|Memories of the Olympics|
All of the links below connect directly to photos. Photos average 10K - 30K in size.
|My first view of Australia from the plane|
My first days in Australia were spent in Cairns -- sort of a miniature Miami, located in the tropics of northeast Australia on the Great Barrier Reef.
|The beach at Cairns|
|Is this a pelican or a stork?|
While there I fulfilled a long-time dream: I went diving on the Reef. You can't imagine what a mystical world it is, just a few meters below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Every possible color is represented by countless different kinds of fish, coral and plants. My only regret was that I didn't take some time before coming here to do some practice diving, because I found my attention constantly being diverted by the logistics of the dive itself (was I breathing properly? did I have enough weight on my belt? was I too close to any coral, possibly causing damage?). Still, no regrets. I highly recommend adding this experience to your must-do list.
|Michaelmas Island, a small spit of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, right on the reef -- where we anchored during the dive|
|Another view of Michaelmas Island|
|The island is also a bird sanctuary -- shades of Alfred Hitchcock!|
|Lloyd Bridges, eat your heart out!|
While there, I also took a tour of the Reef in a semi-submersible boat (also known as a glass-bottom):
|The Reef, as seen from a semi-submersible submarine|
|A giant clam|
The next day, I visited the Australian rainforest, inland from the Reef. There is a century-old train that winds slowly up the mountainside to a tiny village named Kuranda, several thousand feet in the sky. Alongside the perfunctory souvenir shops and snack bars, one finds breathtaking views, lush vegetation, and a native population that truly welcomes visitors. The return to the coast is via SkyRail (think "ski lift") that travels just above the jungle canopy. Stunning!!
|A View of the valley floor from the train|
|The train as it appears from SkyRail|
|The view from SkyRail|
|Still One More|
(sorry, no photos for the next two days -- forgot my camera in Cairns!)
The Australians have truly put their best foot forward. The city is tarted up like nobody's business, and you can't swing a dead cat without hitting either an Olympic venue or a group of people standing around a TV screen watching the games. One entire channel is devoted strictly to games coverage, and still the average Sydneysider can't get enough. I worry that a nationwide post-event depression will sink in after October 1!
Getting around Sydney is a breeze. The public transit system was enhanced for the games, and I have yet to wait more than three minutes for a train or bus. The Olympic Village is centrally located, and it seems all trains and buses go there. If you've been watching the games on TV (and have been able to suffer through NBC's putrid coverage!!!), you may have created a picture in your mind of the vastness of the Olympic Stadium. Give it up -- it's nowhere NEAR a vast on TV as it is in real life. Last night saw the triumph of Cathy Freeman in the women's 400 meter, and the stadium held over 112,000 people.
I attended the men's and women's gymnastics finals -- a disappointment, especially for the Americans. Only one American man and one American woman in the finals, and they both performed dismally. No stars this year -- the spirit of Nadia, Olga and Mary Lou lives on somewhere, but not here. Most of the crowd streamed from the Sydney Superdome well before the last medals were handed out.
I also had the fortune of watching the U.S. beat Brazil in beach volleyball, taking the gold. Nothing can compare to watching your country's athletes win gold . . . to standing proud and watching the stars and stripes go up that flagpole . . . to singing the national anthem in a voice that shakes with emotion.
I finally got the chance to explore a little more of downtown Sydney. The metropolitan area actually covers quite a bit of territory. It sprawls out much like Los Angeles, and each section of the city is known by its neighborhood name. For instance, my cousin and her family live in Roseville, which is north of the central business district (CBD), across the Harbor Bridge. The main Olympic Park venues are located in Homebush Bay, about ten kilometers west of downtown. If you like big cosmopolitan cities, Sydney ranks right up there with the greatest of them.
The architecture is a mix of European styles, combined with the severe modernism of downtown Los Angeles. Lots of baroque and rococo architecture, replete with sandstone and brick . . mixed in with the corporate logos on top of steel skyscrapers.
