has a quite ghastly 309-metre tower, the Sydney Tower, the tallest structure in Sydney, that offers great views across the city. But it costs about $30 to get in. Sam's advice was to go to the revolving restaurant of the 170-metre Australia Tower, and enjoy a slowly changing view of Sydney for the price of a beer.

Beer, and general booze, is a theme of travels with Burness, and that evening concluded with a duty-free gin extravaganza on his hostel rooftop, the day before myself and Matt's two-day roadtrip to Melbourne...

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