Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | April 3, 2013

Sydney – Part I

Woolloomooloo

While there is nothing like travelling within New Zealand it can be physically very demanding. Hence, for the Easter break we decided to visit Sydney, hoping for a much easier travel. I had visited Sydney once before on work, but as a family we had no prior experience of visiting such a densely populated city outside India. We knew in advance that a travel to a big city will probably not match traveling to places we visited this summer but nevertheless, we wanted to have a good time, gain valuable memories, see new things and overall have fun.

On Good Friday we set out for Sydney on an Air New Zealand flight. It takes around 3 and half hours to Sydney and as Australia is couple of hours behind New Zealand, you gain time. We reached Sydney Airport at around 12:00 Noon (our flight started an hour late from Auckland) and took a cab to our apartment at the Woolloomooloo.  Interesting name isn’t it? Woolloomooloo is a harbour side East Sydney suburb but very near to the central city. There is wharf on the Woolloomooloo bay is called “Finger Wharf” and it has a quite expensive hotel run by the Taj Group. We did not stay at the Taj Group Hotel (known as The Blue), but we stayed very nearby in the Waldorf Woolloomooloo Waters apartments.

I was reading about the Finger Wharf on the Wikipedia and thought that I will note the following.

“The Sydney Harbour Trust built the Finger Wharf, or Woolloomooloo Wharf, between 1911 and 1915 with the charter to bring order to Sydney Harbour’s foreshore facilities. The wharf became the largest wooden structure in the world. The areas commerce was dominated by shipping at the wharf and by the regular influx of sailors & officers from the Garden Island base of the Royal Australian Navy.”

As the importance of the wharf started diminishing by the 1970’s in preference of more modern wharfs, the government decided to demolish this wharf which the locals objected to. In the mid-1990 the wharf was refurbished and residential buildings were built around it (along with the Taj property). The apartment building, we stayed we were told used to be a warehouse.

In case you are wondering from where the name Woolloomooloo came from , again according to Wikipedia anthropologist J.D. McCarthy wrote in ‘NSW Aboriginal Places Names’, in 1946, that Woolloomooloo could be derived from either Wallamullah, meaning place of plenty or Wallabahmullah, meaning a young black kangaroo.

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View from the Finger Wharf

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Woolloomoolloo Wharf and Taj Blue

I always find these bits and pieces of history around places interesting. Who would have thought that we were living inside an apartment which was once a warehouse? Though we doubted that it was a unique (and old) apartment by looking at the massive windows (which you could not open), we did not realise that it was a warehouse.

We had nothing to complain about the apartment and the service though. The building managers Eleni and Asif provided us with very useful suggestions (and a map) that not only saved time but also cost. After we had checked-in, Eleni suggested that rather than eating in an expensive restaurant at the harbour, we could have lunch at a cafe called Charlie’s just across the road. Apparently, this cafe has cooked lunch for navy staff and sailors for nearly 40 years or so and she rated their food quite high. We tried out the burgers at Charlie and I must say we loved them too.

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Once we had lunch we started walking towards the Darling Harbour from Woolloomooloo. This is a beautiful walk as you walk through the beautiful (and green) Botanical Gardens and the Hyde Park (more about them later). Just out of interest we also took a ride on the monorail (more about that later too) to reach Sydney Aquarium at the Darling Harbour.

Sydney Aquarium had predictably lots of marine creatures and sharks. The sharks were really scary and huge. A visit to a good aquarium (like the Sydney one), makes you realise how beautiful the world under water is.  Every marine creature is not only colourful but they look so different too.  Though I did feel a bit suffocated inside the crowded aquarium, but we did enjoy visiting it.

 Sydney Opera House

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We pre-booked our guided tour of Sydney Opera House from New Zealand as we did not want to miss out. Following a complementary light continental breakfast in our hotel, we took a brief bus ride to reach Circular Quay, Sydney Harbour. This is the most prominent location in Sydney where you can see the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. Also it is a major transport hub with buses, trains and ferries to reach various places. We walked on the Sydney Harbour side to reach the sprawling Opera House, Sydney’s famous landmark and an architectural wonder.

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A guided tour meant an hour long tour of the Opera house where the guide informed us about the history behind the design, structure and various other anecdotes about the place. Like all such places, the Opera House has an interesting history. Jørn Utzon, a Danish architect won the design competition organised by the State of New South Wales in 1957.  While the construction began in 1958, the then Government underestimated the cost and time to complete the project. This ensued lot of tension between the architects, engineers and the politicians and the construction was marred by controversy. With the change in government in mid-sixties, the tension increased (as did the cost), leading to Utzon’s resignation.

Following Utzon’s resignation, the Opera House was completed by local architects and was formally opened by the Queen in 1973. Such was the animosity that Utzon was not invited to the ceremony nor was his name mentioned. Utzon died in 2008 in Copenhagen and never visited Sydney to see his most famous creation.

There was reconciliation between Utzon and Opera House though before Utzon’s death. Utzon along with his son Jan Utzon designed a future refurbishment plan for the building. A conference hall was also named after him and his son Jan Utzon is now associated with the building’s future improvement.

History of Sydney Opera House is intriguing and architects will tell various firsts and uniqueness associated with the design and construction of the Sydney Opera House. As far as we were concerned, we found the building worth all its hype. Its construction is brilliant and it left us awestruck.

We visited two of theatre venues – the Concert Hall, with around 2,700 seats and the Joan Sutherland Theatre with 1,500 seats. The Concert Hall is the home of Sydney Symphony Orchestra and houses the

Sydney Opera House Grand Organ, the largest mechanical tracker action organ in the world. During our tour we had a glimpse of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs rehearsing while Grammy award winning conductor Eric Whitacre conducted the orchestra. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph the Concert hall. The five minute glimpse was fabulous.

The Joan Sutherland Theatre (named after the Australian performer) is the Sydney home of Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet.

It took around 15 years to complete the Opera House and it cost around A$102 million against the estimates of 5 years and A$7 million but we were told that the Opera House meets his cost now, without much funding from the tax payers.  Over time it has even hosted some controversial events such as Sumo Wrestling. Logic being – all kind of people should come and see the Opera House. If you ask me, I am a traditional person and hope that Opera House is strictly used for the purpose it was built for-  music, ballet and theatre.

There is no strict dress code to watch a performance at the Sydney Opera House. So, Aussie!

The tour was worth every penny and while coming out I kept on thinking which Indian performer I would have loved to see inside such a magnificent opera house.

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 And finally…..

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