150 exchange students from all over Melbourne (myself included) hopped on a bus at the Southern Cross Station in downtown Melbourne and drove up the East Coast of Australia from 7pm Thursday night until 6am Friday morning. We arrived in the beautiful city of Sydney with 3 whole days ahead of us to explore. After we unloaded our belongings and checked into our hostel, it was time to tour the city. We began walking without direction and ended up at the City Market. A very nice looking building with escalators and glass doors, but it was not what was inside this building that was so spectacular, but rather what was beneath it. We walked down two flights of dark stairs instead of going up the escalators and found ourselves in the underground Chinatown market of Sydney. We stood in the doorway for a while not knowing where to start, for what lay before us was booth upon booth of souvenirs, clothing, costumes, toys, jewelry, hunting equipment, massage tables, backpacking gear, dresses, fresh fruit, candy, wigs, shoes, Ugg boots, umbrellas, towels, clocks, remote control helicopters, books, televisions, anything and everything you could possibly imagine. It was a jungle and maze of booths and overall quite overwhelming. I didn’t have a clue as to where to begin so I started with the wigs. My friends and I had the time of our lives shopping around the underground Chinatown of Sydney. I tried on hot pink, spiky wigs and velvet corsets and diamond rings. I flew mini helicopters and sampled the fresh fruit and tried on the wide selection of Ugg boots and camo hunting gear. I proceeded to leave the market when I walked into the booth that held the “lucky”severed koala feet, the kangaroo skin rugs, the snake skin belts and the stuffed wallabies. Aside from the dead animals, the market was an awesome place to lose yourself, and your money too.
After the market, we walked through downtown Sydney and got to experience the WW2 Memorial Building where they hold a remembrance service every day at 12 O’clock. We were able to participate in the moment of silence and listen to the bell ring, once, twice, three times…counting by the thousands, the number of soldiers who gave their lives. It was very moving and as per usual, I cried. After the memorial we walked to the St. Mary’s Church. It was unbelievable. The outside of the church alone was enough to write home about, but the inside was absolutely breathtaking. Intricate stain glass windows, hundreds of candles, marble statues, steeples, paintings on the ceiling, carvings in the walls, large mahogany benches, fountains, the list goes on. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures from the inside. More than once I considered breaking this rule, afraid that years from now my memory would not possibly be able to do it justice. But I thought better of breaking this rule since I had already gotten in trouble with the priest after forgetting to take off my beanie when I entered the church. From St. Mary’s we walked to the famous Botanical Gardens and became engulfed by amazing colorful flowers, marble statues, fountains, green grass fields, stone pathways, and best of all, a clear view of the famous Sydney Opera House, our next destination.The opera house was incredible, even when compared to the famous pictures taken with special effects at sunset and lighting and the works. There is something rather humbling about standing in front of a building that is iconic of an entire country. After the Opera House we walked up the 250 steps to the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon (AKA the Dirty Coat Hanger) where we got the best view of the entire Darling Harbour. After taking way too many pictures from up there, we all proceeded to walk back to our hostel to get ready for the Sydney Harbour Booze Cruise. It was pirate themed so we all scavenged around our suitcases and tried to find something Captain Jack might wear. The end result was rather amusing, with ripped shirts, plastic swords and drawn on mustaches. The cruise took us along the bay and we were able to see the Opera House lit up at night alongside reflections of the glowing Harbour Bridge, and that was just Friday.On Saturday we all woke up early, despite the groaning complaints from those who had a little too much to drink on the cruise and loaded back onto the bus to make our way to the Blue Mountains. These are known to be the Grand Canyon of Australia. Unfortunately for us it was pouring rain and very foggy so we were unable to appreciate them in all their splendor, but they were beautiful just the same. As we hiked the fog and rain gave off a Jurassic park ambiance. You couldn’t help but wonder what creatures were watching you from the forest, hidden behind leaves and fog, as you tentatively walked through. After our soggy hike, we drove back into the city center and began our preparations for the famous Mardi Gras Parade.
Preparations included, but where not limited to, masquerade masks, body paint, fake tattoos, sticky jewels, head dresses, feather boas, glitter, makeup, fishnets, sparkly hats, lingerie, nudity, and a mass consumption of alcohol. Our travel group rented out a club right in front of the main street parade. Mardi Gras is a little bit different in Sydney than it is in New Orleans. In Sydney, Mardi Gras is comparable to the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. The parade consisted of many fun floats, interesting titles, and even more eye catching costumes. One part of the parade was a bunch of half naked women, wearing only leather chaps, riding Harley’s with their girlfriends carrying banners that stated “Dikes on Bikes.” Another was a large group of gay men, all dressed as Wonder Woman, and doing a choreographed dance to “I’m Every Woman” by Whitney Houston. It was all very entertaining, especially to some of the other exchange students who hadn’t yet been exposed to this type of parade before. Watching their expressions and reactions was almost as entertaining as watching the half dressed men and women who flooded the streets. Eventually we wandered the street of Sydney and made it back to the hostel, only to be woken up early once again to see all the famous beaches. We took a ferry to Manly Beach (famous for it’s surfing and well…manliness), then walked to Shelly Beach, where we found an abundance of…lo and behold, shells! And lastly we headed to Bondi Beach, which is apparently known as the “Sports Illustrated Beach” since everyone who attends this beach looks like a super model, and because it is also a topless, nude, “dress as you please”beach.