On to Sydney

Ah, Sydney. As I mentioned in my last post, Mom and I were spellbound by Melbourne, and felt a bit sad to leave. But by the time we left Sydney, we felt equally bedazzled by this incredible city!

Sydney is the cultural and financial heart of the Australian continent, with nearly one-fifth of Australia’s residents living there. Why? Because it’s a vibrant, cosmopolitan area with trendsetting international cuisine, stellar architecture (think Sydney Opera House), and a spectacular harbor setting.

We arrived in Sydney on Tuesday a bit later than expected (due to Tuesday’s flight snafu, see previous post for details. My bad). But our plan was to have no plan that night, spending time exploring the neighbourhood where we were staying, Surry Hills. This area reminded me of the West Village or Greenwich Village in New York, with intriguing, low-key art galleries, endless trendy and fun food and wine bar options, shopping galore (everything from offbeat book stores to high-end boutiques), and enough cafe options to keep two Hayden women buzzing around town for six days.

A friend in Singapore is from Sydney and was able to provide me with a few great drinking and eating recommendations. Our first stop in Sydney was to The Winery, a super cool laneway wine bar close to our hotel (We stayed at another boutique accommodation called the Cambridge, lovely hotel but not in the best part of Surry Hills so not sure I’d recommend it). The space was lovely—a champagne room, rococo chairs and chandeliers, a cozy garden space with fairy lights twinkling above and frangipani trees keeping the space warm, and sweet little cast-iron tables. We were absolutely sold on ambience! I really enjoyed this place, and Sydney as a whole, because winter is not quite winter as we know it—it rarely falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so outdoor venues stay open, snuggly blankets are always provided for personal use, and heat lamps are abundant. As I live in a place with the temperature of Venus, I rarely drink red wine, but something about the snug and comfy atmosphere had me itching for some red grapes. Our fabulous French waiter was quite versed in the wine menu, and led me to a delicious Grenache (which I had never tried before!). We each ordered our plates, which had heaping portions, and left The Winery feeling stuffed and happy with our decision.

There is quite a bit of detail to cover on this trip, as we covered some serious ground over the course of our trip. I will try to keep it succinct. Our first stop? To the Opera House of course! After a power breakfast of eggs and coffee at a cafe en route to the main attraction, we headed to the harbour and beheld our eyes upon the stunning architecture of the Sydney Opera House. It was very surreal to be seeing it with my own eyes, in real life. I had seen it referenced in so many books and film (primarily Finding Nemo), and Mom and I both had to take a moment to let it sink in before taking any steps closer to it. Truly! The harbour itself is also a nice view—from it, you can see the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the peaceful Royal Botanic Gardens, and the north head of Manly Beach. After our initial shock of laying our eyeballs on the Opera House, we approached it and checked out the “shells,” the glossy white and matte cream chevron pattern, the precast concrete. It was truly a sight to see, and I feel so happy that I was able to have that moment with Mom.

It started to drizzle a bit during our visit, so we decided to duck into the conveniently-located Opera Bar to find cover during the rainstorm. Hot toddies were sounding good to us in the rainy weather, so we ordered a few and talked about our trip this far and what we wanted to do for the next few days over our drinks. The rain stopped about 90 minutes, or three hot toddies, later. The drinking meant we needed to get some food in our systems, so we headed to Café Sydney, a rooftop restaurant facing the whole of the harbour, meaning you get views of the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, fast-walking pedestrians, meandering ferries, and everything in between. And the food? So yum! Again, blankets and heat lamps provided in the outdoor space. Epicness.

Afterwards, we walked through the stunning Royal Botanical Gardens, but not before doing some shopping along Oxford Street. The gardens were right up Mom’s alley being such a plant and flower lover, so she (and I) really enjoyed being there. However, we were unaware of the opening hours, and ended up getting locked inside along with a few other stragglers, but a nice grounds policeman came by and helped us escape from the gardens.

When it comes to nightlife, Sydney pales in comparison to Melbourne (sorry, Sydneyites). We tried to find a nice bar with live music, and did, but the talent was horrible and we ended up calling it a night early. Anyway, we had to be up early the next morning for an adventure to Coogee Beach.

