When my wife mentioned an upcoming conference in Sydney and asked if I would like to come along, I didn’t need much persuasion. It has been on my list of must-see cities for quite some time. I jumped on the internet and booked two cheap tickets, realizing my mistake a minute too late, when it popped out of my printer. My error was in not realizing that there are two airports in Melbourne.

Tullamarine International Airport is about ten minutes away in light traffic, twenty at rush hour. The other airport is located some 62 kilometers southwest of here, right outside the city of Geelong, a metropolis of some 205,000.

When I called two minutes later to report my mistake and ask for assistance, I was informed that the discount airline owned by Qantas could not fly from Tullamarine because they would be competing with the mother company. I could write off the tickets I had just purchased, or fly out of Avalon, where parking was cheap.

So, we got up early. Halfway across the bridge the reminder in my brain went off, the senility signal that lets me know I have done something really dumb. We were heading for a city with one of the most spectacular settings in the world and I had just forgotten my camera. To my mind, I was going practically naked.

Traffic was light, so we arrived early, only to discover that the departure had been delayed a half hour. I had been notified by email but hadn’t realized it.

The comedy of errors was just beginning. The conference was being held in a lovely hotel at Coogee Beach, right on the ocean. The morning paper predicted rain– all three days. Rain like I had never seen in Melbourne. Monsoon rain.

Sydney had the good sense to provide its airport with rail transport, so we took the train into the City. We braved the downpour a few blocks to a friend’s flat. She had a fine view of the harbor, and planned to offer us lunch on the patio, followed by a good beach walk.

After lunch we went for a drive instead. The next morning it was only spitting out so I set off on a constitutional from Coogee to Bondi Beach. There were no bronzed bodies to distract me. Wind was whipping up waves across the beautiful rocky shore. Halfway there I came across a cemetery where the dead have the most amazing view.

To a surfer, wet is wet. The famous Bondi beach was deserted except for human seals. I caught a bus into the city and it was there the deluge broke. The word rain is inadequate. It was coming down in buckets.

I ducked into an upscale noodle place and settled in for a long lunch. Everyone out on the street was moving very quickly, battling the fierce wind and rain with inadequate umbrellas. Smokers huddled in doorways.

The Museum of Sydney was right across the street, a port in a storm. It was a good place to begin my visit. Inside, I came across a wonderfully apt quote by the accomplished Australian author, Geoffrey Dutton.

“Sydney’s shape was determined by the sea, and like the sea it lies open and glowing to the eye. When it rains in Sydney, the water comes down in sheets… shoes grow mould in the cupboards. But Sydney, you remember, is a soft light on golden sandstone, the attack of the ocean, the shelter of the Harbour.”

The next day the rain let up. I was finally able to explore without gumboots. I circumnavigated the famous opera house, walked under the towering bridge, toured the laneways of the Rocks. When asked, I graciously offered to snap fellow tourists in front of the obligatory backdrops. Feeling naked.

But then I began to accept the fact. It is hard to really see when you are busy snapping. And I would have been taking the same pictures as everyone else. They are all on Flickr. Check it out. Sydney. It’s one spectacular place.

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