Today is to be my last day in Sydney, and I intend to make the most of it.
Thus, as reparation for my being lame and cheap and not paying $30 to go to a glorified frat party last night, I wake up before five and jog to Mrs. MacQuarie’s Point to watch the sunrise set the Opera House aflame. Despite running (literally) on less than three hours of sleep, it’s worth it.
When I get back to the hostel with nothing more than tentative plans to climb the Harbour Bridge Pylons (which happen to be a glorious 96% less expensive than the proper Harbour Bridge Climb), I discover I’m not the only one hoping to make sure this day is one for the history books.
Carol-Anne and Tom have plans to go to the “Skywalk” restaurant downtown for lunch. It’s basically a big needle structure with a rotating restaurant on top that has fantastic views of the city and an all-you-can-eat buffet (no great city is complete without such a restaurant these days, eh?). Impressed with each other and game for anything, Matt and I, and Tom and Carol-Anne, decide to combine our amazing plans into a perfect last day starring ridiculous amounts of food and featuring various spectacular views of Sydney.
We all eat breakfast together and relax before heading off to the restaurant around 11. When we arrive we discover that the famous Westfield spire is actually attached to a very high-end shopping center in a very high-end area. As soon we reach ground level outside our train stop we run into Lindt Chocolatiers and Rolex, then simply follow the trail of Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton to our destination.
I suppose it only makes sense…we are about to pay $65 for lunch.
I know, I know, that’s one hell of a price tag for a meal with a view, but I didn’t go out last night, thus saving $30, and how often are you in Sydney with amazing friends and an opportunity to dine eight hundred feet in the air? Besides, it is all you can eat.
We purchase our tickets and are escorted (legitimately escorted — like proper socialites!) by a man in a well-tailored suit to a claustrophobic elevator shaped a bit like a space capsule (only with no windows). At the top of the elevator — which travels fast enough to make our ears pop — we exit into a dimly-lit, circular room that’s quite reminiscent of the final waiting area right before you board the Dr. Doom Freefall ride at Universal Studios. Not that I, the elite socialite, have ever participated in a pastime so abhorrently plebeian as an Orlando theme park…ahem.
The ladies at the front desk take our tickets proving what big spenders we are and lead us to our table. As we walk through the restaurant, stepping cautiously from one piece of rotating carpet to the next, I have to admit I’m a bit underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong: I’m ecstatic to be here with these amazing people, with this amazing view, in this neat rotating restaurant — really, I am — but if it weren’t for the company and the view of the city, I would not be overly impressed. The entire restaurant looks as though it hasn’t been touched since the 60s. Everything is an odd, putrid shade of green with classically tacky accents of geometric carpet and paneling. The booths are chipped and peeling from decades, I’m assuming, of being mauled by waiters trays and anxious, hungry tourists. It’s a buffet, so I’m not sure what’s been capable of making those marks…it’s not like they’re carrying big food trays through here, but I digress. What matters is that, despite the run-down furniture and outdated decor, we’re in heaven. There’s food galore, all of Sydney spread out before us, and a phenomenal day planned ahead of us.
We joke and relax at our table for a while, taking pictures and ooh-ing and ah-ing at the view, and then our hunger gets the best of us and we make a break for our first of three course-specific buffet tables. Plates laden with a plethora of cold salads and bread, we sit down at our table and try not to notice the vague motion sickness one gets from eating in a rotating room. About half of the salad stuff is really good and the bread is to die for. I’m trying to save room for the main course and dessert (gotta get my money’s worth, after all) but can’t help but go back for seconds of the bread.
I just really love bread, okay?
The second course blows my mind. Even little vegetarian me has an infinite supply of amazing choices. There’s spaghetti and roast vegetables, dumplings and spring rolls and chow mein — everything and anything we could possibly want to eat. And eat we do.
Almost too stuffed to go on, we move on to a desert of miniature cakes, cream puffs, and ice cream. As much credit as I give the restaurant for their bread and their main course, I can’t lie…the dessert is crap. The only edible part of the dessert is the chocolate ice cream, but it melts in a weird sort of way that has me questioning what’s actually in it (but not questioning it so much that I don’t eat it…it is, after all, still chocolate ice cream).
