25th of November 2011; a month until Christmas. We woke with our insides in a messy emotional tangle. Were we excited? Yes! We had three days ahead of us in Sydney, Australia, and then we would be in New Zealand, where we were planning on beginning a new life for ourselves. But, were we sad? Extremely! Goodbye ms Zaandam and your amazing, cheerful, hard-working crew. Goodbye room of ours with your creaking and groaning walls, that in the end only added to the lullaby calm of the swaying ship when we slept. Goodbye sea-views stretching from horizon to horizon, and welcomed paradisiacal island stops interrupting our voyage. And goodbye…sun?! If the weather greeting us was anything to go by, just maybe we were also saying goodbye to hot sunny days in t-shirts and shorts.
But on seeing the view that blanketed our horizon from our verandah, we felt that just maybe we could forgive Sydney for its concrete coloured skies and misting of rain. Beautiful red brick buildings sprung up from behind the Overseas Passenger Terminal. To the right your could see the arches of the Harbour Bridge. And thankfully, it was warm. Not shorts and t-shirts warm, but neither was it Canadian cold. It was in these first few moments of our arrival, first impressions sinking in, that our crush on Sydney began.
Our luggage had been packed and placed outside our room before retiring the day before. It was odd as we closed the door to our room for the final time. Armed with only our carry-on’s we wove our way through the long narrow corridors and down the wide steps to our final disembarkation, and stepped ashore knowing that from here there was no going back.
The process of collecting our luggage and making our way through customs was effortless. To my delight there was no customs. All our belongings had been accounted for when we had first boarded the ship, and then regularly scanned and x-rayed every time we returned to the ship after our shore excursions. It was only minutes before we were in view of the door that marked the exit of the Overseas Passengers Terminal, and the entry into Sydney. Beaming with how easy everything had been, Murphy’s Law reared his bothersome head and teased us with our freedom by making us wait in line for an hour for a taxi; for once we had collected our luggage there was no going anywhere without a taxi.
At long last it was our turn to catch a taxi. Winding through downtown Sydney we finally arrived at our Hotel, our home sweet home for the next few nights, the Y-Hotel. Immediately it became obvious to us the Y part of the name referred to the “youth” aspect of the hotels target customers. At first sight we seemed to be the only people above the age of twenty in the place, with the exception of the employees. A far cry from the situation we had found ourselves in aboard the Zaandam. We should have expected then the “No Frills” design of the spartan little room we were laden with. Floor to ceiling windows filled one whole wall and looked squarely into the rooms on the other side of the courtyard. Being on the sixth floor with a bit of a dizzying look down, I was almost immediately assigned that side of the room.
Leaving our itty bitty room behind we grabbed a taxi to begin our sightseeing at Darling Harbour. First we collected our iVenture cards that I had purchased on-line prior to leaving Canada; much like the Go San Diego cards they allowed us free entry into an assortment of Sydney attractions for the discounted price of the card. And so we began our aimless wandering around the beautiful, clean, cosmopolitan city of Sydney.
And then we saw it! The Australian National Maritime Museum. A sprawling building playing background to a harbour of amazing ships; the Destroyer HMAS Vampire and the HMB Endeavour amongst others. For Martin’s inner pirate, having been uncovered during our time at sea, this was without question a must-see.
Before heading inside the Museum we decided to fully explore the ships outside, in particular the Destroyer HMAS Vampire and the Submarine HMAS Onslow.
The Destroyer HMAS Vampire , a very solid intimidating big-gun ship, had served in the Royal Australian Navy from the years of 1959 until 1986, and lucky us…we were allowed on board. An amazing tribute to history, it is almost impossible to describe how it felt to be navigating through its narrow hallways, looking in on the tiny living quarters that now rivalled our own, and wandering around the decks equipped with VERY big guns, and we imagined what it might have felt to have lived aboard. Being so far removed from the luxury liner we had spent the last month on, I’m sure our imaginations fell short.
Rivalling the Vampire in its impressiveness was the HMAS Onslow Submarine. Having served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1969 to 1999 it was often home to 68 people or so at a time, and on exploring it ourselves this was extremely hard to fathom. With small tight spaces sized for children it was hard to imagine that it was normal sized adults that had spent their time sleeping, eating, living and working here. And I have never before seen so many pipes and buttons and levers… Both Martin and I were left in awe.
On completing our tours of the Vampire and Onslow we were famished. So after a quick lunch at the Dock Eatery we found ourselves ready to explore the treasures the actual Museum had in store for us. From the first navigators and their discovery of Australia to Australia’s modern-day love affair with the sea, we explored maritime history. Martin became lost in taking photo’s of every model ship he could find, while I immersed myself in the maritime history of the convicts and settlers that came to call Australia home, again reflecting on and being thankful for how luxurious our own cruise liner was.
After what had already felt like a very full day, we called it quits on our educational experience, leaving the Museum behind, and went for a wander. Even on an overcast day Sydney was pretty. Clean. Buzzing. And just generally happy. As were the kids, stripped half-naked, playing in the concrete kids water park outside of the mall in the rain.
Eventually we came across the Chinese Garden of Friendship. Possibly not the most ideal day to view it, but none-the-less it was truly beautiful and tranquil; everything you would expect from a Chinese Garden of Friendship I suspect. Based on ancient principles of yin and yang, and the balancing of the elements, a lush green paradise of exotic flora met waterfalls and tranquil lakes filled with floating lotuses. Stone pathways met Chinese architecture designed in such a way as to frame the views as if suspending paintings. Not even the light drizzle of rain could spoil its beauty.
All too soon it was time to head back to our hotel. Walking through town amidst the pleasant hustle and bustle of what we soon learnt was Sydney 24/7, we shopped and explored, and enjoyed a meal of Indian, before staggering home fulfilled and full.