And we went out with a bang!
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Today was our last full day in Australia, and we did our very best to make sure we said goodbye to this spectacular country in spectacular fashion, starting off with a Sydney Harbor Bridge climb. I know you are all simply expiring to know whether or not yours truly, an avowed coward vis-à-vis high places (ask Mr. Varner about having to change certain light bulbs at my house!), managed to muster the internal fortitude to make the climb. Yes, I did!!! I made it all the way to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, over 400 feet in the air (that’s over forty stories!) without puking or peeing my pants! (I will not deny, however, that I was white knuckling it for a significant portion of the trip.)
Our bridge climb was scheduled for 9:40 am, and not wanting to miss one minute of the fun, we got there at 9:15...if you ever come to Sydney, the Shangri-La Hotel is right up the street from the BridgeClimb office, FYI. We started off signing the liability wavers, lest we die in a gruesome fall and you, our nearest and dearest, get motivated to sue them. Then we had to blow a breathalyzer to prove we were not under the influence. For heaven’s sake, it was 9:00 in the morning! I was under the influence of toast with marmalade! Then it was off to get suited up. We had to don little bridge jumpsuits over our clothes, then pass through a metal detector to prove we had nothing in our pockets that we might throw off the bridge. Next, we got our caps and hankies, which were clipped to our suits, along with a bungee for our shades. After that, we had to don fall arrest belts with which we clipped into the safety cable and cheekbone radios so that we could hear Bernie, our very odd little guide, throughout the tour. Then we were off.
Our climb was the bridge Discovery climb, which took us to the top of the bridge through the internal superstructure, rather than up the outside. I originally thought that there would be lots of engineering details about the bridge. Not so much. For the first 300 m, we walked under the roadway access ramp to the bridge, which was largely open underneath, which is my particular bugaboo: I don’t like to see underneath me. However, once we got to the bridge proper, we were largely climbing up stairs that were against large steel support girders; ergo, no view through and one happy little chicken. We were clipped into the safety cable in a particular order, so we had to stay in that order throughout the climb. David was behind me (my choice…it kept me going), and there were three college girls in front of me doing the climb to celebrate a birthday. Frankly, they were annoying: they were stopping to appreciate the view a little too much, which in my view simply delayed me getting to the top and getting the hell down again! Couldn’t they have just done a pub crawl instead? In front of them was a little 65 or 70 year old woman, and she’s who kept me going: I couldn’t let Granny smoke me!
Some observations about the climb: the bridge did not vibrate or sway very much underneath me, which was definitely appreciated. My radio headset did not fit me properly, so it made it very hard to hear Bernie during most of the tour, and there was a little breeze, just enough to make it not seem so hot.
It took us about an hour to reach the top, with a couple of stops for Bernie to take our pictures along the way. (Only the group photo was included: individual photos were extra, but who ISN’T going to buy them?? Duh!) We spent probably 15 or 20 minutes hanging out on the very top of the bridge (under the flags if you’ve seen pictures) before mercifully heading back down again. I had specifically fluid-limited that morning so as not to have to make a potty break in the middle of a friggin’ bridge) and was dying of thirst. Plus, I wanted to go shopping and the dilly-dallying descent was cutting into prime shopping time! We made it back to terra firma about 12:30, reversed the suit-up process, then stopped to be extorted for pictures and souvenirs. Like I said, after you’ve spent all that money to climb, who’s not going to spend the extra dough for proof thereof??? That’s one efficient monopoly for certain. Happily, some of the proceeds from the climbing fees and pictures go to bridge conservation and upkeep.
We literally hit the ground running after that: we hailed a cab to the Queen Victoria Building, which is a very glamorous shopping arcade on George Street. (Think Coach, Gucci, Marc Jacobs, etc.) We hurriedly ate a sandwich whilst I plotted the shopping plan of attach. In deference to David, I only hit four unique Australian stores, at which I found absolutely nothing I was looking for. (I really attribute this to the pressure of shopping with a somewhat unknown entity (David), ‘cause you all know I can shop with the best of them! Shopping is a hobby that might best be pursued solo, I think.)
We headed back up George Street, one of the main drags, popping into little shops along the way. Per Sara’s recommendation, we also visited several Post Offices. The Post Offices here sell lots more than stamps. They have calendars, collectible coins, Cds, DVDs, toys, office supplies…really, a little bit of everything! We wandered back into the Rocks area before I found what I was desperately seeking: another carry-on bag! I loaded up my big backpack and plan to check it as luggage (happily, international travel means you can check two bags for free), but needed some sort of bag to schlep stuff on the plane. And I found a lulu: a Drizabone weekender bag. It was more than I originally planned on spending, but you all know how I get when I see just the right thing. I brought it back and put what I needed in it, and there’s still some room for last minute airport purchases. Yahtzee! I figure I can use it for trips in the future, so if we amortize the cost over….never mind.
