From the window of my plane I watched the sun rising over Sydney. I spotted the Opera House and smiled. I made it to Australia.
I’ve wanted to go to Australia for as long as I can remember. The big island on the other side of the world held an appeal for its laid back reputation, its surfer culture, its chill no worries attitude, its exotic animals, and its supposedly stunning scenery from ocean to city to desert.
My first location was Sydney, the major metropolis on the coast. I had heard mixed reviews on Sydney, some people saying it was the best and others telling me to not spend much time there. I had no idea how long I would stay there, first and foremost for a logistical reason: I had to get my visa for Vietnam at the consulate in Sydney and I wasn’t sure how long they would need my passport. So stop one on the itinerary, after dropping off my bags at the office of my gracious host (more on him soon), was the consulate. 15 minutes later and AUD 90 poorer I was told I would have my passport back in 2 days, on Friday. Fantastic. And such an easy process, thank god! This meant I could leave Sydney as early as Saturday, but I ended up staying until Tuesday morning.
I could write this Sydney post in two ways. First, the city itself. Second, the people who I hung out with there. This seems to be a trend in my posts and I don’t see it stopping. So for now, let’s start with the city.
Sydney has everything: tourist attractions, cultural institutions, great food options, fun bars and nightlife, beaches, parks, and a public transportation system that easily gets you around to all of it.
I enjoyed my time just walking around Sydney. I dedicated days to different parts of the city: Day 1 on Bondi Beach, Day 2 being a tourist in Circular Quay and The Rocks then hanging out in the hipster neighborhood of Newtown, Day 3 back to the beaches for the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk and out that night for Halloween at a club in Darling Harbour, Day 4 at Manly via the ferry, Day 5 out of the city at the Blue Mountains, and Day 6 again in the city for brunch, the Botanical Gardens, and some bar hopping in The Rocks.
Instead of going into detail on all of these, which could lead to a short-story-length post, I’ll just focus on some highlights.
1. Tourist wandering. I opted to be truly the backpacker and not pay for the tour of the Opera House (unnecessary when I’ve studied it in architecture class anyway) or the Harbour Bridge Climb. I walked up to, into and around the Opera House and was satisfied. I had no idea it was tiled! The patterned blue and white ceramic tiles totally surprised me. They’re beautiful up close. I could only go into the lobby and the bathrooms but for me that was still worth it just to see the mixture of wood and concrete that composes the interior. As for the bridge, I simply walked across it and back, enjoying a spectacular view of the harbor for free. I ended the walk at The Rocks to see the colonial architecture and wander through the free Museum of Contemporary Art (one of two free museums I went to, the other being the Art Gallery of New South Wales by the Botanical Gardens, another beautiful place to wander around for a day). It is totally possible to see wonderful tourist and cultural sites like this without paying exhorbitant amounts for it – a sentiment I will echo in my post about the Blue Mountains.
2. The beaches. There’s no way to talk about Sydney without talking about the beaches. It is just incredible to have a thriving city so close to such a beach culture. Bondi is great but I enjoyed the walk down past Bronte to Coogee more, the beaches getting less crowded and more chill as I got further away from the city center. But to me, Manly takes the cake. The ferry ride out is a nice start, and the beach itself is a perfect sand arc. I happened to be there on a crazy weather day, alternating between sunny heat and storms, but the lightening bolts just a few kilometers out to sea didn’t deter the dozens of surfers hovering in the water, waiting for their perfect wave. I watched them from behind the row of beach volleyball courts where a tournament was taking place. I was tempted to forget the rest of the East Coast and just take up the beach life of Manly, becoming a surf and beach volleyball bum.
3. The gastronomic scene. Sydney’s food and drink scene is like most major cities in the US. I was a follower of the gastronomic scene in SF and NYC during my time living in each, a lifestyle that doesn’t work with being a backpacker, but I enjoyed being around it all again. From healthy salads in Bondi to the best brunch I’ve had in 5 months at The Grounds in Alexandria (seriously go here, it’s got amazing food and coffee that is roasted right on the premises, indoor and outdoor seating, a bar and great Italian food market next door, and even a small petting zoo) to a simple burger and glass of red wine at a corner pub, I had some great food moments in Sydney. My evening in Newtown probably wins this category. Thanks to the suggestion of a friend I had a great night out in this neighborhood, starting with beers in the beergarden of The Courthouse Hotel then moving to a 2 for 1 dinner at Coopers Hotel (surprisingly fantastic considering the deal) and back to the Courthouse for more beers and pool. This is definitely the kind of neighborhood I could see myself spending a lot of time in if I ever lived in Sydney.
Looking back, I am happy to remember how much I liked Sydney. I didn’t mean to spend 6 days there but I’m glad I did. Why did I spend 6 days there? Well, I knew I wanted to be there for Halloween (Friday night), that I wanted to get to the Blue Mountains for a day trip, and that I had to get my Vietnam visa sorted, so this meant I would leave Sunday or Monday. By the time all that was figured out, flight prices were not in my favor for those days; my cheapest option was to leave at 6:00 am on Tuesday morning (thanks to a Jetstar insider tip from a friend that will get its own post). It was my first week in the most expensive country I’m going to in this trip, so the cheapest option had to win.
I don’t regret staying there longer at all. Sydney was fantastic, and now that I’ve finally written about my time there I want to go back. One day maybe. For now, I’ll just work on the second post about the people there, keep the nostalgia going.