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Published: March 22nd 2015
Sydney Harbour Bridge & Opera House
Sydney's two iconic sights are right opposite each other.
I finally closed the London chapter of my life with a flight out on the 30th December 2014 - and started a new chapter and in fact a new year, in Auckland, New Zealand.
I hardly had time to tie everything off in London before leaving so I thought that before I start my gallivant around the world for a couple of years, it was about high time I came back home not only to prepare, but also to see my neglected family.
Going from the darkness and freezing cold of London to the brightness (literal brightness - you seem to need to wear sunnies at all times in NZ) and heat of the New Zealand summer took some adjusting, but once I had done that it was great to catch up with family and friends, most of whom I hadn't seen in years.
But I had hardly been back before it was time to take off again - to Sydney, Australia.
I thought that since I am down in this part of the world for 3 1/2 months, I might as well tick off Australia's biggest city.
It was surprising that I had never been before, considering it's relative
Sydney's most famous and my favourite.
proximity while growing up.
New Zealanders of course, have always had a friendly rivalry with Australians - particularly through sport - and I am no different. So I just had to poke fun by naming my blog entry after the rather uncouth catchphrase adopted by Tourism Australia some years ago. It seems appropriate since my blog is related to travel...which is probably what Tourism Australia thought when they came up with their rather objectionable slogan.
The English also share some friendly animosity (if that makes sense) with Australia and it was one such cricket-loving Englishman who was kindly putting me up during my stay in Sydney - my old London flatmate Alan.
Alan is currently living in a rather nice, 80s-style mezzanine apartment in Newtown by himself - the kind of apartment that when I was young, I had always thought would be a cool, modern place to live in...y'know, back in the 80s. Alan has been posted out in Sydney by his employer in London - The Guardian, my favourite newspaper - and Newtown is a pretty cool area, nice and convenient to the city. Alan is living my dream!
Rather than dreams however, I was having nightmares
A flash area of restaurants, bars and shopping malls.
trying to get to sleep.
Landing in New Zealand from London, I had gone from cold to hot, and landing in Australia, from hot to hotter and humid. It was a lovely, balmy temperature in the evening but it has a cost - mosquitoes. I have always had sweet blood - if there is one mosquito and a group of people, I will inevitably be the one bitten and so it proved again overnight.
"You must be delicious", says Alan on inspecting the damage.
That day I made a beeline to Sydney's most iconic sights. Getting off Sydney's rather efficient metro system at Circular Quay, I caught my first glimpse of Sydney Harbour Bridge from the platform - certainly one of the best views I have ever seen from a train platform. Walking along the quay, I then come to the Sydney Opera House.
Now I'll admit that I sometimes try to champion the more obscure sights of a place to appear alternative, intrepid and rebellious - like some sort of travel hipster - and often these obscure discoveries are the best, like finding a diamond in the rough. But nothing gives you the special feeling you get when
One of the bigger ones at Featherdale Wildlife Park.
you see the iconic sights - and seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House right in front of me on a glorious day was no exception.
As I walked along Farm Cove and through the Royal Botanical Gardens before walking across the Harbour Bridge itself, I realised that Sydney is wonderfully scenic, reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro
, but with its harbour and bridge, also very similar to my home town of Auckland. Darling Harbour is I'm sure, what Auckland's Viaduct was based on, with it's harbourside restaurants and bars - although Darling Harbour perhaps goes a bit further with its shopping centre, aquarium and IMAX.
My visit to Australia had coincided with football's Asian Cup, which was being hosted here. With no plans that evening, Alan tells me that there is a match on in Sydney that night, so I as a football fan, I though I might as well go along. As a sports fan, it also gave me the chance to check out Stadium Australia - a stadium I had seen so many times on TV over the years.
The match tonight was Iran vs Qatar and arriving at the stadium, I have to say that I never
Inside Stadium Australia
Impressive - it reminded me of Wembley Stadium in London.
knew that Sydney was home to so many Iranians. They by far made up the majority inside the stadium and they were a boisterous bunch too - based on noise alone, you would've thought that the match was sold out as opposed to being just 25% full.
Iran score the only goal of the game and the place erupts when they score. Looking around the crowd, you could tell that most of the Iranian fans here were not regular football fans or followers - the game was really more of a celebration of Iran than it was about the football itself. There were a lot of women in the crowd, who were able to do something that is not even allowed in their home country - watch their national team play football in a stadium.
At the end of the game, the players applauded their own fans in what was quite an emotional moment for both fans and players. The noise generated by the crowd pretty much made it a home game for Iran and who could not be motivated with a crowd like that behind you. It was a fantastic atmosphere and experience.
The stadium itself was impressive too,
Inside The QVB
The architecture inside was also impressive.
particularly in size. With room for up to 84,000, Stadium Australia reminded me a lot of Wembley Stadium in London.
The next day, I went to visit the Tans - family friends who own an eatery in the CBD. They moved from Auckland to Sydney well before I left for London so it would have been over ten years since I have seen them. They are doing well for themselves and are enjoying living in Sydney - something that based on what I have seen so far, I think I would definitely consider.