Speaking of shooting your wad, we certainly did with dinner tonight! I absolutely say without a doubt that tonight I spent the most money I have ever spent on a meal in my life. Lisa, our faboo tour guide, was able to get us reservations at a restaurant called Rockpool, which we’d read about in the New York Times, Gourmet Magazine, and several of our guide books. So we slicked ourselves up and headed on down. When we got there, we discovered there were basically two choices: the eight course chef’s tasting menu and the four course prix fixe a la carte menu. We opted for the four course menu--who wants to eat eight courses of anything?
Because I knew I could not accurately recollect what we ate (it was so off beat that I wanted to get it exactly right!), I asked our extremely sweet waitress for a copy of the menu to keep as a souvenir. (The waitress, Amy? Emily? April? We’ll call her Amy to make it easy. Amy, it turns out, has dual US and Australian citizenship and actually grew up in Eugene, Oregon before returning to Australia with her mother. I think she took a little shine to us because we are Americans, but whatever the reason, she provided absolutely FABULOUS service!) So anyway, here’s what we ate:
Canape of fragrant crab broth with hand picked Queensland mud crab, dashi custard, tapioca, and wild bamboo pith.
This was okay, but the custard at the bottom was suspiciously slimey and the tapioca was pink! It looked like eyeballs!
Zucchini and parmesan tart with summer vegetables and green goddess dressing
This was probably my favorite of all the courses. The zucchini were sliced razor thin, and there was edible gold leaf on the vegetables! The veggies were chilled, though, which I always find odd.
Goat cheese cannelloni and white asparagus with broken carnaroli rice and hazelnut porridge
The goat cheese cannelloni was quite good, and I would have been down with the porridge if it hadn’t had ANISE in it. Yuck! I did pick the raisins out, though.
John Dory (it’s a fish) poached in tomato water with herbs, kipfler potatoes, fresh samphire, and sauce vierge
The fish was a firm, sweet white fish, and the potatoes were quite good. I could have done without all the grass decorating my food, though. I never did figure out the samphire and sauce vierge.
Amedei chocolate and hazelnut filled pain perdu with banana ice cream
This was awesome. Pain perdu is the French equivalent of French toast, but this was more like a bruleed crust around a little piece of sponge cake with Nutella in it. Yum-o! The banana ice cream was even good, and you know I’m not a fan of banana flavored food.
Same crab canape
Chirashi sushi of tuna, prawn, bonito, and squid
Grilled hervey bay scallops with sweet corn crepe and mussel butter
Pan roasted bass groper with king prawn, turnip, spring peas, and tea smoked oyster sauce
Rhubarb and strawberry compote, vanilla panna cotta, and syllabub (that’s a type of liquor and you could really taste it in the panna cotta!)
I imagine you all are wondering how we managed to mow through apparently so much food whilst still maintaining our girlish figures. Very simple: the portions were TINY! Midway through dinner, we were already discussing a pizza run afterward! However, after we finished dessert, Amy brought us little lagniappes: salted butter caramels (excellent), citrus madeleines (excellent), white chocolate bark with nuts and candied orange peel (excellent), and homemade passion fruit marshmallow (I almost had a “When Harry Met Sally” moment over the marshmallows. They were truly the lightest, most ethereal thing I’ve ever had in my mouth. I’m drooling just typing about them!)
After we sold a kidney to pay for dinner, we headed out, but were sadly still a little hungry. I think I told you earlier that there are lots of chocolate shops in Australia, and there was one called Guylian (pronounced Jillian) right at the end of the block that I had been dying to try. (David apparently does not see the need to make sure no chocolate shop goes unsampled…Knowing Carol as I do, I think this may be an indicator that I am her natural child and he is the adopted one!) So we traipsed up the street and got an apperitif: the chocolate special for David (basically a mocha with a ton of whipped cream on top) and a dark hot chocolate for me. When they brought me the chocolate, the cup had a square of dark chocolate in the bottom and hot chocolate in a pitcher to pour over the chocolate for myself. Oy vey, I almost swooned! It was not quite up to Angelina standards, but it was not far behind.
So that brings me to now. I am almost all packed and ready to leave. Australia has been superb, and it’s been great to be on vacation, but it will be great to get back home, sleep in my own bed, and see all of you. I hope you have enjoyed my telling of my adventures--I know I have enjoyed sharing them with you. So, as they say in Oz,