Saturday, June 28, 2008

What I Did On My Australian Vacation: Day Twelve

Yes, over two months after returning from the vacation, I'm finally getting very close to finishing up my account of it! Here we have...

Day Twelve:

This was our free day in Sydney, and my friend and I were on our own, since my relatives had opted for a bus tour of the Blue Mountains instead. As it turned out, we definitely made the better choice by staying in town, as they were fogged in the entire way, and, alas, the pretty views they'd paid to see were almost entirely invisible.

We started out at the National Maritime Museum, because it was nearby and it was free. It looked pretty small from the outside, and the name wasn't all that inspiring, so I had visions of a drab little place with displays of rusty sea anchors and mannequins in naval uniform. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be one of the most fascinating museums I've ever been in. I'd say it's not so much a museum of maritime history as a museum that takes the ocean as a central theme around which to build an exploration of all aspects of Australian history, with a lot of emphasis on social issues. We seemed to be the only ones there, and were immediately latched onto by a volunteer tour guide, who showed us around the entire museum. In was a long, substantial tour, full of all kinds of interesting stuff -- our guide clearly knew and cared about her subject matter -- and it still only scratched the surface of all the amazing pieces of history they had crammed in there. We could easily have spent the entire day there, and part of me seriously wanted to, but it hardly seemed right to spend our only day in Sydney looking at the inside of one museum, so we reluctantly tore ourselves away and went for a wander.

We did our exploration of the city (or, rather, a small section of it) partly on foot and partly via the monorail. You know, the only other monorails I've been on have been the one at Disneyworld and one that went back and forth between casinos at Las Vegas. I remember when they were the Transportation of the Future!, and we were all going to be using them to get around come the 21st century. What ever happened to that? Because now they're just sort of... retro. It's a shame, too, because they seem like a pretty good means of public transportation. The views are certainly better than on a subway. The one in Sydney just goes in a big circle around the center part of the city, but it was incredibly handy, considering that a) it was still raining off and on all day, and b) my friend can't necessarily walk for long distances without needing to sit down for a bit.

Anyway, we rode the monorail all the way around once, just for the hell of it, then got off and took a walk through the Queen Victoria Building. This, as the name might suggest, is an old Victorian building, which now houses a large, upscale shopping center. The interior is very pretty, and preserves a lot of the original decor. It also houses a huge mechanical clock that displays various scenes from Australian history. Here's a picture of the clock:

You gotta love the Victorians and their ostentatious mechanical gadgets.

After that, we were planning on visiting the Australian Museum, but as soon as we got close to it, we could see that that might not be a terribly good idea. There was a huge crowd of people there, and as far as we could tell, it looked like the line to get in stretched most of the way down the block. I'm not sure if there was something special going on that day, or if it's always that busy, or if it was just that everybody in Sydney decided that they had nothing better to do on a rainy Thursday than visit the museum, but whatever the cause, we figured that, well, if we didn't want to spend our entire day in Sydney inside a museum, we certainly didn't want to spend it standing outside of one waiting to get in.

We went and hung out in the park for a while, instead, while the sun was out, then had a nice lunch at some Malaysian place. Looking for something else to do, we realized that our monorail passes had come with coupons for $5 admission to something called the "Powerhouse Museum", and that said museum was right off a monorail stop (which was convenient, because it was raining harder at this point). We had no idea what exactly this place was, but it promised to have "something for everyone," so we figured we'd check it out and see whether that was an accurate assessment or not.

It turns out that it's called the "Powerhouse Museum" because it's located in what used to be an old powerhouse building, and that it bills itself as a museum of "science+design." The first floor seemed to be filled primarily with exhibits of Ordinary Household Items Designed So That You Cannot Tell What They Actually Are and Clothing That No One Would Ever Wear, Except Maybe in a 1970's Science Fiction Show. These were kind of entertaining to me, albeit in ways that I don't think they were quite intended to be, but left me a little dubious as to whether this was necessarily the most interesting way to spend the last day of my vacation. But the deeper we went into the building, the more interesting things got. The giant, functional (although not currently functioning) steam engine was pretty cool, as were the associated steampunk technology exhibits. But it wasn't until we hit the basement, which contained the nifty geeky computers-and-robots stuff that I was prepared to admit that the museum, did, indeed, live up to the "something for everyone" advertising. We had a lot of fun down there, looking at the obsolete computers and watching the dancing robot arm, and ended up staying until the museum closed.

Then we ate ice cream cones in the rain, which is the sort of experience I think everyone ought to embrace on a semi-regular basis.

That evening, this being the last full day of our tour, our whole group got together for a farewell dinner, at which there was much conversation and reminiscence, and much taking of photographs, and, yes, more mango daiquiris. Ah, parting is such sweet, mango-flavored sorrow...


  1. That clock is amazing. I have a thing for interesting clocks and THAT would look so great in my living room :)

  2. I hope you have a pretty big living room. :)