Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting my feet on the ground

After checking in to my hostel, I headed out into the city again. There was so much I wanted to do and see that I had trouble deciding where to begin. So I decided to think it over while sampling some local beers. I had noticed a pub earlier in the day with a cool name.

494. The Edinburgh Castle

Those of you who have read my stories about San Francisco might remember that there was an Edinburgh Castle there as well, and that I visited it a couple of times. This pub was in central Sydney on the corner of Pitt Street and Bathurst street. It was just about lunch time, so there was a half decent crowd, most of whom, rather than having lunch, were watching the horse racing on tv. One of the great things in Australia, is that a lot of pubs have a bookie in them. And I don’t mean next door, I mean right in the middle of the pub. The set up for this is usually a couple of flat screen tv’s with the sports action on them, and underneath them is a machine about the size of a cigarette machine. It has a touch screen and will let you select your horse, dog or team that you think will win, score first or whatever you want to bet on. You put your money in and you will get a receipt, just like you would at a normal bookie shop. If you win (and I stress IF) you put your receipt back in the machine and it will print out a voucher that you can hand in at the bar, where you will get paid in cash. Excellent system, in my humble opinion. I ordered a pint of Rechs lager, a local beer with a surfer on the pump handle, and was then told that they only served beer in schooners. This was something that I would encounter rather often in Sydney. A schooner is a strange size of beer vessel that is more or less halfway between a pot(halfpint) and a pint. The theory behind it is that is gets so warm in Australia that your beer would get luke warm before you are able to finish your pint. Either way, I got a schooner of lager and it was really nice. Due to the long bus trip and the fact that I had just had something like breakfast an hour or so earlier, I had a bag of Twisties to keep the local produce trip going. Twisties are cheesy corn snacks that are really nice with beer. I eat them regularly here in Dublin when they are available in the pub. None of the punters in the pub won anything in the horse racing even though the races follow each other even faster than they do here in Ireland.

Edinburgh Castle Pub

Cool fountain

Wanting to get a feel for the city, I made my way out after one beer, in order to do some walking around and to get the hang of the lay out of the city. Having walked around the central streets for a bit, and marvelled at the monorail that runs around central Sydney, I decided on a stop at

495. The Bavarian Beer Cafe.

It seems to be all the rage lately, to open Bavarian style beer gartens and kellers all over the world. Sometimes this works quite well and sometimes this does not work at all. The usual problem in these cases is that they make it to nice and neat. I encountered this problem in a beer keller in Glasgow last year, which had the basic ingredients for a nice beerhall, but they fucked it up by adding atmosphere lighting, ambient background music and a designer bar. A similar problem occurs here in Sydney- the place is polished to the nines, has brand new oak tables and stools and staff in outfits that you would expect to encounter on Wall Street. If you are reading this, beerhall designers of the world, here’s a tip: If you want to create a genuine Bavarian beer hall atmosphere, you need only 3 things: Beer, an old table and wooden bench to sit on and traditional German music on the stereo. Forget about polished tables, mood lighting, designer menus, staff that know 23 ways to make a Martini and, god forbid, ‘Ladies beer’. Just give me a beer and a bowl of peanuts and I’m perfectly happy. Oh yeah, and while you’re at it, if you work this way, you also don’t need to charge me 10 dollars for a beer.

Having left the Bavarian Beer cafe behind me, I checked my map to see where I would go next. I then realised that I was within reasonable walking distance of Sydney Opera House. Even though I had wanted to put off visiting the Opera House for some more time, I knew that I would not be able to do this. If you are near such an iconic site, it is impossible to walk away. The same thing happened when I was first in New York. I had the idea of visiting the Statue of Liberty somewhere midway through my stay, but after resisting temptation for a day, I was on the ferry to Liberty Island at 8 am on Monday morning. Here in Sydney, on the other side of the world, I simply could not resist. I walked to Circular Key and once I turned the corner and saw the Opera House, I got the same freeze frame experience I had when I first stood next to the Statue of Liberty. I stood frozen for 5 minutes, just looking at the building and taking in the beauty of Sydney harbour. It’s hard to explain what goes through you. You think it won’t be a big thing because you have seen it 5 million times on tv, in the papers and on post cards. But once you are actually standing next to it, it completely silences you.