It would be a dereliction of duty not to help out my friends - so if you're ever in Sydney, be sure to check out Alice's Makan
in the CBD. Malaysian is the fare on offer and as you know, Malaysia picked up my award as the best country for food in my last blog entry
. Alice's Makan does great food and they have the Australian food awards to prove it.
After my delicious lunch, I arrange to have dinner with the Tans on my last night in Sydney.
The rest of my afternoon was spent in Manly, which is the quintessential beach village on Sydney's north shore. I'll let
Manly BeachUrban Walkabout
"The hazy union of the sun, surf and sea."
sum up Manly better than I ever could; "Sydney’s favourite beachside village conjures the halcyon days of a seventies summer: the hazy union of the sun, surf and sea."
It was a pleasant afternoon of eating ice cream on the golden sand of the beach - Manly would be a perfect place to spend a few days chilling out, with its awesome beach, flash apartments, and relaxed bars, cafes and restaurants on its beachside boulevard.
On the scenic ferry back to Circular Quay from Manly, I realise as I pass a fantastic front-on view of the Opera House that Sydneysiders enjoy a great lifestyle here, with an excellent standard of living. The city is beautiful, the weather is fantastic and there is lots to see and do. Something to consider for sure, once I am done with my travels...
As if to reinforce the idea, I visit my friend Irene the next day, who I first met in Egypt
. Irene is currently staying at her sister's house in Maroubra; the house is quite nice and is only a ten minute walk from the magnificent Maroubra Beach - oh the life! It is here that I have
Under The Bridge
Underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the north shore of Sydney Harbour.
my first swim of the trip and the water is refreshing, if not as warm as the water in Brazil
. After our swim, we walk around the coast a bit, spending some time in the rock pools and walking up the top of a cliff for some stunning views along the eastern coast.
With the sun setting, we swap our togs and beach towels for some casual evening wear as we joined Irene's friends Rom, Jo, and KC for some dinner and drinks in the beachside suburb of Coogee. After dining out on some impressive Thai, we then meet up with a few more of Irene's friends at the Coogee Bay Hotel, as we drank away on a beautifully balmy night in the hotel's busy beer garden. For the most part, I was enjoying my night, chatting away with Irene's friends, who were all really nice people. But looking around me at the hotel's clientele and the size of the ominously uniformed security guards outside, there was a sense of underlying aggro in a place full of male, macho, beachy, bogan types - like a parched, tinder-dry forest that could erupt in flames at any minute with the tiniest of
Taken from the Royal Botanical Gardens.
sparks. Though the setting was great, it wasn't quite my kind of scene so when one of Rom's friends Dave suggested going into town for a dose of salsa-dancing, I jumped at the opportunity as it was also closer to Alan's place.
Rocking up to the salsa bar in the CBD, I noticed that there was a lot of talent inside - dancing talent, that is. Dave, Rom and Jo have all been salsa dancing for years and they had some serious skills - I felt decidedly inadequate. To stop me getting shown up so badly, Rom attempts to teach me some basics - let's say that I was never going to achieve anything after a few mojitos and just one night of tuition, but I must say that I might try and learn a bit more in future as it looks very impressive!
All in all, I felt I had a decent taste of the Sydney nightlife, which was what Dave and the girls wanted to show me, so for that I must thank them.
The next day I was back in Coogee to meet up with Irene again. We were to do the eastern beaches coastal walk
On the eastern beaches coastal walk looking towards Bronte, Tamarama and Bondi beaches.
from Coogee up through the beaches of Coogee, Clovelly, Bronte and Tamarama, en route to the famous Bondi Beach.
Coogee Beach is pretty busy given that there's more happening in the town behind it than the others - it was definitely busier than Maroubra but not as chilled as Manly. Clovelly I thought was quite weirdly shaped and was more of a family beach with calmer waters, and I enjoyed Bronte although it was probably a bit small. The coastal walk was a lovely thing to do and provided some great vistas - not quite the Cinque Terre
but it had better beaches!
My favourite beach however - and I'm again going against my travel hipster tendencies here - was Bondi. The longest beach along the east coast, it seemed to go on for miles. It's size also meant that there was a lot more space both on the beach and in the water - you didn't have to look out for anyone when catching the bigger waves that crash here, and you had a bit more personal space on the beach. I had my longest swim here - it was brilliant.
I do like the idea of having all of
View From North Shore
View back towards the CBD from the north shore capturing the Opera House, the city and the Harbour Bridge.
these beaches on your doorstep - something else to add to the list of "Reasons To Live In Sydney".
After sharing a pizza just behind the beach and grabbing yet another gelato, it was time to say goodbye to Irene - big thanks to Irene for the great company and for giving up her time to show me around!
Later that evening I met up with Alan for dinner at a dubious Nepalese restaurant down the road which had equally dubious service. Now when I say dubious, I don't mean to say that it was dodgy or bad - but I just couldn't quite get my head around prawns and coconuts being the food staples of a landlocked, mountainous country. The service however, was genuinely average.
