The Tolopka's Meet the Olympics

Departure:  12 September 2000

We’re off! Flight to Los Angeles is delayed slightly but wholly uneventful. Upon deplaning, we quickly meet not only Ken and Sharon but also Dave Schrader, an old Purdue buddy, who stopped at the airport to have dinner with us during the long layover before the Sydney hop.
We trotted off to dinner at Encounter, the "restaurant on legs" in the middle of the LAX terminal buildings. The restaurant is made up like a bad 60’s sci-fi drama, complete with eerie music as you take the elevator up to the restaurant. Inside you find an ovoid desk on a weird pedestal for the maitre d’, lava lamps burbling away on the bar, futuristic furniture – and really terrific food. Plenty of time for a dinner filled with animated conversation, and then off to the international terminal for the long leg of the trip.
Ken and Sharon managed to begin their Olympic pin collecting while on the jetway to board the plane: the fellow in front of them was from WAVE TV (Louisville’s NBC affiliate) and was happy to bestow NBC pins on them.

Our 747-400 turned out to be reasonably comfortable, and we settled in for the 12,000+ km flight.  One equator, one International Date Line, two meals, umpteen bad movies and sitcom reruns, and thirteen-plus hours later we touched down in Sydney as the sun came up.

Arrival: 14 September 2000

Everything was pretty well organized by the Cartan Tours folks (especially considering the number of people at the airport) and they quickly herded us ducklings into broods for loading onto buses. Along the way, we collected our second set of pins from the Swatch people (Official Trendy Watch of the Olympic Games). 
Thanks to a computer mixup at our hotel (the Sydney Cross Towers), we were told our rooms weren’t quite ready yet, so they sent us off to breakfast at the hotel buffet. Despite the fact that we had all eaten breakfast #1 on the plane a couple of hours ago, we all cheerfully tucked into breakfast #2 – "just as a way to pass the time, don’tcha know." We finally got moved in to our comfy little two-room suite. The room even included a kitchen with sink, microwave, fridge, even a small cooktop and full set of pots and pans. What it didn’t seem to include was anywhere to put your clothes – no chest of drawers, tiny closet. There were a couple of open shelves standing around as an afterthought, which we quickly filled, and have since spread things across all other horizontal surfaces. Ah well, the plan is to not be in the room very much! So we got cleaned up a bit after the long flight, and headed out for a day in Sydney.
Since it was an absolutely gorgeous day, we did the obvious thing: head towards the water. First place we hit on our way toward the harbor was Hyde Park, only one block from the hotel. The ANZAC Memorial to the Australian and New Zealand war dead is in the south part of the park. The Australians are very good at war memorials – tasteful, dignified, sobering – as we learned in Melbourne five years ago. 
All of downtown was buzzing over the Olympics. No, not the crowds – the sky was so chocky-block full of helicopters (augmented by the Goodyear Blimp) that it looked like a video game. We couldn’t figure out what event merited such coverage, then eventually discovered that those were all paying customers who wanted to see the city all decked out and ogle all the cruise ships that had pulled into the harbor for the games.
We crossed over into the other half of Hyde Park, detouring into the Sandingham Gardens to admire the profusion of spring flowers. A nice family of Sydneysiders offered to take a group photo for us beneath the wisteria, then stopped to chat and welcome us to town. Aussies are known for their friendliness, but everyone we talked to (people in the park, waiters, the lady selling sodas in a kiosk) was incredibly upbeat and genuinely pleased to welcome the world to their city. The whole city felt like one big party throughout the whole day. 
In Hyde Park, we wandered along with huge trees spreading limbs above the broad walkway to Archibald Fountain, then kept going down MacQuarie Road (one of many things named after the first governor) to the Opera House. 
We did a turn around the Opera House, admiring not only this instantly-recognizable building, but also enjoying the harbor and the Harbour Bridge. We also got a look at the temporary stands that were set up to watch the triathletes plunge into the harbor on Saturday and Sunday. 
Well, by now it was past noon and so it was clearly time to eat again. We found a table outdoors along the Circular Quay, where we had sandwiches (good), chocolate milkshakes (really bad – basically just chocolate milk), and a full set of spectacular views. Under a perfect blue sky, with temperature hovering around 70 and cheerful people everywhere, it was one of those "just doesn’t get much better than this" moments.
After lunch we wandered off to The Rocks (the area where Australia’s First Settlers came ashore) for a bit of shopping, then back down to the Quay for a Captain Cook Tour of harbor highlights. This may have been one of the few ways to improve on the experience of sitting in the café, since it had many of the same pleasant attributes but improved on the spectacular views by constantly changing them. Sydney is a beautiful city and looks its best when viewed from the water! 
Back on land, we headed over to the Sydney Visitors Center to get the straight dope on the evening’s events. We were especially interested in finding out exactly where the Olympic Torch Relay would be passing through the area. A gal in the visitor’s center gave us a map of the entire route, directions on how to get there, and advice that we should "go early to get a good pozzie" – that is, a good position for viewing.
And to our surprise, we did get a good position. Barricades had been erected down the street the ensure that the crowds didn’t impinge on the runner, and most of the crowd had gathered opposite us or further down the street at one of the Live! areas with the TV cameras and big screens. As a result, we got a front row place on a slope so that we could look back down the route and see what was heading our way.
The crowd kept building, and so did the excitement. Then police cars appeared flashing lots of red ad blue! Hurrah! Oops false alarm – they were just the advance guard. We knew that there would be Olympic Rings lighted and fireworks set off from Harbour Bridge when the torch came past the Opera House, and even though we couldn’t see the bridge from where we were, we watched the fireworks reflected in the windows of the buildings across the street. And then finally the torch runner did appear – having what appeared to be the time of her life – swooshed past, turned the corner, and was gone. 
We headed back to the Quay because we wanted to see the rings on the Bridge. With the bridge fully lit, the addition of the Olympic Rings, Luna Park (a Coney Island-style amusement park) on the far shore, and gigantic cruise ships with all their lights, the evening view was more than a match for the daytime view. Tres cool! We went further east down the Quay so that we could get the best views for pictures, and darn near didn’t make it. There was a tremendous crush of humanity milling about, worse even than Night in Old San Antonio (our previous record for such things). Despite the slow progress, it wasn’t bad since everyone was still in a great mood. 
Eventually, we bailed out and headed back toward the hotel searching for food. We found another outdoor café in Chifley Square (named for Ben Chifley who was – actually, we don’t know who the heck he was but there’s a huge artwork of him in the square). We got luck and grabbed one of the last tables (which we took despite warnings that it might be 45 minutes before we got fed). Didn’t seem like a bad deal – the chairs were reasonably comfy, the night was soft and festive, and the semillon blanc was cool and tasty. Apparently, though, we were lucky – customers arriving after us were being warned of much longer wait times, and eventually there were just being sent away because the café had run out of food! 
The streets were filled with people in a party mood all the way back to the hotel, and we even collected some pretty nifty views of the athletic figures atop the Sydney Towers on our way back. Finally, back to our beds after a simply excellent day.