As with many large cities that have been around for a while, Sydney boasts contrasts between old and new -- although the "new" does pay homage to the "old". Here are some examples:
|St. Mary's Cathedral|
|The Queen Victoria Building|
|Note the ornamentation on the top of the skyscraper on the left, and how it compliments the Town Hall edifice|
The Queen Victoria Building interior is absolutely beautiful, especially owing to the recent restoration. It is now a high-end shopping complex, featuring many of the shops you'd seen in San Francisco's Union Square, L. A.'s Beverly Center or New York's Park Avenue. Here are some details of the interior:
|The Great Australian Clock (yes, that's its real name!)|
|Another View of the Clock|
|Detail of another clock, this one depicting moments in British history|
|Another view of the second clock|
|A tableaux of Queen Victoria at her coronation, complete with replicas of the Crown Jewels|
More sights around town:
|Sydney Opera House -- an amazing structure!|
|Sydney Harbor Bridge. If you look closely, you'll see people climbing on TOP of the bridge -- a privilege that costs about $80! Can you picture the fit Golden Gate Transit would throw if we tried this at home?|
|How kind of the Aussies to warn us which direction to look when crossing the street!|
|Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, AKA gay ground zero. However, the area isn't a "gay ghetto" like the Castro tends to be. Straights, gays, they're all there enjoying the cafe and bar scene.|
|Huge outdoor TV monitors have been set up all over town so that locals can catch all the action.|
|This is an ibis -- they're all over downtown, mixing it up with the pigeons|
Later that night I went pub crawling with my cousin Stephanie's son Jeremy and a group of his friends. We visited an area of downtown known as The Rocks -- the oldest settled part of town:
|Jeremy and me|
|The group (how often do you see me in a group where there are SEVERAL people taller than me?!!)|
The Olympic Park venue is amazing. I didn't even attempt to photograph entire buildings, because the scale is so large. Think of trying to photograph the Roman Coliseum from the front sidewalk -- it can't be done.
Here are some images:
|The throng of people!|
|Solar light towers provide all the illumination of the outdoor areas.|
|More views of the light towers|
|A train station was built especially for the Games|
|The longest lines were at the HUGE souvenir store|
|I TRIED to photograph the stadium.|
|The interior of the gymnastics pavilion where the preliminary qualification rounds were held|
|These two fools were attempting to teach the crowd the Macarena.|
Thursday the 29th saw the pace change a bit. I started out early on for a two-hours train ride to Horsley Park to see the Equestrian Dressage Grand Prix Special. No, the irony of the venue's name is not lost on the Aussies.
If you've never seen dressage in action, it is a very unusual way to compete with horses. It is a lot like ballet, only the focus is more on technique and execution than on artistic interpretation. Every horse and rider is put through a very exact series of "steps" -- various canters and trots, sideways and diagonal walking, etc. The pattern is standard throughout the world, and has been the convention for years. It is not for everyone -- the pace is slow and ponderous, and it is so quiet in the audience that you can hear a pin drop. It was an effort to stay with it, quite honestly.
|A view of the field|
|I guess this is an equestrian zamboni|
|The Austrian (not Australian) entry -- very military, very sharp|
That night, I attended a concert at the Sydney Opera House. It is an absolutely astonishing structure, inside and out. There are actually several performance spaces: A 2,300-seat concert hall, a drama theater, the actual opera theater, smaller studio spaces, restaurants, bars, and views of the city and the harbor that are unparalleled.
Unfortunately, my camera does not take very good pictures in subtle night light:
|The main shell (the roof is actually made of squares of tile -- picture the walls of a Turkish bath)|
|A view of the Harbor Bridge from the Opera House|
|Another view of the main shell|
|The Sydney skyline from the main Opera House forecourt|
|Yet another view of the shell|
|The interior of the concert hall (don't worry, I didn't use flash, and I took the picture during intermission!)|
September 30 -- Soccer and Hockey
We're coming up to the final days of the Games. Today I saw the Gold Medal Men's Soccer and Hockey matches -- both were absolutely excellent games that went into sudden death overtime.
