January 16-19, 2013
I have finally lost track of time a bit, and that combined with my broken “RTW Day whatever” system has inspired me to cease my relative numbering and switch to using more absolute dates for my posts.
I’m also realizing that it’s hard work getting all our experiences documented in a fun and easy to read format along with relevant pictures, and since I’m not getting paid to do this (yet) and want to spend a bit more time enjoying spending more of my money in Australia, I think I may have to squish a few days worth of shenanigans into one post (shall we say one-ish post per city for now? I may switch to one post per country later depending on how much time we spend there…).
Anyhoo, enough preamble…
Sydney is awesome.
As a proud Canadian, and more importantly a proud centre-of-the-universe-Torontonian, it was very hard for me to accept that another city can be as awesome (0r even awesomer) than my own.
Obviously there are a few standout cities that we might expect would rank well on an “Awesome City List” (New York, Rome, Paris, London [in my experience], and I would expect Tokyo, Rio, Shanghai and Hong Kong aren’t half bad either), but I’d never realized that Sydney would be up there near the top.
Thinking back to seeing top designer retail bags or ads in fashion mags, I now realize that Sydney was always (generally) mentioned as a flagship city for the brand (right up there with Paris, New York, and Tokyo), and this never really clicked, although I’d wonder why Toronto wasn’t on the bags in some cases.
Now it is abundantly clear why: In comparison to other internationally renowned cities who actually invest heavily and efficiently in waterfront and park areas, public transportation, and pedestrian and cycling corridors (to name a few), Toronto might as well be a joke.
Not to say that a city is awesome just because it does those things, and those reasons are not necessarily going to ensure that Gucci opens up a big flashy store in your cbd (assuming that is a good thing to begin with), but while our politicians are bickering about this or that and missing council meetings, or generally just wasting taxpayer time and money, they could be realizing that if they want to pretend that Toronto is a world-class city, they (we?) need to make some serious changes to the way things are done, and the way public money is earned (?) and spent.
This is not a political blog, but there are realities that become abundantly clear when travelling to other cities/countries, and one of these realities is that things can be done better.
I don’t have the answers yet (I’ve got some good ideas, and maybe I’ll look into getting more involved when I get back), but here’s to hoping someone with some power and balls takes up a torch in Toronto and runs with it, because I’m tired of being a taxpayer in a city striving towards mediocrity (no, I haven’t found a way to dodge paying my taxes in Toronto while I’m travelling).
Ok, enough rambling… Back to gushing about Sydney:
We arrived at the Sydney airport in the morning after our early flight from Christchurch, and after dropping 30$AUD on a vodaphone pre-paid voice/data/txt plan, decided to spend another $30AUD on a round trip shuttle into the city that dropped us off right in front of our hostel (who, as a promotion for staying 3 nights with them, ended up reimbursing us $15 for this).
Our first impression of the city was actually not good, as we got bumped around in the (ghetto) shuttle and drove through some pretty un-savoury neighbourhoods around the airport, but that couldn’t overshadow the beauty and cohesiveness of the city once we started exploring it on foot.
We didn’t get a meal on our flight (budget airlines ftw!), and since we couldn’t actually check into our hostel until 2pm, we locked up our bags, and went exploring!
We were sort of in the cbd, but also sort of on the edge of chinatown, so we ended up eating dim-sum on a patio (our first sit-down meal in Australia, and our introduction to how gaddam expensive the entire country is… lets just say that 5 medium dim-sum items [and a beer for me:D] cost $40AUD… ridiculous!!!)
then exploring the Darling Quarter, where we discovered the Sydney equivalent of the pigeon (in that it was everywhere and pecking at the ground), the ibis,
and also a sweet park where we could sit around on some nice lawn furniture under an umbrella and bogart some free visitors wifi.
We were pretty beat from the travelling and ‘sleeping’ (not really) in the Christchurch airport the night before (yes, we are still n00bs), so after hanging out for the afternoon in the park, we checked into the hostel, and passed out good for 14 hours straight.
Phew! That was refreshing!
Refreshed and ready to enjoy ourselves a bit, we decided to take the recommendation of a friend of mine from work (thanks Joe!) and do the ‘Bondi to Coogee beach walk’, with a twist: instead of taking the bus or other transit to one of the beaches, we started trekking right from our hostel (at Kent St. and Bathurst St.) towards Bondi beach, 10km east.
Let me tell you, if you really want to see Sydney, do this also.
We got to walk through all kinds of neighbourhoods, see all kinds of people, and get all kinds of sunburned (thanks 18UV index!) all before we even started along the actual coast.
Bondi beach is very nice.
I’d heard it was a seedy tourist trap, but it didn’t come across that way to me and we felt really comfortable chilling on the white powder sand, body surfing in the crystal clear bath water, and meeting some other tourists to share stories with.
We recharged on the beach for a couple hours
then followed the coastal pathways south towards Coogee beach, another 5km away.
Walking this beautiful combination of boardwalks, stone steps, pathways, and coastal roads was truly a stunning experience, and combined with the wildlife we encountered, it fully exceeded our expectations.
Exhausted after walking almost 15km in the scorching heat, we grabbed a refreshment at one of the local beach bars, and instead of pounding more pavement, grabbed a bus back to the city.
This involved checking the posted route info at the main stop near the beach, asking a local about where to get bus tickets (thankfully right across the street), ponying up $3.60AUD for a 2-zone ticket, and waiting 40 minutes for the right bus to come our way.
