Tension regarding accommodation returned the time I woke up early in the morning. I looked up options on the Net and found that weekend pricing had gone through the roof. However, I was comforted by the fact that I could always count on the hospitality of Rosie and Praveen if I could not find any place suitable or reasonable. When we went down, after breakfast, to the reception it was confirmed yet again that the hotel was booked out for the day.
We utilized the time between breakfast and 10 am by walking in the Hyde Park and visiting the St Mary’s Cathedral. Park Street divides the 40 acre Hyde Park, the oldest public park in Australia, into two. The park is almost at the heart of Sydney CBD and is an amazing lung area with fig tree lined avenues. The Archibald Memorial Fountain is the centerpiece of the park. The fountain, designed by the French sculptor Sicard, is surrounded by open spaces ringed with benches and seemed a popular spot for people to relax and kids to play. The interplay of water and art is a veritable feast for the eyes.
The St Mary’s Cathedral is the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. The church is dedicated to the Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians. The church built in the last quarter of the 19th century has 40 windows of stained glass. The walls are covered in oils depicting the Stations of the Cross. The church has a marble replica of the Pieta and the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. The interior of the church is impressive and is visited by tourists from all regions of the world.
Once the tour of Hyde Park and St Mary’s Cathedral were done it was time to speak to sharemyroom and finalise stay arrangements for this day and the next. I was lucky this time; I found someone to speak to. The lady told me that they had been desperately trying to get in touch with me over the past two days since the credit card details I had given them were outdated. Since they could not clear up the matter with me the reservation had been cancelled. The lady confirmed that I would not lose money in cancellation. I apologized for the confusion and told her that I had made alternate arrangements. With that cleared up I looked up the Net for suitable accommodation. After a few anxious minutes I located the Merchant Hotel, not very far from where we were. We loaded all the luggage into the car and set off for the hotel in Summer Hill hoping that we would find it as comfortable as the one we had stayed the previous night.
As it turned out, the hotel had been opened only 6 days prior and we were one of the early ‘settlers’ in the rooms. The rooms were commodious – we had taken family and deluxe suites – and well appointed. Each room had washing machine and dryer too apart from a cooking range, ironing board and iron. It is a remarkable accommodation run by Ahmed, an amiable Lebanese guy. The hotel has two towers with different types of accommodation. We settled in quickly and did the laundry first.
My friend, Suresh Sebastian, and his family were in Sydney, where they had come to from Perth for the Easter vacation. Sunita, their older daughter, works in Sydney and lives in a lovely apartment in Duntroon Avenue. Shukla and I decided to go over to meet them when the ladies were at work in the rooms; we would be back in time for a late lunch. The entire family welcomed us warmly and we spent time exchanging stories of the drive. Suresh and Ludi gave us excellent tips on what to do on the way to the Blue Mountains, the route to be taken on the way back and the various things to look out for. Suresh told us how he froze on the Honeymoon Bridge, because he looked down the gorge, and had to seek the assistance of Ludi to come off the bridge! Sunita told us about the Dragon Boat and Thai kickboxing classes she goes for. It was amazing to learn from her that international Dragon Boat competitions are held frequently. Ludi gave us huge portions of the famed Strawberry Watermelon Cake from BlackStar Bakery, which is the signature product of the bakery. The cake has flower petals, rose scented cream, strawberries, watermelon and layers of meringue with a biscuit crumb base. A mouthful was all it took to understand why the pastry is as much in demand as it is.
After a late lunch of maggi noodles and beans with ham and cheese we drove to the Olympic Park to visit the venues of the various competitions of the Sydney Games. Sadly a large part of the Park was closed as the area was being done up for some event. The Sea Life Sydney Aquarium was the next destination. One can appreciate the beauty of Darling Harbor from that location. Ferry services operate from the jetties near there. We marked that for a trip the next day, if time permitted. The aquarium has a very large display of fish, reefs and other marine life. The shark walk and the large stingrays were awesome.
After being done with the Sea Life tour we wanted to go to The Rocks for a close up view of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. Possibly because of the large number of road closures and diversions even Google Maps went wonky and we spent a fruitless hour trying to find our way. Finally, I gave up and decided to return to the hotel. On the way we located an Indian restaurant, the Bombay Street Kitchen, and had a lovely meal of rotis, dal, malai kofta, pumpkin curry and butter chicken. Sleep was not difficult to come by in the comfortable room after a packed day of activity.