w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
While in Thailand, I met an Aussie. I told her that I was contemplating a stop in NZ and Australia to which she responded, “If you go to Australia, you should check out Sydney. But if you only have time for Australia OR New Zealand, definitely pick New Zealand.” I’m not saying Australia is not worth a visit, but I couldn’t agree with her more. I expected Sydney to be a laid back, hip, amazingly beautiful, friendly place and sadly, it didn’t quite meet all of my expectations. In a nutshell: the weather was fine, the beaches are gorgeous, the food was a little bland, the people not very nice, and the sights underwhelming.
I know this sounds vaguely Naomi Campbell of me, but at this point, I was desperate for a day sitting on the couch, watching Grey's Antamony and drinking red wine. For a pea-brain like me, it's hard work to research and learn stuff every single day. And unless it's like, super amazing, I was in serious need of a nap. So maybe Sydney wasn't boring. Maybe I just needed to be bored. Nonetheless, here it is,
We had rented a tiny house in the Paddington area, a little suburb known for charming cottages with wrought iron terraces, cute cafes, boutique shops and a great Saturday market. While the house itself was pretty gross, I could very well have happily spent our entire trip kicking around Paddington, especially the sprawling Centennial Park with its great running trails, playgrounds, and much to Isoo’s delight, fantastic birding. I said it once, but I’ll say it again: When possible, eschew the touristy areas for local neighborhoods. Get up and run in the park with the locals, wander grocery shops to get a sense of traditional foods, see the kids come home from school in their uniforms, pick a neighborhood café and make it yours. It’s the best way to meet people and get a sense of local life. It’s also a welcome respite from the anonymous hustle and bustle of the generic hotel.
This is going to blow your mind, but the Sydney Opera House is NOT white. The 1,056,000 self cleaning tiles are, in fact, cream-colored. The day we visited was overcast so the Opera House seemed dingier and smaller than I'd imagined. We also took a walk through the small, tidy Botanical Garden and along very crowded Sydney Harbor. Sadly, there was none of the picturesque gleaming whiteness.
The day we visited just happened to be National Greek Day so the area was filled to capacity with Greek nationals, and cheesy Miami Beach-like club hoppers. It was like a contest to see which could be louder - the amplified Greek folk songs or the thumping hip-hop Opera Bar soundtrack. Not sure who won, but I definitely lost.
We took a bus to the quintessentially Australian Bondi Beach and did the coastal walk to Bronte Beach to spend the afternoon digging in the sand. Yes, there were the requisite long-haired surfers, golden bikini babes and picturesque blue waves tipped with white surf. But I was thrilled and surprised by the breathtaking rock formations and very cool rock pools that lined the shores. Sydney’s beaches absolutely deserve the hype.
What are rock pools, you ask? Australia's known for their killer waves: great for surfing, but a little rough for kids, a challenge for lap swimmers and can harbor the occasional shark. So every swimming beach has a protected salt water pool carved out of the rock. Here you can enjoy the sun and float peacefully around the chlorine free pool. Or not!
Another good thing - Art Gallery NSW's free Asian Art show. It was an incredibly well-curated show repurposing medium used in traditional Asian art in contemporary form. It was smart, fun and the kids loved the awesome children's trails. And did I mention the free admission?
I don’t know if it’s because of Australia's long history of discriminating against racial minorities (see White Australia policy, Chinese Exclusion Act, second class treatment of Aboriginals) or because Aussies don't like Americans(?), but I was frustrated and disappointed by the way we were treated in Sydney. We were spoiled by the warm welcome we received in NZ, but with very few exceptions, the Aussies we encountered seemed hostile. There was none of the famous Aussie laid-back friendliness depicted in the U.S. media. Cabbies and servers had no interest in answering questions or serving us. Bus drivers would flat out ignore us. I was berated loudly and sternly by an airport official who threatened me with a $300 fine for having my cellphone out several hundred feet from the Customs desk (while ignoring everyone else who was texting in much closer proximity). Restauranteurs definitely did us a favor by serving us.
The one exception were Steve and Begly, two older gentlemen Isoo and I met while birding Centennial Park. While Chris and Oona spent the day petting koalas and kangas at the behind-the-scenes tour of the Taronga Zoo, Steve and Begly took Isoo under their wing (wink wink), letting us trail them for several hours while schooling him on local birds. Isoo was in heaven.
You didn't seriously think you'd get away without seeing a koala bear, did you?
Next up after my nap? Back to Asia to reconnect with family in Macau and Hong Kong.