Thursday, January 25, 2018


On a Whole Lot of Firsts

The Fort at MIT Ballpark
The Fort at MIT Ballpark, 2018
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Brisbane Bandits vs. Canberra Cavalry
The Fort at MIT Ballpark
Australian Baseball League
Narrabundah, ACT, Australia
7:05 PM

Outside the Game:
This was a long and profoundly weird day for me. It began early after a blessedly sound night of sleep. I got up a little early because of the train strike, checked out of my home for the last two weeks, and headed to get a train, which were running at a reduced schedule because of the "labor action."

I stopped off at my hotel for the next night and dropped off my large suitcase, taking only my backpack and game bag with me to Canberra for the one-night stay. Then, I was back on the short-schedule trains back to Central Station to get my bus to Canberra, not currently subject to strikes.

I initially had a choice to take a train or bus to Canberra. The train inexplicably took longer, and after asking around a bit, the consensus was that I should probably give the bus a go. So I had secured a return ticket on Murray's Bus for the journey.

I got to the station with time to spare, moved my ticket for the next day up to earlier in the morning to get more of Australia Day in Sydney, and then queued up for my first real bus trip in Australia. We boarded easily, though I was seated next to a teenage kid who just reeked of pot smoke. For this, and other, reasons the three-hour drive seemed much longer. In addition, it rained sporadically throughout the trip, making me worried that the one trip that I really didn't have a contingency for might get rained out.

Eventually, a few naps later, we pulled into a sunny afternoon in Canberra. I got out of the bus, confirmed at the terminal that I had to make it back here to the same place tomorrow, and then grabbed a quick cab ride to my hotel. I checked in without incident, and then decided I should at least do a little walk-around to see what the capitol of Australia had to offer.

Canberra is roughly equivalent to Washington DC, in that it is a created municipality to house the government of the nation. My hotel was part of the "ring" of streets around the government centers, most of which were closed down for the impending Australia Day holiday on Friday.

Commonwealth Place
Commonwealth Place

It was a hot, hot day, but I gamely took the walk past the Australian Capitol Hill, passing the Old Parliament House and the Aboriginal Embassy by it, the closed museums lining the way, and walking down the ceremonial Commonwealth Place by the river's edge. After walking around a bit, and especially because of the heat, I beat a retreat to the hotel and ordered up some room service and grabbed a shower.

As my food arrived, I got a text from Greg, who showed up to escort me to the game after work. He was happy to wait down in the air-conditioned lobby as I scarfed down my food and went to meet him. He took me along to the bus stop right by my hotel, and we took a brief jaunt over to the stop by the park, and after a short walk and a tour of the outside, we went in to the craziness to await me.

After the game, Greg's friend drove us back to our respective places, and, in a daze, I showered, packed up, and went to bed wondering what in the hell had just happened.

The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center
Home plate to center field during the game

The Fort and MIT Ballpark was relatively close-by the center of Canberra, as ABL parks went, though only buses went there, and it was a bit of a walk. As per normal, it was part of a larger sports complex that had a suburb grow up around it, and next to the park were more baseball facilities that were used by the club teams. It was in a park in a suburb, and there wasn't much around it (as with most ABL parks), but it was one of the nicer facilities in the league, having been recently renovated.

There is one entrance to the park beyond right field, with a classic ticket booth guarding the entrance. You walk down outside the right-field line to get to the main area of the park behind third base and home plate. A low, long, one-story building runs along the third-base line, housing the clubhouses, toilets, and main concession facilities, with a large mural painted on the side. The redone main grandstand behind home plate has the expensive seats under a large awning, with the press box sitting up at the top. The picket fence-lined "Bunker Box" luxury seats are right behind the plate, and a picnic area sits in left field, with a special section of bleachers facing home plate located in right. Rows of bleachers run behind the first and third-base dugouts to form the cheap seats, and a beer concession sits between first base and right field. A simple digital scoreboard sits out in left-center field, but it is clearly in need of a little love, as it was on the blink for the entirety of the game I was at.

Sarge and Fans

The crowd was easily the most involved that I saw in Australia, so the people really like the Cavalry. They seemed invested in the game, even more than the clutch of drunk Brisbane fans that had made the trip to sit in front of us. Mascot Sarge is out and around throughout the game in the stands, and your garden-variety minor-league interludes made their appearance between innings, with races and quizzes and the like.

At the Game with Oogie:
First pitch at the Cavalry
Your humble proprietor

I don't even know where to begin for this one. When last we talked about it, Greg had said he was probably going to be able to arrange a tour of the park before the gates officially opened, and he promised a free ticket for me, and all of that was certainly true, and, frankly, more than I was expecting at this point. As we entered, I was just interested in getting a ticket stub so I would have my entire set for all the ABL teams, so that was my level of expectation at this point.

As we walked into the game, Greg casually mentioned that the person who was supposed to do the first pitch was unable to make it, and that after talking to the promotions guy, I was going to be throwing it out instead.

This caused a lot of things to blow through my addled brain at once, but the primary thing that surfaced was, "You cannot, under any circumstance, bounce this pitch." Visions of Fifty Cent at Not Shea flew through my head, and even as we got to our seats in the covered grandstand behind home plate, I was starting to loosen up my arm and try to remember how to throw. Greg lent me one of his Calvary jerseys of one of the more popular players in the franchise history to wear, along with a gift of a Cavalry hat.

So focused as I was on remembering how to throw a baseball, a vaguely remember being introduced to the promotions manager and the on-field announcer, both of whom I seem to remember being American. Also, I got told at some point in there that the broadcast team wanted to interview me during the top of the fifth inning, and it was all starting to slop together in a weird amalgam of incomprehension.

When the time came, I went out onto the skirt of the field (fully the second time I had set foot on a professional baseball field in my entire life) and talked with some of the players, who were American. One of them was even from New Jersey, I think. A lot of this is a big blur. The catcher who was going to catch my first pitch threw a ball around with me a little, and I sort of remember getting announced and them talking about my trips (as this last stadium in Australia happened to be number 175 for me), and I threw the pitch. Perhaps not a strike, but it made it on the fly, and I got to keep the ball afterwards.

My thrill and panic over, I tried to settle into watching the game with Greg and his friend. It all is hazy. They graciously offered to get me some food at one point, but I couldn't contemplate eating at that point. The top of the fifth inning came, and a bounded up to the broadcast guys with my scorebook, and I remember even less of the interview, except that I know I continued to score during it. That part was a complete blank in my memory. I know a video of it exists; I know I don't want to see it.

After that, it all settled in to more or less the regular game of watching and scoring, but the experience was 100% more surreal than anything else I've ever done.

The Game:
First pitch, Bandits vs. Cavalry
First pitch, Bandits vs. Cavalry

My last game in Australia was perhaps a bit of an afterthought given everything that happened, but it was another game with strong pitching performances, and it saw the Bandits and Cavalry face off in just about 2.5 hours.

The Bandits started the top of the first with a one-out walk and then a two-out ABL-special home run to left field, giving Brisbane a quick 2-0 lead. Canberra came right back with a leadoff single, but he was erased on a strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play. The next batter singled, and the next hit a towering homer to left to tie up the game at two-all after an inning of play. Brisbane started the top of the second with another homer to left and then went in order, with a 3-2 lead. Just to make it fair, the Cavalry began the bottom of the inning with a homer to center, and then stranded a two-out double to tie it again at 3-3 after 2.

The game sped up after that. The Bandits only had a two-out double in the top of the third, and Canberra went in order. Brisbane went in order in the fourth, but after two quick outs in the bottom of the inning, a new pitcher gave up a Cavalry solo shot to right to give Canberra their first lead, 4-3. While I was being interviewed in the top of the fifth, Brisbane got a leadoff double and a one out single, but the runner on first was picked off and the next batter struck out to strand the runner at third. The Cavalry just had a walk in the bottom of the frame.

Both sides went in order in the sixth, but Brisbane bats came alive in the top of the seventh. A leadoff walk scored on a following triple, and then a double drove in that run with no outs. A bunt moved the runner to third, but Canberra shut them down for the remains of the inning, leaving the Bandits with a 5-4 lead. The Cavalry just managed a walk in the bottom of the seventh. Both sides went in order in the quiet eighth, and Brisbane only had a baserunner on a muffed grounder to short in the top of the ninth, but he was quickly erased on a routine double-play. In their last licks, Canberra only managed a one-out walk before the Bandit's closer struck out the remainder of the side, sealing the 5-4 victory for the visiting squad.

The Scorecard:
Bandits vs. Cavalry, 01-25-18. Bandits win, 5-4.Bandits vs. Cavalry, 01-25-18. Bandits win, 5-4.
Bandits vs. Cavalry, 01/25/18. Bandits win, 5-4. 

I was again using the BBWAA scorebook for my last game in Australia. There were the requisite disproportional home runs, but doubles, errors, and walks were more in keeping with average.

There weren't many odd plays, but there were two notations that will probably not be repeated. I missed the umpires announcement because "doing first pitch," and a star note in the top of the fifth inning denoted the fact that I went for my interview on ABL TV.

The Accommodations:
Hotel Kurrajong Canberra
Hotel Kurrajong Canberra

For my one-night stayover in Canberra, I was at the Hotel Kurrajong Canberra, a hoity-toity hotel in the government district that apparently is the choice for foreign potentates and the like. It was, in fact, very fancy and very close to the seats of power, so I could see how that might be.

My room had a pretty reasonable rate, all things considered, although it was a proper hotel room as opposed to the apartment hotels that I had grown accustomed to throughout my stay. A giant king-sized bed sat against a padded wall on one side of the room, opposite a large armoire for clothes and with a refrigerator and food service. On the adjoining wall was a glass desk and flat-screen TV. Around the corner from the bedroom was the long bathroom, with too-cool fixtures and glass rainfall shower.

All-in-all, I didn't spend much time in the room, but it was very nice what time I did spend in it.

On Australia Day

Australia Day 2018
This about sums it up.
Friday, January 26, 2018
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Outside the Game:
The day did not begin auspiciously, as I slept incredibly poorly, especially since a loud storm raged throughout the night, waking me up several times despite my best efforts. The only plus side to this was that I was up early and got down to breakfast right when it opened. I took advantage of the ludicrous hotel breakfast buffet to absolutely gorge myself, especially since I hadn't had a proper meal since the room service the afternoon before.

