When we left New Zealand towards Australia, we had a lot of ideas in our minds: Kangaroos, Tasmanian Devils, Koalas, Sydney, Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne, Uluru… you name it! Unfortunately we only had ten days in this wildly vast place, so we had to adjust our expectations.
In this post I will tell you about the elegant and sophisticated Sydney, and in the next Verne will take you on a dive to the colorful waters of the Great Barrier Reef. I know we always say that we want to come back to all the places we’ve been, but Australia is undoubtedly a place that needs much more time to be discovered…
In 1788 the first European boat arrived to Sydney, packed with prisoners for a new British penal colony. Since then Sydney has radically reshaped its history, and nowadays ships arrive at the largest natural harbor in the world packed instead with tourists, looking forward to get to know this fascinating city. With one third of its inhabitants being borne elsewhere, Sydney is a melting pot of cultures that contributes greatly for the cosmopolitan and sophisticated vibes in the air.
It is undoubtedly a blessed city. From the natural beauty of the Bondi and Manly beaches to the manmade Opera House and Harbor Bridge, there’s something there for everyone. On top of this, its economy has been steadily growing for years, further explaining why so many people choose to make this city their home.
At this point we’ve developed a pretty sturdy routine to scope out a new place: Tripadvisor for the top attractions, Google for some off the beaten path alternatives and, most importantly, advice from local friends. After we’d done this for Sydney, it became pretty obvious that the two days we had planned for the city would not suffice, so we ended up staying a bit longer.
For one, that gave us the opportunity to take pictures of the Opera House from all possible angles. In one of our ferry rides, the captain told us that to fully appreciate the Opera House architecture one should take LSD and listen to Jimi Hendrix, because that was the context and spirit in which it had been designed. Well, even without chemically induced buzzes, the Opera House is indeed a magnificent building. Designed by Jorn Utzon, a Danish architect, the building is covered in Swedish tiles and reflects the Mayan, Islamic, Japanese and Chinese influences that inspired him throughout his career. Despite the early endorsement by Eero Saarinen, many years and many dollars were needed to build it (the initial design was physically impossible and had to be adapted), and only in 1973 was it inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II.
Right next to the Opera House is another of Sydney’s icons: the Harbor Bridge (or the Coathanger, as it’s affectionately called by the Sydneysiders), which has been carrying trains, cars, bicycles and pedestrians since 1932. Together, these two landmarks set the stage for the famous Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks.
Talking about amazing views, if you cross the river to go to the Taronga Zoo, on top of all the Australian fauna and flora you are also contemplated with a beautiful skyline of the city (check out the giraffes place, that’s Sydney prime real estate right there). We are always ambivalent towards zoos though: independently of how good the installations are, they’re still animals in captivity. This hit us specially when we were watching the sea lions: after competing for a spot in the beach with them in the Galápagos, it was odd to see them here making tricks for the audience… Still, this is a world class Zoo, and all the animals seemed to be very well taken care of. It’s a debate that we will carry with us further along.
No visit to Sydney would be complete without a trip to a surf spot (Aussies are crazy about surf, so it’s a common sight to see someone with a board in the middle of the street). Bondi beach is particularly nice: beautifully sunbathed, with never ending sand and pristine waters. Apart from the occasional shark attack, it’s a beach made in heaven!
Our last days in Sydney were spent trying to spot humpback whales (they were unfortunately very shy that day and only showed us their fins) and in a very interesting visit to the ships and submarines in the Maritime Museum. Neither of us had ever been inside a submarine, and we still have some bumps in our heads from the experience! I’m only 1,6m tall and still struggled to walk on those corridors (the bunk beds are even more cramped, I can’t imagine anyone sleeping in one of those). The only place where I found it harder to keep straight was in the galleys of the Endeavour, the replica ship from Captain Cook’s boat. You literally need to crawl down there to go from one place to the other.
Lastly, but certainly not least, we want to give out a big hug to Tania and John, a couple of Aussie friends that saved us from Sydney’s murderous lodging prices. I can’t tell you guys how good it was to enjoy a home cooked meal after three months on the road… We’re waiting for you in Lisbon!
Keeping up the maritime theme, we are heading now to Cairns, for an amazing snorkel in the Great Barrier. See you soon!