Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sydney - Part 2

We wandered back toward the Opera House and I bought a standing room ticket for The Magic Flute opera tonight!! I am excited. It will be in German with English surtitles (above the stage) at 7:30 PM.

We headed to the New South Wales Parliament and met Mr. Russell Grove, PSM, Chief Clerk of the Legislative Assembly for New South Wales.
(PSM means he has been awarded a Public Service Medal). He gave us a wonderful tour around Parliament.

Their first Parliament met in the hospital! In 1810, a contract was signed for a new General Hospital. In 1815, builders made costly alterations and in 1816, it was called the “Rum Hospital” as the builders were to receive a monopoly on rum imports from which they expected to recoup the cost of the building and gain considerable profits, along with convict labor and supplies. The newly constituted Legislative Council Members convene in old Government House in 1824. Governor Darling appropriates the north wing of the Principal Surgeon’s Quarters of the General Hospital to accommodate the Legislative Council and Executive Council in 1824. The first meeting of the 14 Member Legislative Council is held in 1829 in the Surgeon’s Quarters. Strangers’ Gallery (we call it the visitors gallery) was erected in 1838. A new Chamber is designed in 1843. The Old Council Chamber becomes the new Legislative Assembly Chamber with a bi-cameral Parliament in 1856. Electric lights were introduced in 1884. There were several renovations and additions of buildings and rooms with the last renovation and restoration of old Parliament House being done between 1974-85. They used the d├ęcor from 1892 and 1904 as a basis of the present Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly decorations.

The Legislative Council: The Parliament of New South Wales is Australia’s oldest Parliament. It first met in 1824 and has been at this site since 1829 and in its present Chamber since 1856. Called the Upper House, it consists of 42 members, each elected to represent the whole State (New South Wales). Mr. Peter Primrose is the current President and we met him in the elevator as he was leaving for the night.

The Legislative Assembly: The Lower House of Parliament consists of 93 members, each representing one of the State’s 93 electorates. The Assembly was established in 1856 and their meeting Chamber was built in 1843. It is one of the oldest continuously used Parliamentary Chambers in the world. Mr. Richard Torbay is the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. They do not have electronic voting, people physically take shorthand for 10-15 minute periods of time and then retire to transcribe and then return to take shorthand during the meetings, they meet from Tuesday afternoon until early Friday afternoon for approx. 95 days a year, members sit on benches (no desks or microphones) and this is a full-time job for its members with a yearly salary of approx. US$86,600.

The use of Red and Green as the respective colors of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly Chambers is a tradition inherited from the British Parliament of Westminster. The use of red for the House of Lords and for most Upper Houses is attributed to red traditionally being a royal color. One theory for the use of green in the Lower House was that in the 14th century the general decoration of the Palace of Westminster was green, as this was a favorite color of King Henry III who built much of the Palace of Westminster.

Then we went to explore the old Sheraton Wentworth Hotel, which is now a Sofitel. Mark was a bell hop from our stays there in the past from the ‘90s and he was very kind to us. Wouldn’t you know he was the first one we saw upon entering the hotel!!! He is now a Chief Concierge of the highest order for the hotel and it was wonderful to see him again. I met friends and off we went to the Sydney Opera House, while Gene went exploring to the Sydney Casino (he won!).

My evening was so incredibly special. It was the best operatic performance I have even seen in my life. It was a blend of a Disney ride with sets spinning, Broadway costumes, Rocky Horror Show exaggeration, Cirque du Soleil acrobats, fire dances, dragons with electric lights…it was absolutely incredible; funny and light-hearted and such a superb production. Especially for those not particularly “tuned in” to opera. It was a true example of how opera should be performed to entice everyone to want more. There were approx. 60 actors and singers and the voices of the cast were all excellent. It is a definite highlight of the trip and I am so pleased to have been able to attend.

Gene met me after the show and as we were walking back to the ship, Len, a purser, greeted us. We were touched that he came up to us to say good-bye as he was on his “free time” with his girlfriend walking around the harbor. He goes back to South Africa tomorrow and will not be returning to the ship. When we did return to the ship, we went to say goodbye to the other pursers who leave tomorrow. Tomorrow night will see many new faces around the ship!

There was an Aboriginal dancing show onboard which we missed. I am sure it was great but since we have seen them before, I feel we used our time very wisely.
From our balcony, we face Circular Quay, where five wharfs act as a central station for private and state ferries. The system is incredibly dependable, inexpensive and rivals any major train station with its timely service. Boats of all sizes are constantly moving in and out and our balcony was the perfect place to view them all. I even took a photo of the time table to show how its complexity.

Friday, February 20, 2009 – Sydney Day 2
Gene went to the suburb of Gymea for dental work. I watched the sun rise over the Opera House, swam and worked on the computer in the stateroom. I headed out to McDonald’s for the free WIFI and had a terrible time getting connected but some of the ship’s crew were there also and they were a great help! I am finding out they are always there for me!

I worked and enjoyed the people-watching also. As their cancer rates are so high, hats are part of the school uniform in Australia and New Zealand and several sets of students went past – all headed in to McDonald’s, of course! There is no difference between the youth in the USA or anywhere else around the world…There were several buskers out around the wharf. They were performing magic, playing the didgeridoo (an Aboriginal instrument), country music, and an Army band was playing Big Band Music. Another perfect day and we listened to all of it. After lunch, we ran up to collect my glasses and they were ready! Great news!

Back to the ship and we enjoyed a great view on the sail out of the Sydney harbor. It is an unbelievably beautiful way to enter or leave a city. The weather was picture perfect. The ferry boats were darting around us and the police boats were keeping the sailboats, kayakers and speed boats out of our path. Helicopters buzzed above and we slowly moved up to the Heads of the Sydney harbor and out to sea. It will be forever in my memory.

Dinner was semi-formal and then we enjoyed a great concert by Gary Williams, who played in the Rat Pack in London. My type of music! It was great!