Another 43 minutes later, we were back at central station, a 10 minute walk from our hostel, ready for dinner (we ate cereal… yum!) and another early-ish night.
Cereal greeted us for brekky the following morning too, and after spending a couple hours chilling in our favourite free wifi park cooking our electronics in the 39degree-in-the-shade heat, caught the last 555 bus (free tourist shuttle!) to Circular Quay to check out the infamous Sydney Opera House.
I have to say, at 4pn in the afternoon, it’s nothing much… Maybe I was expecting something more spectacular, but I was quite disappointed.
It was still very hot, so we decided to do another Joe S.-recommended activity and take the ferry to Manly ($14.40AUD for a return ticket, with a quick stop at the liquor store for a 40 of Coopers Ale) before we embarked across the beautiful harbour, where we were graced with slightly better view of the Opera House, and also a tanker which somehow became stranded, with a pretty epic storm brewing in the background.
Manly turned out to be pretty bumpin’, and we arrived in time to witness a local street festival.
We grabbed a snack, and ate a picnic at the beach while watching a menacing storm move in.
Once the wind started picking up, and the lightning that was previously far off on the horizon started striking closer, we decided it was time to pack up and head back.
Since I didn’t get a good deck seat on the trip over, I decided it was a good idea to sit on the second floor balcony on the bow of the ferry so I could get some good night shots of the city, and I initially forced Julie to sit outside with me.
The sun had set, and the darkness combined with the wind made it too chilly for Julie to stay outside with me, so she took a seat just inside the cabin while I braved the howling wind as the ferry made it’s way out into the main waterway.
I had my DSLR out, and although I couldn’t get anything good to start with due to the movement of the boat, I was convinced I’d get my chance…
Well, when the first big wave splashed up over the bow and was blown forcefully against all my fellow bow-deck-dwellers, I decided it was a bad idea to have the camera out and brought it back inside to Julie.
I did go back out though, and along with a couple other obvious die-hard crazies, enjoyed the exhilarating experience of getting battered around in the dark by the storm while a kilometre offshore from anywhere, a combination of saltwater spray and howling wind almost tearing me from my perch at each crashing wave.
That was quite something, and when we rounded the last point entering the Sydney harbour proper, I was confronted with the Opera House at night, in all of it’s glory, completely reversing my previous sentiments.
The storm had died down, and with the venue all lit up, appearing to be well patronized for some event or other, it completely blew my mind that something so ‘meh’ during the day could be so incredibly stunning at night (maybe it was beer goggles from that second bottle of Coopers Ale, but I’m pretty sure that only works on women;).
The walk home took us along George St. which had a similar feel to it as that of a combination of the great parts of Yonge St, and King St. West on a weekend.
It was all sorts of cool, with the hordes done up in their evening finery, and the architecture and natural beauty of the street and buildings (The Strand, and The Queen Victoria Building were standouts…) wasn’t about to be diminished by the slight air of douchbaggery that typically goes along with that type of atmosphere.
It was a truly enjoyable 1 hour walk home, after which we called it a night.
Even though we had to check out at 10am on the 19th, we still made time to spend the morning walking around the rest of the nearby Darling Harbour.
Our airport shuttle was scheduled to pick us up at 12pm, so we checked out early, lock up our bags ($6AUD for a medium size that we could fit both our bags into) and head out to one of the more crowded and touristy spots we’d stumbled up thus far.
But that’s not to say it wasn’t a beautiful and thoughtfully laid out public space (complete with awesome playgrounds)
which is in fact the area that gives credence to my earlier rant about public investment in waterfront properties (the giant rubber ducky didn’t hurt it’s image at all;).
A walk around this area was a fantastic conclusion to our 3-day mini stay in Sydney, and if we had more disposable income, we’d have loved to stay longer (maybe then I’d let Julie buy some plastic airplane and car models to build, or puzzles to play with… things she so desperately tried to convince me to let her buy:p).
This time though we had to collect our bags, take another crappy shuttle (driven by a crazy old Korean dude) to the airport, stick our bags together again (saving money on checked luggage ftw!), and head off into the sunset (well, more like south-west-ish) towards Melbourne.
Last point: always ask for a seat upgrade, even on crappy budget airlines like Tiger Airways, because you can usually get put in an emergency exit row which has twice as much leg room, and all you have to do is pretend like opening the exit matters if you crash-land (it doesn’t… I’m pretty sure everyone dies if the plane crashes… especially on water… but we can always pretend…).
Last last point: We met an ex-pat South African Greg on the plane who had some stellar tips for when we travel to South Africa, and was also good for some witty and sarcastic conversation (with some surprisingly deep moments).
Last last last point: We arrived in Melbourne to discover that there is no real arrivals ‘terminal’ as such for Tiger Airways, but instead a disembarkation onto the tarmac followed by picking up our bags in a tin-shed… Ghetto! (my apologies for over-use of this word… If anyone has a good suggestion for another good word with a similar meaning, please let me know).
I swear it’s my last point: We didn’t have a hostel booked for the night, but I had recently gotten in touch with a good childhood friend of mine Neil who was now living in Melbourne and had offered to put us up for the night, so we rented a car from the airport, headed to his place where we arrived at around midnight, met his delightful housemates Jesse and Davey, and proceeded to spend the rest of the night taking advantage of their wonderful hospitality, staying up into the wee hours (5am?) smashing Gin & Tonics and catching up.