Monday, February 20, 2012

NSW: North Ryde and Sydney Harbour

Well after all this time we finally get to the Sydney post, ill be breaking this part of our trip into sections as Sydney was to huge to do it all in one post. We will be here for a while so you'll be seeing sydney for a little bit :) After a quiet night in Albury, we woke up and had a nice quick breakfast and were back on the road for another full day of driving. Sydney was our destination and we were excited to under way, Sydney is just one of those iconic places that you automatically think of when you hear Australia. Its much like NYC in that way, you see it in movies, tv shows, name it. Theres a sort of magic that surrounds it and serves to capture the imagination. There is so much to do there, we were there for about a week and barely scratched the surface but in all honesty if you only go to Sydney you're missing out on what Australia has to offer. So on the road we were, the drive was long but pleasant, there was lots of open country and oddly enough as we approached ever closer to the city the landscape changed to big areas of forests and rivers. Definitely not what i had expected as we approached a major city. As we got closer one thing that is prevalent to cities did show up......traffic! Now I'm not a huge fan of traffic but can manage, but traffic through a city is a big source of stress. Cities are all packed into tiny areas and theres tons of people everywhere and not just normal people but stupid people. It seems that the more people you pack into small spaces the propensity for stupidity increases exponentially. Alas it could not be avoided and we had to charge forward stupid people or not. So forward we went, and let me just say that in times like this i am incredibly grateful to have Jen because she plays navigator and does it incredibly well. If it wasn't for her i would probably still be in Australia driving around in circles or driving into a river and eaten by crocs. To my great surprise the drive through the city to our campground was not as bad as i thought it was going to be. It was stressful but i was envisioning thousands of cars everywhere, bumper to bumper traffic, pissed off and screaming know the works. After 5 hrs of driving though i was exhausted and wanted to stretch and relax. Eventually we arrived to our campsite, it was oddly beautiful to for an RV campsite i mean. Big trees and lots of them and a pattern began to emerge that would continue at pretty much every campground we stayed at. We would see more wildlife at these campgrounds than in most other places we visited, anything from birds, lizards, bugs, possums. It was at this campground that i would meet what is by far my favorite bird of all time, but more on that on a later post. Sadly another pattern also emerged: No campground we stayed at from here on out would come close to the "magic" and simplicity of that open field in Victoria. We made the best of it but always longed to go back.......someday. So we arrived, parked, got situated and had a good stretch and the exhaustion that we were experiencing was completely gone. We were energized by being in a new place to explore and were eager to get our adventures underway. Our campground was in North Ryde which is about 30 minutes outside of Downtown Sydney by train. One of the things that we have fun doing is figuring out different public transportation systems, every city is different and while it can be confusing and frustrating at first it gives you a great sense of accomplishment when you get it down. The train station was about a 10 minute walk from our campground, which doesn't seem like its that bad. But when you're carrying a camera bag that weighs 30-40 lbs it can be brutal especially when you're coming back at midnight and you've been walking all day. To the train station we went, and we arrived it was really creepy. There was no one there! I mean not a single person in sight! Were used to subway stations in NYC were you can't turned 10 inches without someones face being right in your, and all you want to do is to get above ground for a breath of fresh air. Not here, it was deserted, there was an employee in a little booth and he helped us get our passes for the week but other than that it was empty. It was like a scene out of one of those zombie apocalypse movies where everything is deserted and you just see a random newspaper blow across the screen. We sat there creeped out and waited for our train, eventually another person showed up but that was it. The train arrived and we were on our way into the city, the ride was really nice and gave us a chance to sit and relax. Here and there we would look out the window and as we got closer to our destination we could see little glimpses of the harbor. Our excitement grew but it was a frustrating tease to see small areas of the harbor and all you want to see is that iconic view of the Sydney Opera House, that one landmark that has served to identify Australia for many years. We wouldn't have to wait long, as the view eventually opened up to where you could see the harbor and off in the distance was not just the opera house but the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Two huge landmarks right there and yet again we experienced that feeling that drove the fact home WE WERE IN AUSTRALIA!!! I won't lie, i got goosebumps. Seeing the vastness of this place really energized us and we were excited to go explore, we arrived at our stop and made our way down to the waterfront. We realized that we were in the wrong place if we wanted to see the Opera House and bridge especially if we wanted to see it at sunset. Lucky for us Sydney has an incredible public transport system in place at the harbor and you can just catch a ferry to where you need to go. The cost of the ferry was covered by our train! We got on the ferry and I'm glad we did because it gave yet another view of the harbor and the bridge which was a lot of fun. I spent most of my time out on the deck shooting tons of photos, the view of the city was just incredible. We made our way around and got to the opera house, it was cool to finally be there seeing this place. To be there and knowing that you can cross something off the list, we had seen it in books in movies and planning for over a year and now here we were at the steps of the opera house. It was very surreal. We stayed here pretty much the entire time as sunset was really close and i wanted to shoot some photos, it was a great way to start our time in Sydney. Sunset came and went and the harbor became even more interesting and beautiful as the light faded and the city lights began to come on. We walked around for a bit still in awe and shock that we were here finally, when before all we could do is wait and it seemed so far away. We took it all in and walked into the opera house, i wish that we could have caught a show there but we were there right in the middle of the holidays and nothing was going on until after we would be gone. Still, it was incredibly beautiful and i discovered that the opera house is meant to look like its sailing across the harbor and when you see it in person from a distance it really does look like its some kind of vessel sailing across the water. It was late now and the rush of energy was quickly fading, we made our way back and got on the train "home". Exhausted beyond belief we dragged ourselves off of our seats and got off at our stop......still deserted and still creepy. The walk back to our van was grueling, being so tired and carrying all that weight was just painful. But we made our way past the cemetery/crematorium, yes you read that right, down the long dark road and got to our van. Tired and happy we passed out as soon as we hit the bed.....soon we would be ready fro a new day and a new adventure.