Sydney Opera House

What wasn’t silent, was the National Rugby League fan event that was about to start on the square in front of the Opera House. It was Friday and the NRL final would be played in Sydney on Sunday. Like in Melbourne on the day before the AFL final, the fans were out in force to make a big party of it and here, like in Melbourne, the fans were out in force to have a great outdoor party as a prelude to the big game. A big stage had been erected in front of the Opera House and bands were playing throughout the afternoon. Fireworks went off at regular intervals, both teams arrived in Sydney harbour on boats and the fans were having a ball. And a couple of beers, so I joined in the fun.

NRL Fan Day

496. The Opera Bar.

I’m not entirely sure where this bar started and where it ends, because it is situated under a sort of swerving arch that goes nearly all the way to the steps leading up to the Opera house. For the rugby fan event, mobile bars had been set up along the waterfront and this all added to a great atmosphere. I ordered a Pure Blonde, a nice, easy-to-drink beer that I had a couple of times in Melbourne as well. I sat down on a stone bench looking out over the harbour and realised that I would happily sit there for the next 10 years. This was ofcourse the result of a largely sleep deprived overnight bus trip, the perpetual sunshine and the fact that I had been drinking since breakfast time, but for a couple of minutes that was really how I felt. I had another beer, talked for a bit with a middle aged Australian couple who were very interested in what I was doing in Sydney and if I liked Australia and then I had to drag my self away from the sunset in the Harbour because I had another place to go to.

497. The Australian Hotel

Is basically around the corner from the Opera House, but due to the large lay out of Sydney harbour it took me some 15 minutes to get there. Didn’t matter, the reward at the end was worth the walk, including the steep steps I had to climb to get there. The Australian Hotel prides itself on selling every brand of beer that is brewed in Australia. According to the menu, they serve 104 different beers, about 20 of them on draft. Like in Jack’s Bar in San Francisco, where they serve 86 beers on draft, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I spent a couple of minutes monitoring the taps and the fridges and decided to order a Vale Ale. It was very nice and I really liked this pub. I hung around for another beer and decided to go back to my hostel to put together my plan for the night.

The Australian Hotel

When I got back to the hostel, there was a bit of a dull atmosphere going on. In fact, the whole 2 days I spent at the hostel were quite dull. It looked as if the people staying there had no intent of partying or going out. They just sat in the lobby watching tv. I had picked up a 6pack of Victoria Bitter on the way home, had 2 cans and decided that I had enough of this place. So I put my remaining 4 cans in the fridge and headed back towards China town. After walking around for a bit to scout if there were any good pubs there, I came across a pub that would become one of my hangouts in Sydney.

498. Scruffy Murphy’s

Is a big chaotic Irish pub, spanning 2 floors and a casino. It is loud, crowded and there is something on every night. When I stumbled in there on Thursday night at around 10, I walked into the middle of a trivia quiz, presented by an Englishman called Andy the Pom. I ordered a Guinness, which was very modestly priced at $6,- for a pint (and I mean a real imperial pint) and played a couple of rounds in the quiz by marking my answers on the back of a beer coaster. It turned out that I had a score of 18 out of 20 for the 2 rounds that I paid attention to and ordered another Guinness. As I always like to know what is open when and where, I asked the girl behind the bar what time the pub would be closing. She gave me the answer every enthousiastic drinker wants to hear:

We Don’t.

I asked her again, just to make sure that I had heard it right and she again confirmed that the pub never closed and was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Oh Heaven. Sydney again scored several additional points on the ‘Kick Ass City’ score sheet. Having a pub down the street from your accomodation(and the accomodation that I would be moving to the next day) that is open 24 hours a day sort of takes the pressure off the planning side of things; when all else fails, you can simply go there, no matter what time it is. With this important issue sorted, I set about celebrating and continued drinking Guinness deep into the night. I also spent some time in the casino and even won some money. Ofcourse, I immediately returned my winnings to the bar and I don’t remember getting home.

The planning for the next day: King’s Cross.

Scruffy Murphy's

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