Thursday, January 10, 2013

The First Days Down Under

By Justin Gallen

G'day folks!

Welcome to the blog for Lewis & Clark's 2013 adventures in Australia!  To begin, I'll talk about the general scene down here so far.  As best as I can tell, Australia likes to do things differently.  While there are many similarities to America, the same popular music and many American foods and products, it doesn't do justice to simply compare Australia to America.  People seem to have a much more easy-going attitude down here.  While they all work very hard, they take plenty of time to go out and have fun all around Sydney.  There's always something going on downtown, every street you turn on has a pub or a restaurant, and the beaches to the east are always packed with swimmers.  While we're still getting used to our new schedule, I'm looking forward to getting into groove of Australian life.

I'll begin by giving you a quick rehash on our first few days Down Under.  After a seemingly endless flight in the dark, we touched down at the airport in Sydney just as the sun was rising (and yes it was that epic).  We went through customs and loaded up our bags onto a bus driven by the amazing Chris.  He gave us plenty of information about the city as we drove through the winding streets.

We finally stopped in front of Arundel House, our place of residence for the next few weeks.  The staff here is very friendly and accommodating.  They've provided us with breakfast each morning and a full kitchen to use for lunch and dinner.  After finding our rooms, we set out to get our first taste of life in Sydney.

We visited Glebe Point Road, a street with an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants similar to Hawthorne in Portland.  We kept walking, unsure of what we would find, until we came upon Darling Harbor.  This place was packed with families and tourists, all of them there to celebrate Sydney Festival, an annual arts and event that takes place in the summer.  We walked around a little bit more before heading home to make dinner.  The next day we would take a bus tour around the city.

The bus tour gave us a good idea of where we are.  We drove through the Central Business District and got to see Chinatown.  Not having a chance to stop, we decided we would go back for dinner that night.  We kept driving and finally got our first sight of Sydney Harbor at Circular Quay.  We then drove through The Rocks, a neighborhood of old stone buildings famous for its early colonial and convict history.  There is a pub there that is famous for being a place where they would “Shanghai” sailors—plying them with drinks until they were in a stupor and dragging them through underground tunnels back to the ships—in the old days, just like they did in Portland with the so-called Shanghai tunnels in Old Town.  We also learned how the base of the sandstone walls at Rocks were smoothed over in an attempt to keep rats (and people) from getting up into the richer parts of town during an outbreak of the plague.  Today, it is one of the most sought-after places to live in the city.  From here, we drove back to Circular Quay and got to see the iconic structures of the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.  There are few buildings in the world that even compare to the beauty of the Opera House.  Between that and the old stone buildings in the Rocks, it is interesting to see how Sydney has done such a good job of growing while at the same time preserving its historic architecture.

Photo by Kyla Covey

We got back on the bus and drove to the eastern edge the Royal Botanical Gardens, where we stopped to look out from Mrs. Macqaurie’s Point onto one of the best views of the Harbor Bridge and Opera House to be found in Sydney.  We then went through the neighborhoods of Pott's Point, Woolloomooloo, and Kings Cross, the alleged "Red Light" district of Sydney.  We continued on through more neighborhoods, all consisting of winding little streets, old sandstone buildings, and hundreds of restaurants and shops.  We finally stopped and got out of the bus again at South Head.  Here, the Tasman Sea crashes into the base of two hundred foot tall cliffs.  We could see all up and down the coast as well as the entire city.
Our last stop before heading home was the world famous Bondi Beach.  This place was simply amazing.  We all ran out of the bus and jumped into the ocean to join the many thousands of tourists enjoying the iconic beach.  We would learn later that the waters were not entirely safe that day—there was a shark spotted near the beach.  To our luck, it was on the other side of the net that keeps sharks out.

Photo by Kyla Covey
When we were all done, we climbed back onto the bus and drove back to Arundel.  When dinnertime came around, we walked a short way back to Chinatown for dinner.
Our days so far have been much like this, with trips to Coogee Beach and other neighborhoods in the area.  Today, some of us went downtown to the Museum of Sydney, and a few of us plan on going to a cricket match (both of which I'm sure you'll hear about in later posts).  As best as we can tell so far, Australia's original and complex society offers new things to discover everyday.  And yet, we've only seen Sydney.  What follows will surely hold exciting adventures for us.

We've also begun our classroom sessions at the University of Sydney.  We've learned the basics on Australian geology and climate.  Today we learned the history of human evolution in Australia, which included a tour of the University's collection of early human remains. We also discussed the cultural diversity among Indigenous tribes.  So far, our classes have been a great resource, and I am looking forward to what we will learn in the near future.  We'll report back in a few short days.  Until then, take care!

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