Set adrift in Sydney

Posted by jswt | Posted in Australia - Sydney, General | Posted on 17-08-2011

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Just wrapped up 3 amazingly sunny and warm midwinter weeks in Sydney, Australia. We were staying right in Darling Harbour around the corner from the Opera House and a short walk from the city centre. The city is beautiful, and the weather was on it’s bes behaviour while we were there, but I leave the city feeling like it’s missing something…

Sydney is a big city, that’s spread out with a lot of waterways and harbours nestled in it’s centre. The downtown CBD isn’t a residential core, but just primarily a commercial zone. Rather than a focused city centre, there’s a lot of buroughs across the city that aren’t very well linked (traffic is *terrible*), and because of this a lot of people seem somewhat ghettoized within their own neighborhood. We lost track of the number of times we heard “oh, I’m from X so I never make it over to Y” or “I’m from the west, i don’t go to the east”, even though it’s just a few kilometres away, but the city is so poorly designed and laid out that it can be a day trip. This does build up strong communities, and the city did in fact feel like a city of separate neighborhoods. We spent a lot of time up in Newtown, where Chris’ sister L lives, which is a fantastic place full of great shops, cafes and pubs – it’s sort of like what East Van could feel like if it was populated with upwardly mobile bohemians (alt moms a-go-go) and given a focused core. Glebe, a short walk from our hotel, was another great little neighborhood with a lot of little restaurants and a good community vibe.

Due to the location we were staying, we spent a lot of time in and around Darling Harbour which had a very built up waterfront crammed in every square inch with touristy restaurants, an Imax theatre and a conference centre… Not the most chill place on earth, and I don’t think we saw a single local the whole week! The ferry system was great and we were able to hop on a boat for less than $5 and cruise around the harbour to see the sights and get a little further out. I also lucked out on my 2nd day in the city and met some cute german packpacker girls who’d been living in Sydney and were selling their bikes before heading out of town, so I bought one of their mountain bikes and was able to pedal myself around the city for the whole stay – a great way to see more than just the harbour. Chris also lucked out and ended up with a nice Jaguar XF for the 3 weeks which made exploring and sitting in traffic quite painless 🙂



One weekend, a few of us from the tour booked a little retreat up in the nearby Blue Mountains (so named for the blue haze that hangs heavy across the hills from all the eucalyptus trees). It was a perfect couple days away in a converted sheep shearing shed where we could sit on the deck and see for miles with packs of kangaroos hopping wild up and down the hills. We went out for a hike one day, but turned back when we saw the big black snake with the head the size of both my fists (there’s loads of snakes and spiders in Australia that’ll actually kill you). Instead of chancing another snake encounter, we were happy to just relax with some bottles of wine and cutthroat dominoes in what was a real luxury for us – being out of a city.



The 3 weeks we spent in Sydney were lovely: we had some very nice dinners out, some great afternoons at pubs with friends and family, and even got to see an opera at the Syndey Operahouse. A huge highlight was getting to spend time with Chris’ family – his cousin D lives there with his g/f D and were great fun to pub it up with (he’s finishing law school and she’s finishing her PhD in neurobiology), and his sister L lives here as well with her b/f K. It was really nice just hanging out with L and K and being shown around town (yay 60s night!). Went out one night with a guy from the tour to see his friend’s band play, which ended up spiraling into a kickass marathon of sleazy bars on Oxford st, cute fuzzy bums, an amazing rollerderby vixen with a forked tongue, and 4am chinese – so much fun.



Another highlight was the cabaret night that people from Chris’ work put on. Everyone’d worked hard on acts outside of what they normally do, and it was a hilarious, well paced and pretty stunning night of singing, acrobatics, spandex comedy, aerial amazements and buttless chaps. Chris is seriously lucky to be working with such a talented group of people…

Sydney was really lovely and a great 3 weeks, but I don’t know if I really have much need to return. It was pretty, and there was lots of things to do, but… it just didn’t have the same vibe that I’m drawn to in other cities. It feels much more like an executive/seperate vs creative/cohesive city, and just seems to be trying really hard to make itself feel better about itself. Looking back, I much prefer the laid back and bustling unified culture in Melbourne (and their amazing pub culture) to the coffee fuelled noisy dispersed feel of Sydney. But, again – a lovely time was had, some unforgettable visiting and adventures made the stay a truly great 3 weeks…




Afterthought: Do have to mention one thing about Australia that’s been kinda niggling at the back of my brain in the 4+ months that we’ve been here… The country is a nanny state: there are rules upon rules upon rules that are there for just rule’s sake. It’s been an ongoing theme since we got here, and though not too easy to pick out a single example, you see it everywhere – overly lengthy signs telling you what you can or cannot do and common sense being replaced with control mechanisms. My theory is that it stems from the continent’s convict history where there were those enforcing the rules, and those abiding by the rules, and that structured enforcement has just carried through and permeates the culture. Just an observation…