A week back in the Land Down Under

Australia is place like no other. Thanks to its millennia of separation from the rest of the world, this island nation is quirky in every sense, from its landscape to its animal to its people. I believe the combination of their, uhm, interesting heritage and the fact that they live on the edge of the planet create the modern Australian personality, which is outgoing, fun, engaging, and enthusiastic. I got to experience this last week and payed particular attention to their unique slang; some of the best in the world, in my opinion. Before getting in the particulars about my trip there last week, I’d like to first take a moment to share some of my favorite words and phrases, ones I’ll be trying hard to incorporate into my daily vernacular moving forward:

  • A few Kangaroos loose in the top paddock: A little bit daft or strange
  • Aussie salute: Action of brushing flies away from your face
  • Drink with the flies: Drinking alone
  • Faffing around: Wasting time or doing nothing
  • Having a whinge: To complain without a good reason
  • Spit the dummy: To lose one’s temper (e.g., when an infant spits out its pacifier ‘dummy’ before throwing a tantrum)

I had fun just typing those out, and hope you enjoyed them, too. Australian English is truly a masterpiece language.

Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent. The point of this post is to share with you my experience from last week, when I spent a week working and a weekend faffing around (+1 for seamless vocabulary usage) in Sydney. As the capital of New South Wales, Sydney is the largest city in Australia and is famous for its superb beaches, vibrant cultural scene and cosmopolitan, international population. And, even though it was my third time in the city, it was the first visit where I’ve had the chance to really experience the city, and I fell head over heels in love with the place.

After a seven-hour, overnight flight that got me 12 episodes deep into Brooklyn Nine-Nine and halfway through my speech for Natalie’s wedding, I landed at beautiful Sydney International Airport. I took a taxi straight to my hotel for the week, the InterContinental Sydney. I landed at 6AM and arrived at the hotel just before 7AM, so I desperate for a ready room and a nap. Luckily, the hotel was able to accommodate my plea, and I fell face first into my fluffy bed until 8:30AM.

Upon being shock-forced awake by my alarm waking up naturally, I showered up and headed into my company’s Sydney office, located just next door (this does not mean I did not find the opportunity to get completely lost on the way). I said hello to a few colleagues, and met a few new ones that morning, but mostly I spent my time at IT desk, figuring out why my data and Wi-Fi were not working. A forced digital detox , if you will.

From there, the day was calls, calls, calls. I perched up in the shared space of the beautiful office, looking out onto the harbor and Sydney Opera House. I was back-to-back most of the day, but managed to make it out at about 6:30PM, in time to hop back to the hotel to change into my Nikes and do what I had (really) wanted to do in Sydney: run long, long distances in the crisp, fresh air of the city. I took the Sydney Harbor Bridge route, clocking in about 10k and soaking in the beautiful sunset over the bridge all the while. I was using a loaner phone from work since my data (and therefore, Spotify and Google Maps) wasn’t working for my run, so while I took loads of snaps during my run, I forgot to email them to myself and have therefore lost the photos from that evening. But, for imagination’s sake, this is what sunset over the bridge looks like.

In the evening, I headed over to Potts Point to dine at the Apollo, a restaurant recommendation from a Sydney-born colleague. Iloved it because it was so thoughtfully designed: architect George Livissianis employed a minimalist feel throughout the space (named after the Greek god of poetry, light and music), and incorporated exposed concrete, granite and brass touches, designed to hint at the rocky beauty of Greece. Gorgeous spot, better food. After dinner, I swung by Metro (Oz’s equivalent of a CVS or a Watson’s) to pick up a much-needed face mask and some other toiletries. Then it was early to bed. I did this partially because a wise man named Michael Hayden once said “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a woman healthy, wealthy and wise,” and partially because my work training started at 8AM the following day.

