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The Opera House
George thought the Sydney Opera House was the coolest
building he’d ever seen. And we didn’t understand how
epically cool it was until we walked around it. The design
does not reveal itself all at once. In 1957, the young Danish
architect Jørn Utzon won the international competition for
the project. His sketches were bold sails that he explained
as segments cut out of a sphere. His design turned out to
be unbuildable. The problem sparked a slew of engineering
solutions for his vision to work. The building now contains
1000 rooms, including six theatres and the backstage areas
to support them, plus dressing rooms, practise studios
and a cafeteria. We took the 7am backstage tour of the
place and learned about its challenges and triumphs. It
was supposed to take four years to build, at a cost of
$AU7 million. After 14 years, the final price tag was $102
million. Utzon quarrelled with the management and left
the project well before it was finished. He never returned
to see the finished structure. His son, however, is involved
in the renovation efforts that are beginning to take place.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
On our cruise around the harbour, we noticed tiny forms
making their way up the vast curve of the bridge. They
are some of the nearly three million people to have
experienced the famous Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb.
Lonely Planet has rated it one of the top 10 adrenaline-
rush experiences in the world. The highest point is 440
feet above the harbour, and it affords a unique 360-degree
vantage point. You can’t take your camera with you, you
have to wear a BridgeSuit over your clothes, take a breath
test, go through a metal detector and sign an indemnity
form. What could go wrong? George and I declined. We
don’t mind heights. We just have a problem with looking
down. As an alternative, you can go to the top of the
towers on either side of the bridge and enjoy a spectacular
vista with fewer precautions – and take your own pictures.
George is fond of snow leopards. Australia’s famed Taronga
Zoo has a pair, but the draw was the opportunity to see
up close the animals that naturally thrive Down Under.
Getting there is fun: You take a ferry from Circular Quay
and then hop on the Sky Safari to the zoo centre. The zoo
has 4000 animals, including an Australia-specific section.
Take the Wild Australia Experience, during which a guide
will introduce you to koalas, kangaroos and emus, some of
whom will take food from your hand. (Nature note: Emus
have surprisingly delicate lips.)
Sydney has many wonderful restaurants, and you’ll have
many opportunities to taste the native seafood. There
are ginormous shrimp, which we know have an inevitable
relationship to the barbie. But you’ll also find scallops, red
mullet, lobsters and barramundi. And it was on this trip that
George ate his first oyster!
The Blue Mountains
If you are considering a side trip while you’re in Sydney,
we’d vote for the Blue Mountains. They are about 65 miles
(100km) to the west and include what we found to be
some of the most beautiful country anywhere.
Now a World Heritage area, the mountains are so
named because of the blue haze that forms when the light
interacts with the eucalyptus oil particles in the air. Much
of the area seems perfumed. Mark Wardrop, director of
Mount ’N Beach Safaris, showed us the ecological necessity
of fire-stick farming, the natural gathering places for
kangaroos, and spectacular, uncrowded lookout points
where we could appreciate the magnificence of the land
forms. Someone summed it up this way: It’s the Grand
Canyon, but with trees and a rainforest at the bottom.
And it’s true. Bring an extra memory card for your camera.
One last thought: Rotarians attending the 2014 Rotary
International Convention may be unprepared by how nice
the Australians are. And then they’ll get spoiled by it. We
were. So, on our way home, I wasn’t that surprised when
George started several sentences with, “When we go back”.
Register for the 2014 Rotary International Convention,
June 1-4, by December 15 for special pricing.
Go to www.riconvention.org.
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