I ate myself calm and then went back to the room to finish packing and went down to check out and order a cab to the bus station. I had moved my bus reservation up to 9 AM to make the most of Australia Day back in Sydney, and I got to the bus station incredibly early. Since there were even more buses than normal scheduled to ply the way between the capital and Sydney (especially with the train strike), the first 9 AM bus to Sydney actually was ready to leave on 8:30 AM, and I was early enough to be on it. I trudged half-awake to a seat next to a guy clearly going to the airport and spent most of the trip catching up on sleep that the night before was not kind enough to provide.

Over a half hour ahead of schedule, we pulled into Central Station, and already people were walking around with Australian flags and what I would discover were Aboriginal Nation flags. This immediately set it apart from the Fourth of July in the US, where anything other than the stars and stripes were likely to land you in a physical altercation. A quick train ride up to Wynyard Station, and I was checking it at my hotel and retrieving my big bag.

I took in the extensive fancy room, but pretty much just dropped my stuff off and headed out into the Australia Day festivities. I walked around The Rocks before heading down to Circular Quay. I found one of many stations handing out brochures of all the events going on, as well as Australian flags. Thus suited up, I went into the "no alcohol" area of the Quay for a while, grabbing lunch at one of the food truck parks set up for the day, and watching the various street performers, sailing ships in the Quay, and some of the smaller acts on smaller stages throughout the area.

One of those stages in First Fleet park housed some Indian dancers teaching Bollywood moves. They were trying to entice people to come up with them and learn. They only had a couple of outgoing children who joined them, and then they said, "It isn't very Australian of you to not try new things," which was apparently enough chastisement for a large crowd of adults to flood the stage to learn some dance moves. I don't know what exactly about it was so appealing to me, but, as with many small events throughout the day, I thought that spoke very well of the country.

Bollywood Dancing
Bollywood Dancing Classes

After seeing the early entertainment at the Quay, I took the train over to Darling Harbor to see what was going on there. And the main event was an in-person concert by the Wiggles. A huge part of Tumbalong Park was gated off for the show, which you could still easily view from outside the fenced-off area. In fact, the back of the stage wasn't even cordoned off at all, and when I walked behind it, I was probably as close to a Wiggle (heck, all the Wiggles) as I would ever likely get again in my life.

Wiggles on Australia Day 2018
Wiggles in the wild

It was a hot, hot Australia Day, so as the afternoon started to turn, I beat a hasty retreat back to the hotel for a nap on the couch while I put some laundry in the machine in my room, and then took a celebratory shower before heading back out to Circular Quay.

The main event of Australia Day was a show on a floating stage in the middle of Circular Quay. The show started at 6:30 PM, but the TV program didn't kick off until an hour later. Sometime after 5, I went to another of the food carts near the Passenger Terminal Station to grab some dinner, and then I found a place near the fences on the Quay and settled in for the rest of the night.

The show was hosted by who I assume to be three Australian stars whom I had never seen before or had any idea about. There was a half-Aboriginal man on the main stage, a smarmy white guy on top the Passenger Terminal, and a white lady who was at the main stage, which was across the Quay for me at the Opera House. As the pre-show started, the host on the main stage did an interview with an Aboriginal person for some reason or another, and I found out a very on-the-nose fact about Australia Day.

The holiday celebrated the landing of the First Fleet, and, much in the same way the Native Americans now have some conflicted feeling about the first Thanksgiving, it turns out the Aboriginal population of Australia don't view Australia Day in quite the same way as the white folk.

They call it "Survival Day," as in "Hey, way to not be killed by the whites for another year." I found that profound. The fact that it was part of the official celebration and that nearly every public ceremony now begins with the acknowledgement of the original tribes that held the land, and this celebration began with an Aboriginal cleansing ritual shows how far Australia has come from the "White Australia" policy that only died 40 years ago, and, consequently, how relatively little real progress America has made. It wasn't the only such thought I had during my stay.

Aboriginal boat on Australia Day
Aboriginal boat leads the way

The pre-television show featured a parade of boats around the Quay and performances from the Australian Army band, which consisted of R&B and rock numbers, which was a bit of a jolt to someone used to only seeing official army bands performing marches or classical music.

Part of the festivities was the award for Australian of the Year, which was another ceremony I quite liked. Each state also had their person of the year, and then one was chosen as the overall winner. In addition, they also had youth and elder Australians of the year. With the exception of a young soccer star, all the recipients were scientists and educators, another bit of information that made me feel a pang of embarrassment at my country.

Australian of the Year awards
Australian of the year awards

The TV show commenced with the purification ceremony and a very Aussie jet ski procession, flanked with two guys on water jet packs flying the Australian flag. The evening was largely cutting between performances from other Australian celebrities I did not recognize on the main Opera House stage, with performances in the Quay or on the water stage.

Perhaps the most Australian thing of the night was a skull race by the female lifeguard teams from the nearby Sydney beaches. They raced into the Quay and ended the race by the water stage. The winning team had barely crossed the line when they pulled up beers that they had brought with them in the boat and had a drink. The losers did as well. There you have it: beaches, sports, and beer. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.

There was also a bit almost unimaginable in America. Australia legalized gay marriage at the end of last year, and as part of the official celebration, they had an old Australian singing star on stage with a drag queen chorus singing some song about love or another while heart-shaped fireworks went off overhead. Can you even, for the slightest moment, imagine this happening at the Washington DC July Fourth fireworks? No. No, you cannot.

The finale fireworks were a nice build-up to the a crescendo of explosions at the like, and just like that, the evening was over.

Australia Day fireworks
End with a bang

And that is when the problems began. There had been plenty of ways to get onto the docks on the Quay at the start of the night, but for some reason, they closed off many entrances at the end of the night. People kept moving towards the entrances where they came in, and people were starting to get tightly packed in dangerous ways. Eventually, things got moving towards the open exists, but it was touch and go there for a while, and even when I was able to get myself moving towards the exists, there were people trying to break open or climb the exit gates that were inexplicably closed at the end of the party.

Grateful to be out of the crowd, I headed down some back streets just to get away from the crowd and weaved my way thankfully back to the hotel. Upon reaching there, I found that the drier in my room was broken, so I put in a maintenance call and went to bed, not knowing what was lurking this evening.

I had my tea out on the balcony and retired to the bedroom properly exhausted.

The Accommodations: 
My apartment at The York
Living room in my first apartment at The York

 For my last stay in Sydney, I was staying at a hotel near The Rocks called "The York." You know a hotel is fancy when they have "The" in the name. I pretty much splurged for my last couple of days and went for a luxury apartment hotel right in the heart of the city center, because why not?

It was easily the biggest room I stayed in while in Australia, and it may have been bigger than my apartment back home. The entrance hallway split off three ways. One led to my bathroom with a giant tub and washer/drier; the other led to my separate bedroom, that had its own AC, desk, TV, and closets; and the other led to the living room.

The living room had a full kitchen with all the regular appliances on one side, next to a couch, end table, and entertainment center, and on the other side of the room was a dining table and a desk. This room also had an exit out onto the balcony, with a plant and outdoor table and chairs.

While it was all nice and good, there were early indications of problems that would manifest over the night. The drier in the bathroom stopped working nearly immediately, there was still trash in the kitchen from the previous guests, the safe didn't work, the curtains were dirty, and something wasn't quite right with the bed.

On Sydney on The Rocks

Convicts memorial in The Rocks
Convicts memorial in The Rocks
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Outside the Game: 
One of my last days in Australia did not begin auspiciously. I got nearly no sleep at all through the night because I eventually found out what was weird about my bed. The headboard was broken, and it wasn't connected to the wall, so it made loud noises every time I moved in any way. There was also some weird, repetitive noise in the room that woke me up at regular intervals. I eventually abandoned the bedroom and went to sleep out on the couch, where I was able to get some sort of sleep.

Needless to say, I was up early and pissed, so I went down to the front desk to complain about things. And the thing about really nice hotels is that they take it seriously. The lady behind the desk showed more and more concern as I relayed all the things that I went through in my cranky, not-sleeping way, and she immediately took me up to another floor and showed me some new rooms to choose from. Now, outside of some maintenance issues, the first room I was in was large and nice, but these two were just ridiculous in their opulence. After checking the status of the headboard of the bed, I chose one, and went to ferrying all my stuff up to the new room before heading out to enjoy one of my last days on vacation.

The hotel was right by The Rocks, so I spent the day wandering out there. I had lunch at a sandwich shop, and then took advantage of a market in the streets. I bought a crap-ton of merchandise, from finally caving to buying (real) boomerangs, to getting a hopping wooden kangaroo, to getting some Australian Christmas ornaments, to buying some historic Australian coins, and much more. Most of these items were immediately carted off with what little else I had to be mailed to my work address back home at the post office before heading back for some more cultural adventures.

The Rocks Discovery Musem
The Rocks Discovery Museum

I had one or two museums left in me, so I went to The Rocks Discovery Museum and the archaeological Big Dig before heading back to the hotel to do some laundry, nap on the huge couch, and shower before the evening. I also noticed that I had lost half of my tattered Sydney map that had taken me through the city since I arrived two weeks previous. I was a bit disappointed about that.

I headed out to go on The Rocks walking tour that I had attempted to attend before heading to Canberra. I was more successful this time, having only to walk to get there, and I eventually huddled up with a bunch of tourists from other parts of the world, and we headed off on a tour led by an impossibly thin grad student. It was an entertaining ramble that included the Emu War and the history of the various attempts by gentrifiers to obliterate The Rocks into something more "modern." Thankfully, it survived long enough to become the hippest area of Sydney, forever safe from bulldozers, if not hyper-gentrification of the previous working-class area.

The Rocks Walking Tour
The Rocks Walking Tour

The tour ended back in The Rocks, and after tipping the guide, I stopped in for dinner at an Italian restaurant in the area, stuffing myself full of pasta, for some reason, and wine (for an obvious reason). I had a leisurely walk back to the hotel, where I put all my laundry through the drier while I had a soak in the tub, and then had a robe-donned tea out on the balcony, enjoying the summer evening.

Eventually, I retired to my new bedroom, where I had a much more successful night than the one previous.

The Accommodations:
My new room at The York
My new living room at The York

So, after my first disastrous night at The York, my new room was much more up to snuff. There was again a long entrance hallway, with a big hall closet to make it feel even more homey. The bath facilities were off either side of the hall, split up to the shower and bath and washer/drier (with soak sink) in one room, and a vanity and toilet in another.

