Sydney reminds me of a smaller New York. It is strange and rare when you arrive into a new city on the other side and hemisphere of the world and it feels familiar. I think a lot had to do with the changing leaves falling from trees and gathering on side walks which reminded me of Autumn in Eastern North America. The plan- spend a few days in Sydney and then move on – two and a half weeks later I headed onwards. Oops. It is a beautiful city, comfortable, easy to get around and there are lots of beautiful walks, sunny beaches and boats to get from here to there. It sucked me in and I think if I didn’t have more places to see in Australia I would have easily stayed for a few months and joined the throngs running through the Botanic Gardens.
As with any place, the people make it and I was lucky and found myself in a cozy hostel mixed with a fantastic crew of travellers and working backpackers creating a chilled but fun vibe where the option to go out was always there but the option of curling up on the couch and watching a good movie was just as viable. I stayed at the Blue Parrot, a little more expensive but if you are decisive and book for a week in advance then you get a good deal on the rooms. I am not decisive. It is in Kings Cross, the red light district of Sydney so one stretch of the Main Street after the station has it’s share of strip clubs but Blue Parrot is farther down, in Potts Point and at the residential end. Side streets have a few start up cafés, 15 min walk from the botanic gardens and the State Library – which became as nerdy as it sounds, one of my favourite places in Sydney, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills which have lots of nice bars and restaurants, a stones throw – it was for me a perfectly situated hostel. Away from it all and easy to get into the thick of it at the same time.
I always thought Sydney would be huge but it is a smaller big city. If you are happy with walking you can cover a lot of ground on foot and get around pretty easily. As I love walking, my first real day in Sydney I took to exploring. Meandering through the Botanic Gardens and arriving at arguably the most famous building in Sydney – the Sydney Opera House. It is so cool and not as white as I thought it would be. The harbour is bustling with activity between the Opera Bar, Aboriginal musicians playing the didgeridoo to electronic music, Circular Quay – the main ferry port, the Harbour Bridge and the Museum of Contemporary Art – it is hard to know where to look.
From the Opera House we headed to the Sydney Bridge so we could walk across. Because we were not going to do the Bridge Climb we decided to climb up one of the bridge towers which is just as good really and much cheaper. It has a small museum about the history of the building of the bridge and an expansive view of the harbour. Approximately 6 million rivets were used to hold the bridge together! I feel a bit like a rivet specialist now. And despite the fact that no safety harnesses were used only 16 people died over the course of making the bridge. Morbidly impressive really. Looking at pictures of the building of the bridge with the men hanging over 100’s of feet, made me think of what they really accomplished and how brave they were. It brought to mind the iconic New York image of the workmen eating lunch on a steel girder hanging over the city.
Sneaker shopping was squeezed in as well and I got my first taste of shopping in Sydney – prices and styles. I miss H&M and Penny’s, but give me a month or so and I will be ready to hit the shops. From the shopping district we headed to The Rocks for the “I’m Free” walking tour of The Rocks. If you get a chance to do this, do. It is a fantastic tour! Super informative and historical with lots of interesting stories along the way. The Rocks was where all the convicts were housed when they arrived in Sydney from the late 1700’s and the conditions were definitely less than appealing. There are three pubs vying for the title of “oldest pub”. One of these, The Hero of Waterloo, was also known for press gangs. You would go in for one pint, be offered the next one free and the evening would go on like this until you were too drunk to stand. The charming bartender who seemed like your best mate would then press a button behind the bar and down you would go into the cellar, passed out from alcohol, you would more than likely wake up to find yourself on board a ship out at sea. Not so charming bartender now eh?
Our sun filled day ended after that and we ended up getting caught in a massive rainstorm. We stopped on Oxford St for a quick Itlaian dinner. Giant portions but I was not to be defeated. It was too tasty. Haloumi and prawn, spinach and ricotta ravioli were devoured and then we ran it off, dodging raindrops the whole way back to the hostel.