I had been told that the Blue Mountains were worth a visit so after doing some research on it, I ended up booking a day tour through the tourist office. Things got off to an early start the next day as I was one of the first people picked up by our humorous and friendly coach driver who as well as pointing out the sights, gave us a few insights into life in
Australia with a typically irreverent brand of Aussie humour - with a few Dad jokes thrown in for good measure.
Our first stop was the mountain town of Leura, which to be completely honest, was a bit average. Its cause wasn't helped by the heavy rain however, which was the first I had seen in 2015 after almost three weeks.
It was to get worse.
The tour was to take us to Scenic World, where you could ride the world's steepest railway (which I did - it was kind-of like a theme park ride), as well as a couple of cable cars offering a stunning view across the Blue Mountains. But as we got higher into the mountains, the ominous shroud of fog blanketing the mountains that day got thicker and thicker - raising fears that the spectacular views of the Blue Mountains we were promised would be veiled by a cloak of mist.
And so it proved, to everyone's bitter disappointment. The "Three Sisters", the crazy rock formations, the Katoomba Falls, the blue haze - I saw none of it. I didn't see even a single rock. It was the biggest let-down. That's AU$150 I won't be seeing again...
This one felt a bit sleepy.
I've generally had good weather on my travels however, and have mostly been very lucky with it - San Francisco
are two examples of fortunately unseasonal weather - so perhaps I was due some disappointment.
The show went on however, as we continued to the Featherdale Wildlife Park where I got to pat a koala! And feed a kangaroo! It was interesting to get up close and personal with much of Australia's natural wildlife including wombats, wallabies, dingoes, kookaburras, quokkas and Tasmanian devils. It was also a reminder that Australia contains many of the world's most dangerous animals; deadly spiders, venomous snakes, hungry crocodiles - not to mention the sharks and jellyfish in the sea!
We conclude the tour with a cruise down the Parramatta River back into Circular Quay, offering yet more opportunities to snap the Harbour Bridge from another different angle.
A disappointing day was ended in an enjoyable, nostalgic way as I caught up with the Tans again at a nice restaurant in Darling Harbour. Nicola and Julia were the girls that I hung out with when we were all kids and it was fascinating to see that they both looked and sounded exactly how I
Victorian Filigree Architecture
There are lots houses built in this style in Sydney, which I really liked.
remembered them from some fifteen years ago despite the fact we're all grown up. It is sometimes comforting to know that some things just don't change.
I spent my last day in Sydney exploring the area around where Alan lived.
Newtown reminded me a lot of Ponsonby, an area of Auckland where I used to live. The eternally long King Street is like a much cooler Ponsonby Road with its refreshing variety of eateries, bars and boutique shops. There is a bit of bohemia about the place and it is a lively area to hang out in - with its proximity to the city, it has become a popular area for young professionals to live. You can find just about any cuisine you desire in Newtown - a great place to have just around the corner.
Further down King St is the suburb of Enmore, which is a bit more run down - its 'still cool' if you will, probably what Newtown was like before it got popular. Nearby Erskineville seemed a bit more leafy, family-oriented and suburban - dare I say it, a little boring.
In any case, there is always an 'alternative' part of town in every
One of the Sydney's more alternative neighbourhoods has a lot of cool street art.
city, and Newtown, Enmore and Erskineville seemed to be it in Sydney.
It showed another face to the city - a nice change from the flashness of the CBD and the laid-back surf-glamour of the beaches.
And with that, my stay in Sydney came to an end. Big thanks to Alan for having me, and to the Tans for feeding me!
Final thoughts on Sydney?
• Wow, it's expensive. I was paying about AU$10 (about £5) a beer which weren't even pints and when a cashier at a convenience store asked me for AU$3.80 for a small bottle of water, I almost asked him if he was having a laugh. Gelato was about AU$7-AU$8 a pop.
• Laws on alcohol and driving seem a bit draconian. For example I could only buy two drinks at a time at the salsa bar after 10.30pm. Mind you, when I see Aussie munters at Oktoberfest
and the aggressive scenes I saw in Coogee, it is easy to conclude that Australians may have a problem with alcohol. Can you imagine holding Oktoberfest in Australia or even New Zealand? It'd turn into a riot. But I did find the laws annoying having got used
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney's other iconic sight.
to the lax laws that exist in Europe.
• It is a city with a few different faces, which I like. I think I could live here - I admire the lifestyle, the weather and the beaches. I have however, always had a love affair with Europe, and I think I would still go back there to live. I'm more at ease with a general culture in Western Europe that is less brutish than it is here and I feel more a part of things- like I am at the centre of world - over there.
As a tourist, I thought Sydney was fantastic. There is lots to see and do and it is a beautifully scenic.
However, many people I know have said they prefer Melbourne over Sydney - that it is cooler, has more happening and that it culturally has more to offer. I've heard the analogy that Sydney is like a girl who is really hot, but has little substance.
Is Sydney a 'bimbo city'?
Well, I'm off to Melbourne next to see if what they say about it is true - then I'll be in a better position to answer that question.
Sydney's biggest stadium.
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