The somehow even larger bedroom, with wall-length closets and desk and TV was further down the hall, and then opened into the kitchen and living room. The more modern kitchen with all the appliances was on the left of the room, and just beyond it was the kitchen table and the work desk. Separated by a five-piece couch was the living area and the entertainment center. There was an even longer balcony with furniture, looking over the church next door this time, and there were entrances to it from the living room and the bedroom, which I used to my advantage and excess throughout my stay. Once I was cocooned in the fluffy robe, I was wandering all around the apartment, as is rightful for a king of his domain.

On the Last Day

Luna Park, Sydney
Luna Park Sydney

Sunday, January 28, 2018
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Outside the Game:
Catching up on sleep after the night before, and in my luxurious new room, I slept in as late as I managed so far on the trip, not even waking up until 9:30 AM. One of the things that the hotel had was actual food in the refrigerator, not just mini-bar food. They had a "breakfast box" that was pre-packaged with cereal, sides, and a drink that I cracked open for my last breakfast. I assembled the breakfast and then took it out to the balcony for some hotel-robe al fresco dining, watching a sleepy Sydney creep to life on a Sunday morning.

After eating, I did some desultory pre-packing, and perhaps not unexpectedly at this point, found myself unable to check in with Qantas for my flight home. I eventually showered and headed out to The Rocks for some last touristy stuff.

In keeping with my one beer a year policy, I stopped in at the Endeavor Tap Rooms and had their Australian IPA with my lunch. On this muggy summer morning, it was quite appreciated. I had a lazy lunch and people watched before heading back out. The market was still going on, but having shopped myself out the previous day, I just stopped in to get some corn-on-the-cob from a vendor, and promptly got some all over my shirt. Because that is the way that sort of thing always goes.

Australian IPA
My beer for 2018

I had never crossed the Sydney Harbor Bridge all the way, so I made the most of my last opportunity and hiked over the length of it in the early afternoon. I decided to visit the Sydney Luna Park to see what I could see. It didn't have an entrance fee to get in like the one in Melbourne, so I walked around, disappointedly finding they didn't have any old roller coasters.

But, they did have a turn-of-the-century Coney Island Fun House, and inside was a host of old fun house rides and, more importantly, a ton of antique coin-op games. I quickly went back to the entrance to get a funhouse-only ticket and went in and spent a lot of money on old pinball games, fortune tellers, and arcade shooters for yester-year, taking time to cringe at many of the extremely unsocially aware art on many of the 60s and 70s pinball games.

Coin-ops in the Fun House at Luna Park
Coin-ops inside the Fun House

I decided to take the ferry back to Circular Quay, and I managed to arrive just as one was ready to depart. A short sail later, and I filled up by transit card for the trip to the airport the next day, and then went back to the hotel, for my now-standard laundry, couch nap, and shower.

I got re-dressed and went out to Darling Harbor for dinner. For my last night, I completely toursited it up and sat outside at a fancy steak restaurant on the water for my last supper, such as it was. I ordered the most expensive aged cut they had and some whisky. The experience was a little ruined by a few things. One was the constant fending off of seagulls that prevented them from stealing food from your plate. Another was a truly awful pour of the Scotch I ordered. And finally, there were the Chinese tourists at the table next to me. You try and avoid stereotypes as much as possible, but these people were the spirit and image of the “awful Chinese tourist.” They were loud, impolite, entitled, and pushy. They all piled onto a table smaller than their party, and as the staff was trying to accommodate them, even more of them showed up, and they just pushed tables together over the protestations of the staff, who just gave up trying. Throughout the meal, they were aggressively loud, and kept feeding the birds over the protests of the staff, to the detriment and additional protests of the diners all around them.

Sunset in Australia
My last sunset in Australia

Annoying as this was, I was trying to just concentrate on my steak and watching my last sunset in Australia. I took a walk around the harbor and then had a leisurely stroll back to the hotel, where I had a soak in the tub, finished up the laundry, and completed packing while watching Australian sitcoms.

The Accommodations: 
I spent a lot of time in the new room today, but outside of being wistful if I had managed to have a non-broken room for my entire stay, there wasn't anything particularly noteworthy, except the realization that I really need a balcony in my life to properly appreciate said life.

On the Longest Day in the History of Days

Sydney Airport Duty-Free
Duty-Free at Sydney Airport
Monday, January 29, 2018
Jersey City, NJ, USA

Outside the Game:
All good things, etc., etc.

Perhaps ironically, I was up early after a solid night's sleep as I was heading out of the country. I finished packing and cross-checking the apartment before heading down to check out and grab the train to the airport.

And the good news about the trains was that the strike had been resolved over the weekend, so I had no odd schedules or delays to deal with. I was even able to grab a direct train to the airport from Wynyard station, allowing me to get a seat.

The trip to the airport was quick and uneventful. I tried to check in for the flight at the kiosks, but again I ran into issues, so I had to wait on a shortish line to get myself sorted out. They took my large carry-on, gave me my boarding passes, and I was off on my way.

I decided to grab breakfast at a unique Maccas at the airport. All the orders were taken at the counters at the "ground" floor, while the kitchen was on a higher "floor", with the completed orders being sent down a conveyor system to the ground floor for distribution. So, breakfast and a show.

Sydney Airport Maccas
The future, soon

It was eventually time to board, and we got on more or less on time. One of the flight attendants was Russian, which she spoke with a halfway Russian, halfway Aussie accent, which was pretty distracting. This was compounded with "mechanical problems" on the plane, which had us departing late.

The good news is that I was in a row with an unoccupied middle seat. A guy from Miami was in the window seat of the row, but we didn't talk a whole lot. The flight was a pretty unremarkable series of naps, forgettable TV and movies, and food that ended with us getting into LA on time-ish.

However, as all hope and good dies in LA, we had to get off the plane, get our bags, go through security again and re-check-in. Land of the free, home of the brave.

At this point, it was still Monday morning. Although there had been 18 hours or so of flying, we crossed the international date line the other way, and we reset to Monday. The jet lag hadn't hit me quite yet, but the morning sun was playing tricks with my brain.

We boarded late at LA, because LA. The flight, however, was not heavily booked. There were just scattered people and lots and lots of empty seats. They even mentioned it on the PA before we took off. I was in one of the only full rows, sitting next to two Aussie women for the moment.

As soon as the fasten seatbelt was off, I went back a row or two and grabbed a completely empty row to stretch out in. I slept most of the flight rather comfortably, with a pillow stack and a couple of blankets keeping my cozy. I was even a little sad to have to go back to my seat for the last half hour of the flight.

We landed about an hour late because of all the delays, at about 5 PM ET. My body wasn't even ready to deal with what day or time it was, but I was able to get my bag after some drama. They unloaded a dozen or so bags and then stopped. They started to close up and move on before everyone on the plane started to get uppity about it. Eventually, one worker seemed to have an idea, and talked to someone on a walkie-talkie, and then announced that they essentially decided to let the non first-class bags be distributed as well, which we thought was sporting of them.

I eventually did get my bag after a suitable delay and called for a limo service to pick me up. Thanks to residual traffic, I got home around 7 PM. I mechanically started to unpack a little, made sure that everything wasn't on fire, popped a Zzquil, and regrettably went to sleep at home again for the first time in over a month.

Retired Cyclones Cap
The Hat, in Retirement

The Accommodations:
Jersey City, sweet Jersey City, after over a month from home.

2017-8 Australia

Friday, January 19, 2018


On Laundry-Related Injuries

Perth Airport
Perth Airport
Monday, January 15, 2018
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Outside the Game:
Except for a brief two-hour interlude at the start of the trip, this was going to be my first trip to the largest city in the country. Even though it was an early flight, thanks to the distance and the time difference, nearly all my day was going to be eaten up in travel.

I was up early again, did my final packing, and then checked out and called for a cab. A short ride later had me at the airport, and I was confident enough to check in my own bag and head through security. It was an early flight, so I went straight to the gate to line up.

For some completely inexplicable reason, the Saints-Vikings American football playoff game was on the TV by our line. Boarding was delayed for fifteen minutes, and these concurrent coincidences allowed me to see the end of that game, where the Saints pulled ahead with scant time to go and then the Vikings came back for the win at the last second. There were literally two other people in the entire line who cared or understood what was happening. Those two Americans further up in the line (Vikings fans by the looks of it) were reacting to the game, and one ran off to find another American who came back just in time to see the Viking score for the win. The rest of the line wasn't even paying attention, and those who were watching out of boredom or mild interest clearly had no idea what they had just witnessed, while the Americans in front of me were literally going nuts.

Anyway, we then boarded the plane. There was a quiet nerd next to me and a well-behaved baby across the aisle, but the flight went without much interest. It was mostly breakfast, naps, and watching Australian cricket documentaries on the entertainment system. We all exited without incident, I picked up my bag from the carousel on my last domestic flight this trip, and then went off into the afternoon to deal with my transit situation.

I bought the transit card de jour for Sydney, had a talk with a customer service rep, and then was off on my AirTrain to the city center. My hotel was right down the street from a major subway stop, and after a wrong turn or two, I was at the hotel, slightly incoherent, and checking in with a nice Asian lady who was quite patient with my semi-coherency.

I went up to my room to unpack a little and set up in my new room. As I was wearing my last clean clothes, I had to do some laundry as soon as possible. After another visit to the nice Asian lady, she informed me that they didn't have a guest laundry on-site, but a sister hotel down the street had those facilities, and I could use them. Back up to the room I went, and I packed all my laundry supplies into my laundry bag, changed into the clothes of last resort, and dumped the rest of my clothes into the bag.

I headed around the way to the other hotel. Because of some weird alignment on the streets, it took me a try or two to find it. And when I did, there was a huge crowd of people in the lobby. It took a bit of waiting to get an elevator card to go up to the guest areas, and it took a couple of tries to find a guest laundry that had an open washer. I eventually walked into a laundry room where a lady was just swapping to the drier. She and her family had just gone to the beach that day, and she was washing up their bathing suits. I waited for her to finish, and then put in my clothes, and headed back to my hotel.

I did a little bit of walking around to get more oriented, and then headed back to the other hotel to swap into the drier. Feeling jaunty, I was bounding up the concrete steps when I lost my footing and bashed my knee on the stairs. Many things ran through my head at the time, the most significant being that my knee really, really hurt. I limped upstairs and put my clothes into the drier and then made an assessment of the knee. It was bleeding, yes (and blood staining my pants), but it was still mobile and unswollen.