There’s not a lot I can share about the next three of days experiencing my company’s proprietary onboarding program, but I can tell you it was immersive, intensive, and wonderful. After the first day’s session, we had dinner and went bowling at Kingpin Bowling Darling Harbor, and on the second day, we had dinner at another delicious (funnily enough) Greek restaurant called Alpha. Not sure how I got so lucky—it’s Greek to me (had to).

Friday marked the end of the training, and with the end of the day came a happy hour, held at the office, where I got to spend some leisure time with my newly-met colleagues. The training was quite intensive as I mentioned, but it also energized me. I left feeling inspired, and with a few new friends, too. (Some would call this ‘drinking the Kool-Aid. Whatever. I’m happy to chug. It was a wonderful experience and I am incredibly grateful to work for a company that invests in its people as much as mine does.)

Following drinks with my colleagues, looking out on the sparkling city below us, I headed to the hotel where I’d be staying for the weekend: Hughenden Boutique. This restored mansion, set in the heart of the fashionable Woollahra district, has an elegant Victorian interior and lots of character. And the service gave me heart eyes. I checked into this cute little spot and checked out the adorable dining area and reading room, warmed by a roaring fireplace. After going 7AM-11PM for the last three days, though, I had quite a bit of work to catch up on. I grabbed my laptop and hopped in a taxi and headed to Surry Hills for dinner at Yulli’s, a restaurant Mom and I went to two (or was it three?) last time we were in Sydney together. An absolute Sydney favorite of mine. Why? Funky vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes. Craft beers (and boozy kumbucha!). A quirky, lounge-style dining room. And the best part, creative dishes with influences from Asia, Mexico, and the Mediterranean. Vietnamese pancakes with chilli radish, crispy tofu skin, king mushroom, fresh herbs and blood plum sauce. Fried zucchini wrapped in shredded filo pastry, served on wilted spinach and tom yum sauce with tomato salsa. Naan pockets with crispy enoki mushrooms and grilled haloumi with pickled cabbage, lettuce, fresh herbs and aoili with beer battered fries and hot salsa. Did I order all of these dishes on Friday night? Not no.

Saturday morning was a crisp and beautiful day: picture-perfect blue sky, no humidity, 70/21 degrees. The perfect day to be spent outside. My first stop was Surrey Hills Market, recommended by the same colleague that led me to the Apollo (she is the MVP of this trip). The market was set up in 1981 to enable locals on low incomes to supplement their earnings, and it shows. The market is filled with obscure items you didn’t know you needed till you saw them. I browsed the stalls and found, among other things, fashion bargains, books, DVDs, CDs and vinyls, mid-century antique furniture, handmade ceramics, honey and beeswax candles (bought one as a thank-you gift for my colleague), polished stones, and cheap, stylish eyewear galore. A visually appealing and totally indulgent way to spend a morning.

Next it was over to Strand Arcade, a heritage-listed Victorian-style retail arcade located in the heart of the Sydney central business district. It wasn’t exactly a leisure trip though: I was there on a determined mission to visit Haigh’s, a bean-to-bar chocolate making company adored by my Aussie colleagues. Walking into the store was like being lost in a labyrinth of the sense: the sights and smells are all completely overwhelming, and with the saleswoman offering my samples of milk chocolate almonds, dark chocolate with honeycomb, and white chocolate with raspberry, I was done for. I almost don’t remember what happened in there—it was like a blackout of the chocolate variety. Anyway, somehow I ended up leaving with 5 pounds/2.2 kilos of chocolate to bring back and share with my colleagues. I can say, five days out from that purchase and with a delicious treat to finish off my lunch each day since then, it was a well-worth-it purchase.

The rest of the day was about shopping. As someone who has the measurements of Sasquatch in Asia, it is hard to shop, and when my size is available, variety isn’t. So it was my mission to get some shopping done in Sydney, and get some shopping done I did. Wittner shoes. Oxford Street. Westfield Bondi Junction. TARGET (yes!). You name it, I shopped it.

