Short commuter flight to Sydney, checked into a small hotel, and walked through the Botanical Gardens. This was recommended as one of the best ways to let the vista of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House unfold, and it was remarkable. These were two of the most-photographed, best-known cliche sites in the world but they still looked stunning in real life.
We stopped at the harbour for a slightly disappointing lunch and decided, in what was now a familiar pattern, to split up for the afternoon and meet later. The girls headed for Chinatown while I toyed with the idea of ferry across the harbour or bravely walking across the bridge (my phobia of bridges is well-known to my friends), but instead wandered around the foot of the bridge, struck by the majesty of the engineering. It gave me the same kind of awe, bordering on terror, that the Forth and Clifton bridges give me; unlike the Forth Bridge, this one is flinty grey, a dark giant. You could see people climbing for the tour across the top (look for them in the first photo.) Valerie, former oboeist in the Houdini Box, has moved to Sydney and her farewell present from her work colleagues was a pass to do the Harbour Bridge walk.) I took a few snaps then settled for a while in an internet shop in the old section, The Rocks.
After that I walked into the main part of the city, first through the banking and commercial headquarters, then the upmarket shops in Victorian civic temples, then a more run-down, bohemian, almost sleazy part. By now the sunshine had given way to intermittent but heavy showers. A monorail snaked above the crowded street, all sushi bars and game parlours full of Chinese and Malaysian-looking teenagers. It was hectic and edgy and when we met up we were all exhausted, so we decided to take time out from being tourists and went to the cinema for ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. Then a taxi back to the harbour area for an evening meal. We chose the place next to the place we’d eaten at lunchtime, but our hearts sank when we realised it was just an extension of the same place. The feelings were reversed, however, when we had what was probably the best dinner of the whole holiday. I had a rich and varied bouillabaisse and Pest had what she called ‘the best spaghetti bolognaise in th e world’. I can’t remember Madame’s dish but it lived up to the other two.