Continued From Part I
The next stop was St Mary’s Cathedral, which is the largest, although not tallest, cathedral in Australia. We didn’t intend to linger long – there’s only so much standing around and staring you can do in a place of worship without feeling intrusive. After admiring the sandstone architecture from the outside as much as possible, we slipped quietly into the dim sanctuary.
The atmosphere was hushed as we viewed colorful stained glass scenes and the grand roof, arched high above our heads. Sounds echoed up to it, and I had the urge to raise my voice in song to the vast resounding space. This is a common feeling I have in large cathedrals – there’s something about the beauty of the structure and the way the answering walls promise to be forgiving and love your voice back that makes it seem like I could and should produce a sound that would be lovely enough to add to and match well with the surroundings. However, I refrained from emitting more than a soft sigh of longing, as there were fervent worshipers in the pews whom I was loathe to interrupt. But to sing in a cathedral like that, just by myself, is on my list of things to accomplish in life (#52 to be exact); one day, I will enjoy that ultimate musical experience.
Amid our wanderings inside, I found an amazing painting that seemed out of place from the rest of the decorations. The stained glass and art on things like the Stations of the Cross were of an older style often found in Catholic cathedrals, which coordinated well with the building’s design. But there was one strikingly beautiful painting around a corner that really caught my eye. The modern, photorealistic style showed a simple, dark, desert background behind a beautiful girl smiling softly and holding a baby with intense dark eyes. They both had peaceful expressions – the infant was curious yet contemplative, and his mother showed a gentleness, and a willingness to be protective even through hard times. There were so many other feelings in that painting, many of them hard to express in words, but it brought more emotion to me than all of the other art in the whole building combined.
I would have liked to stand in front of that lovely image for a long time, but we had one last stop for the day: the Royal Botanic Gardens and The Domain. They were a combination of cultivated natural areas and gardens that spread over a peninsula on the bay. It was a short walk from the city, and we were soon wandering on paths through grassy lawns and beneath a variety of trees. I am sadly lacking in botanical knowledge which would have given me greater appreciation of the multitudinous flora, but I still enjoyed the foliage as a whole.
The best part was a sign that I saw repeated throughout the grounds. It invited visitors to enjoy the area to its fullest, including walking barefoot in the grass and hugging the trees. This was all I needed to kick off my sandals from my tired feet and scrunch my toes into the soft grass. This was the vibe I had been looking for; everyone was barefoot at the beach, but this was in the city, a serious place of business that still had areas to be barefoot. It was important too that it wasn’t just something I liked and did that was tolerated – all people were *invited* to do it. This was the essence of the Australian spirit, the ‘No worries’ idea exemplified, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
The rest on the time in the gardens was a pure pleasure; I’ve never liked shoes much (or clothes for that matter), so wandering the paths and lawn spaces barefoot made all the difference. In addition to the well kept greenery, the birds were wonderfully fascinating. As we spotted different species along the paths, it appeared as though the entire exotic bird section of the local pet store had gotten loose in the trees. There were large white cockatoos, and parrots colored with the bright shades of a box of crayons. They were not, however, escapees from a tropical bird show; they were merely the common local wild birds. It was yet another thing in Australia’s favor, to have such interesting creatures as regular inhabitants.
There were plenty of other parts of the day, interesting things that we saw and heard and learned and experienced, but that almost indescribable vibe was in all of them. Technically nothing magical or vastly unique happened – Sydney was a fairly average city, even if it felt like everyone was driving on the wrong side of the road. It was still nothing more than some big boats and a white wavy building, some grass between my toes, etc., but for me it was much more than that. You can say what you like about adding meaning where it doesn’t exist, but I think it was an example of gestalt at its finest; all of the objects and places and creatures and experiences were truly greater than the sum of their parts. I had come there to experience the vibe underneath it all, the normal and unadorned parts, to soak up the true feeling. And I am happy to report that the spirit that I found in Sydney that day, the one I had been warming up to Bondi and that filled me in Birubi, was wonderful and drew me in to soak up even more.
It was the laid-back ambience that I had always hoped for; a place with a bit of myself in it. Sydney, and all of Australia, are certainly unique, and while I could make some comparisons to other places, there’s nothing quite like experiencing the real thing. Australia has drawn me in with its own sort of ‘hug’ – one that invites you relax, kick off your shoes, and don’t worry. All I can say to that is, "Cheers mate!"
P.S. – If you’ve been wondering where the "No shirt" part comes in, well, I have to confess that it was mostly just representative of the relaxed attitude. But besides shirtless guys on the beach around Bondi, there’s actually a nude beach near one of the suburbs on the bay. That one you can go check out for yourself 😉