I gingerly and carefully went back to my hotel and cleaned and bandaged up the injury and then checked out the facilities at the hotel. There was a rooftop pool, sauna, and exercise room, which seemed very glamorous. I unglamorously went back to get my laundry, and then folded everything up and put on real clothes.

I went down to the front desk again to ask about dinner. The Asian lady was still there and recommended a pho restaurant in the nearby Chinatown. I found the place after a little walking, but it had just closed, so I ended up going to a "NY-style" Korean restaurant, which seemed like a sign of some sort.

I stopped off at a nearby Cole's to do some shopping and then went back to my hotel. I made a reservation with the Asian lady for breakfast and then went up to my room for a soak and some tea. After a bit of TV, I finally beat jet lag and got some sleep.

The Accommodations: 
Vibe Hotel, Sydney
My long-term room in the Vibe Hotel, Sydney

 For the first stretch in Sydney, I was staying at the Vibe Hotel just south of the ANZAC Memorial and Museum station. My room was another apartment/suite thing, and being so central to Sydney, it was amazing how reasonable the prices were.

My room started with an entrance hallway. The first stop on the left was a long wall of sliding closets opposite my appliances and the refrigerator. At the end of that hall was the large bathroom with a huge tub that got a lot of use to tend my various injuries.

Further on was the living/bed room. Against the closet wall was the king-sized bed, across from the TV and desk and pull-out couch and end-table. When I arrived in the room, there was a bowl of fresh fruit waiting for me, which is always nice.

Speaking of, the hotel had a bunch of fancy facilities. The very top floor of the hotel were condo residences, which had their own stairs to the top floor, which held a sauna, a glass-walled exercise room, and the rooftop pool. That pool would come into play during this long stay, as would the Asian desk lady, who I couldn't seem to avoid for the duration of my stay.

On Storming the Capitol

Australian Museum
Into the collections at the Australian Museum
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Outside the Game:
Back in the eastern (Australian) time zone, I was finally back to waking up at a normal time. I showered and got dressed and made my way down to my appointed breakfast. I had the "Big Brekkie" buffet and loaded up on Cocoa Crisps and bacon before heading out for the day.

My first stop was the Anzac Memorial just north of my hotel, but it was closed for renovations. A large construction wall partitioned off the main memorial, but the smaller monuments around were open. I spent some time there before walking over to the Australian Museum, namesake of nearby "Museum" station.

The summer weekday found the museum bursting with families. The first big exhibit was the mammoth special exhibit, where a well-preserved baby mammoth was displayed along with more mammoth information. There were extensive "old-school" exhibits with stuffed wildlife, including the evolutionary predecessors of the Tasmanian Devils.

I always like the dinosaur exhibits since I am a five year-old boy, but the museum had a particularly awesome display: the kind that makes five year-old boys scream, "Cool!" and their mothers gasp in dismay.

T. Rex Autopsy
The Pinnacle of Humanity's Achievement

T-Rex Autopsy.

You heard right. They simulated a forensic autopsy of the tyrannosaurus rex, complete with chest incision, bisected organs, a cross-section of a removed leg, and even an excavated eye. It was ridiculously imaginative, and it was easily one of my favorite museum exhibits ever.

T. Rex Autopsy
I see what you did there.

There was also a central hall made up of the "best" of the Australian Museum collections, as chosen by the curators, featuring things such as the earliest known Australian money, a skeleton horse with a skeleton rider, and other such curiosities.

Skeleton Ranger
Something something symbolism

When I was done with the gift shop, I took a stroll through Hyde Park, where there was a presentation space for the Sydney Festival, and then strolled over to Darling Harbor and the National Maritime Museum.

Getting in was a bit of an adventure, as they only had one queue open for a rather long line. Of course, as soon as I got to the front of the line, they opened another one, as is often the case. Several of the ships had different opening and closing times, so I prioritized going to the ones that closed first and saved the ones that opened last for later.

The small yacht SY Ena was closing first, so I stopped for a quick look onboard, before heading over to the James Craig, a passenger and freight transport from the 19th century. In particular, the cabins that migrants had to stay in for a several-month's voyage seemed quite claustrophobic to me.

The day had started out overcast, so I hadn't even noticed that I forgot my sunscreen until the clouds parted in the growing afternoon. As I was going to spend the rest of the afternoon outside and on ships’ decks, I took a detour to a shopping arcade next door to grab some sunscreen and a meat pie on the way back to the lighthouse.

The lighthouse was only open for an hour, so I had to get in line as soon as it opened. The line was already growing by the time I joined, and the process of getting people to the top involved three men with walkie-talkies at each stage of the climb, letting the next know when a group was coming down or up. While I was waiting, the gentleman ahead of me with his young son asked if I wanted to go ahead of him to avoid his son from slowing me down. I laughed at the thought. When it was our turn to go up, the kid was out of sight almost immediately, while the father and myself plodded up after him.

HMS Endeavor
HMS Endeavor

The next stop was the marquee ship of the museum -- a replica of the HMS Endeavor, the ship that Captain Cook took to Australia. The real story of that boat was not the low ceilings or cramped quarters, but that the largest rooms on the boat weren't for Captain Cook, but rather naturalist Joseph Banks, who funded the voyage and was availed of a somewhat comfortable bedroom and living space.

Also of note was an annoying Indian family that was on the boat at the same time I was. The women were complaining about having to stoop and kept stopping every five feet to take selfies with themselves and everyone. I took care to try and avoid them in the future.

There were some more modern vessels on display as well. There was a PT boat, a destroyer, and a submarine from the WWII era. There was a complicated line system to get into the sub, with a line with quite a tail, so I decided to go to the end of the pier to visit the soon-to-be opened PT boat and destroyer first.

The destroyer HMAS Vampire was a self-guided affair that I went through quite easily, but the PT boat HMAS Advance was so small that it had to be shepherded with two tour groups on the boat at any time. I arrived just as it was opening, but there was only one attendant at the boat, and he needed to wait for the other tour guide to show up so that they could keep control of people boarding. I was waiting with a small group, and I realized one of the group was a younger doppelganger of myself. An American, traveling alone, with a professional camera, and dressed in cargo pants and t-shirt. I think we avoided talking to each other for some obvious reasons. After the tour of the boat, we parted ways, and I didn't catch another glimpse of him again, which I suppose is for the best. There may have been time travel involved.

When I walked back past the submarine, the line had disappeared completely, so I took the opportunity to board the HMAS Onslow. The tour space was somewhat limited on a WWII submarine, so it was with complete regret that I found out in front of me was the Indian family, stopping and taking selfies every five feet. And, of course, there had to be pictures of every family member on the periscope, and sitting at the nav chair, and... While they were taking photos, I managed to push by them, and I had a much calmer remaining tour of the rest of the sub.

Having visited all the ships, there were still the museum building to see. There was even an exhibit on American and Australian combined naval history, so that was nice. When I had my fill and spent all my money at the gift shop, I decided to stop off at Central Train station to get my lay of the land there for later in the week, and then walked back to my hotel for a nap and a shower.

Sydney Tower Eye
Sunset from up high

After, I went out to the Sydney Tower Eye to go to another high point in an Australian city. It was the last entries of the night, so there were no crowds, and I was able to ditch past the mandatory photo and just get up to the top in time to catch the sunset and see the city in the growing gloom of evening. I was also introduced to a brand of ice cream in Australia called "GayTime." I can only imagine the ad campaigns.

Just because I have the maturity of a ten year-old doesn't
make me wrong about this

The elevator that took us back to the ground was a bit... broken. It was just myself and a younger Asian tourist in the lift, and at the top, we started going down, and then just stopped for a bit. After a minute, we both smiled uneasily at each other, probably putting together our cannibalism plans, before the elevator blinked once and then started descending again. We both quickly exited.

I considered walking back to Darling Harbor but was pooped from another day of hard-walking tourism. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at "Lord of the Fries" for some walking dinner, and then decided to try out the rooftop pool at the hotel. I got there just as the last occupant was leaving, and I did some swimming in the warm night all by myself before heading back down to my room for a soak in the tub with newly purchased bath salts and some tea and biscuits.

Thoroughly exhausted, I went to sleep.

The Accommodations:
I didn't spend a ton of time at the hotel today, except at night at the rooftop pool. It was the first rooftop pool I ever had access to, and it was a very nice experience. Everything was dark, and you were just swimming with the sky.

I also ran into the Asian lady who had checked me in the night before again. I joked about her working all the time. Who knew what it would lead to?

On Hitting All the Tourist Spots

The Bridge in the Opera House
Sydney Harbor Bridge Reflected off the Sydney Opera House
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Outside the Game:
I had a lazier morning in Wednesday in Sydney. This was partially prompted by the fact that I put out a tag for room service for breakfast the next morning and didn't have to worry about making a scheduled time at the restaurant downstairs.

Room service breakfast
A light breakfast

My rather excessive full English breakfast, with, for some reason, an extra side order of toast that seemed appropriate the night before, landed at my door on time. Robed up, I greeted the delivery staff and had my breakfast at the desk in a groggy and half-awake state of affairs. Whether it was the breakfast, or the desire for additional sleep, I went back to bed for another nap before showering and heading out at around 10 AM.

For today I was going to conquer the unavoidable tourist spots on the trip: the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. A short train ride to Circular Quay got me in the neighborhood, and I decided to grab the right prong first and walked out to the Opera House. It was a bright, clear day on the edge of getting too hot even this early in the morning. As there is also room for one, I was able to snag the last place in the 11:30 AM tour and killed some time at the various stores and looking to see what performances were at offer.

It was time to assemble, and like a well-oiled machine, a tour guide came up, dragging a stand of headphones. He quickly explained the headphones were so that we could hear him during the tour, cutting off outraged cries by some tourists that it was going to be a pre-recorded tour. He then made the group stand in line for mandatory pictures, which I adroitly sidestepped, and we were off on our way.

Sydney Opera House Theater
Theater in the Opera House

The tour took us around the facility, while relating the sad story of the falling out the architect had with the Sydney Town Fathers. He would never return to see the finished building that had gone from controversial to the defining landmark of Sydney. We got to go into a number of theaters, but because of a supposed law that you can't take pictures of people without their consent, the tour guide said we couldn't take photos of the stage while any staff were on them. It was more likely due to copyrights on the set designs, but I couldn't be bothered to look up if he was lying or not. Either way, he talked up an event where they play old movies with an orchestra and said we should check it out. As it sounded interesting, I did ask about it, and the next performance wasn't until around April, so I don't know how long he was expecting people to be in town.

