11 March 2006

a visual impression of sydney

Click here to listen to my Sydney soundtrack and here to read my post about it.

That was fun! It was my first visit to Sydney, in fact to Australia. It was only when a work-related trip was confirmed that I realized I had no idea what the city was like. Unlike other major world cities, I had absolutely no mental picture of it other than the famous harbor with its Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. In many ways, it was a good thing because I had no expectations, and when you have no expectations, you can be easily pleased. But I was more than pleased with Sydney, in fact I was blown away. Beyond the harbor, it has a mixture of 1) understated charm in its tree-lined streets with al fresco dining, hidden gardens with lazy sunbathers, and characterful suburbs with interesting subcultures; and 2) a big-city vibe with its outrageous gay and red-light districts and dizzying shopping streets, populated by an ethnically diverse population that rivals anywhere in the world. Not to mention the beaches – take a short bus ride from the city center and you can spend an entire afternoon people-watching at Bondi Beach, or catching the waves at any of the breathtaking Northern Beaches. For these reasons, Sydney struck me as being homey – the city has a very high livability factor for me. I was there for five days, two of them on business, and this is my impression of it in three plus plus days.

sinfully red in goulburn st
No, I didn't go inside, but I saw an old tourist couple, each about 75 years old, step out of this shop and it turned out that they were staying in the same hotel in Darling Harbour as I was.

feeling the love in hyde park
I got to Sydney on the day of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. (It was actually a Saturday, but Samedi Gras doesn't sound right, does it?) To void having to crane my neck amid the 700,000 other tourists who went to see the event, I got a reserved seat (a A$103 damage to my wallet) at the southern end of Hyde Park. We had our own mini concert before the event, when this picture was taken. The paraders and the floats were unsurprisingly fabulous, but my favorite was the mostly middle-aged Federal Police who paraded in their pale blue uniform, holding hands with their equally butch-looking partners.

bondi dude
Bondi is not the place to go if you want to read a book by the beach – it can be crowded and the vibe of surfers and sunbathers is too infectious. It's a place to see and be seen.

i wanna be jack johnson
Taken from the northern end of Bondi Beach. To the south is the short but wide Tamarama Beach, and further down, the more family-friendly Bronte Beach. It's a good four-kilometer walk from end to end – very rewarding especially if you do it late in the afternoon when you can enjoy moments of solitude with an arresting view of the Pacific Ocean.

love to love you baby
A couple, probably still in dating phase, enjoying the sunset over Tamarama Beach. I finished my Bondi-to-Bronte coastal walk with a beautiful dinner at Brio, a seafood-and-vegetarian Mod Oz restaurant along Bronte. I had a red-beet salad, green-peas-and-mushroom risotto, and a very generous glass of Pinot. The salad was huge and the risotto this close to perfect. The staff was fun too – the waitress was a chatty Eastern European (I can't remember which country, but "not Russia," she said) hopping from table to table, constantly interrupted by a broken Billie Holiday CD. At the table across from me was a young googly-eyed Italian couple who each ate with one hand because they were holding hands the whole time. I bet the rest of their evening was more exciting than mine – I went back to the hotel with a throbbing head, thanks to the strong wine.

a diva of a building
I saw my first opera at the Sydney Opera House. It was Madama Butterfly by Puccini, presented by Opera Australia. I was a bit underwhelmed by the performance of the singer who played Pinkerton, and I was thinking maybe I just didn't know how to appreciate the art yet. During curtain call, however, the old man right behind me, and a few others at the back, booed the male lead. I felt sorry for him because the rest of the cast was very well received. I got in out of luck – the opera was almost completely booked for its entire run, and mine was the last seat available for that day. It cost me A$177, but I can't complain.

a looming presence
Taken from the observation deck above the row of quayside restaurants at The Rocks. I promised myself to do the three-hour Bridge Climb or the shorter Pylon Lookout climb, but I just didn't have the time. I caught the Saturday market at The Rocks, and it didn't give me a very good impression of the oldest, colonial-era part of the city. It's all tourist fare – the shops, the pubs, and the market itself. I guess had I walked beyond I would've seen the more authentic parts of this cobbled neighborhood where the Europeans first settled.

dream of the humping turtles
Taken from the same observation deck. It's above a fancy Mod Oz restaurant in The Rocks called Quay, where I had the priciest vegetarian dinner ever: A$102 for a fig salad, a polenta with zucchini, and a glass of Riesling. I was having a quiet dinner by myself with a view of the Opera House right in front of me and the bridge to my left, until a group of five young MBA types sat at the table next to mine. Dominating the conversation with his loud voice was an American who I guess studied in the UK because he kept referring to university as "uni." A Bostonian, he was recently married to a New Yorker from Ellis Island named Ellen, and has a brother Scott who works at PwC, apparently in Sydney because Scott flew all the way from Sydney to attend his wedding. At one point, our hero asks the sheila, "Do you use the word lettuce in Australia?" To which she replies, "Yeah, although when I hear lettuce I don't normally think of, you know, rocket, just the normal one," with her palm up and slightly curled, as if holding a cabbage. Moving on...

Skateboarders breeze past a relaxing tourist in front of St. Mary's Cathedral next to Hyde Park. There is an overrated Chinese vegetarian restaurant at the Cook and Phillip Park across the church, called Bodhi. I had spring rolls and a mock Peking duck for dinner, and it was nothing more special than the mom-and-pop lunchbox corner shops selling similar fare in Chinatown. Maybe I just didn't order the right food. The cool decor and outdoor seating, however, were really nice.

smooth sailing
A perfect day for a quiet sail in the Northern Beaches. A drive around this part of Sydney was the highlight of my trip, thanks in large part to an Internet friend whom I hadn't met before, but who had the kindness to spend a good part of his day to take me to its best parts. Sydneysiders are so blessed to have such natural beauty at their doorstep – and there are 14 of them!

palm calm
This is Palm Beach, the northernmost of the beaches, and I think one of the longest too. One great thing about Sydney's beaches is that they're not just long, but most of them seem to slope very gradually too. Also, the beaches usually have a pool with seawater where families can introduce kids to swimming, and where the elderly can still enjoy the beach atmosphere without losing their dentures getting overwhelmed by the waves. Very thoughtful.

birds beach buddies
You got your friends, you got the beach, you got fish, you got all you need. This one's from Whale Beach. With its prime views, owning property in the Northern Beaches is apparently a very expensive proposition.

room with a view
A couple enjoying the view of the city skyline from Sydney Harbour National Park, north of the Harbour Bridge. Apart from its huge parks like Hyde and the Botanical Gardens, the city has lots of green spaces and plazas you could just stumble into to find sunbathing locals sharing the space with map-reading low-class backpacking loooooosers.

work those abs
Crunch time at Hyde Park.

hop on hop off
Like every major city, Sydney has tourist buses that take you to the top attractions in about a couple of hours.

just two final beach shots
The tucked-away Turimetta Beach, a short downhill walk off the main road. The most popular of the Northern Beaches is no doubt Manly, the southernmost, and having a drink at the wharf is probably the best way to end a trip in this part of Sydney, just before catching the half-hour ferry ride back to Circular Quay which gives you an unbeatable view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

can't wait to go back
With proper swimming attire.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, i love your pics! Sydney rocks! It's one of my favorite cities. Your photos bring me back to the five days I spent wandering around the city on my own too. Great to know you had fun. :)