|An interior shot of the Olympic Stadium -- it is positively breathtaking|
|Spain vs. Cameroon -- the crowd was clearly on the side of the Cameroon team, who played like their lives depended on it|
|The winning goal is scored!|
|The medal ceremonies as Cameroon wins its first gold medal ever.|
On to the State Hockey Center for the bronze match between Australia and Pakistan. The Aussie's won! Then came the gold match between Holland and Korea. It was a real nail-biter. There was a mere five minutes left in the game, and Holland was ahead 3 to 1. The crowds started streaming out of the arena. Then suddenly, Korea rallied and scored two goals in succession, tying the game. The crowd went wild. After two overtimes and a penalty shootout phase, the Dutch took the gold. What a night!
|The hockey field|
|My seat was smack in the middle of the Dutch rooting section -- they gave me one of their neck scarves!|
|Some new friends!|
|When the Dutch won, I celebrated with the group. As you can see, they were overjoyed.|
|The medal ceremony.|
October 1 -- Men's Basketball and the Closing Ceremonies
Today was the last day of the adventure of a lifetime. I started out quite early and headed for the Sydney Superdome to watch the Dream Team win gold.
The game itself was actually not all that good, sad to say. France was unfortunately not in good form -- the team really didn't have any good shooters, although they played a very good defensive game. There were quite a few fouls called on both sides. It seemed like the referees' whistles were blowing constantly.
We won the game, but although it wasn't a rout, it just wasn't very interesting sport. There was simply no drama (like there was in last night's EXCELLENT hockey game with Holland and Korea). There were also several instances of our team getting in the face of the referees for calls they didn't agree with. The crowd was definitely on the side of the French, and I must admit that a part of me was wishing for an upset -- anything to make the game more interesting.
|The teams warm up on the court|
|Tim Hardaway goes for a free throw|
|After the game, the teams congratulate each other|
I didn't stay for the medal ceremony -- it seemed almost perfunctory (and besides, I had to go to the bathroom in the WORST way).
After the game, I had four hours to kill before the closing ceremonies. I hung out on the grass at the Olympic Expo, where they had set up a huge TV monitor so that the crowd could keep up on all the events.
|We watched the Men's Marathon cross the Harbor Bridge|
I then went for an EXCELLENT Italian buffet lunch (the food at the Olympic Park was terrific, if a little on the pricey side). Since I was alone, I told the maitre'd that he could sit others at my table, in hopes that I would meet some interesting people. I lucked out -- I spent a delightful hour with a gentleman from Melbourne and one from Geneva. We drank wine, we shared stories of our countries and our families, and generally agreed that we were all having the time of our lives. Long live international friendship!
Then, on to the party to end all parties -- the amazing closing ceremonies. It was everything you could imagine it might be. A pageant on a world-class scale. If you saw it on TV, you probably got an idea of how fabulous it was. I won't even try to describe it, other than to say I'll remember it forever
Here are some extremely feeble attempts to photograph it:
|The cauldron as seen from my EXCELLENT seat, about ten rows back from the field.|
|The Ethiopian runner goes by, on his way to gold in the Men's Marathon|
|Yours truly, with the cauldron above in the background. The flags on the cheeks were ubiquitous at the Olympics -- each nation was represented thus by at least some of its attending citizens|
|A night shot of the cauldron -- this may give you an idea of how dramatic the whole scene was|
|The huge geodesic dome in mid-field, which expanded and collapsed several times over the evening. There was actually a stage on top of it, which was raised and lowered as each act appeared on it|
|The Olympic flag just before it is lowered|
|The flag is removed from the flagpole -- throat lump time|
|The cauldron as it appeared on the huge screen behind me|
|The party starts! Those Kewpie dolls were incredible|
|Foreground: Bananas in Pyjamas. Background, left side of screen: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (which I could have gotten a better shot of that!)|
|The final shot -- I can't believe it's all over.|
To the glorious people of Australia . . .
to the athletes . . .
to the organizers . . .
to the countless volunteers . . .
and to my extended family in Sydney (Tom, Stephanie, Jeremy and Ben):
Thank you for making the past two weeks something I'll cherish for the rest of my life.
This page last updated Monday, October 13, 2008