The tour complete and the sun starting to pound down, I went back to the center of the Quay and grabbed some fish and chips and then settled in to nearby First Fleet Park to eat my lunch in the shade. Shaded I was, but I also had to keep a keen eye out for shorebirds that had clearly lost all fear of humans in their abject love for human food. Turning your head for a second would find one of the birds making a hasty dash for you kit and shooing them away only lead to a tactical retreat, never an abandonment of their ultimate goal.

Successfully able to complete my lunch without giving up any to the avian friends, I then walked up the left side of the Quay to get to Sydney Harbor Bridge. In wandering around looking for the access way to the bridge walkway, I stumbled across the Bridge Climb. This was apparently an enterprise where you can spend several hundred dollars and then get the opportunity to walk up the top of the bridge for a while. While this seemed a punishment rather than something you would pay quite a bit of money for, additionally, you don't even get to take pictures from the vaulted vantage point, as you can't bring your phones or cameras with you. That about sealed the deal for me as being a wholly useless endeavor.

I did eventually find the right way up to the bridge and started my walk across on the pedestrian way. From my viewing of the Hoages biopic, I knew that Australian comic superstar Paul Hogan got his start working as a rigger on the bridge, and looking up from underneath, I thought more power to him, especially as he had to deal with jumpers at fairly regular intervals.

About halfway across the bridge, I ran into the Lookout Pylon Museum, which was a museum about the building of the bridge held in one of the bridge's pylons that you could climb up and out onto the top to get a good view of things. At the very top, I was able to get a relatively close-up view of some of the bridge climbers (who were nearly always on the bridge), not mention a rather spectacular view of the harbor. On the way down, I stopped at the gift shop, but there was no one at the register, so I had to bring my purchases to the entrance, where I had to wait behind a large group of Korean tourists that kept wandering into the museum before they had all paid, keeping the one man manning the register quite busy.

Sydney Harbor Bridge
The Bridge from the Lookout Pylon Museum

I walked back to the city center side of the bridge and then went over to the nearby Barangaroo Reserve, a small nature park with ties to the Aboriginal population. In walking there, one of the upcoming Australia Day festivities centering on the native population was setting up right next door. It was a pleasant, if hot, jaunt around the park, and a nice sit-down by the water where I may, or may not, have had a little nap.

Barangaroo Reserve
Barangaroo Reserve

On the way back to the city, I stopped at the Sydney Observatory, a home to a lot of old scientific instruments and the like. I was looking for a tour, and one seemed to be leaving just as I arrived, but it turned out that party was a pre-booked tour, and they weren't doing any more tours that day. The good news was that the place was free to enter, and I could wander around at will, and so I did. I had quite the geeky time with all the old scientific instruments on display, and there was even a nice movie theater tucked in a back corner that explained some of the Aboriginal stories about their understanding of the constellations and the meanings behind them.

Sydney Observatory
Sydney Observatory

On the walk back, I was thinking about maybe trying for the Botanical Gardens on the other side if Circular Quay to end off the day, but I was having some problems navigating The Rocks, the first area of the city that was settled by the convicts way back when, and despite some attempts to level and gentrify the place, it had survived to become the hip historical district of the city that everyone wanted a part of these days.

However, it was hard to get around, and after taking a wrong turn or other, I stumbled onto the Susannah Place Museum. As luck would have it, they were about to have their last tour of the day, so I racked this up to fate, and signed on. In addition to the store that sold old-time Australian consumer products, the museum was one of the last preserved old block of flats in The Rocks, which was occupied by working class folks since its origins in the 19th century. It was very much like the Tenement Museum in New York City, as it was about the immigrants and working class of Sydney, and it was occupied as living space until the late 1990s.

Susannah Place Museum
Susannah Place Museum

That I was one of the only Catholics on the tour was evidenced by the fact that no one on the tour seemed to know what the holy water fountain by the doorway to an apartment (installed by its Irish inhabitants) was. It was an interesting run through the history of the working poor in Sydney.

I then managed my way back to Circular Quay station and got a train back to my hotel, where I took a sizable nap and then showered up. Having walked a ton and not feeling too ambitious, I had a steak dinner at one of the hotel restaurants before heading back up to my room for a soak in the tub with tea and biscuits, and then bed.

The Accommodations:
After breakfast, I only spent a spare amount of time at the hotel this day, mostly traipsing around the length and breadth of Circular Quay. I did, however, see the Asian clerk again today, and here began the first official joke of, "Do they ever give you a day off?" She laughed, politely.

On Misreading Schedules

Closed ticket booth
The ticket booth, like the stadium, was closed today
Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Outside the Game:
After walking all over the city the previous day, I slept quite well this night and woke up late. However, thanks to some construction in the hotel that started rattling my floor, I was disabused of a lazy morning in, and I was still out and about by 10 AM-ish.

I was going to head north this day. My first stop was St. Mary's Cathedral, a large Catholic cathedral just north of my hotel. Amongst its virtues, Australia is not a very religious nation, and I had managed to go this far in my trip without stepping foot in any sort of church except from a prison chapel. Still, it felt like a thing to do, so I stopped in, and even paid the extra money to go into the catacombs under the cathedral where various Sydney Catholic luminaries were buried.

St. Mary's Sydney
Sun through the stained glass

That done, my next stop was going to be at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I visited an outside cafe for a quick breakfast sandwich before heading in. I sprang for the two special exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe and Rembrandt. I've always been a fan of Mapplethorpe's photography, if not his subjects. Even come-as-you-are Australia had a content warning for a section of the show, which, embarrassingly enough, I was alone in with two older ladies. But true to Aussie form, my embarrassment was quickly broken by one of them saying to the other, "Oh, look at the member on that one, Julie."

Mapplethorpe Exhibit
The exact exhibit you want to be in with someone's nan

The Rembrandt exhibition was significantly more crowded, and the room with the Rembrandts themselves was chock full of folks, so the point where it was a just a writhing mass of people in front of each of the paintings to get a glimpse and then be pushed quickly onwards to the others.

After seeing my fill of the museum, I decided to take the walk up to the Royal Botanical Garden. It was a good ramble in the slightly cooler afternoon along the harbor-front. I went all the way to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, a rock promontory where the namesake used to sit and watch the harbor in the early days of Sydney. I retreated above to sit on a park bench overlooking the same and have a bit of a rest before heading on.

Mrs. Macquarie's Chair
The view from the Chair

The Botanical Gardens was quite an extensive stretch of real estate, encompassing the Government House, a conservatory, as well as some specialty buildings including the Palm Grove House and the Calyx, which was sort of a flower art space with a colorful display made with plants. I stopped at a cafe in the gardens for an Aussie sausage roll lunch, finished my walking around, and headed back to the hotel.

Main pond, Sydney Botanical Gardens
A pond by the sea

I had an early nap and shower, discovering that all that walking had caused the ball of my right foot to split. I tended to that the best I could before getting dressed, grabbing my game bag, and heading out to the train station.  With my previous research, I transferred at Central Station and was quickly on a train out to Rooty Hill station in the north-west suburbs of the city. The train was filled with commuters on their way home on a Thursday. The train started packed, but it got less and less full the further we ventured out into suburbia.

I got off at Rooty Hill and oriented myself with the trusty map of all of Australia on my tablet. It was a reasonable walk to the ballpark from the station, essentially involving only two turns, but a bit of a hike. I headed out, and soon found that the Rooty Hill itself was home to a paddock with some horses that bordered the main road I was traveling with. Despite my best efforts, the horses seemed utterly uninterested in me, so I made my way to the entrance to the stadium complex.

Horse on Rooty Hill
He didn't want to be my friend

Like most of the ABL parks, the Sydney baseball stadium was in the center of a larger athletics complex in the suburbs of the city, usually, as it was here, in the middle of nowhere. I saw the signs and turned into the park, and it was nearly immediately obvious that something was not right. As I walked by the stadium outfield, there was not the activity I would expect, and the street sign then advertised the game tomorrow night. A quick review of everything showed that there was no Thursday night game for this homestand, and that there was only a Friday and Saturday game, and then the double-header on Sunday.

You can't help stupidity. I walked around a bit and took some half-hearted photos before trudging back to the train station. The horses ignored me in my return as well. The good news was that there wasn't long to wait for a train heading back to the city center, and I was back at my hotel in a reasonable amount of time.

I salvaged the evening by finally hitting the pho restaurant that I had been referred to the first night I was in Sydney, and it was some phenomenal pho. Perhaps not enough to make up for my errors that night, but still, a lot better than not having good pho and taking a trip out to the ballpark for no particular reason.

I then went back to the hotel after stopping in at Coles for some supplies, and had a nice, long, reflective soak in the tub with tea and biscuits.

With another day of long walking under my belt, it was another night of early bedtimes.

The Accommodations:
Once again, not much time at the hotel this day. I did, of course, see the Asian lady on the way back from dinner. I told her I went to the restaurant she had suggested finally and enjoyed it. I also started to be actually concerned that they were never going to give this poor lady a day off.

On FINALLY SEEING A TASMANIAN DEVIL (and also, a Baseball Match)

Tasmanian Devil
No, really, a Tasmanian Devil
Blue Sox Stadium
Blue Sox Stadium, 2018
Friday, January 19, 2018
Canberra Cavalry vs. Sydney Blue Sox
Blue Sox Stadium
Australian Baseball League
Rooty Hill, NSW
7:30 PM

Outside the Game:
I was up early this Friday, not out of any particular scheduling reason, but just because I wasn't sleeping well again. As I had a full day ahead of me, I used it to my advantage, got ready, and headed out into the world before everything was open.

I took the subway to Circular Quay and bought a combo ticket for the ferry and the zoo. I just missed the previous ferry, so I took the opportunity to grab a Mega Muffin at a nearby Hungry Jack's and wait for the next ferry a few minutes later.

It was a pleasant ferry to the zoo. The Taronga Zoo is unique in that the preferred way to get to the entrance is a sky ride. You can also walk or take a ferry bus to the entrance from the ferry pier, but why would you want to do either of those things when there's a sky ride available?

