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The engineer-tourist touches down in Sydney

Started: 2007-08-12 05:54:33

Submitted: 2007-08-12 06:00:00

Visibility: World-readable

We touched down in Sydney shortly after 0600 Saturday morning local time, which was 1400 Friday afternoon in Boulder. Our landing was a bit rougher than I expected; it took a good force to jar the massive aircraft, and hitting the runway was enough to do it.

We shuffled off the plane and into the international arrivals hall, which looked pretty much like any international arrivals hall anywhere in the world shortly before dawn. I picked the wrong queue for customs (the first step in entering the country, which most other countries call immigration); my agent was more thorough on each incoming passenger and didn't like the fact that my passport had been through the laundry and that I didn't write my second middle name on my landing card because there wasn't space. She referred me to secondary screening, where the security features on my passport were examined in detail (some of them may have been damaged in the wash) and the second-tier agent took my passport and landing card into a back room for ten minutes before emerging and letting me go through to the next stage. She seemed on the verge of suggesting I replace my passport with a non-laundered one but didn't say anything when she noticed I still had five years before my passport expires. (Besides, now would be an especially bad time to try to renew my passport given the Great Passport-Issuing Debacle of 2007.)

Our bags took an extraordinarily long time to show up on the baggage claim. Once they arrived, the Quarantine queue was epic; when we neared the front of the queue, an agent recognized that Steve and I were traveling together (although not related; he's not quite old enough to be my father) and pulled us out of line for a few questions before waving us into an exit line.

We emerged into the airport terminal, found an ATM that wouldn't dispense cash, and made our way to the train station, where seven-day transit passes covering trains, buses, and ferries seemed like the best option. On the train north into the city, a young American woman recognized our accents and revealed that she was from Virginia but was living in Sydney at the moment. She gave us pointers of what to see and pointed out the view of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge when we stopped at the Circular Quay station. ("Quay", she pointed out, is pronounced "key".)

At Town Hall Station, we headed a few blocks west to our hotel, the Pacific International Suites Sydney. Steve checked in first and got a room; mine wasn't quite ready yet. (It was well before the designated check-in time, but we didn't have much else to do with our bags.) We dropped our bags and headed out on foot towards the sights we glimpsed through the train window.

We walked up Darling Harbour and came under the southern approach of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which gave a great view of the Sydney Opera House. We walked across the east side of the bridge and spotted the jumpsuit-clad tourists climbing the main arch of the bridge in organized tour groups.

On solid ground again, we spotted the ferries departing Circular Quay and decided that would be a great way to see the water and visit Manly Beach. (It also helped that the trip was free, having already paid for the transit pass.) The ride to Manly provided more fantastic views of the key engineering accomplishments and the skyline and the water.

At Manly, we crossed the isthmus and stepped onto the beach itself: a mile of perfect sand in a crescent nestled between azure water and beach-front property. It was the middle of winter, in the southern hemisphere, and it was perfect.

After some time at the beach, we headed back down the main strip in the direction of the ferry and found a Vodafone store. We entered and inquired about rates on pre-paid cell plans for calling back to the United States. (Steve brought a pair of unlocked GSM phones.) The best rate was AU$0.33/minute, which wasn't great (it was much more than a calling card), but it seemed reasonable for short calls, so we each got a SIM and installed them in our phones. They didn't come active until the ferry back to Circular Quay; after activating my phone I called Kiesa; Saturday afternoon in Sydney worked out to Friday evening in Boulder.

When the ferry pulled into Circular Quay, it was mid-afternoon but we were jet-lagged, so we took the train (heavy commuter and inter-urban rail which happens to run underground in downtown Sydney; it's a bit odd to see a huge double-decker passenger car in an oversized subway tunnel) to Town Hall and headed to the hotel. My room was ready, so I grabbed my bags and found my one-bedroom suite on the seventh floor. The room was long and narrow, with a kitchen along the inner wall across from a couch and coffee table next to a balcony, with a small kitchen table next to the sliding, frosted-glass doors enclosing the one bedroom. (I kept the doors open.) Behind the bedroom was a tiny desk situated in front of a tiny laundry room (which was missing a washing machine but included a tiny laundry sink and tiny dryer) and the bathroom. It's closer in size to my first apartment than any hotel I've stayed in, and certainly larger than Kiesa's apartment in Walla Walla.

I took a shower and tried to stay awake through the afternoon, but I had fallen asleep sitting up on the couch when Steve called my new mobile early in the evening to arrange a rendezvous for supper. We headed east, past Town Hall Station in search of food and ended up at an Asian fusion restaurant with good teriyaki vegetables.

Back at the hotel, I declared it to be an appropriate plausible early bedtime and went to bed, seven thousand miles from home.

like a lot of geeks, I can run risky meatspace things
through my head until a faulty value comes out that
suggests there's no need to actually do them.
- Caleb John Clark, "Linux and the Lady", Salon.com 27 September 2000