Coogee Beach: Bondi Beach’s underappreciated little sister. But it deserves more love! Much more love! Coogee has a shimmering beach, a magnificent coastal walk that leads to Bondi and protected marine reserve for surfing, so it really sums up the classic Australian beach lifestyle. We decided to take on the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, a 3.7 mile trail, and we were so happy we did. This was an incredible walk that provided us with spectacular panoramas of the Pacific Ocean. Not surprisingly, the end point we had in mind from the start was the much buzzed-about Coogee Pavilion lunch spot, but I’ll get to that later. First, the walk itself. We strolled along a trail perched on a steep cliff face and rock platform, with uncrowded inlets and open rock pools being pounded by surf all along the way. It made for really stunning shots and made my Instagram account very happy. The promenade along the Coastal Walk also has many restored historic buildings, excellent restaurants and cafes, and cool boutiques which we stopped into on our way to lunch. And Coogee Pavilion did not disappoint! I had heard many good things about this place, a three-story restaurant with a rooftop terrace, barber shop, and games arena. And the view? A knockout blow. With 270-degree beach views, it made the two-hour walk that left our legs burning worth it (it was already worth it from the walk itself, who am I kidding?). Mom and I ordered a wood-fired pizza oven, sipped down some tasty Australian beer, and rested our weary boots for a bit. The restaurant is quite open air so a very, very large bird made its way into the space and very close to our table and Mom has an epic shot of me freaking out because birds are my least favorite animal besides fish (their movements are so unpredictable and erratic, not a fan!).

There was close a zero percent chance we were walking two hours back to where we came from, so we hopped on the bus for the short 20-minute ride back to Sydney. I had spoken with the Interbrand Sydney team prior to our visit about stopping by the office, so that was next on the agenda. Such a nice group! They were kind enough to open their office to me, and had bought some beers and snacks that were ready for my arrival. I stayed for about two hours at the office and got to meet the whole team, a very classy Australian crew (read: super cool, laid back and fun). It was cool to see the projects they were working on (they are best known in the Interbrand network for their tremendous and award-winning design capability). Most of them had a client event that evening so we needed to break off around 7PM, but I have a good friend named Perry from Syracuse living in Sydney, and we planned to meet at a bar very close to the Interbrand office. It was so nice to see her! I got to meet her boyfriend Joel too, which was cool because he is an Australian guy that Perry met while he was visiting in New York a few years back. I was very happy to see a friendly and familiar face, and we also met up with another Syracuse friend who had been backpacking through Australia. Cuse reunion!! So much fun. So many stories. So many beers.

I can’t say I was feeling 100% the next morning (oops), but I woke up super excited because I had planned a trip to the Blue Mountains for Mom and I that day. Normally I am not a huge fan of organised group tours, but for a trip like this one that required driving multiple hours outside of the city, it was necessary. And luckily, our tour guide was funny as hell and our small group was a great mix of cool Germans, Aussies and Finns. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Blue Mountains area is a 662,130-acre national park that get their name from the blue haze created by eucalypt forests in the area. Tiny droplets of oil released from the trees mix with water vapor and sunlight to produce the blue color. Science is cool!

During our day, we saw waterfalls, valleys, insane wildlife, rugged sandstone tablelands, rock formations and sandstone cliffs, and learned about the region’s ancient Aboriginal heritage. Our tour guide was informative but not overbearing, and got to know each and every one of us throughout the long day. Specifically, we hiked to Wentworth Falls, one of the most spectacular lookout points of the Blue Mountains, before taking some time to explore the picturesque village of Leura, with great shops and excellent choices for lunch. Then we visited the Katoomba Falls, and ended the day with a stop at the world-famous Three Sisters rock formation (where our tour guide advised us to follow the Chinese tourists in order to find the most picturesque photo spots. Love the realness, and please see accompanying photo). I really loved this day. The national park was unlike anything I have ever seen, and coming from city life, the air was so fresh and lovely to breathe in!

