It’s been a few years, but I’ve finally gotten the opportunity for another lengthy trip! Not part of a year of adventure, but a month long trip to Australia and New Zealand. Not too shabby in the adventure front!
And I must admit that I am woefully out of practice for long haul flights. My rear has still not completely recovered from sitting for much of 28 hours of travel. New York to LA, thence to Sydney. But I was fortunate in getting the bulkhead exit row seat that lets you stretch your legs, so I really can’t complain.
Tired and jet lagged, I took a few minutes to acclimate in the airport. It was both weird and wonderful to have spent so long traveling to wind up in a country where I can understand the signage and the language. Well, I can understand the language just fine barring any specific thick accents, but really, that’s the same in the States too, isn’t it? Usually when I arrive somewhere after a transpacific flight, I have a huge language barrier to deal with as well. It was lovely not to have to deal with that.
I got a map and directions on buying an Opal card (Sydney public transit smart card) from the lady at information and headed to the train. The train downtown (or to the CBD – central business district – as the Aussies call it) was easy and straightforward. Once off the train at Circular Quai, I could see my hotel, which made getting lost a non-issue.
On check-in, I was upgraded to a room with a harbor view, plus a wombat magnet! Marriott has never given me a magnet before – this stay was off to a promising start!
Eschewing a nap, I hoped my shower would wake me up enough to face the day. The sun was shining brightly as I ventured out. My hotel is very near the Rocks, which is lucky for many reasons, not least of which was that it allowed me to stop by the Visitors information center, stumbling onto a self-professed foodie market on the way.
After loading up with more brochures than was good for me, I decided to wander around Circular Quay to the Opera House and then head to the Botanic Gardens. What can I write about Sydney Harbor? The hype is true. It is absolutely gorgeous especially under a clear blue sky and the strong Australian sun. I’m hoping I can see a performance at the Opera House before I fly back.
I wandered into the Gardens. I had missed the guided tour but frankly my brain capacity was next to nil anyway due to fatigue. I admired the huge trees and was taken aback by screeching parrots? Cockatoos? I’m not entirely sure what the birds were but they looked exotic and strange, even if they sounded like nuisances. I also saw boat loads of what I later found out are ibis.
I was planning on taking a free walking tour in the afternoon, so I exited the Royal Botanic Gardens and headed towards Hyde Park. On the way, I passed a number of beautiful buildings that looked to date from various parts of the 19th century. I later found out that several of the buildings were part of the old Rum Hospital, so called because Governor Macquarie in the early 19th century allowed several merchants a short-term monopoly on rum sales in exchange for them building the hospital. An interesting origin story, though I can think of several for a name like that!
Right at the edge of Hyde Park, I caught sight of another well proportioned early 19th century building, the Hyde Park Barracks, balanced by the similar architecture of the church across the road. Behind and to the right, tower spires rose, reminding me of English church architecture.
The Hyde Park Barracks are one of Sydney’s Living Museums, music to my ears as I love finding out about social history. I have to say this museum is one of best interactive museums I’ve seen, especially for a history museum (as opposed to a science museum). The ground floor exhibit on convict life encouraged you to dress up as a convict, leg shackles included!
Hyde Park is another beautiful green space that Sydney seems to abound in.
I finally made my way to the town hall for the walking tour, which covered much of what I had seen on my way there. Luckily we did see some other buildings like the QVB (Queen Victoria Building), an (appropriately) Victorian building. There is a statue of the queen outside, and her little dog too. I mention the dog because it has a separate statue all its own, and…it talks. (Apparently it raises money for charity.)
The afternoon wrapped up with sunset views over the Harbor. I’d already gotten the impression that I was going to love Sydney, and those views didn’t hurt! I headed back to the hotel and was asleep before 8pm.