Sky Ride
I mean, really

So a sky ride was taken, and I was dropped off onto the small line to get into the zoo just as it opened. I went right to the first information desk with a map and a representative, and I asked her where the Tasmanian Devils were, giving her a brief rundown of my previous failures to see one in the flesh. She told me the quickest way to go, and I was off in a flash, and a short sprint later, I was at the Tasmanian Devil enclosure, and, to my great relief, there was a Tasmanian Devil to be seen.

Not just any Tasmanian Devil, mind you. This was "Taz." He was the one that was featured in the informational video they showed in the enclosure about why the Devils were endangered and the awful face cancer that was decimating the wild population. But Taz was here, and healthy.

Tasmanian Devil
He wasn't pleased with me being there.

He was having a lie-down in the back of his enclosure, basking in the morning sun. He sniffed a little and opened his eyes briefly, and then went back to basking. When it was clear that I wasn't going to leave him alone, he trundled over to the edge of the enclosure where I was standing, and in a very put-upon way, gave me a once over. He looked at me a bit and gave me a thorough sniffing before deciding that I wasn't worth any more of his time. He then plodded back to his basking spot and sat down again, his nose covered in morning dew. And then he went back to his nap.

By this time, I had taken several hundred photos, and just as he sat back down, a family came into the enclosure. I pointed out where he was and went on my way, having finally achieved something.
The rest of the zoo couldn't help but be a letdown, although it was quite nice and very extensive. There was the requisite displays of wallabies and koalas, but the kangaroos this time were up and active, and actually stared me down as a group in a way that made me wish that there were more of the lying down and uninterested variety of kangaroos about again.

I'm not sure I chose the best mutual funds 
for long-term retirement growth

Along the way, I had a chicken sandwich for lunch at some kiosk or other, though I did have another weird food-related experience at the zoo. When I was in the penguin house, there were volunteers handing out recipes. They seem stoked that I took one, but it was less of interest in the recipe than the fact that this seemed like exactly the opposite sort of thing that a zoo should be promoting: Great ways to eat the exhibits.

Zoo recipe
Seriously, this is off message.

I wandered around for most of the morning and early afternoon, and eventually made my way back to the ferry slip (after buying a stuffed Tasmanian Devil doll that took a lot more searching for than I was expecting) and in a flip to the morning's endeavor, I got there right as the ferry was about to leave. A quick ferry and train ride later had me back at the hotel.

I was there early in the afternoon again, and as I was going to my room, I ran into housekeeping, who were about to clean up. I told them to do their business and dropped off everything and went up to the roof pool to take a nap on a lounge chair while they serviced the room. I went back down when they were done and showered and watching some cricket, I took another nap to make sure that the first nap really stuck.

Then it was time to grab the game back and head off to the stadium, for real this time. It was the same deal on the train out, although it was a little less crowded as perhaps people knocked off earlier on a Friday. I made the walk out to the stadium again, knowing the way confidently this time, was ignored again by the horses, and then walked into a much more active stadium where people were lining up for the gates to open at 6:30 PM.

The journey home was a little more eventful than I like them. Walking back to the train station, I saw a herd of very large cockroaches skitter ahead of me on the suburban sidewalk on the way back to the train in a way that made me reconsider my current dreams of perhaps moving to Sydney. The train back was not an express as the train out was, so it was a bit of a slog to get back to city center. At one of the stops, a homeless man in socks boarded the train and asked where the bathroom was. I was compelled to inform him that I had no idea. He scoffed at me and wandered off in pursuit of the loo. I'm sure he found it, one way or another.

After switching trains and finally making it back to the hotel, I found myself in the midst of giant group of Indians trying to go up to their rooms. They filled two cars before the group I was nearest was able to get on an elevator. Thankfully, they all seemed to be on a lower floor than I was, because I got the distinct impression that their night was not going to end when they all got back to their rooms.

Nevertheless, I made it up to my higher floor and back to my quiet room. I grabbed a shower, put out an order tag for room service breakfast, and went to a deep sleep.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Blue Sox Stadium
Home plate to center field, Blue Sox Stadium

Sydney Blue Sox Stadium is probably the finest baseball facility left in Australia--it was one of the locations for the round-robin tournament at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Sadly, the main baseball facility for those games was taken over by more Aussie-friendly sports soon after the end of the Olympics, although many relics from that facility (including the plaques dedicated to the medalists) were moved over to this stadium, which was picked up by the Sydney entrants in the various incarnations of the Australian Baseball League.

It sits within an old Olympics complex, which has a softball diamond in addition to other sports facilities from the games as well. The park has one main entrance behind home plate that empties out onto a promenade area that surround the park from outfield to outfield. This area is lined with concession stands, merchandise stands, and administrative offices. Standing room areas extend from the baselines out to the outfield, but there is no way to circumnavigate the park.

The main seating bowl rises from the field, running between first base and third base, all with flip-down seats. At the top of the bowl is the press box and an awning area covering the seats right behind home plate. There is an actual proper special seating area behind home plate: one with loungers and tables, and another in a special bleacher behind the plate. Along the third base line, there are honest-to-god luxury boxes just above the dugout.

It also stands out from other ABL stadiums in having a legitimate second level that rises behind the seating bowl at home plate. It houses the main concession stand, a seating area, and the offices for New South Wales Baseball. A modern digital scoreboard sat out in right-center field to keep everyone up-to-date, and there were even two retired numbers out on the outfield wall, and measurement in meters and feet.

Odd blue mascot Aldridge was the leader of the between-inning festivities. It was contest and races that would be familiar at any US minor-league game, with some twists. There was "Musical Bases" instead of chairs, and a bat race, and a dress-up race, and all the like.

I don't know. The kids like him.

The game had a healthy, if not overwhelming, crowd that kept up with the action on the field. The Cavalry faithful were also represented, as they seemed to have a pretty intense fan base and were a short (for Australia) three hours away from home at the game. There were also noticeably a lot more Americans and Asians at the game, as there would likely be more ex-pats of each stripe in Sydney, and this was one of their only outlets for baseball.

At the Game with Oogie: 
BBQ Dog and Powerade
BBQ Dog and Powerade

There was less going on in this game, as I didn't meet anyone I had seen previously, or have any other sort of adventures.

I snagged a seat in the nicest seating section right behind home plate. These are usually season ticket holder seats, but, as always, there's always room for one. There were even multiple concessions stands at the stadium. I grabbed a Gatorade and a BBQ dog at the one "upstairs" at the stadium main concession, and later ordered from Whitto's Pizza under the main seating area. They advertised "delivery to your seat," so I decided to try that out, as well as the "Aussie Pizza": egg, bacon, and onion. It was actually a lot better than it sounds.

Aussie Pizza
I mean, there's no pineapple.

I was sitting in the tightly packed "home plate seats," but it seems that a lot of the season ticket holders around me didn't show up except for the family to my left and a scout equipped with a radar gun and notebook to my right, so I had a little space. When my "delivery" pizza came, they were looking at the bottom of the stand for me. I eventually realized they were calling out my name when they couldn't find me, and I belatedly got my pizza delivered to me. For Australian pizza at a ballgame, it really wasn't that bad.

There was also a foul ball in my general direction, but I didn't really have a legitimate shot at it.

The Game:
First pitch, Cavalry vs. Blue Sox
First pitch, Cavalry vs. Blue Sox

This contest between the Sydney Blue Sox and the visiting Canberra Cavalry was the only dominating starting pitching performance I would witness in the ABL, leading to a crisp 2.5 hour game.

The Cavalry went in order in the first and only had a walk to show for the second, while the Blue Sox had only a hit batsman in the first. In the bottom of the second, they mustered a rally, with another hit batman who made it to third on a single and fielder's choice, but got stranded there. Canberra was the one looking dominated by pitching at this point, only mustering back-to-back walks in the top of the third, but Sydney went in order in their half of the inning.

The wall of pitching broke in the top of the fourth, as the Cavalry started the inning with a leadoff triple. A sensible sacrifice fly brought him in for the first score of the game. Back-to-back singles were followed by a two-out single to bring in the lead runner. The next batter grounded to third, and he booted it, allowing in another run. A walk loaded the bases, but a fly to right ended the scoring at 2-0, Canberra. The Blue Sox did not answer in the bottom of the inning, with only a walk and a single to show for it. The Cavalry only had a walk in the fifth, and the Blue Sox did them one better by striking out for the side.

The sixth was another scoring frame. A leadoff walk, groundout, single, and sacrifice fly to left plated another run for Canberra, but Sydney answered that run with a leadoff homer to dead center, making the score 4-1 after six. The Cavalry were at it again in the top of the seventh. Three straight singles and an error on a throw from the center fielder led to two more runs. Sydney only had one man on base in their half due an error by the first baseman.

The Cavalry went in order in the eighth, while Sydney scattered two singles. In the ninth, Canberra hit back-to-back doubles for another run, and the Blue Sox went in order, ending a rather lopsided 7-1 Canberra victory.

The Scorecard:
Cavalry vs. Blue Sox, 01-19-18. Cavalry win, 7-1.Cavalry vs. Blue Sox, 01-19-18. Cavalry win, 7-1.
Cavalry vs. Blue Sox, 01/19-/8. Cavalry win, 7-1.

I was using the BBWAA scorebook again. The game featured the larger than average amounts of errors, walks, and doubles again, although there was only one home run. The miracle of miracles for this game was the fact that the starting pitcher for the Cavalry pitched eight innings of baseball, with only the closer relieving him in the ninth. It was as close to starting pitching prowess that I had seen in the ABL.

Besides that, there were only a couple of noteworthy plays. There was an unassisted double play on a liner to the first baseman for the Blue Sox in the top of the seventh, and a 1-4-3 put-out by the Cavalry in the bottom of the ninth off a liner that bounced off the pitcher.

The Accommodations:
I spent precious little time at the hotel today. Besides running into the very nice cleaning staff for the first time, I did see the Asian lady at the counter again. I asked her, half joking, if she would like me to talk to the management about getting her a day off. It seemed less like a job than a hostage situation at this point.

She demurred.

On Markets and an Unexpected Museum

PowerHouse Museum
Boulton & Watt Engine at The PowerHouse Museum
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Sydney, NSW

Outside the Game:
After a long night, I had a late, late morning in my hotel room. I managed to get up in time for my room service breakfast, which I ate, and then promptly went back to bed. I woke enough to call the US to try and find out what happened to the first packages I had shipped out, which were supposed to have arrived already, but they did not have any satisfactory answers, so I lolled around in bed some more.