All three courses demolished, we really are too stuffed to go on now. We all sort of sit around in a food coma for awhile, admiring the view and joking sleepily about a range of nonsensical topics. What a day, I think. And it’s only half past noon!
We do eventually haul ourselves out of our seats and head out into downtown Sydney to search for our train station. Tom leads the way as we zigzag through the streets, with Google as our guide. We pass some cool buildings and stop for a few seconds to admire them, but then push on, at long last locating the staircase that’ll lead us underground and, eventually, across the harbor.
Even though we were all aware of our plan to cross to the other side of the harbor, climb the pylons, then walk back over the Harbour Bridge, when our train breaks out of the tunnel into the muted daylight and we realize we’re gliding over the harbor on the famous bridge itself — the Sydney Opera House peeking in and out of view — we’re astonished and elated. Look at this! Look where we are! We point and snap pictures, thrilled by this grand surprise and filled with renewed excitement over our plan for the rest of the day.
We disembark on the other side and decide that — before starting our walk across the bridge — we should go check out the iconic old amusement park, Luna Park, which is tucked right behind the base of the bridge on this side of the harbor. Someone told me earlier in the week that Luna Park has long been shuttered, but to our excitement, we arrive to find the old amusement park still alive and well and gloriously overpriced. Pockets sufficiently emptied from lunch, we just sit for awhile on the harbor’s edge, people-watching those bold enough to pay entry into the park and snapping pictures of the bridge, the water, and — of course — the giant creepy clown face.
This view of Sydney, I have to admit, is outstanding. The arch of the bridge perfectly frames the Opera House, whose white sails gleam in the cloud-diffused light, while ferries chug back and forth in the water below.
After we’ve had our fill of Luna Park and its guests, we make our way under the bridge in search of the pylon climb. There’s no structured, touristy signs or lines set up anywhere…just a nice park backing up to the base of the bridge, a line of port-a-potties, and the water.
Confused, we walk up to a security guard standing near the base of the pylon and ask him where the pylon climb is. “It’s on the other side,” he replies. Carol-Anne’s expression darkens. Tom, Matt, and I laugh. From here, a cycle of complaining, reasoning, jokes, and impressions — all courtesy of Carol-Anne — begins as we drag our quartet (or rather, just the one member of our quartet — the other three of us are pretty stoked for the walk back) through the park towards the bridge. The walk, though long, is on track to be awfully entertaining.
After a bit of searching (during which I’m about 100 yards behind everyone else, having stopped every 5 seconds to snap another picture), and many hilarious attempts by Carol-Anne to imitate Tom’s accent (“Where-didjoo-see-tha-stepsmayte…? Where-didjoo-see tha steps mayte? …wherrrre-didjoo-see-tha-steps-mayte…”), we find the steps up to the bridge walk and start the trek across.
The first several hundred feet or so of the walk feels sort of surreal. We haven’t quite made it to the part of the bridge that hangs over open water, and between the heavy-duty fencing on either side of the walkway and the ominous, clouded sky above, this part of our journey starts to take on a dystopian, prison-like quality.
Before long, though, things open up and we’re blessed with broad, sweeping views of the water, the central business district, and — of course — that iconic old performance hall.
Carol-Anne, for all her complaining, and Tom make good time over the bridge while Matt and I lag behind, snapping pictures and ogling at the unbelievable nature of it all. We, too, eventually make it to the pylons on the far end of the bridge, though, and meet up with the two of them.
It’s very logical, of course, that the entrance to the pylon climb is here, on the walkway, and that, furthermore, the pylon itself is not on the very end of the bridge (seeing as it wouldn’t do much good for support if it wasn’t actually part of the bridge), but all the same, I’m surprised to find it just a little way past the halfway point of the bridge. Nonetheless, the four of us head inside the large, tan, brick structure together and start the climb up to the top of the pylon. We have to make a quick pitstop after the first flight of stairs to pay for our passage (they jacked up the prices for New Year’s Weekend, but — lucky me — I get 30% off for being a student), but after that, we press on. The staircases are wide and metal, banging with each footstep as we criss-cross the interior of the pylon, flight after flight. There’s 200 steps to the top in all, but they pass surprisingly fast. In no time, we find ourselves in an open, airy, museum-esque room with doors and windows open to the world outside. It appears we have arrived.
