By Isaac Bosque
Contributor for Penny’s Daybook
Isaac Bosque is a student in International Relations at the Australian National University in Canberra. Strategically located between Australia’s two great cities, he has travelled extensively to both Sydney and Melbourne, and knows the streets like the back of his hand. If your GPS stops working the next time you’re in either city, give him a call.
Sydney, Australia’s oldest and largest city, is likely the first destination of many a traveller to visit the Lucky Country. As the first colonial settlement when British ships first arrived at Botany Bay in 1788, the city is a vibrant, bustling metropolis today, a multiethnic canvas that resembles a Benetton ad in more ways than one. Home to the biggest annual Mardi Gras festival west of the Pacific, the city has also hosted the Olympics in 2000, and is set to play a leading role in Australia’s bid for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
What better way to announce your arrival than a visit to the world famous Sydney harbour! Trains run regularly from the airport and the city to Circular Quay. As you pull into the station, the colossal structure of the Sydney Harbour Bridge comes into view, linking the CBD to Sydney’s northern suburbs. A short walk along the quay then takes you past the ferry terminal, bustling with commuters and tourists alike. A little further up lies the Sydney Opera House, the second of the city’s two major landmarks, grandiose in its quirky sailboat-inspired design. Guided tours are available for a fee, but the pennywise traveller need not fret; there are great photo opportunities on the steps leading up to the entrance and by the waterfront, where the Harbour Bridge sits majestically across the Opera House.
Retracing the route along the ferry terminal, a right turn at George St takes you to the historic Rocks district, home to the first prison constructed to house the convicts that were sent over from England. Now housing various art galleries, a weekend market, and the Sydney Theatre Company, the Rocks is also home to some of Australia’s finest restaurants. The base camp for the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is also located in the vicinity, but at $198 a pop is a veritable tourist trap.
Traveller’s tip #1: A short walk or drive to Dawes Point at the end of George St allows you to stand directly under the Harbour Bridge, where you can enjoy the engineering marvel from right beneath it.
Heading back up George St in the other direction, the skyscrapers pull closer into view. Strolling past dozens of suited executives, the air is inundated with the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Spreading out on the left side of George St, Martin Place is the de facto point of congregation for the lunchtime networks of the corporate world. Just beyond is the Apple flagship store, a modern glass-walled masterpiece seemingly built on a theme of transparency, and the shopping belt. Two blocks to the west, Castlereagh St is home to every luxury brand imaginable, while Pitt St Mall and Queen Victoria Building offer slightly more subtle retail options. The former in particular offers up lots of busker performances throughout the day.
Traveller’s tip #2: head up to the third floor of The Galleries Victoria, where Kinokuniya bookstore is also located. Ishiban Boshi is an authentic, all-Japanese staffed ramen joint which serves up delicious steaming bowls of the Japanese noodle for as little as $9.
At the traffic junction downstairs is a quad-directional pedestrian crossing which, though good fun, can be a rather daunting experience for first-timers weaving their way in and out of people traffic. Just up the street and out of the main shopping belt is Chinatown, famous for Paddy’s weekend markets, where souvenir hunters rejoice and Asian students go for their fix of bubble tea. Off the back of the Chinatown district is Darling Harbour, an enclave of thumping nightspots and great dining options. Stick to the instructions on your travel guidebook and visit the Sydney Aquarium, or feel free to explore the area on foot.
For the seafood aficionado, hop on a tram from Capitol Square to the Sydney Fish Market at Pyrmont Bay. The journey only lasts four stops and costs $5.70 return, but any complaints are immediately drowned out by the cacophony of hungry visitors smacking their lips at the delectable array of freshly shucked oysters, lobsters grilled or fresh, prawns, sashimi and calamari on offer. Crustacean or gilled, it will be sold there. Step out of the bottleneck caused by the throngs of people inside and sit on one of the many tables outside, or plop yourself on the grass and enjoy your fresh seafood cooked to order. Beware the seagulls though, in particular, do not feed them, or they will shit on you.
Sydney is not your typical laidback Aussie enclave. The people on the streets know where they are going, and they want to get there fast. Nevertheless, for the wide-eyed visitor, Sydney is a great ambassador for modern Australia. Walking along its streets, you will not find more than five people of any race walking along in succession, because the city is so diversely populated by Chinese, Lebanese, Indian, Korean, Nigerian, and the quintessential Aussie. These are the people that make this city so incredibly vibrant, cosmopolitan and yet distinctly Australian at the same time. When all is said and done, one will come to the conclusion that a visit to this city is not for the lackadaisical traveller or the faint-hearted. Sydney, Australia. Love it or leave it.