On the road: Australia eclipse trip, day 1

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Sydney Opera House is a must-see destination when you visit this charming city. // all photos by Holley Bakich
The first day of my trip to Australia for the November 14, 2012, total solar eclipse was a blast, despite the long trip before it. I'm here in the land Down Under as part of a group organized by Astronomical Tours.

While my wife, Holley, and I were in the international terminal in San Francisco, she noticed that a couple people had luggage tags issued by Astronomical Tours. Naturally, I began to chat with them. One turned out to be Jim from Detroit, a really nice fellow who was on the 2009 eclipse trip I led to China. The other was John, an amateur astronomer from Southern California. I'm going to stay close to John. His carry-on case held a high-quality refractor.

Meeting two tour members so soon surprised us. Most of the fellow travelers in our group headed to Sydney (our first destination in Australia) via Los Angeles International Airport. My wife and I started in Milwaukee, flew to Houston, then to San Francisco, and finally boarded the transcontinental flight. It's a circuitous route, I know, but it did afford us the opportunity to fly on a spanking-new Boeing 787 — the Dreamliner. In fact, we were on this United Airlines plane’s third commercial flight. The jet boasts bigger windows with electronic shading, lots of leg room, video and com-port charging at every seat, and quiet operation. In every way, it bests the now seemingly ancient beast we flew to Australia in.

We walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge because it provided many terrific views.
And you'd think after being crammed into an airline seat for 14+ hours, all I'd want to do is sleep. Think again. After disembarking and passing through customs, we boarded the tour provider's bus and headed for our hotel, the Four Points Sheraton in Sydney. We were a bit early for check-in, so a small group of us left our bags with the concierge and boarded a taxi headed across town.

Our first stop was the world-renowned Sydney Opera House. Wow! It's a colossal monument to music made of concrete, steel, and thousands (maybe millions) of huge self-cleaning ceramic tiles. After photographing it inside and out from every possible angle, we walked around the harbor. We found a little cafe and had lunch. My salmon sandwich was excellent, and the salad contained something I'd not eaten before — Inca berries. I don't know what they are, but they had an earthy taste that was quite sour, which combined well with the rest of the salad's ingredients.

Sydney on a Saturday night is a hopping place.
We then walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We took the street-level route, which afforded grand views of the Opera House, numerous ships in the harbor, and the surrounding neighborhoods. The other route, where guides lead you, tethered, up and over the bridge, would have taken much longer and set us each back $200.

We finally returned to the hotel and rested until our first group dinner at 7 p.m. I addressed the group briefly, and so did Jen Winter, owner of Astronomical Tours. My wife, Holley, and I reconnected with several friends we didn't know were part of the group and also met several future ones.

A great display of fireworks interrupted our lengthy after-dinner conversations. Next, we're off to Cairns. I'll post more blogs from there.

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