Eventually, I found the energy to get up, have a shower, and get dressed for the day ahead. I headed down to China Town and Paddy's Market, one of the larger markets in Sydney. I wandered around the extensive stalls for most of the late morning, doing a little shopping including finally giving in and buying a collapsible bush hat and some souvenirs for people back home.

Paddy's Market
Inside Paddy's Market

Upstairs in the market was a more traditional mall, and the top floor had the local flavor of Chuck E Cheese or Dave & Busters. I spent some time playing games, including a Space Invader game that gave out tickets, where, similar to my Myrtle Beach trip, I cleaned up on ticket enough to score a Rogue One figure, a Barrel of Monkeys game, candy, and a bunch of smaller prizes. I took my winnings down to the food court and had some Chinese noodles for lunch before walking around the market some more.

I eventually headed out to find something called The Powerhouse Museum, just because it sounded awesome, but there was extensive construction on the light rail in Sydney during my visit, and the easiest way to get to the museum was the light rail, and in fact, because of the light rail construction, it was exceedingly difficult to find a way to get from where I was to the museum, even though it was relatively close by. With nothing better to do, I continued wandering, and just as I started to look for the way back, I ran into the entrance to the museum, which apparently was more properly known as the "Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences." With no other plans for the afternoon, I went in.

PowerHouse Museum
Rescued Palais Entrance

It is rare that something this out of the blue finds synchronicity with me. I wasn't 100% sure of what this museum was about, but it might as well have pretty much been designed for me. They had a copy of Strasburg Clock, a working Boulton and Watt engine, an entire area on industrial design, a special area on the nature of language, the lobby and some seats from a reclaimed theater, an area on steam power, a basement filled with old medical devices, a room that had different filtered light spectrums... it goes on and on. There were even extensive areas for kids to experiment and play in that I begrudgingly was unable to use. I'm not sure if there was an overarching theme for this museum more than "things that I would find endlessly interesting." There was probably not a greater happy accident on the entire trip.

And, on top of all that, there was an exhibit on the Wiggles. Now, the Wiggles certainly aren't my bag of tea, and the mindless children plowing through the exhibit were a little creepy, but it was all worth it to know that the Wiggles started out as a band called "The Cockroaches."

The Cockroaches
Let's take the kids to see those nice Cockroach boys.

At this point, it was late afternoon, and I made my way back to the hotel for a nap and shower. It was also pretty good timing that I bought that bush hat because my trusty Brooklyn Cyclones cap, which had followed me around for a decade to seven countries and 175 stadiums, was sadly becoming more hole than hat. Attempts to wash what was left of the fabric resulted in the remaining cloth dissolving away to more hole. This would be its last round-up before retirement.

I went down to the front desk for help in inquiring about a place for dinner. Of course, the Asian lady was behind the counter. It had been a bit since I had Italian food, so I asked for her recco, and she pointed me to place near the hotel that she added to my battered Sydney tourist map on which I had been marking off all my visits and plans since I got here.

I was able to make it to the restaurant easily, and I got a table (with no bread), and I tried out a local variant of lamb ragout. However, it marked one of the only problems I had in a restaurant in Australia, as I was essentially served up raw lamb. I had to bring this to the attention of the waitstaff, who said it was supposed to be rare, to which I posited the difference between "rare" and "raw," showed her a piece, and asked if she wanted any. I was eventually brought a new plate with cooked meat, so all was good eventually. In the state of relaxation I was in, there was only so angry I could stay at the world.

I was then back to the hotel for a swim in the rooftop pool and a soak in the tub with tea and biscuits before hopping off to bed.

The Accommodations:
Not a lot of time in the hotel once I left in the morning that day, though I did use the pool again and ran into my constant companion behind the front desk.

On the Inevitable Beach Visit

Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Sydney, NSW

Outside the Game:
Despite my best efforts, I woke up at 5 AM again, and it took me a bit to get back to sleep. Sundays are always Sundays.

I had gotten to an interesting point in my second week in Sydney. I had already blitzed through most of the cultural attractions and spectacles I wanted to see, and the ball games were a week apart, so I was in the unusual situation of having some time for literally anything on one of these trips.

Australia generally and Sydney specifically are associated with the beach, and I figured that I had a moral obligation to at least go on one of them, just to say I had. The two main ones are Bondi and Manly. Inexplicably, neither of them were serviced directly by trains. You had to take a ferry to Manly or a train and bus to Bondi, and since Bondi was closer, I decided to bite the bullet that way.

I headed out at around 10 AM and was able to get the train no problem, which dumps you off at "Bondi Junction." It is here that you have to switch to the buses to the beach, and while they left every couple of minutes, there were long lines, and the buses were crowded and uncomfortable. Because of this, I got off at the very first stop that was within view of the beach and decided to walk the rest of the way. On the way, I stopped off in a convenience store to grab a sausage roll for breakfast and a Powerade to supplement my water, because it looked to be a hot one.

Bondi Beach
Yep, a beach

It was a nice view, I'll give it that. It looked pretty much exactly what you'd imagine a beach to look like. The main strip of beach was for sunbathers and surfers, and there were only specific areas for swimming and playing around at the ends. I walked out on the beach some and then walked along the length of the beach from one end to the other on the stone walkway behind the sand. I poked around a little in the Bondi Pavilion in the center of the beach, went on past the weight area (which, as with everywhere else in the world, was apparently the pick-up spot for gay guys) and ended up at the bathing areas on the rocks at the north end of the beach.

Bondi Pavilion
Just in time for FlickerFest
Having no further need of the beach, I walked out into the town more and spotted a market that was being held in a local school. I wandered around there for a little and found they had a small food truck area in the playground of the school. There was a specialty burger truck with whom I put in an order, and then I made myself at home at one of the kids play tables and desks waiting for my order.

I was eventually approached by an older lady who was wondering if she could share my table. We got to talking, and apparently she was a recent emigrant from South Africa who came to live with her daughter in Sydney and was out for a bit of sun. She was also the first person I talked to who wasn't in love with living in Australia. She complained about the prices of everything, and she wasn't an apparent fan of the summer weather there.

This is where it gets weird. She kept talking to me about her other daughter and asked what my situation was. I eventually worked out that she was potentially trying to set me up with her daughter when she asked if I was Jewish.

Now, here's the weird thing. This wasn't the first time people assumed I was Jewish in Australia. Now, I know for a fact there's a bunch of Italians there. I'm not sure what was prompting the thought, but it was a prevalent one. In fact, this lady would not believe I wasn't Jewish. I had to pull out my driver's license to prove it to her. She then stopped talking about her other daughter. We discussed the comings and goings of US politics for a while until we were done eating, and then I made my way on with the day.

After walking around for a bit more, I headed back to the nearest bus stop. I contemplated taking a direct bus all the way back to city center, but I decided against it and took a--mercifully less full--bus back to the train station for an uneventful train ride back to the hotel.

Running low on clothes, I did a much more effective and injury-free laundry run, working in a nap and shower as I was waiting for washers and driers to finish. After folding everything up, I headed out for dinner in China Town.

China Town, Sydney
Town full of China

After casing the area, I ended up at a nice dumpling place where I managed to burn the hell out of mouth because I didn't listen to the warnings about the dumplings being very hot. Injury aside, they were some very good dumplings. With nothing better to do with my evening, I walked over to Darling Harbor for a walk around. They were doing an outdoors movie that evening that I watched for a little bit before heading back to the hotel.

Movie night at Darling Harbor
Movie night

It was such a nice evening, I made the journey back a constitutional walk, stopping off at Cole's for more groceries and supplies before getting back to the hotel. I did an extended soak in the tub with tea and biscuits before watching some TV in bed before hanging it up for the night.

The Accommodations:
I had a long stopover in my room in the later afternoon doing laundry at the sister hotel down the street. As I had the locations and timings down, it went much more smoothly this time, and I managed not to injure myself anymore, and, in fact, the gash on my knee was finally healing closed. So, I had that going for me.

I did see the Asian lady working at the counter again. She waved at me and I waved back, and I began to worry that they never actually gave her any days off.

On Shopping and Gardens

The Willow Stream
The Willow Stream
Monday, January 22, 2018
Sydney, NSW

Outside the Game:
There was another lazy Monday morning of getting up, and going back to sleep, and thinking about getting up, and going back to bed. I eventually found the energy to get showered and out the door a little after 10 AM.

I went down to the other hotel restaurant for breakfast, as you needed to make reservations for the buffet restaurant. I sat down and waiting for fifteen or so minutes with absolutely no interest from the wait staff, so I left to get a breakfast biscuit at a cafe down the street.

With nearly all of my "must-see" list covered, I decided to do some lazy shopping to start the day, going to the Queen Elizabeth Building to see what I could see. I started off on the top floor, and that would turn out to be very bad for my wallet.

Queen Elizabeth Building
Where my money goes to die

One of the first stores that I saw was a proper toy soldier shop. I hadn't seen one of those since I was in England. At any rate, in an instant, I was inside. The only worker in the store was clearly on the phone with his boss as I wandered around, enraptured by all the options. I had come in with a vague idea of getting an Anzac soldier, but then I saw all the Roman legionaries. I kept pushing on, and I realized I was going to spend a lot of money, as, in the World War I section, they had Blackadder and Baldrick form Blackadder Goes Forth. So, obviously, I have to get those. There was also an Anzac officer nearby, so I could at least get my original plan as well.

I waited until the guy at the counter excused himself from his call to talk to me, and I told him which ones I wanted to get. He told me that I was getting the last of the Blackadder figures, as they were extremely popular, and he had to reorder them. A lot of people who make World War I dioramas like to hide them in the background and see if any one notices.

With a nice hole in my wallet, I barely made it much further before I ran into an historical photo and print shop. It was like this floor was specifically designed to take all my money. I went in, and after a lot of looking around and agonizing, I ended up buying two pieces: a 19th century photo of the Government House in Sydney and a 19th century German map print of the New York City and Hudson County area. He was able to ship them directly to me, which would save me trying to mail them to myself, so with an even larger hole in my wallet, I was back out on to the floor.

And nearly immediately saw a full-sized, legitimate hobby shop. As in a real hobby store, the likes of which haven't been seen in America since the 80s. Model kit, model trains, the whole lot. I was wondering if I was going to be able to pay my hotel bill at this point. I managed to make it out of there mostly unscathed, and thankfully, the rest of the floor held no further economic land mines.