We had heard good things about Surry Hills, the area where we were staying in the city, but we hadn’t explored much and weren’t impressed by neither what we had seen to and from our day trip adventures, or our venture out on Tuesday evening to find live music. We were not loving the area at all! Luckily, we decided to make the rogue decision to turn right off of our little street instead of our usual left, and thank goodness we did. It was like the heavens opened up: tons of buzz. Young people drinking. Shopping. Laughing. Living! Thank Jesus, because we were quite close to writing off Surry Hills as overhyped in every way. We had gotten a recommendation from our tour guide for a dinner spot, but after checking out the menu, it looked like more of a brunch spot and had quite a typical Western menu. We decided to make a snap decision and walked past a place that looked like it had a cool vibe called Yulli’s. I don’t want to oversell this place, but it was the best meal we ate in Sydney, possibly in Australia. Super creative vegetarian menu (miso baked eggplant, charred zucchini and lentil moussaka with pesto and béchamel sauce, naan pocket with with enoki mushrooms and grilled haloumi—I am starting to salivate writing this so I will stop here), all served in a quirky dining room. Also, the wait staff ruled and we ended up chatting with our waitress for quite a while (what else is new with me though?). And it all came to just 60 Australian dollars, less than we had spent on dinner anywhere else on the trip! We were in quite a good mood after dinner, and proud of ourselves for finding such a gem of a dinner spot. After dinner we stopped at Messina, a gelato place that my friend from Sydney had recommended, and it hit the spot. We stopped back at The Winery for a quick nightcap, but the vibe was weird and there was an annoying large table of what could have been ladies of the night sitting near us, so we left after one drink.

In the morning on Saturday, we did a quick stop in Newtown, an up-and-coming suburb about two miles outside the city center, filled with boutiques, bakeries and bars. We were not super impressed with anything but our breakfast, because a lot of the shops are vintage stores (mothball collections), and there were a few too many baby stores for our liking. So we moved on quickly to our next stop, which was taking the ferry across the harbour to Manly Beach.

Much better here. Manly Beach is one of Australia’s most famous surfing beaches: the first world surfing championship was held here in the 60’s. Also, fun fact, it is named Manly because the first governor of the state was impressed by “the confidence and manly behaviour” of the area’s original Aboriginal population (hoping new territory is found somewhere nearby and named Femly for #feminism). It’s also a very cool little beach suburb, with a palm tree-lined promenade called the Corso running through the center. The shopping here was quite good and took up about two hours of our time, as we perused the various surf clothing shops selling everything from surfboards to bikinis. We stopped along our walk because we were flabbergasted by the musical sounds of a street performer we stumbled upon. His name is Taj Ralph, he’s 14, and this is a shameless plug for his music. Go check him out on Spotify, he’s really great and super sweet!

Manly has a tranquil Sydney Harbour beach on one side, and a popular and cool Pacific Ocean surf beach on the other, so there were two good options to check out. Obviously our day would not be complete without a proper beverage, so we nestled ourselves into the Manly Skiff Sailing Club for some refreshing beer and something we had been craving all day—seafood chowder. We took the sunset ferry home, which provided a beautiful view of the harbour at sundown, which I would show to you if my iPhone hadn’t died en route. When we arrived back at the harbor, we stopped off at Hacienda Bar for a glass of vino so we could continue enjoying the beautiful harbor sunset and see the Opera House lit up, and headed back to our hotel to change and chill. Obviously dinner this night took place at our favorite ever spot, Yulli’s.

As it was Saturday night, this girl needed a little party in her life. So I met up with Perry and Joel at The Soda Factory, a US-style bar serving retro cocktails (and, more importantly, Fireball whiskey), with DJs playing our favorite US hits all night. It was good to have the comforts of home like this! I hadn’t heard a lot of those songs played in a bar in a very long time, and it was incredibly fun to dance to them. A note: these are photos I am not totally comfortable sharing on this blog because I know my parents read it, but please know I did enjoy myself this evening (and Mom and Dad—it was a classy time).

The next morning (feeling fresh of course!), we enjoyed our last morning in Sydney with some coffee and breakfast at a nearby cafe, then headed to the airport for our long voyage back to the domicile.

I really liked Australia. Many moments, I was stunned I was even having these experiences, as I truly did not expect to visit this country so early in my life. I feel very lucky to have been able to visit, and especially to share the experience with Mom. It is a beautiful nation with so much to offer, and the people are reason enough to visit. Generally speaking, super cool individuals who know how to relax and enjoy the beauty of this life.

And although we did not see any kangaroos in their natural environment during our trip to Australia, we did eat avocado toast nearly every single day at least once, which I feel is equally satisfying.


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