If 24 hours was not enough time to get to know San Francisco then 3 days is hardly enough to come to terms with the wonder that is Sydney. I was at first a little shocked with how at home I felt here. This we decided was due to the large English influence on Australia. When in San Francisco I couldn’t help but notice the differences; they stood out all over, but here I can’t stop seeing the similarities. Little things like the feel of the underground. For example there is the fact that you have to stand to one side on the escalators just like in London, only here you stand on the left. Another thing like home is the large ‘cityboy’ feel to the centre of town.
A lot of people work in Sydney and they have all the top end shops just like Bond Street and the like. After a while I had to consciously stop trying to compare Sydney to London and that is when it got to me. The harbour here is one of the best I have ever seen with fantastic light and very clean. The opera house backed by the bridge is an almost incomparable photo opportunity that can stand amongst a small group of the world’s best. We took a large amount of film and footage here despite the near gale-force winds. The sky is a pure shade of blue and simply wonderful to behold.
Backpacking in Sydney is everywhere, but nowhere more so than Kings Cross. Like its UK namesake this area is lined with the dregs of the city and along one street is a litter of strip joints and all sorts of commercial sleaze. Our hostel was one street away but may have well been a light-years distance. The glitz gave way to quiet streets of large houses among tenements and an avenue-like feel of trees. Similar to Amsterdam; one minute its all neon lights and sex, the next it is quiet and peace. The Jolly Swagman was our first port of call and we grabbed an early breakfast before heading to bed and loosing most of the day to Jetlag. The JSM hostel is full of younger world travellers all boasting of their Jack Daniels prowess and how many steps they fell down while drunk. I didn’t mind the place, but at this point we hardly know any better. Speaking of drink, one thing that I found funny was that you couldn’t buy alcohol in the supermarket. In fact I had to wander for a good 20 minutes before I could find one dinky little shop that even served the devils drink. Spying the usual tattle of Fosters and Stella I asked the guy to recommend me something local,
“Cooper’s mate, the rest is all shit,” he said pointing at a pack of pale ales, “Don’t worry about the bits in the bottom of the bottles, that’s normal, just roll the bottles before drinking and don’t shake it”.
It may well be normal for you mate, I thought, but I held my peace and paid the man. The price of beer is high in this part of town and 6 beers cost me 8 quid.
They were, of course, very cold, very nice and bloody strong.
The next day we headed into town by foot. Sydney is small enough to walk across without a major trekking licence and we quickly found ourselves in the Royal Botanical Gardens, which are fantastically beautiful. The light was idyllic and the rustling trees were all new to me. Wildlife abounds here and we saw some huge spiders nestled in the bushes and our ears rejoiced to strange exotic sounding bird calls. When at home birdcall is something that you get so used to hearing that you simply filter it out and it becomes simply background noise unable to grab you attention. When here you find all the calls completely new and each one pulls your attention skywards as you try and spot the bird that could have made that noise. To me they all sounded very strange and very loud, I wondered: do visitors to London think the same about the pigeons? One thing we don’t have in London is gigantic bats, but here they hang from almost every tree. Apparently a real pest? I love bats myself and was spellbound for a good few minutes watching them swoop and hoot about the treetops. I also saw something as large as a cat, bound across the grass and up a trunk. “What was that?” Cesca asked a local. “Just a squirrel mate,” came the reply. If that was a squirrel, I thought, then they grow bloody big here!
The gardens gave way to a path along the bay leading up to the Opera House that was lined with a large flock of school kids in identical blue sun hats. They were all picnicking before tackling the harbour and they had picked a great view of the Opera house. We stopped alongside them and took in the view ourselves before getting closer. The Opera house sits on one point of a small bay with the bridge on the other. It is smaller than perhaps you would imagine, but it has a universal appeal and is bathed in light. We wandered through strong winds whipping around the structure and innumerable Chinese school kids all screaming with excitement.
In the middle of the bay is the main transit ferry terminal that grants access to the many other bays, islands and Isthmus that lead out to the ocean. We had been advised to try Watson’s Bay so we paid for a ride on a SuperCat for a few bucks each. Unlike UK ferries this thing moved like a speedboat and we were zoomed across the waters towards the bay far in the distance. In what felt like record time we arrived and disembarked at a lovely looking beach front with a world class fish and chip shop. I don’t know what it was that was in the batter we ordered, but it was crackingly good. We decided to walk off the luncheon and took a very long stroll to Rose Bay. This was deceptively marked as close on the map, but actually took a good few hours. Still it offered amazing views of the bays, the distant harbour, some interesting local streets & houses and some more bloody huge spiders in the bushes. I don’t know if they were dangerous, but I wouldn’t like to find out. We eventually came to Rose bay and played with a local pelican before grabbing the next light-speed ferry back to the Circle Terminal.
The next day we headed to Bondi. The famous beech, even on this winter day, was full of surfers and we snapped away while laying on the golden sands. I find sand boring but I relaxed listening to my iPod and Cesca wrote up her Journal for a few sunny hours. After all this sun had gone to our heads we retreated a few streets away and found an amazing cafe inside a second hand book shop called Gertrude and Alice. The lunch there was very welcome and I munched away merrily while reading a book about Tarantino. After lunch we took in the walk from Bondi to Coogee beach, which again was deceptively marked on the maps as close by. It was not close. However such a walk was beautiful to behold and by the time we made it into the Coogee beach area the sun had dipped magnificently over the horizon. This time of year it is dark by 6pm and this means the evening’s light is spectacular. We stopped for supper in a beach front restaurant and had a great pasta repast before catching the bus back into Kings Cross.
By this time we had both had enough of the Jolly Swagman and moved on to the more famous Eva’s Backpackers. Eva’s was a much nicer hostel, but far more basic. Our room was bright and clean but had no sink or TV. It simply held a big bed. On the roof was the laundry room and a view over the city to die for and we spent a few hours doing our washing before heading into town to buy me a new daysack, my Nanue Pro Bag having really dug into my shoulder over the last few days. Surprisingly the Nanue became the first casualty of our trip and was binned. We walked around the Darling Harbour but quickly decided that it is was a tourist trap and passed on it to come back to Eva’s and a good night’s rest.
As I write this it is the next morning and we have left Sydney and are heading on the train up to the famous Blue Mountains. I relish this chance to get away from buildings. Perhaps it is because I come from one of the world’s premier cities, but I long for some countryside. The Blue Mountains should more than make up for the last weeks’ city hopping!
We will be returning to Sydney in the fall of our Australian journey and I am going to reserve any judgement of the place until then. I really liked my time there and as a starter to this trip it has led us gently into the larger journey.
The mountains await!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.