We step outside into boisterous winds and take in the view. It’s absolutely unbelievable. We can see everything. A tall brick barrier lines the top of the pylon and we stand on the attached benches and look over the edge into the space beyond, jaws dropping at the uninterrupted panorama of sky and sea and city.
We spend perhaps thirty minutes up there. I, as per usual, take the longest, unable to tear myself from the rooftop and its extraordinary view. I walk around the edge again and again, enjoying the wind in my hair, the heavy mist on my skin, and the endless photo opportunities. After what I hope is only a few minutes (but is probably more), I realize I’m the only one of our group left out on the pylon. Oops. I extricate myself from a conversation with some other young American tourists for whom I took a photo and head back to rejoin the others, who are waiting just inside. I apologize for holding everyone up (again), but they say it’s not a problem at all, and seem to really mean it. Relieved, I join them as we quickly peruse the displays about the construction of the bridge and then, together, start our descent back to bridge-level.
Throughout the day, the sky seems to have been contemplating whether or not it wants to dump rain on us. As we make our way down the steps and out of the pylon climb and museum, it seems to make its decision. Big fat raindrops splat onto us one-by-one as we finish the final leg of our walk across the bridge. Still, the real rain holds off a bit as we wind our way through strange, narrow backstreets in search of a cafe in which to seek both refuge from the incoming rain and caffeine to assuage our fatigue.
On the way we come across a funny little art exhibit: it’s more or less (but mostly less) a minimalist house, complete with a door, two floating windowpanes, and the outline of a chimney. Laughing, we crack jokes knocking on the door and “washing” the glassless window frames before pressing on.
When, at long last, we find a cafe, it’s really starting to rain in earnest. This, of course, means that sadly we are not the only ones who’ve had the brilliant idea to hide indoors with coffee and wait out the storm.
The cafe we choose is not only packed, but also far more expensive than a cafe should be. Looking around we realize it’s because it’s a coffee and chocolate shop. A famous coffee and chocolate shop. The chocolates are Guylian, the chocolatier responsible for making sea-creature shaped chocolates that, according to Tom, only old ladies ever buy.
Well joke’s on him — we each inadvertently purchase at least one Guylian chocolate because each of our $6 coffees comes with one on the side. I’m over-the-moon: I’ll pay just about anything for a good cappuccino in the first place, and this one is not only fantastic but it also comes with an adorable, seahorse-shaped chocolate?! Score!
We’re all starting to fall into a bit of a post-fun stupor when my friend Rachel from Peaks and Professors (a club at USC where we Trip Leads — student leaders chosen for our immense bravery and skill in the outdoors, plus our dank memes — lead hiking/camping trips all over southern California with a group of students and a USC professor), pops into the cafe. We’ve been texting all day trying to meet up and at last (huzzah!) we have succeeded.
Rachel and her friend cram into our tiny corner of the cafe and we all chat together as they order their coffees and we finish up ours. Time flies, and soon we’re all headed out of the cafe together. Paying for our coffees turns into a frustrating and rather ridiculous ordeal when they tell us we can’t split the check, leaving us flabbergasted — standing in the middle of the chaotic one-room establishment and growing increasingly incensed by the snobby, uncooperative staff. Well then maybe I’ll just leave without paying for my ridiculously delicious $6 coffee and bring my five friends with me, I think indignantly. Instead, we make a scene trading cash back and forth while blocking up the main area of the small cafe and then leave in a rush that felt a lot sassier than it probably was.
It’s hard to be more content than we are now as we head back to the train station in the cool, rainy afternoon air, surrounded by good friends and reinvigorated by our latest dose of caffeine. At the train station I say goodbye to Rachel and her friend and rejoin Tom, Matt, and Carol-Anne inside for the trip back to King’s Cross Backpackers. It has been a day of exciting new experiences, but it isn’t over yet: on the way home, Carol-Anne teaches Matt and me all the worst and most offensive words and phrases in French.
USC’s French Department always said that studying abroad was the best way improve your language skills. Learning French curse words while travelling through Sydney’s Underground is exactly what they meant…right?