Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens give respite

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SYDNEY, Australia -- This city's Royal Botanic Gardens offers a quiet escape from the clamor of the business district and tourist shopping areas.

The gardens are bordered by the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbor, The Rocks tourist area and Sydney's central business district.

In the gardens are a variety of South Pacific plants, an art museum, some very strange-looking birds and a family of giant -- yet harmless -- bats hanging upside down from trees.

The gardens are open from sunrise to sunset and are in easy walking distance to hotels scattered about this end of Sydney.

For 25 cents each there are two self-guided walking tour brochures available at the Botanic Garden Shop.

And there are free daily guided walking tours of the gardens.

The tours leave from the shop at 10:30 a.m.

The Garden Shop is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.

At the Pyramid Glasshouse in the garden, visitors can find plants from mountain and lowland rain forests.

Admission is about $1.50 per person.

The Glasshouse is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

In addition to the many kinds of birds in the garden (moorhens and ibises) and all the plants, there are Dracula-like bats hanging from trees.

The bats are about a foot long, and their black leathery wings cover them while they hang upside down, sleeping through the day.

Commonly known as flying foxes, they also go by the name grey headed fruit bat.

"The bats settled in the gardens years ago, probably because much of their natural habitat along the coast of Australia's New South Wales has been cleared for timber, agriculture and urban development," according to a sign in the garden.

Also in the garden is the Art Gallery of NSW (New South Wales). There is no admission cost to enter this museum, and it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

In the museum's permanent collection are works from the western, aboriginal and Asian art worlds as well as photos, contemporary paintings, prints, sculptures, drawings and water colors from artists all over the world.

Among the museum's new exhibitions is "Woodsprites by Stephen Birch," showing through Jan. 14.

This exhibition ascribes human elements to tree-like works, according to the museum.

From Jan. 18 through February, Kung Yu's exhibition will be displayed. This exhibition looks at consumerism and contemporary Asian identity and how the two are connected.

And from Jan. 25 through March there is an exhibition by Colin Lanceley that explores contemporary sculpture.

The museum has a Web site at www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au.

More information can be obtained by calling (011) 61-2 9225-1744.

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