As I wandered the rest of the floors (thankfully, mostly clothing stores), I stopped in for lunch at one of the restaurants that had elegant little tables along the railing around the central atrium. It was an Italian place, and I ordered up some pasta in addition to a small appetizer, and of, course, my very last bite of pasta resulted in me getting sauce on my newly laundered shirt, because of course it did.

St. James Church
St. James Church

This little setback behind me, I went on to grab a train to St. James Station, which, surprisingly enough, was right by St. James Church, the first house of worship built in Sydney, constructed by prison labor. I decided to have a quick pop inside to see the house that irony built, and then walked over to Darling Harbor to go to the Chinese Friendship Garden.

I had passed the garden on several occasions at Darling Harbor and wanted to stop in while it was open as I had heard good things. I paid my way in, and it was most remarkable. It was one of those city parks that almost makes you forget you are in a city while you are inside. In addition to a small lake, it had a waterfall feeding that lake, in addition to a number of pagodas and other cultural area. It was very relaxing, to the point I nearly forgot how much money I had just spent on toy soldiers, models, and historic prints. I spent a lot of time just wandering around and sitting. There was an activity for kids where you could play dress-up in traditional Chinese garb, and there were a pair of young sisters flying through the garden in their outfits in a way that everyone seemed to appreciate.

Chinese Friendship Garden
Waterfall in the Chinese Friendship Garden

When I had my fill of tranquility, I headed back to the hotel for my traditional nap and shower. That evening, I decided to see about information about night cruises on the harbor. Nothing particularly piqued my fancy, and a lot of them were clearly booze cruises.

I went over for dinner at a steakhouse in Darling Harbor that I wanted to visit, getting a gigantic steak and some Scotch in a meal that I didn't care how much it cost. I walked a short distance after dinner to the "Star of the Show" Ferris Wheel and took a nighttime spin around the harbor, taking some pictures and enjoying the vantage.

Star of the Show, Sydney
Star of the Show

I stayed walking around the harbor for a little bit before heading back to the hotel for my traditional soak, tea, and biscuits, and I had a relatively early night of it.

The Accommodations:
Outside of my invisibility at the hotel restaurant early in the day, there was only one thing of note. Well, two, I guess. Firstly, is that they finally seem to have given the Asian woman the day off. I managed to leave my key in my room before I set out for the day, and I had to go to the counter to get a replacement, and amazingly enough, she wasn't there. There was a younger guy who I had seen sporadically there who helped me, and when he asked my name, his eyes got big and he asked if I was Italian. I said yes, but specifically half-Sicilian and half-Southern Italian, and he told me that he was from Sicily and was working here for the Australian summer. And there was that immediate paisan connection that seems to transcend any distance, and we were immediate friends.

The world, she is small.

On Revising My Zombie Plan

Fort Denison
One move and the monuments get it
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Sydney, NSW

Outside the Game:
The longer I went into the trip, the later and later my mornings got. I eventually mustered up the necessary energy to shower, dress, and get out into the day.

I took the train up to the Circular Quay, grabbed a sausage roll breakfast, and I decided to find out some information of the harbor dinner cruises that were available. After nixing on the straight cruises the night before, I decided to look into the dinner and a cruise options that I had seen some info about. There were a handful of different places that offered different food and cruise options, and I figured that a night dinner cruise would be nice. However, I found that half of them were booze cruises, and the other half were almost all seafood-based menus, so that idea went quickly out the window of deadly allergies.

I was there to take a cruise, or at least a water taxi. I had found out about a tiny island fort right off the coast called Fort Denison. You can only go by boat, obviously, so I grabbed a ticket and headed off to the island. It also used to have a very well-regarded restaurant on the island, and I use the past-tense specifically, as it had closed down between when my tour book was printed and when I went, apparently the victim of a licensing issue with the city.

Fort Deinson
Fort Denison

I got there just in time for the next tour, however, and it was just myself and another small family that got the run of the place. After some military scare or other in the late 19th century, the powers that be decided that Sydney needed to be better defended, and so a small island just in the harbor was chosen to be a fort. Now, the island used to be a lovely hilled island when the Aborigines would come and have picnics and dances and other festive events. Whitey showed up and hung executed criminals from gibbets on the island, horrifying the natives (and probably anyone else who saw the bodies). Not content with just ruining the native picnic ground, they then came back and leveled the nice hills to a practicable, flat plain on which to build a naval fort. The ultimate punch line was that as soon as the fort was completed, it was pretty much obsolete, and so it was used for weather and sea research instead of its original purpose, eventually being minded by a series of island keepers until the state took it over in the late 20th century.

Outside of the mostly horrifying and ironic history, it was a nice enough fort. They leveled it very close to the water line, so you stand pretty much water level at ground level, which is an interesting perspective. It also gave me an idea on a zombie plan if I was ever in Sydney for the apocalypse. The first people out to Fort Denison with enough weapons to defend it have it made. You need a boat to reach it, it is easily defended from landings, it is solid, it has an already built-in water catchment system that just needs to be opened again, it has its own generators and septic system, and it has a fig tree that supplemented by fishing will keep you fed. I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this, but still.

After completing my visit, I jumped the next ferry back to Circular Quay and decided to make my way down to the nearby Sydney Museum. It was a nice enough museum with interesting exhibits on mug shots and Sydney Luna Park, among other things, but I realized that I was nearly completely museumed out at this point. I went through the exhibits and then wandered out to the Martin Place Mall for a late lunch at The Schnitz.

Sydney Museum
If you're going to commit a crime, at least look dapper.

Then, there was a singular event in my Australian trip: It started raining. After nearly a month in the country, I hadn't been rained on at all. I think it rained once or twice at night in Brisbane, but I had never had rain fall on my person in my entire time in the country. Seeing this as some sort of sign, I went back to my hotel for what turned into a long downtime.

I had my regular nap and shower, but then I started to research book shops and geek stores and watch some afternoon TV, and generally lounge around.

Eventually, it was time for dinner, and I went out to Darling harbor again to try another restaurant. After wandering around a bit, I settled on Baia, an Italian place. I got a nice, sumptuous table by myself, and proceeded to eat myself into a coma. I ordered up a bottle of red wine, and then ate through a couple appetizers, kangaroo and polenta as a main course, and then a desert or two with some tea. It was a very nice atmosphere, and they had an impressive soundtrack, cutting between a live jazz band and recordings. Did I mention I ate too much?

Very, very full, I waddled around the Harbor for a while to try and walk some of it off, before walking back to my hotel for a soak in the tub (I couldn't imagine having tea and biscuits after everything I ate) and sat in bed watching TV before drifting off to sleep.

The Accommodations:
I spent a good portion of the afternoon in my room at the hotel on this day, but nothing much of note. I didn't see the Asian lady all day, so I hope she managed to get two days off in a row.

On Book Shopping and Book Shipping

Queen Victoria Building
Sometimes you make your own wishes
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Outside the Game:
Despite my best efforts, I didn't get very good sleep the previous night, and I managed to forget to take my pills, so all in all, a poor start to the day. I rolled that into a lazy, lazy morning, especially as I had nothing to do that day except go book shopping.

Again, I eventually mustered the energy to get out in the world, grabbing a breakfast sausage roll on my way. I had intended to start out visiting a couple of comics books shops, but I found one to be closed down with a homeless person sleeping on the stoop, and the other I just couldn't locate. I spent some time in a games shop for a little bit, and then headed to the George Street area to start my book shopping in earnest. My first stop was a larger shop Dymocks, but I also went around to Sydney standards Abbey's, Galaxy Bookshop, and Japanese shop Kinokuniya. It was refreshing to be able to actually go around a browse books in actual bookshops, and I ended up with a Strand-worthy stack of books by the end of all my shopping.

I ended up at Macca's for lunch, because they were advertising a Chicken Big Mac and that had to be tried for science. Also, it was to get out of the rising heat, which was quickly making the day miserable. Despite the heat, there was a bagpiper playing outside of the Queen Elizabeth Building that I gave some gold change to (Australian one and two dollar coins) before heading up to my next hotel near The Rocks just to get oriented for it on Friday and see if I could drop off my main luggage bag there overnight.

I took the train back to my hotel, hot and exhausted. I ran into the cleaning staff, who were chatting to the cleaning staff from another area, I surmise, because the ones from my floor said hello and told the other ones that I had been staying with them for over a week. So they said hello. And then I retreated into my room to pass out for a while.

I headed out right after to go the post office again to ship out all the books I bought and all the related accouterments I had acquired since my last shipment. A quick run through the post office had me good to go, and I went back to the hotel for a shower before heading out for the night.

Then there were difficulties. There were "free" guided tours at various places in the city run by students and paid for with tips at the end. There was one up by The Rocks, which was the only area I hadn't really explored to this point because my last hotel in Sydney was in the area, but I wanted to grab the tour to get the top-line before plunging in over my last weekend. I went to the subway station with plenty of time, but I ran out of money on my Opal card.

Not a problem. I went to the machine to fill it up, and although it was the start of rush hour, I only had a small line and tried to refill it. But my card was rejected. I figured I did something wrong, but it was rejected again. I was getting more agitated and tried it one last time and got the same result, and the long line behind me behooved me to go and take some other action.

I got out of line and went outside and called American Express. I eventually got through, and they claimed that they never rejected my card, and that everything was fine. So now I was at a great impasse. I sat down in the park by the closed Anzac Memorial and tried to piece everything together. Eventually, it dawned on me: I was trying to use my American Express card on the Opal machines, and the Opal machines don't take AmEx. Humbled by my own ignorance, I eventually went back, stood in the long rush-hour line to top off my Opal card with my Visa, and dejectedly realized that I had missed the tour by about ten minutes in the best transit case.

It was then that I found out that there was a transit strike that was going to start the next day that would likely affect all trains in Sydney, which presented the problem of how I was going to get to the airport the next Monday, and a host of other issues. My strong backing of organized labor was shaken by my selfish needs.

Seeing this as some kind of cosmic sign, I gave up on the rest of the evening. I grabbed a meat pie and went back to the hotel and spent the evening watching TV, packing up my non-shipped belongings, and then into the tub for a soak, tea, and biscuits.

The Accommodations:
I spent a lot of time in my room at the hotel for my last day after the longest hotel stay in my life. It seemed appropriate, I guess. I didn't see the Asian lady, so hopefully she got another day off, and outside of the interaction with the cleaning staff mentioned above, it was basically just me and my room, eventually saying goodbye after a week and a half.

2017-8 Australia