Sydney Harbour pano1

Sydney Harbour Pano 2

Sydney Harbour Pano 3 flat

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

New South Wales: Albury

After an incredible few days in Australia and a very "magical" start to the day in princetown where we saw a field with a herd of kangaroos when we woke up we got on the road and continued our journey. This day was the 1st of a grueling journey to get to Sydney, we had 6hrs of driving ahead of us but we were in high spirits and were just happy to be in Australia. One of the great things about driving in Australia is the fact that there are tons of rest stops least in this part of Oz anyway. It was fairly easy to breakup the drive so we wouldn't go crazy. This makes for a longer day but at least you don't hate each other by the time you reach your destination. The bad thing about driving in Australia is that there is something to see, everywhere you look theres something cool to take a look at. So being the driver can mean a lot of multitasking, which is unbelievably exhausting and finally the one thing that i will never understand about driving in Australia is the speed limits. Australian authorities make a BIG deal about speeding and every 20 kilometers or so you see signs telling you "SLOW DOWN STUPID!!" "SPEEDING KILLS!!" or something along those lines. With all these signs i really could not understand how sometimes the speed limit would be 100 kph ( 62MPH) in unbelievably winding roads in the rain. May not seem that fast for many of you but i wasn't about to make our trip shorter by driving like an idiot. The day was largely uneventful, we drove, stopped, drove some more, stopped and stretched, drove, ate get the idea. My wife and i really did enjoy these drives as it gave us a lot of time to catch up and talk at a level and ease that is difficult sometimes living a busy life with full time jobs. After a full day of driving and lots of open country traversed we finally reached our destination......Albury. This really wasn't anything to write home about, Albury is just a tiny city along the highway but it served well as a place to stay for the night. I was about to discover that every place has its own charm, first though we had to find the stupid campground. One of the incredibly frustrating things about driving in Australia was their road signs or lack thereof, especially when it came to street names. Trying to figure out what the name of the street that you are on or thinking of turning onto is just about impossible and a true lesson in patience of which we quickly ran out of often. Google maps would say one thing, but google and reality would seldom meet so many u turns would be made on our journey. Seriously and i cannot stress this enough but the placement of street signs was just downright idiotic and completely arbitrary! Signs would be on the sides of buildings or maybe on a street light, or hidden behind a tree, NONE OF IT MADE SENSE!! To top it off you would finally find the right street and a little ways down the road it would turn into a completely different street and then into another, many times without any warning! Despite all this we found our way and after someone seeing that we were clearly lost they gave us directions and we found our campground for the night. After parking the van, we realized just how exhausted we were so we decided to just stay where we were and make dinner.......thats when i heard it. Parrots! EVERYWHERE!! At 1st i couldn't figure out where they were and then i saw a big flock of these beautiful red parrots flying around and then more would appear. It was incredible all these beautiful colorful birds..........AT A FLIPPING CAMPGROUND!! There were red parrots on the ground feeding, cockatoos flying in the air and other beautiful colorful parrots just coming out of the trees. The diversity of birds was absolutely amazing, I just could not believe it. well of course all that exhaustion that i was feeling before was now gone, so i went to the van grabbed my camera and my longest lens, sadly it would not be enough. There is a painful truth in photography, your longest lens is never long enough, nothing makes this painfully clear like photographing birds. Birds are small, skittish and incredibly paranoid, they are always on alert., all these factors make them extremely difficult to get close to and photograph. Having a really long lens lets you keep a good distance while still filling your frame. Also, photographing birds in flight is a skill all its own and one that i do not posses, so my hat goes off to all those photographers who can do it well. Despite all these factors i tried to make the best of it, i had beautiful light to work with and very lively subjects to photograph. I didn't get as many photos as i would like but i had a blast crawling on the road on my stomach just to try and get close. Plus we were able to experience some of Australias unbelievable beauty in a very very unexpected place. The sun went down and the light was gone, it was time to quit for the day. Jen had made some delicious Phad Thai for dinner, yes you read that right, there were many instances on our trip where she would go all out in less than ideal conditions, really reminded me just how lucky i am to have her. So we ate dinner and after preparing the van for the night we fell asleep watching finding nemo. Another great day in Oz, but we had to rest for the next day was another long day of driving on our journey to Sydney.