After lugging my shopping bags back to the hotel, I laid down to chill a bit. But there wasn’t much time: I was meeting up with Candela, a friend of the Zé from his time working in Chile. Funnily enough (or not funny at all), of all the friends I know living in Sydney, not one was in town last week. I was happy Zé knew someone that was available and happy to meet up for dinner. We headed to Chef’s Gallery, a hip spot in the Townhall area combining traditional Chinese food with pan Asian influences and contemporary flair. Candela brought two friends, and it was a lovely evening meeting and chatting with new friends over tasty Chinese (hey, you can take the girl out of Singapore…).

Sunday morning provided another picture-perfect day. I laced on my Nikes early that day, heading to the nearby Centennial Park for a 10k (something I could never do in Singapore, I might mention, unless I wanted to be covered in sweat in under two minutes and possibly sent to the hospital within twenty). I do love the warm weather this island city gives me, but I have to say, cruising around the park that morning in my leggings and jogging sweater, I really felt a pang of saudade (am I Portuguese yet??) for the cool weather I so loved in New York. The weather was so suitable that, between my jogging and my walking about town, I averaged about 19k steps per day. Boom.

So as I said earlier, I developed some close bonds with several of the people in my training group the previous week. As my flight was scheduled for that evening and I wouldn’t be joining my Aussie and Kiwi colleagues for the following week of training (duty calls), four of us decided to have brunch together at Shuk in Bondi Beach late Sunday morning. Shuk, a super-trendy spot serving Mediterranean flavors with traditional and house-made food, served up some divine plates, and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting. We caught up, recapped the week, and (obviously) made plans for an imminent reunion in Singapore later this year or early next.

After brunch, two of the ladies had to head off, but Charlotte, one of my colleagues, and I walked to the beach. Bondi is one of Australia’s most iconic beaches (Mom will be no stranger to this information). It’s quite a scene: reliable, year-round waves draw surfers while, nearby, hardy locals swim in the Icebergs ocean pool year-round. Trendy, health-conscious Sydney-ers (which is most definitely not the name for those residing in Sydney) head to laid-back yet trendy cafes around Hall Street, while hip backpackers frequent the area’s casual pubs. Walkers and joggers use the clifftop Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, with its dramatic scenery. Mom and I walked this route last time, and it is one of our favorite memories there.

Lucky for Charlotte and me, Sunday was also the day of the annual Festival of the Winds, where Australian and international kite flyers demonstrate their skills by flying hand-made kites. With more than 40 thousand visitors each year, this event colors the sky with the colors and shapes of kites flying above the beach. It’s impressive to quite impressive.

We walked around, watched the beautiful kites, and took it all in. Charlotte had to head back home, but I stayed there, mesmerized. There’s a quote from one of the old Aussie Prime Ministers that says, “Once you visit Australia, you join the team.” That could not have been more true after this trip. Between meeting a wonderful group of colleagues, being able to spend time in a beautiful city, and discovering so much more about it this time than I ever have, I really fell in love. The obvious drawback is the city’s about as far from home as Mars, but hey, go big and then go home, I always say. Until next time, Sydney!

The roundup

Where I stayed: The InterContinental Sydney, the Hughenden Boutique Hotel (good if you’re looking to stay in the Paddington area, and want something with charm and character)

What I did:: Shopped the Surry Hills Market, Westfield Bondi Junction, Strand Arcade, and Oxford Street, ate at the Apollo, Yulli’s, the Alpha, Chef’s Gallery, and Shuk, bowled at Kingpin Bowling, went for runs in Centennial Park, Hyde Park, and the Harbor Bridge, walked around Bondi Beach

The best: Laid-back surfer vibe, mild weather, breathtaking beaches, a variety of food with lots of healthy options

The worst: Expensive Ubers

Conclusion: This city is incredible. Visit in fall or spring when the weather’s nice and the city is less crowded than in summer. Make sure to spend some serious time in Bondi Beach. You may leave wanting to quit your job and become a full-time surfer, but it’ll be worth it.

Some photos from my trip to Sydney:

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